08 Jun 2014

Abrams Route (VII-) and Sella Towers

Robert and Goran came to the Dolomites with that sage of the mountains, Fred Beckey. We did a family trip in the Selva Gardena valley at the same time, which allowed us to have some great dinners together and to meet up at crags.

One day Robert, Goran and I headed off for something longer. The Dolomites got a lot of snow this year, so north faces were still difficult propositions. Somewhat conservatively, I recommended the Abrams Route on Ciavazes, either that or the Schubert route, neither of which I’d done but they were on the list for a while. We got up early and were out there before the crowds under a clear blue sky.

I took the first block of 4 pitches, with an easy initial pitch, and then pitch two woke me up with some long runout (I doubtlessly skipped a few pitons by accident). The third pitch was pretty fantastic, a sustained chimney/crack with solid rock. We were escaping the scruffier low-elevation pitches common on south faces, and Garon and Robert liked it.

Goran climbing low on the route. On pitch 4 Robert on the "Schuppe"

A shorter but very sweet V+ pitch led up snugly under a roof, and we rearranged the ropes to put Garon on lead for the crux VII traverse. He led up a crack hilariously stuffed with wooden bars and ratty ropes for aiding purposes, eschewing their dubious aid. After smugly declaring it to be no more than 5.9, he was surprised by the actual crux move which was a pretty dicey traverse to an anchor that we thought was the belay. “Okay, now THAT was hard!” Robert followed, and then me. Goran suggested I wait at a previous piton to avoid too much “man meat” on a piton belay. I haughtily declared that was nonsense, having earlier lectured the guys that there are no bolts on the classic routes and you just have to trust the pitons.

I can be insufferable. So Goran left the belay with some relief, disappearing around the corner for a long pitch. When Robert and I followed, chatting all the while about topics of mutual interest (both fans of Jared Diamond’s books), we noticed a deluxe belay just to the right. Drat…that should have been the end of the previous pitch!

Goran on the crux (VII on the traverse, the crack is only VI). Michael on pitch 5

Goran strung together the next two pitches for a 75 meter grade IV romp up chimneys and easy faces. We were getting pretty high, and the view of the Pordoispitze with it’s ominous black streaks was especially impressive. The motorcyclists were out, and loud as usual. We joked about life with Fred. In 2012, he’d come out to climb with Aidan and I and we had a good but sometimes infuriating time. The stories are their own rewards though!

Now Robert took the lead, and wow, what an experience! He led up to what should be a IV+ move, but as we saw on later examination of the topo, he’d chosen a “direct” route that was a couple notches harder. The heavy pack and a relative paucity of rock climbing over the last while may have had something to do with it: he fell! Goran and I were worried in the moments before, because Robert said 1) he couldn’t hold on anymore and 2) he couldn’t climb down. Gulp! But as Robert said later, it was something of a relief to come to the end of a tense situation!

Robert about to encounter a small difficulty.

He was fine. The piton held. Goran finished the “direct variation” pitch and the rest of the climb we joked about the problem of “The Claw:” Roberts hand had cramped up so terribly as he hung on and fumbled for protection that it got a new name.

Goran on pitch 11. The now infamous "Claw" incident.

Robert got “back on the horse” for the final pitches, which he strung together into a 75 meter grade IV simul-climb. Happy and healthy on the “Gamsband,” we joked a while, then walked across the magnificent ledge to reach the descent trail from the Sella Towers. Somewhat tiredly, we hiked up to climb the “Steger” route on Sella One. Goran led the first 3 pitches in a simul-climb, marked by a spicy (I’d say 5.8+) direct crack variation below the broad ledge in the middle of the route.

Darn it, the clouds looked quite gloomy! So we made a couple of raps to the ground, and hiked away. We had a nice chat with some Italian folks taking catalog pictures for their gear company. They said they were listening to us and wondering where we were from. They looked at me and thought I was English, but then they heard the American “Rwahr rwahr rwahr” (as they put it) and knew we were red, white and blue!

The Grohmannspitze in morning light.

Goran and Robert did some climbing with Fred at crags in the area, and also got to climb the excellent Vinatzer Route on Sella Three. On our last day we met up at 5:30 am for a Dawn Patrol in order to knock out the climbs we’d missed out on: first the Steger on Sella One and the to continue on to Sella Two with the “rechter Riss” (right crack), quite easy at IV-. We hiked briskly up in cold wind, regretting that we didn’t bring gloves. Robert led up to the broad ledge on Sella One, then continued with a fixed belay on a polished IV+ pitch to a belay on the crest. Goran and I were engaged in a rancorous discussion about the nature of the Euro-crises. I’m a little upset with the “morality tale” version of the Greek problem, popular in Germany. It lays too much blame on Greek households without recognizing the profit to German firms for the expansion of the market for German goods and the rewards reaped by the financial industry for selling debt to the Greeks. But Goran parsed my arguments carefully, finding numerous contradictions which I had to work hard to rebut even as I dealt with a slippery vertical chimney 300 meters above the ground! So this was all great fun.

Goran is saying "Don't confuse monetary and fiscal policy!" :D Awesome to see Robert again!

Goran took the last hard pitch, rather spicy for IV+, making a polished traverse around the corner of the crest. Yay! We were on top!

We scrambled down to the Southwest Wall of Sella Two, noting the time along the way. The need to be back in Ortisei by 9 am meant we needed to hurry, so we opted for the Right Crack. I led up up for a three pitch simul-climb to the summit. There was a particularly enjoyable IV- ramp/crack section, and then on the last pitch I had to rather artificially stay on the ridge crest for beautiful grade III+ climbing instead of easier scruffy ground.

We hurried down, scrambling and hiking. Once we were on the trail, we ran, jangling crazily. Hopping in the car, we were back right at 9 am. Woot!

I said goodbye to Goran and Robert, having really enjoyed their company. Such a great visit, and I look forward to their return!

Approaching the summit...