Pordoispitze "Via Fedele"
Also posted at Summitpost here
NW Face “Fedele” Route with Dibona Finish (800 m, IV+, 26 pitches)
The route follows the striking black (intermittent) water streak on the Sass Pordoi straight up, then continues above the scree band to near the summit.
Pictures by Michael Stanton and Daniel Clifford.
“26 pitches! Really?” Danno couldn’t believe it, though it was equally hard to believe that the upper part of the wall, which was all we could see from the Sella Pass was a mere 8 pitches. “The scale of these mountains is insane.”
We’d just finished climbing a Sella Tower, and the Pordoispitze Wall glowed in the last sun.
“Damn, I have to go back to school next week,” moaned Garon. And thusly, his part in the tale to follow came to a premature end.
But Danno called me a few days later, we were both having trouble getting our work done in the sudden heat wave that struck Munich.
“Do you think we could climb the Pordoispitze together?” he said.
“Hell yes, you are reading my mind!” I rejoined. Dan had looked on the internet and found a detailed description of the route. He knew the hardest technical moves were within his ability, it would just be a matter of repeating them over and over and over!
So we formed a plan. Our schedules only allowed for an evening and one full day. Kris is training to run a marathon, and I needed to be there to watch the kids while she went for a full day run. We watched the weather closely and it was a close thing: I could only go Saturday, and that day would be rainy. But Kris could move her run day to Saturday and give me Sunday to climb. That made all the difference! We could expect blue skies. Thanks baby!
Late Saturday night I drove to Dan’s place, then we took his car down to the Dolomites. Just like a month before, he had many food goodies for us, especially a delicious Muesli cereal.
We found a place to sleep and lay down for a few hours. It was really great to be here with Danno. In 2005 he hired me to work in Munich, giving me my first job “on the continent.” As a family man, he has even less time than me for the hills. Finally, he really only got excited about adventure climbing in the last year or so. But now here he is, having essentially made this trip happen with single minded determination. It’s so great to awaken fanaticism in others! Normally, it’s a lonely life spent thinking about mountains and how to climb them. If it’s possible, Danno has embraced the Dolomites as an idea or beacon of adventure more than me. I’m looking forward to many great trips with him as the years go by. Right now, it’s still possible to shock him with the epic nature of long mountain days, but that will wear off quickly I’m sure!
In the morning we moved the car and parked promptly at the wrong place. Already I’d mis-read approach instructions! Ultimately, we had to lose about 600 feet and regain it, along with 400 more. I thought the guidebook told us to start 200 vertical meters above the valley floor, but they really meant 200 meters up the road from the floor. Just to confuse me, there was a trail that seemed to confirm my bad choice.
Finally we left this trail and traveled through sparse forest and steep hillsides to reach the base of the climb.
We scrambled up about 50 feet to an obvious corner crack that marked the first pitch. Two parties were already on the route, up a few pitches, and a guide and two clients were right behind us. Danno belayed me on a trickier-than-expected IV+ crack. He came up, noting that it was easier to climb on the left face a bit outside of the crack. “Shoulda done that!” I thought. The guide came hot on our heels.
We coiled our rope for two 50 meter pitches of scrambling run together, up a ramp to the right then back to the left. This put us far ahead for a while. We had hoped that the route would allow us to do this kind of thing several times, but due to the hellishly consistent steepness of the wall we never got to “scramble” again until reaching the big ledge after pitch 18. Looking above, it was clear that this was a big wall.
A few pitches got us up and across a waterfall. After a very nice black crack we caught up to two Americans from Colorado, who we would visit with for quite awhile. For the next 14 pitches, we would be near them, and the guided group would pass and be passed. Pleasant enough. I was just impressed to be keeping up with a real Val Gardena Guide!
Danno had hoped to lead pretty often, but the nature of the climbing was a fair bit beyond what he’d experienced before. Maybe the difficulty was only IV+ (about 5.6 YDS or so), but it was pretty sustained, and route finding could be mysterious. Once I got off route and think I climbed something considerably harder to repair the mistake. I was worried about Dan in a situation like that. He led a good pitch on a left-leaning ramp up to a chimney belay, but otherwise I got to be a “lead hog.” I told him though, every pitch he climbs on alpine terrain makes him more ready to lead. Next climb, we’ll do something shorter with more time for him to take leads. He’s found out how much fun it is to lead pitches, and won’t rest easy for the season until he gets another 8-10 leads under his belt. This I respect!
Pitch followed pitch in the middle of the lower wall, with continously changing views.
