South Faces with Wayne
I knew Wayne Wallace by reputation before moving away from Seattle, and met him when he came to see the Picket Range slideshow Theron, Aidan and I put on. His exploits in that range and elsewhere were really impressive, and it was an honor that he came out. In fact, anybody who does something interesting in the Picket Range can count on Wayne’s interest and enthusiasm, which is super nice.
He was on a European vacation, and our schedule matched up for a few days. I was sharpening my crampons Friday night and expecting him to arrive any minute when the phone rang. Disaster! His luggage had been stolen on the train in Switzerland. Climbing boots, tools, you name it…it was gone. He was thinking about just hopping on a plane and going home. It was up to me to convince him to stay…
“We’ve got 3 days of high pressure, we’ve got sunny south facing walls and enough equipment at my house to outfit you. Finish your journey to the Eastern Alps and take solace!” I said. Well, maybe not so elegantly, but whatever I mumbled, it did the trick. Wayne arrived Saturday at noon, and we hung around the living room table for a 10 minute coffee break, then roared out of town for the Martinswand (if a 1997 Toyota Corolla can roar).
Our ultimate goal was the Dolomites, but we’d lose the light if we tried to make it all the way down there now. By 3 pm, we were roping up for Maxl’s Gamsrevoir, a climb Adrian had introduced me to the previous spring. Wayne, in my borrowed rock shoes, made short work of the VII- highly polished crux, while I finally gave up and pulled through on gear. Wayne had interrupted my whole rhythm of late fall…now was when I was supposed to slide into sloth and put on some fat for winter. It’s harder to feel good about that process with somebody so damn good is around!
We climbed 3 more nice pitches, then scrambled up to the base of the “Ostriss” (VI-), a really enjoyable 5 pitch climb I’d done two years before with Dan P. A couple of Austrian guys were scrambling down the easy way and told us we’d better have headlamps if we want to climb so late! I thought we’d make it without trouble. Indeed, Wayne took off on the long (50 meter) first pitch, which is quite interesting. We swapped leads to the top, enjoying the vertical climbing with huge dinner plate holds at overhanging steps. Cracks and corners led us to the top. We scrambled off to the right, put on our tennis shoes and hiked quickly down. Happily we reached the car before dark.
What time is it? Dinnertime! Wayne told me about the epic adventures he’d undergone so far in Europe. Amazingly, none of these epics included a good hot meal. Feeling somewhat like a worried parent, I rushed him to downtown Innsbruck for an infusion of good, heavy Tyrolean food and Weissbier. We slept at the Sella Pass under a cold sky full of stars.
In the morning, we found some coffee in town, then headed up to the Ciavazes cliff to climb the “Micheluzzi” Route (VI), 12 or so pitches of good climbing in the sun. I’d attempted it two years before with Dan, but blocks of ice hanging over the cliff came crashing down while we were on the first pitch…too close for comfort. I was worried that Wayne and I would run into the same conditions, but amazingly, that hanging subdivision of ice wasn’t in place this year. There was certainly more snow lying around than two years ago.
Wayne took the first pitch, where already, the Ciavazes wall shows it’s character. Steep, with occasional pockets for feet but more often angled edges with an unnerving patina of polish. He reached the belay and I came up, followed closely behind by a couple from Wolkenstein. They stayed with us all day. A bout of rockfall had us all crouching under nothing. One or two parties were above, and we looked forward to the moment when they’d start traversing off to the right. We also had to consider the predations of goats high above on the exit slopes of the upper cliff. Pitch two was probably my most exciting lead…steep and sometimes dicey. The protection was a mix of cams and pitons. It was fantastic, but a real wake up call!
Wayne took the next two pitches, partly because I was afraid to lead a VI pitch! (like I said, I’m out of shape and not too proud to whine about it) However, the feared VI pitch proved to be a (truly) tough move right at the belay, then entirely normal V climbing. I took the next two, a walk to reach the great traverse, then the first traverse pitch (V+). We’d never climbed a consistent horizontal traverse for 4+ pitches, so this would be novel. It was really neat to disappear around the corner and just keep going. Usually fairly easy, the cruxes came when the holds got small for hands and feet. The usual Dolomite mix of pins, cams and the rare nut protected each pitch. On the third traverse pitch, I got “lost” by angling slightly up as I traversed. I found gear, and it seemed quite reasonable, but it ended at a piton with a ratty sling and a rappel ring on it. I could see an ancient sling and piton about 10 meters below me. The folks behind us said that this was the right belay. I decided not to trust the ancient sling with knots that people had used to get down there, and to reverse the pitch and try again. It was the right call!
