Text and pictures © 1999-2014 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2012/12/07
"Why ? Why, why, why do I do this ???" — Chuck Pratt.
Left: View on Torre Venezia.
So the story starts only a couple minutes after the birth of my first nephew, Gabriele, on August 8th. We hit the road from Rome to a needed vacation in a place Jenny had been talking about for quite a while: the Dolomites. We took this opportunity to also go see the last solar eclipse of the millennium. The weather had been quite bad all summer, so what ? We drove all night, slept by the side of the road and started the walk on a very humid morning. Destination: the Vazzolèr refuge, south of the Civetta. We got there after 2 hours of a steep and sweaty walk, in time for lunch.
Right: Torre Venezzia.
The Vazzolèr is very scenic, located between Torre Venezia (right) and Torre Trieste (picture on the left), two of the most classic peaks of the Civetta range. You can't see the Civetta from there. In the afternoon we started a 6 pitches climb on the Punta Agordo (via Da Roit, west face). The clouds were ominous and promised only rain. I lacked sleep, it showed when I put my pants on on a ledge before the 4th pitch, just before the crux. As I was leading the crux I heard a ripping noise and (like in any self-respecting climbing movie) my harness fell off ! I had forgotten to tie it back ! Fortunately I don't do this too often... Well, the clouds did hold till we reached the top, but then we climbed down the gully under the pouring rain... OK, so it was only the first time we got wet on this trip. It was to become a habit.
Left: Rappelling down in the storm.
On the second day, we started early for the west face of Torre Venezia. Some two parties were already high up. The first half climbs a rather easy (but unprotected, mossy and very wet) succession of slabs. Just as I started the crux, a 6b traverse, droplets of rain started to fall. The sky had gotten black. I looked and Jenny and we shared the same thought: down ! As soon as we started rappelling off, the gates of the dam opened up. It was like canyoning: in a matter of seconds we were soaked to the bones (picture above) and water was pouring down the slabs. It stopped just as we reached the bottom !
Right: Rain while climbing Torre di Babele.
Left: My lead on the crux overhang of Goedeke/Rien.
On the third day, talking with the other people at the refuge was like trying to decide who was going on the frontline: everybody was saying: "maybe later, when the sky clears up". Right. We wanted to try a classic on Torre di Babele, the Via Soldà on the south pillar. We got there 5 minutes after two Polish climbers and, not wanting to wait, we started on the harder East face route, the Goedeke/Rien. Very few gear in my rack (the other route had pitons), even less on the wall (we found only a couple pitons). Route finding not so easy and some nice overhangs (left) kept blocking the path. A very 'trad' route. And long too, about 10 pitches. The forecast was right, it started raining on pitch 5 (right). Not too much, but enough to be a pain. We cuddled for a half hour under a small overhang, then kept on climbing in a light rain that soon stopped. The last pitches are pretty hairy: a steep ramp, with average rock that finishes in a huge and pretty tough overhang. By the time I was finished with it, it was sunny and nice. I didn't even pay attention and was complaining that I was too hot ! We rappelled down a hideously narrow gully with the 2 Polish guys. Quite a nice day.
Right: Summit of Torre di Babele, view on the valley.
Left: Some sun on the top of Torre di Babele.
From the top of Torre di Babele, there's a good view on the other side and down the valley.
Left: Torre Venezia, seen from Rifugio Vazzolèr.
Right: Exit of the Spigolo Sud-Ovest of Torre Venezia.
4th day, second try on the Torre Venezia, on a shorter route on the left of the tower. Decent weather. Very nice classic, a bit smoothed up at the beginning. Better be warmed up before the first pitch, it starts right inside a overhang, and very exposed too because you traverse 200m on a ledge to get to it. The last pitches follow a beautiful chimney (right: exit of the last pitch). I don't remember much of it, which means I didn't get scared !
Left: Civetta in the bad weather, seen from a bar.
We finished early and went down to the valley. It started raining and the forecast was really bad for the next day. So we went around, did some climbing on a nice wall and hit the road. Destination: the eclipse in Germany. Just parked the car on a country road in southern Germany, on the path of the shadow cone. The sun woke us up. I started preparing my photographic gear well in advance. Jenny was looking at the sun being slowly eaten by the moon, but also at the clouds forming. Two minutes before totality a big cloud was right above. We jumped in the car and started driving like hell in the direction of a patch of blue sky, head sticking out ! We managed to see only 2 seconds of the totality... No time for pictures. Back to the Dolomites in the afternoon.
So when it rains all the time, what is there to do ? Read epic stories about climbing (depressing), prepare the next routes by learning the guidebook by heart (dull) and look at the mountain flowers...
Left: A patch of Edelweiss, the famous Alpine Stars.
Right: Lilium Martagon, wet from the rain.
Left: A Physoplexis Comosa growing on a cliff wall.
Left: The Rifugio Auronzo after the storm.
Right: The pilastro giallo.
Time for some change of area, the world famous three summits of Lavaredo. Actually there are more than the main ones (Cima Ovest, Cima Grande, Cima piccola from left to right on the picture on the right), there is also the Punta Frida and the Cima Piccolissima, our first destination. We set up the tent on the parking lot, above the Auronzo refuge (left), with our back to the 3 Cime.
The yellow spur (Sperone Giallo) of the Cima Grande is a great classic. We climbed it on the second day in a complete whiteout, and it started raining just as we reached the top. The crux is a long overhanging offwidth, smoothed up by too many passages. Good pro, but quite exposed. I couldn't see very far in the fog, which certainly helped my mental state...
Left: Low on the Cassin route of Cima Piccolissima.
Right: The traverse of the Cassin route of Cima Piccolissima.
There aren't too many routes on the Cima Piccolissima. You can tell by how overhanging it is. And it's yellow too. Yellow usually means bad rock, don't go there, danger. The mythical Ricardo Cassin put up quite a hard route here. It's strange: the rock looks bad, it feels bad, but I didn't break a single pebble. I was quite nervous on that climb: the rock is very sharp, like it's been broken with sledge-hammers; it's very steep, hard for the forearms, and the holds are all angular; the pitons are as old as Cassin himself and it's hard to protect; and finally there are pitons just about everywhere so you don't know where to go. Jenny lead the last pitch, where the route finishes inside the gully between the Cima Piccolissima and Punta Frida.
Left: Rappelling down the huge chimneys between the different summits.
On the third day, we woke up under the snow and then the rain. All morning. What a bore. At 13:00 it stopped. We packed up and ran on the other side of the Cima Grande. Starting at 14:00, we climbed the long but easier Dibona route (max 5+, 400m). Many pitches of 4, with plenty of unstable rocks. At 6 we were on top (in the fog) and at 8 we finished in the rain the last rappel down the gully between Cima Ovest and Cima Grande, where the rope got stuck and I knocked myself out after taking a fall pulling on it. Two stupid incidents for a trip, enough.
We were supposed to stay four more days and wanted to climb the huge Marmolada, but the heavy rain of the next morning and the depressing forecast sent us back home to sunny Rome. We'll be back !