I’m kind of a one trick pony. Or maybe it’s just that I’m easy to please. More pitches are always better. Pitch quality is truly secondary. Seriously, if you point me at a tottering pile of jigsaw pieces, as long as it’s high enough and not too hard, I am all over that thing! I didn’t learn to love climbing at the foot of Yosemite cracks and corners. I learned in front of the TV, watching “Time Bandits,” when the great black castle with dizzying spires appears from behind the mirror. I learned while reading about the climb up from Cirith Ungol, the dreaded stairs into Mordor. I read “The White Spider.” There is little to do with asthetic quality in there, and everything to do with forbidden adventure. By those lights, whining about loose rock, stunted lines or brush is just not cricket. The medium of the moment is subordinate to the overall impression and atmosphere of the greater objective.
Back to the story…
Knowing that, you understand why I found the waterfall pitches more fascinating than annoying. “Danno, you’ve GOT to see this!” I hollered from around a corner. We’d already climbed for hours…past an exciting vertical pitch, some long cracks and wet chimneys, past some strange and devious faces. But now I scrambled up a ramp as the sound of water grew ever louder. The Colorado couple were just ahead. I waited for Bonnie to enter the waterfall: she cleaned gear and mewled understandably in the cold bath. “Well, there is a first time for everything!” I thought as I entered. A moments hesitation meant my pants were instantly soaked. I bulled upward, feeling the absurdity of the moment: there is no water anywhere in sight but on this blocky wall, freezing my fingers! I could clip two pitons in the waterfall rather than fiddle with gear (I would have just run it out). I got up and built a belay slightly above the Coloradans while we laughed at each other. I couldn’t wait for Danno to experience it.
It made an impression on him for sure! The next pitch flirted with a canyon of rushing water then took a secret exit on the left wall with a cruxy, slabby move to reach the belay. A hand-traverse led around the corner to the easiest ground we’d yet seen, then two long pitches got us to the big ramp.
We sat down for lunch, admiring the valley below, and wondering if we had the stamina for the last eight pitches. It was late afternoon, but I didn’t bother looking at my watch: we were going for it, so what if we top out in the dark. Danno was right there with me…despite a short apprenticeship in the alpine he knows the days are maximal, the goals are big, and you stop when something makes you and not before.
Feeling like kids in a candy store we set out to hike to the upper pitches. Our old man bodies reminded us how tired we really were though, huffing and puffing, finally giving in to the required measured pace. A rueful laugh!
Late afternoon heat saw us scrambling up to the entry band. I was happy to be able to find and recognize the start of the first pitch…there seemed to be many possibilities, I’d hate to choose wrong. “On belay!”
It gradually sunk in to my tiring limbs that this was the best pitch of the route! It climbed steep black rock up and right along a shallow grove, always exposed and athletic. A full 50 meters of interesting climbing which I savored as Danno came up, enjoying it as well. A long and sparsely protected pitch followed, disappearing into a long chimney. Alarmingly, my forearms began cramping and I had to learn to grip less and recognize the signs of a cramp so I could change hands or move. Eventually we were below the supposed “crux” of the climb: a bomb-bay chimney that requires some acrobatics to get your body fully up into it. Right before the moves was a beautiful scene: a prettily framed panoramic window in the dark chimney opened to a golden scene of South Tyrol. A session of thrutching and cursing to enter the bomb-bay followed, my feet pinwheeling in the air, with my chest and shoulders lodged in a dank passage. A good piton protected the moves, and could make it easier if aided. In three books I saw this bit rated from a blithe 5.6 (IV+) to a stout A0/5.8 (A0/V+). Danno was the picture of indignation when he flopped to the belay. “Man, that was just…not cricket!” He now tells a hilarious story of me calmly offering helpful advice and giving (less helpful) slack to aid his progress, all the while his feet are above his head and his heart is about to burst.
By now we were feeling punch drunk, prone to hysterical laughter in our lonely chimney. We took a long rest, finishing our food and psyching up for a final tough pitch before the last stretch of easier ground. If there is a God, one of His greatest gifts must be laughter in absurd self-created situations. We took power from this alter, finished our water, and Danno sent me off with a “good luck.” The chimney kind of died and I was back on the face in the sun, admiring the psychedelic rock: gold where it was easy, black where it was hard. On black rock, “watch me,” liebacking up a shallow rib, limited power, but landing in gold, then gold for feet. Thank you. “WHOOO!”
“We’ve done it Danno! I think we’ll survive, come on up!”
It was great having the upper wall to ourselves, for our private adventure. In the Alps you have to get used to the loss of solitude…but when it comes back it is nice.
We walked up the screes to the lift station on the summit, full of wonder and respect for the canyons flying off in every direction. Closed up tight for the night. We descended the long trench and valley, sometimes skiing down snowpatches in our tennis shoes. As we reached the base of the wall, a beautiful moon rose over it’s vast blue-black glory.
The car was a few weary miles away. I won’t say we didn’t feel it, but we’d done what we came for and that sustained us.