Sunday, October 30, 2011

Europe - Part 3 - Highlights from Northern Italy

The Sella Group

When Jonathon and I were planning our trip to Italy, we had visions of climbing alpine rock on the famous limestone towers in the Dolomites. We decided to stop at a few of Italy’s classic sport climbing areas en route to get a couple final training days in on the steep rock. We first spent a day in Machaby for a day ofslab climbing on the metamorphosed, granitic rock. The rock is composed of minerals like biotite and mica, making it extra sparkly in the sunlight. We did a little cragging and did some multi-pitch climbing on one of the big domes. The climbs overlook the vineyards, wineries and the river that runs through town. It was a great introduction to small-town Northern Italy with good pizza, views of castles and plenty of sunshine.

Hanging out on the dome a couple pitches off the ground

Following pitch 3 (?)

Next stop was Arco, a touristy town on the northern tip of Lake Garda. Small and large limestone cliffs,ranging in height up to 300 meters and hosting well over 3000 routes, surround this area of Italy. We checked out the classic crags of Nago and Massone, while trying to avoid the sun since Arco is known for its heat and sunny weather. With a weather forecast that looked hopeful in the mountains, we decided to head to the Dolomites after the heat and the overhanging sport climbs had tired us out.

Narrow roads leading into the Dolemites

The character of Italy changes dramatically upon arrival to the small mountain villages within the Dolomites. The towns feel much more Bavarian-esk and there is a strong German and Austrian influence from the architecture to the languages spoken. The roads into the Dolomites are winding and narrow but they literally put you right at the base of these huge limestone towers. We decided we would first climb around the Sella group, in the western part of the park, and work our way east to the famous Tre Cime. We found a spot to set up our tent for the night and prepared our packs and racks for a small, warm-up objective for the next day on “The Thumb” on Punta Delle Cinque Dita.

Following a pitch on the Thumb

The next morning, we woke up to cloudy skis and a light drizzle. Since it didn’t look too bad, we decided we would still try to climb our attempted objective and just see what happens. Europe is all about taking lifts/trams to the base of climbs and this area was no different, except this lift looked like it might fall apart at any moment. Boarding the lift, was quite exciting. The lift does not stop or slow down and one-person runs and jumps into it and then the second person runs and jumps into it. The lift operator closed the door and then Jonathon and I were squished in this tiny, rickety cart and on our way up to the base of our route.

The rickety lift that brought us up to the base of the Thumb (center formation)

We picked a very moderate objective since we had heard that ratings are sandbagged, routefinding is challenging and that the leader must be comfortable climbing well above marginal gear. Jonathon led the first several pitches and for most of the time we weren’t entirely sure if we were on route. As predicted, gear was sparse and route finding was difficult. The climbing was easy, however, it was quite steep for 5.5. The clouds and wind continued and the rock got looser. After several pitches we decided to bail. Later, the hut guardian told us that people don’t climb this route anymore because it is too loose. It didn’t seem like it would fit the definition of a classic Dolomite climb, despite being included in the Dolomite Classics book.

Not wanting to waste the day, we thought we might try a different route that we had read about in the guidebook. Jonathon ran back to the hut and took a picture of the topo. We decided to go up the normal route (the north east face). We climbed 4 more steep pitches, still not entirely sure if we were on route but at least the rock wasn’t as loose. Then the wind started to blow and it started to sprinkle a bit. We decided to rappel the route. The rappel anchors are one glued in piton with a large metal ring. That seems to be the standard here in the Dolomites. Once on the ground, the skies opened up and it began to pour. At that point, it didn’t quite look like our high pressure forecast was going to be accurate.

Sad :(

After three days of rain, we decided that it didn’t seem too likely that we were going to get to climb anything in the Dolomites. The weather wasn’t going to cooperate with our time-restricted schedule and we were not psyched to sit around and wait for a possible sunny day. Fortunately, Arco is known for its year round sunshine and mild climate. We left the Dolomites on a rainy morning and returned to Arco that afternoon to sunshine and sport climbs.

Views from the top of Nago crag

We checked out some more great limestone crags with views of lakes and castles. We also did some adventurous multi-pitch climbs in the valley. On our final day in Italy, we climbed the lower and upper walls of Monte Colt, a large limestone formation just north of Arco. Monte Colt hosts 100s of routes of all levels and lengths and we went up Ape Mania to Nemisis. It was 12 pitches of climbing over 300 meters, mostly in the 5.10 range, with pitches up to 5.11c. The rock was typically solid, with just an occasional loose rock here and there. It was not so polished like many of the popular cragging areas in Arco, so the friction was pretty good. And the yellow and grey colors of the limestone beautifully contrasted the blue and green colors of the landscape below us. The climbing was entertaining and engaging, consisting of stemming up dihedrals, positive edges, and some great exposure on some pitches!

Leading up a very exposed pitch!

Topping out on Nemisis

Even though we got rained out in the Dolomites, it was still a great trip to Italy. Climbing continues to remind me to be flexible, have patience, and take in the whole experience. I have learned that climbing internationally is not always about the climbing necessarily; there are many more adventures beyond the actual climbing from sampling the local food, deciphering a new language and navigating the foreign lands. It was a grand adventure! Big thanks goes to Jonathon for making the trip happen and to Petzl for providing the gear!

Bolted chimney on diedre lamasone

One of the many castles we saw

The first place we stayed at

More narrow roads

Jonathon following the exposed 3rd pitch on Nemesis

On top of Monte Colt

Partying with the locals

My boyfriend :)

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