Sunday, 31 May 2009

Via del Missile (VI+), Monte Casale, Sarca Valley, 18th August 2007

Once again a super climb in the Sarca Valley, probably the most exciting climb of the year.

Egon Kirschner had the bright idea of not setting off too early, so as not to spend too long climbing in the sun. We didn't spend very long climbing in the sun, but we did come quite close to being able to enjoy a night on a ledge near the top of the route.
The first couple of pitches were relatively easy. The third got a bit more exciting, however. Here it was necessary to climb up a corner from the belay and then somehow traverse left across a horizontal crack. This was a lot harder than it looked, and it soon became clear why the guidebook says A0 for this pitch. Egon led the traverse swinging from peg to peg, and then had to lower himself perhaps fifteen feet from a long piece of tat hanging from the last peg. While hanging at the end of the tat it was then possible to pendulum leftwards and reach more pegs, then using these to climb back up again to the continuation of the horizontal crack, in which four not entirely confidence-inspiring pegs made up the hanging belay. It didn't look much fun to lead, and wasn't much fun to second either. I was much happier once I had clipped the next two pegs of the next pitch.

For a while the climbing was easier, and then came a long steep corner crack, graded at VI+ in the guidebook. This should have been a lovely E1 pitch, but after my summer of activity I was not up to sustained E1 climbing without rests. Soon I clipped into a peg, and I ended up aiding the entire pitch with a combination of pegs and the thankfully plentiful nut placements.
After this came a deep wide crack with few holds. Egon led this not without cursing and struggle. He soon took his rucksack off and left this on a ledge for me to carry while seconding. Protection was almost non-existant, but a fall would have seen him not so much fall from the wall, but rather further into the crack and probably get stuck. Thankfully it did not come to this.

Presently we came to a large vegetated ledge on which the guidebook indicated we should traverse a long way to the right. By this time it was clear that we did not have very much daylight left. Unfortunately it was not clear which of the not very inviting exits from the ledge it was necessary to take, and I ended up traversing rather too far. By the time we had traversed back again we had even less light left.

Egon then led up a loose and unpleasant wide corner, from the top of which our goal was in sight. Just one more pitch separated us from the summit plateau. Unfortunately this turned out to be one of the hardest of the route, a wide hold-less crack a bit reminiscent of the top of Wall Buttress at Stanage only longer and with rather less friction.Had this been a one pitch climb on a crag I would not have put myself through it. However, given that Egon had led the unpleasant aid pitch and the first unpleasant crack, I could not very well shirk this lead. I had been saving my last few drops of water for the summit, but my mouth was dry and I couldn't hold out any longer, so I emptied the water bottle before setting off. I too found myself taking off my rucksack and leaving it clipped to a runner before things got really difficult. Somehow through a combination of squeezing, writhing, panting and pausing apparently without holds but somehow wedged into the crack to get my breath back I got to the top. Egon then had the no more agreeable job of getting his way up there carrying both rucksacks, which he managed with help from the rope. It was now nine o'clock.

In the wood on top it was pitch dark. In an act of generosity Egon cut his apple in two with his nut key and gave me half. We then still had the business of getting down before us, for which we had no map and only vague instructions, which proved to be next to no use whatsoever. It took us a total of three hours staggering around in the dark before we eventually found our way down to the road, still miles from the car. Thankfully Andrea managed to persuade Renate to come and pick us up, otherwise it would probably have been another two hours before we got back to our car.

Somewhere in the Transvaal, 3rd October 2002

Wednesday 2nd October, a nature reserve somewhere in the Transvaal:

Up at six for a drive through the nearest part of the reserve. We don't see a lot, just a few buck and a few piles of rhinoceros droppings. Later go for a walk up the kopje (hill) behind the house and picnic on the top.

Back at the house we pack up the bakkie (pick-up), and set off for a remote part of the reserve. On the way there we see kudu in the bush beside the road, a herd of giraffe in the trees, then on the lake shore half a mile away rhinoceros and a huge herd of wildebeest. Further along we find zebra.

I take the wheel. The track is now quite a bit rougher, but it's amazing what these 4x4s will cover. Crawling forward at low revs we pick our way over rocks and boulders for hours, and finally we arrive at our campsite in the dark.