For the last traverse, Wayne continued right and made two crux (VI) downclimbs that I’d have to follow. Gulp! But actually, it wasn’t so bad. I got some nice pictures on this pitch. Then I led around the corner and up on runout terrain to reach easier ground. Three more pitches followed, first, some awkward corner cracks with painful foot jams, then a long route-finding journey up a wide face (fun), and finally, straightforward moves to the “Gamsband.”
Can’t we sell this as an ad?
This had been an excellent climb, and we saw why it’s a classic of the region. Technically, it’s climbable year round thanks to the south face micro-climate. I’m looking forward to going back to climb a couple of other routes on the wall.
We searched for a place to sleep, and had bad luck initially. Knocking on many doors, everybody told us we’d need to stay more than one night, or to rent an apartment, or they just didn’t answer. It was a real ghost town in Wolkenstein. Finally, on the last call I was going to make before sleeping by the car a cheerful woman answered and told us to come over. We got a room, then went out for pizza at a hockey rink, apparently the only place open. It was great! We watched the local kids play a lacrosse game on the indoor “field.”
Looking across to Piz Pordoi, and the Fedele/Dibona combo Danno and I climbed in 2009
I was pretty amazed that Wayne continued to climb despite a worsening cold. At least that way one of us had a good reason for feeling exhausted at the top of approach gullies.
In the morning we learned, to my visible excitement that our hostess was the sister of Mauro Bernardi, the author of 3 amazing climbing guidebooks to the Dolomites! For the last couple of years, I’ve raved about his topos, they are so good and have saved me from a dozen easy-to-make routefinding mistakes. And it’s evident he respects the dream of classic alpine climbs. Though these are becoming much less popular than modern sport routes, they do have their fans (namely, me), and have a champion in Mauro who generates excitement around these routes with great pictures, topos and guidebooks. Let me offer 1000 thanks for them.
At the last minute, we decided to climb the Sas Ciampac, via a route called the Geschweifter Kamin (IV+). Two years before I’d climbed the Adang Route (V) with Dan. The Geschweifter Kamin wouldn’t offer hard, clean rock climbing, like we’d get with another route on the Ciavazes cliff, but it would provide another view of the Dolomites for Wayne, and the longer approach and descent would be part of the fun, I thought. Fully prepared for scruffier alpine rock, we set off with one rope and a small rack from a parking place just below the Grödnerjoch. We exchanged Mountaineers stories on the way up, having a few good laughs. I think the Mountaineers are great, as does Wayne, but that doesn’t change the fact that some close up encounters have been bizarre or surprising!
We found the start in a deep gully (relative to the face). I led off for a dusty, somewhat insecure pitch in a chimney, feeling like there must have been a massive rockfall here in recent days by the powdery layer over everything useful. Ugh. Wayne led off and traversed out of the gully to scrambling terrain. We unroped for the next three pitches of easy terrain, then started up roped again on a reasonable face gouged by chimneys and cracks. Two long pitches here led us to below the “Three Cornered Overhang,” where Wayne had found a perch in the sun. As part of fighting the cold, he was prone to overdress and seek the sun, even moving belays around as necessary to accommodate.
A few exciting vertical moves followed, passing a small fixed cam and a piton, then traversing up and left to reach a belay above the overhang. Wayne led a long pitch to a ledge, where he moved so far right in search of sun that the next pitch was just a 50 meter traverse back into the deep, dark chimney that would provide our exit. Ha! Wayne got us into the chimney, and I led a nervous pitch up the right wall past a curious wooden dowel with a coathanger wire to clip in. Weird! But it fit in the crack where nothing else would, so who am I to complain! A bit tired from the moves, I rested and found more gear before climbing up to a cave belay.
The cave was a bit creepy because it looked like we’d have to climb water ice to escape. Gulp! Maybe Wayne would get to use his mixed skills after all…just without any equipment. As it turned out, there was a way around this problem, and Wayne brought us to scree slopes at a notch in the summit ridge. We ate some food and put on shoes, hiking to the summit for amazing views of Corvara and peaks in all directions.
Hiking down, we realized how much we’d admired the LinkCam I found on the Arbengrat of the Obergabelhorn this summer. It was an amazing piece, finding good usage on almost every pitch! Being somewhat old, we talked about knees and their difficulties. We reached the car in early evening, driving home as the late fall sun quickly descended.
Thanks for some good climbing Wayne, and thanks to the mountains for awesome weather!
More pictures here…and Wayne wrote about his whole Europe trip on his blog here.