Thursday 3rd October:

Up at five. We swallow a quick breakfast of porridge and then pack the climbing rucksacks. Surprisingly the sky has completely clouded over. Rob is nervous. It is the very end of the dry season, and heavy rain is expected any day now. Not only might this make our climb tricky, but it could make the Oliphants River unfordable on our return.

For now the Oliphants is very low, and I get across with my boots on. We beat our way up the kloof (ravine) of a tributary of the Oliphants, and then head upwards to the base of the cliffs. Not for the first time on this trip we can't find our route. The cliffs are half a mile wide, with just twenty routes so far, with purely textual descriptions. We are looking for a climb called Raze The Dead, which is just to the right of the descent gully.

Rob has been here once before and quickly finds a corner which looks like the bottom of the descent gully. Moving a bit to the right he then finds another corner which looks even more like the bottom of the descent gully. This is repeated another time, and another. At the fourth we have had enough of finding the same descent gully in four different places, and decide that the route must be here. The rock is compact red sandstone and looks good.

I lead the first pitch. It's easy, about VDiff. The second looks a bit harder. Rob has to go up a bit from the belay, traverse rightwards across the top of the corner, and continue rightwards over a steep wall to reach easier ground. By this stage we have decided that we are off route. Suddenly, from about twenty feet above the belay and to the right, Rob comes flying off. First he hits the rock to my right and then he crashes into me, before swinging back to come to a rest suspended in his harness over the corner to my right. One of his pieces of gear has popped, but another has held. My leg is pretty sore at first where he hit it, but this eases fast, and we swap positions at the belay. Rob is shaking and has had enough of leading for the time being.

It's really not as easy as it looks. I dilly-dally and go back and forward for about half an hour. Meanwhile Rob is looking at his watch and telling me that we're not a quarter of the way up the
cliff yet. Eventually I waggle in an unconvincing Friend, and with this for moral support make the move. The pitch ends with a pleasant surprise: a cave, large enough for two to sleep in shelter, and not visible from the ground.

The traverse pitch turns out to be the one difficult pitch of the climb, and everything after that is about VDiff, although still a bit stressful, as very poorly protected, despite being covered in holds. I lead a further three long pitches, two of them the full length of the ropes, and a shorter one, before we arrive on top. There is a bit of additional excitement near the start of pitch five when an earth foot-hold gives way and I fall feet first on to the top of a small pillar. I lose my footing, fall backwards, and almost do a backwards somersault over the edge of the cliff.

At the top we are not out of the woods yet. Rob can't find the descent. Meanwhile I have had enough of deciding which way to go after doing all the leading over what was unknown ground, so am happy to follow. All I can think of is water. After an hour and a half wandering up and down the bushy slopes of the top of the cliff we find it. By the time we are at the bottom of the final ab it is pitch black.

Once back in the kloof Rob sees fit to give me instructions for what to do if we meet a buffalo or a leopard. Meanwhile I still can't think of anything but water. Rob drinks from the stream, which is
scarcely moving, and I hold out for the first hour or so, but in the end I give in, and decide that a drink is probably worth the risk of being sick tomorrow.

Rob walks into the water while fording the Oliphants on the way back, but blames this on my walking stick. We get back to the tent at eight, and drink water, then fruit juice, then rooibos tea, then beer. Rob says he thinks we have climbed a new route.

Steger Route, Rosengartenspitze E Face, 9th August 2005

This was my most exciting route of 2005.

Anthony Woodrow and I started climbing at eight or so, and for most of the way up the climbing was straightforward. Somehow we were however slow. It was mostly fairly pleasant, and also had an interesting chimney pitch. I had forgotten to take the equipment from Anthony at the last belay, so I just had a few quickdraws and nuts left over from the previous pitch. This didn't turn out to be as much of a problem as it might have been, as there wasn't much opportunity to use these in any case, and so instead I wedged myself as deeply into the crack as possible. I squirmed and squeezed my way upwards, with the knowledge that Anthony would soon have to climb the same crack making it all seem not too bad. Sure enough, he enjoyed it even less than I did, and the shiny bits on his rucksack weren't quite as shiny afterwards either.We got higher and higher, but unfortunately it was getting later and later. According to the guidebook it was necessary to traverse right away from the main crack at some point, but unfortunately I did this too soon. It become clear to me after making this mistake that we were going to end up spending the night on the route, but unfortunately less so to Anthony, who looked quite surprised as I remarked to him that we had better starting looking for somewhere to sleep.

By sheer good luck there was a cave to be seen slightly above and to the left of our belay. I climbed up to it and it turned out to be just the right size for two people to sleep. At first I banged in a peg, which then turned out to be superfluous when I crawled to the back of the cave and discovered a providential thread. The roof of the cave was not quite high enough for sitting up even at its highest point and the floor sloped down and then out over the east face of the Rosengartenspitze, so we were keen to make sure that everything was clipped on, not just ourselves. Once we had done that there wasn't much more for it than to settle down for a not very comfortable night. To someone like Mick Fowler the bivvy would probably have qualified as four star at least, but when you're not used to it and are dressed for a rock climb then it's not as much fun.Anthony sent a text message to his girlfriend Ned, who was waiting for us below in the hut with our friends Maria and Mario, to say that we were fine but that we would be down tomorrow. Her reply, when it came, was not what we had expected. It is in the spirit of British mountaineering that if somebody wants to spend a cold, uncomfortable night on a ledge three quarters of the way up a cliff, then that is his business. Apparently the Italians don't see it like that. Our lights had been seen from the Gardacia Hut below, and now a group of indignant mountain guides had gathered and were threatening to rescue us. All evening long an unpleasant exchange of text messages went back and forth, relayed by the luckless Ned, in which the guides accused us of recklessness and stupidity, against which we tried to tell them that we were fine and would they please just go away. Eventually they did call it a day, departing with a threat that if we weren't down by such-and-such a time the following day then they would rescue us whether we liked it or not.

What with the chilly night (the thermometer outside the Vajolet Hut had registerd 5 degrees C) and the hard ledge we didn't sleep as much as we might, and were very glad when the sun came over the horizon. We were then able to witness a beautiful sunrise over the Marmolada. Unfortunately I was cold enough that I didn't get my camera out to record it.

Once we had packed our rucksacks again we made two big and unpleasant diagonal abseils to get back on route and climbed up a bit further to the point where we should have turned right. Here it is totally clear which way the route goes. From here a pleasant rising traverse, a wonderful grade V wall pitch and an interesting windy chimney led to the summit ridge, from which it was just a scramble to the summit itself.Ned was sweet enough to come up to the Santner Pass Hut below the west face to meet us, bringing us all sorts of nice things to eat. Considering that I had only eaten half a dry roll in the past twenty four hours I wasn't very hungry, but it was very nice to be met. Back at the Vajolet Hut I did a better job of doing justice to my supper that evening.

Cesare Levis, Pian del Paia, Sarca Valley, 28th October 2006

This was my first multi-pitch route in the Sarca Valley, and what a super discovery it was! Until buying the guidebook Pareti del Sarca by Diego Filippi I had thought that the Arco experience meant queueing for the few easy routes in Nago or Massone, but now I learnt that the area has much more to offer.

The first few pitches were a modern variant start and consisted of easy pleasant slab climbing with frequent bolts. As such they were out of character with the rest of the route. The harder climbing started by the jammed Friend marked in the guidebook. I don't know if there was any point in clipping it, but there certainly was no point in trying to get it out again.Shortly after this came the best pitch of the route, the big roof. I made several attempts to climb this free. To do this it was necessary to climb a steep wall on the left before reaching the crack at the lip of the overhang. Providentially it was possible to fill this with good nuts. It was then necessary to traverse this to the right, with the footholds getting ever smaller and further away under the overhang, before attempting to reach over the right-hand end of the overhang and hoping to find a hold there. Had this been on Stanage I would have stuck at it until I got it free. As it was, however, it was necessary to downclimb quite a long way to get back to a restful position, and I didn't want to spend all day on this one pitch when I didn't know what the others above would bring, so I ended up grabbing the piece of tat which hung temptingly from the right hand side of the overhang, only to find a huge hidden hold only slightly further than I had got on my free attempts!

The belay above was not confidence-inspiring, consisting of two rusty pegs in a steep wall and a foot ledge small enough for the belay to qualify at least as semi-hanging. I reinforced the pegs with a Wallnut number 1 in the crack above.

Ingo did not waste any time on free attempts, but rather grabbed straight for the tat and hauled himself ingloriously up there. This suited me fine, as I was not looking forward to testing the belay. Mario, however, struggled a bit removing the two nuts which I had placed in the overhang before resorting to his dynamic traverse technique, demonstrated early that year on the Erdenkäufer/Sigl on the Schüsselkarspitze, i.e. he let go and swung across. The pegs flexed but stayed put. Unfortunately he managed to swing too far, and in his efforts to get back to climbable rock managed to pull off a block about the size of a cabbage together with the rubble surrounding it. We had earlier heard voices beneath us, and were relieved to work out that these belonged to climbers attempting a neighbouring route not directly in the fall line of our climb.

Leaving the belay was also somewhat tricky. There was only room for one on the tiny foot ledge, and so Ingo and then Mario had taken refuge in a cramped and uncomfortable position beneath an overhang slightly below and to one side of the belay. Ingo now took my place on the ledge, while Mario remained under the overhang. The climbing immediately above the belay was not much fun either. It was not desperately hard, but loose and lacking in good protection. I did not fancy one bit taking a factor two fall back onto the wobbly pegs and so used up a large fraction of my rack in the first few metres above the belay placing a selection of not entirely confidence-inspiring nuts in an effort to reduce the likelihood of this happening.Unfortunately I passed the next belay without realising that that is what it was and continued up the grade V rock of the next pitch with my now depleted collection of nuts and quickdraws. Presently it became clear that I had climbed rather a long way since the last belay, that I had very few quickdraws left, and that a belay was nowhere in sight. It was also extremely warm in the Italian sun and my tongue was sticking to my mouth for thirst. I managed to squeeze my way to the back of the corner crack which I was climbing and wrap a sling around a chockstone, and took the risk of taking my rucksack off to get at my water bottle. Progress thereafter was also slow as I struggled to make the most of the few remaining karabiners, nuts, slings and prussiks hanging from my harness. Eventually I reached a belay and brought the others up.

They arrived cursing and thirsty. Apparently I had taken over an hour to get up what turned out to have been two pitches. Luckily we were using Ingo's 60m ropes and not mine, which are 50m long, as there had been very little rope left by the time I had finally found my belay. Each had thought he was unluckier than the other, Ingo perched painfully on the toe ledge and half hanging from the wobbly pegs, and Mario bent double sitting on the sloping ledge underneath the overhang.

The rest of the route went more straightforwardly, although there was still a lot of enjoyable grade V climbing before we got to the top. Once there I was happy to sit in the piles of autumn leaves while the others coiled the ropes away.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Furkapass, 12th - 16th July 2007

Geplant war ursprünglich die Schleierkante an der Cima dela Madonna in der Pala Gruppe.

Es war Mario Senkes Idee. "Die schönste Kalkkletterei der Alpen." Als Verstärkung zogen wir Ingo Peter und Felix Lütkenherm ein und wir fixierten ein Datum in Juli 2007. In Juni wurde Mario aber Opfer eines Arbeitsunfalls und musste seine ganzen geplannten Touren streichen. Was nun? Wir wollten nicht Marios Tour ohne ihn machen und auf meinen Vorschlag, dass er die Touren mit Steigklemmen nachkommt, ging er nicht ein.

Mittwoch 11.07.07, 22h00, Parkplatz unterhalb der Sidelenhütte am Furkapass: Die Schleierkante ist auf nächstes Jahr verschoben worden und wir haben uns von den Bildern schöner Granittouren am Furkapass im Führer "Topoguide der Alpen" inspirieren lassen. Jetzt ist es aber 3 Grad, es schneit und es fällt uns ein, dass wir zwischen uns nicht einen Schweizer Franken haben. Fahrt nach Andermatt angesagt.Donnerstag 12.07.07: Der erste Blick aus der Hütte bei Tageslicht zeigt leider mehr Nebel und weniger spitze Gipfel als gehofft. Ingos zweites Hobby ist aber nicht um sonst das Wetter. Er ist voller Zuversicht und wir durfen keinen dritten Kaffee genießen, sondern wir müssen die Rucksäcke packen und los. Als Aufwärmungstour wollen wir etwas leichtes machen und wir suchen die SO-Kante des Gross Furkahorns aus, eine lange Gratkletterei im IV. Grad. Eine kurze Lücke in den Wolken erlaubt uns einen Blick auf die Route und wir begeben uns über den Gletscher an den Einstieg.Das erste interessante Problem bezieht sich darauf, wie man den Übergang von Schnee um 30 Grad mit Bergschuhen auf Fels um 60 Grad mit Kletterschuhen macht, ohne sich selbst oder verschiedene Ausrüstungsgegenstände den Berg herunterfallen zu lassen. Es ist kniffliger als ich dachte, aber das Lachen von unten hält sich in Grenzen, wahrscheinlich weil Ingo und Felix als nächste daran sind. Zum Glück lässt sich die erste Seillänge leicht klettern.
Die zweite erweist sich dagegen für IV+ hart und nicht gerecht. Vertrauen in sowohl Seil als auch Standplatz lässt sich aber rechtfertigen, und bald ist die Länge vorbei. Nachher lässt die
Schwierigkeit nach, und es folgt Seillänge nach Seillänge von schönstem Granit, über Türme, Gräte und Scharten. Die Uhr tickt langsamweiter und eh wir aus der schattigen Seite des Gipfelturms auf den Gipfelspitz klettern, lässt die Sonne den rot-goldenen Granit mit warmem Abendlicht glühen.

Freitag 13.07.07: Gestern haben wir einen langen klassischen Anstieg vom Jahr 1907 gemacht, und heute haben wir etwas komplett anderes vor: eine kurze moderne Route am Hannibal Turm. Der Routename ist am Einstieg kunstvoll angemalt und silberne Bohrhaken glänzen in der Sonne. Die Kletterei selbst ist ein bißchen schwieriger (VI bis VI+), aber wir kommen schnell auf den Gipfel, wo uns eine rot gestrichene Holzbank erwartet.Samstag 14.07.07: Kein großer Erfolg, zumindest für mich. Wir stehen um 5h30 auf und steigen über den Sidelengeletscher zum Einstieg der Galengrat-Verschneidung. Es geht mir aber irgendwie nicht gut, und wir steigen nicht ein. Ich verbringe den Rest des Tages in der Hütte und Ingo und Felix machen die SO-Kante des Gross Bielenhorns.
Sonntag 15.07.07: Wieder um 5h30 aufgestanden und dieses Mal geht es mir besser. "Bis auf die erste ist es jede Seillänge wert" steht es im Führer und selbst diese Bewertung ist ungroßzügig. Nach einer kurzen A0-Passage ist auch die erste Seillänge ein echtes Vergnügen auf rauhem festem Granit. Wo keine Risse sind, sind ausreichend Bohrhaken vorhanden und wo es doch Risse gibt, lassen sich Friends wie im Traum legen. Die Sonne steigt höher, aber wir auch, und erst am vorletzten Standplatz trifft sie uns. Die lezten zwei Seillängen sind wahrscheinlich das Prunkstück der Route, und ich wäre gern noch einige Längen von der Art geklettert. Zu bald sitzen wir aber oben neben dem Schnee, blicken auf den Fels zurück und ziehen Bergschuhe und Steigeisen an. Der Gipfel-Anstieg ist ein leichter Schneehang, und auch dieser ist schnell Vorbei. Felix steht jedes Jahr mindestens einmal auf 4000m, aber mit seinen 3586m ist der Galenstock mein höchster Punkt seit vier Jahren. Wir klettern den Nordgrat herunter dann vorsichtig über bruchiges Gelände bis auf den Tiefengletscher, und gehen den langen Weg zurück zur Hütte.
Montag 16.07.07: Nach unserem Tag am Galenstock wäre alles andere eine Enttäuschung gewesen. Ingo und ich klettern ein paar Seillängen im kleinen Klettergarten neben der Hütte, dann begeben wir uns langsam ins Tal, wo der Sommer dieses Mal richtig begonnen hat.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Kopfkraxe, Wilder Kaiser, 6th May 2006

At the start of 2006 I had never been climbing in the Wilder Kaiser. I knew vaguely about the famous summits above the Stripsenjoch - the Fleischbank, the Predigstuhl and the Totenkirchl - but while I had been skiing in Elmau three years earlier, I had never really wondered what there is to climb on the southern edge of the Wilder Kaiser. However, Mario Senke had a rare weekend free, and, following a less than successful but not quickly to be forgotten Easter trip to Arco, I was keen for the season to start properly. Arnaud Richel mentioned that he was planning something near Scheffau, and he knew a route there which would be just right for me, the Via Romantica on the Kopfkraxe, fifteen pitches up to VI+.

We left Munich fairly early, driving past a group of girls on their way home from the disco in their "war paint", as Mario put it. We were out of the car before seven and were half way up the 900 (vertical) meter approach in a mixture of snow and dwarf pines when Arnaud and his climbing partner came steaming past us. Arnaud represented his country at rugby in the under-18 side, so I just have to get used to the fact that he is faster than I am when it comes to walking up and down hills. By about nine we were sitting on a small Bergschrund looking at the first nice shiny bolt and wondering where the route goes from there.

The route had only been bolted a few years earlier, and the rock was at times more similar to the rougher bits of Pembroke than the Avon Gorge. Polish certainly wasn't a problem. According to the topo the harder pitches should be lower down, and it was certainly nice to think of having the VI+ pitch out of the way soon and not waiting for us at the top.

The VI+ pitch, when it came, was certainly tricky enough, and I didn't get up it first try. However, it was something of a one-move wonder, up an unpleasant overhanging flaring crack. A bit more fun further up was a lay-back flake which swallowed my Camalot 3 quickly and would have taken my Friend 4 just as fast if I had had it with me.

In between the pitches were often scree- or grass-covered ledges. The line, too, seemed somehow more like an artificial attempt to link sections of climbable rock together than a skillful tracing of the easiest way through an otherwise holdless rock face. However, the climbing was still fairly enjoyable. About midday it was pleasantly sunny and we heard an avalanche come down the cirque below us. Arnaud told me the following week that this avalanche had run over their approach tracks and almost covered their rucksacks, which they had left at the bottom of their climb.

Further up came a wide flaring crack, innocuously graded V+ in the topo. It was Mario's lead, and after looking at it I looked forward to some entertainment while watching him get up it. The entertainment was dissappointingly short-lived, however, since after several brave attempts he declared that I was going to have lead this pitch, which wasn't what I wanted at all.

After my first try it was clear why he didn't want to do it. It was short on holds and not long on protection, and after trying to inch and struggle my way up it I didn't want to do it either. If this had been a single-pitch route at ground-level I really would have walked away, but the thought of having climbed half-way up this face only to turn round because of an unpleasant rounded crack was just too awful. After considerably more struggling I managed to get some more protection in, and shortly after that I was at the belay and able to look forward to watching Mario climb. At this point the wind got up and it started to snow, which probably made things harder for him, although he was still able bravely to declare that he wouldn't have put in so much gear if it had been his lead. Thankfully the snow stopped again soon, and what had fallen didn't lie.

A few more pitches of not so hard climbing led to a little bowl which still held some old snow. From here a loose pillar of choss led something like 30m upwards and rightwards to a grass col. Unfortunately due to the lead swap this was now my lead, and it just wasn't fun. I did manage to get in a couple of nuts, more for the pleasure of seeing a couple of quickdraws on the rope, as I wouldn't have wanted to lower off them, let alone fall. Thankfully the climbing was only about Severe.

From the grassy col just one more pitch led to the top, of what looked like pleasant grade IV climbing on sold rock, a nice way to finish off the route. I was feeling quite relaxed and not expecting any surprises when Mario fell off without warning and plummeted earthwwards, the rope catching him onlyafter he had landed awkwardly on a rock ledge a few metres below where he had been.
Als ich an Alex vorbeiflog, dachte ich, 'Hmm..., das Seil muss bald straf werden'!
"I flew past Alex and thought, 'Hmm, the rope is probably going to come tight quite soon'!" was how Mario later recounted it, on the more than one occasion on which he was to tell this tale. I suppose it is true that I could have given him less slack without impeding his upward progress. For now, however, the more immediate problem was how to get up the climb and down the mountain. Thankfully his ankle did not begin to hurt straight away, and he managed to get up the pitch on his second attempt and made a belay somewhere behind a pile of snow on the top.

With the tension of the route over Mario started to realise that his ankle wasn't quite right. It turned out that the descent was down a snow ridge and then from a col down a broad snow flank back down to the path, and Mario bravely packed more snow around his heel to ease the swelling then set off down. I think that I probably enjoyed the descent more than he did, although I wasn't that keen on the horizontal cracks in the snow on the broad slope which we descended. As it was we got back down to the car without further event. Plans for a further route the following day were quickly abandoned, and we drove off to the nearest Gasthof for a very welcome beer and warm meal.

Boeseekofel, 13th August 2005

Not much more than 200m of IV+ looked like a nice way to finish off our holiday in the Dolomites, so five of us - Nerida Stores, Anthony Woodrow, Maria-Joao Cruz, Mario Pulquerio and I - took the chair lift up from Corvara to the Boe cirque in order to climb the Castiglioni-Detassis on the Boeseekofel. After a not very hurried start it was getting on for lunch time by the time we got to the via ferrata leading to the bottom of the SE Face, and later still by the time we sat at the bottom of the route looking up.

The weather was not all that inviting, and clouds swirled around us. Sometimes it was possible see the top, and sometimes it wasn't. There had been a few other parties on the via ferrata, but no one else seemed to want to go rock climbing that day. We held a brief conference on whether to go on, and then continued.

The first few pitches are easy, leading up to a large jammed block and then a broad ledge where it is necessary to walk left for maybe fourty meters to the start of the upper face. This is where the fun starts.

The main part of the route ascends a wide chimney that reaches from the ledge to the top in 5 pitches, with a dog-leg bend in the middle. The chimney was black and in its depths wet. Added to this, not only could we only sometimes see the top, we could now only sometimes see back down again. For August it was not warm either. I set off with Maria and Mario, and Anthony and Ned followed.

The climbing was surprisingly good fun. Although the depths of the chimney were wet, the right hand wall where the climbing went was dry and solid, and by any standards really nice to climb. It was steep and rough with big holds, and protection was also frequent enough for the difficulty of the climbing.

Unfortunately the cold put paid to the second party first. Anthony climbed the first pitch from the big ledge, but Ned's hands were so cold getting over the difficult step in the middle of the pitch that she didn't think she would be able to manage the rest, and they decided to retreat. As it turned out, this was the technical crux of the route, but we weren't to know that at this stage. It should be noted that Ned's first ever rock climb had been fewer than two weeks earlier.

I asked Maria and Mario what they fancied doing. One of the first times I had ever been climbing had been with Anthony and Maria on an autumn day eleven years earlier, on which Anthony and I survived dressed normally while Maria huddled behind a rock in her down jacket and moaned plaintively "It's so cold..." So it was that I was more than expecting to follow Anthony and Ned back to the chair lift. However, being eleven years older and having trekked around Annapurna in Nepal seemed to have changed her, as she was not at all interested in going down, and nor was Mario. Thankfully, considering how the weather would turn out later, both were sensibly dressed in Goretex jackets, which was more than could be said for me.

The climbing went on just as well as it had started, and pitch followed pitch of wonderful, steep, black rock. A lot of the time we could see about one pitch up and one down, but thankfully the route-finding was so straightforward that this itself wasn't a problem, other than that we were a bit nervous about hat the weather might do.

Round about five o'clock, the time at which the last lift for the valley leaves, I got to the top of the last steep pitch. It was possibly also the hardest to lead. For whatever reason I had managed to run low on quickdraws and protection, while still managing to get lots of rope drag. I had carried a Tricam ("good for the Dolomites") up the whole route without using it once, and now I found a hole in the rock through which I was able to thread it to make a belay. As Maria and Mario started to climb, it started to rain.

And then hail. It poured for the entire time that they were climbing that long pitch, for what seemed like at least the first twenty minutes with a mixture of hail and rain, which then gave way to steady rain. If I had had a sensible Goretex jacket on like the other two I might have had more sympathy with them struggling up a steep, dark chimney pitch in the wet. As it was, my sensible Goretex jacket was safe and sound in my tent in Corvara, and even my Montane wind shirt was inaccessible in my rucksack. (I didn't have a Reverso at the time, so couldn't just take time off from belaying to start taking my rucksack off.) By the time both arrived dripping wet at the top I was soaked through, frozen, and shivering. Just to one side of my belay was a small overhang with space for three to sit in relative shelter as we struggled out of our rock shoes and into our trainers (in my case) and sensible walking boots suitable for the Annapurna circuit (in Maria and Mario's case). Even then it looked over the top of the chimney somewhat uncomfortably. I wouldn't have wanted to sit there unbelayed.

From the top of the climb it was necessary to walk up to the summit of the Boeseekofel and from there back down to the chair lift... then from there back to the valley, since the chair lift would be long closed by the time we got there. Meanwhile it started to thunder. I was frozen and getting wetter by the minute in any case, so was not in the mood for enjoying the summit. Maria, on the other hand, was pleased at having got to the top and felt safe and sound in her Goretex jacket. Mario was thankfully quicker to realise that thunder on top of a 3000m mountain is not just an enjoyable spectacle, and, grabbing Maria by the hand, almost dragged her over the summit and down the other side.

From the shelter of the roof of the chair lift station we sent an SMS down to Anthony and Ned in the valley saying that we were safe and sound. Unfortunately the walk down from there was still rather long, and although the heavy rain had given way to steady, lighter rain, I was already cold enough that I wasn't warming up again. On the way through the wood something green hopped out of the grass and Maria was instantly transformed from mountaineer back to biology postdoc, crying "Frog!" in Portuguese and chasing after the poor creature, capturing it expertly and attempting to identify it.

It was just starting to get dark as we emerged from the wood into the village of Corvara. One quick warm shower later and we were sitting in a warm pizzeria.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Sella Group, Dolomites, 21st and 23rd May 2009

My first time climbing in the mountains since my son was born!

On the Thursday we went to climb the Maria Kante (9 pitches, IV+) on the S. Face of the Piz Pordoi.

S. face of the Piz Pordoi

There was quite a lot of snow on the approach for the time of year and it took us more than an hour to get up to the start from the Pordoi Pass. The start was easy to find, on the left-hand wall of the big chimney separating the tower from the main face, on top of the pile of snow that had come down the chimney.

The rock was typical for an easy route in the Dolomites - not always so solid that the climbing becomes really enjoyable, but mostly good enough. On the fourth pitch it became solid and compact, but this wasn't welcome as it made the pitch impossible to protect, and the pegs were fewer and rustier than I would have liked.

Peter Nowak on the Maria Kante on the Piz Pordoi

We only got as far as the col between the tower and the main face. The south face was dry and warm, but on the west face it was raining, and the wind was blowing this over the col, soaking me as I looked for the belay and making the upper pitches wet too. We could have waited a long time for everything to get dry again, so we ended up abbing, which was nothing like as bad as it sometimes is, thanks to the thick solid belay rings.


On the Saturday we went to Piz Ciavazes to climb the Rossi-Tomasi (7 pitches, IV+). I don't like Piz Ciavazes that much, since it is really busy and the routes just finish on the big half-way ledge unless you climb the upper cliff too, which I have never seen anybody doing. However, it turned out to be a really nice route, with better climbing than the bit of the Maria Kante which we got to see on the Thursday.

Peter Nowak on the Rossi-Tomasi on the Piz Ciavazes, in the background the Marmolada

It was certainly busy. There were two parties above us, and round about the middle all the parties caught up with each other. The fourth pitch was really good grade IV climbing, steep for the grade with solid rock and easy to protect. The fifth was a traverse left, and the seventh an entertaining traverse right again. At about IV- it wasn't hard, but possibly enough to make a non-leading second think twice. The start of the seventh and final pitch was another steep chimney with good holds, sadly over all too soon.

The belays on this route are one cemented in peg. They are probably OK, but if I am just going to have one piece at a belay then I like it to be a really solid ring, like on the Maria Kante and a few of the easy routes on the Sella Towers, and if it is just a peg then I would prefer two, even if cemented in. On this route there are thankfully enough cracks to make reinforcing the belays easy.

Looking over the half-way ledge on the Piz Ciavazes to the W. face of the Piz Pordoi

The way down from the half-way ledge on Piz Ciavazes looks terrifiying as you look over from this ledge. It is necessary to traverse into the huge gully that splits both faces and then back out to get up to the descent from the first and second Sella Towers. The way back out appears to be a narrow path grafted onto the side of a vertical face when seen from a distance, but once you are on it it turns out to be wide enough to walk on, and there is a cable to hold on to at the tricky bits. There was no snow at all on the descent.


This blog is going to be mainly about rock climbing in the Eastern Alps in Bavaria, Austria, southern Tirol, northern Italy and maybe even parts of Switzerland. From time to time it might also be about photography in the mountains, and in winter it might even have something about ski touring... but only as long as it is really impossible to go climbing in the mountains.

Mostly this is for me, because it's fun, and because I like to write about and take photos of climbing. Maybe it will also turn out to be useful for somebody, hopefully for English-speaking climbers interested in trying out some of the multi-pitch limestone climbs in the Eastern Alps. I'm planning to do tour reports, profiles of mountains and climbing areas, and maybe also occasional guidebook reviews.