27 Aug 2017

Cinque Torri Climbing

A long weekend in the Cinque Torri

also posted at Medium

Barbara, Chris and I went to Cortina to climb. The weather forecast was rather depressing. We arrived Friday around 11 in light rain. It was supposed to be worse on Saturday, then (improbably) fantastic on Sunday. Therefore, we should try and climb as much as we can today and let Saturday be a day of rest or swimming or something like that.

We marched up to the rocks and I brazenly started climbing the Torre Lusy Nordwand in the rain. I made it about 2 meters up and got stuck! Chris and Barbara looked at me and looked at each other then said, “Uh…I think this won’t work.” I agreed wholeheartedly, and it took me a little while to carefully get down! Rain was streaming down the rock into my jacket and underarms. This was silly, obviously!

The friendliest part of the Torre (link)

New idea — let’s climb the South Summit of the Torre Grande. Mostly very easy with one IV- pitch near the end. It seemed like the rain was getting lighter, and we could always reverse the route if necessary.

High on the South Summit of Torre Grande, above the crux chimney (IV-). (link)

It took a while to find the route, we went halfway around the rock before I ran back to our backpacks hidden in a cave to look at the guidebook again. Finally we were climbing and enjoying ourselves. On pitch two there was a cute little cave to crawl through. Then we short-roped a couple of pitches up a gully, across a large block wedged in the crack between the North and South Summits, then emerged on a ledge on the other side of the peak.

Now we climbed the crux pitch…first traversing to the right on grade III terrain, then up a delightful chimney with the grade IV- crux. I made a nut placement that was particularly good — wedging it into a hole to be clipped from the other side. Barbara found this pitch nerve-wracking because of the traverse, though Chris showed her good places to put hands and feet. It wasn’t raining as we climbed this, which was nice!

I scrambled off for the last pitch, a grade III romp up a shallow chimney and gully. Soon we all stood on the summit, wanting to look around at our accomplishment through the misty clouds. However, no sooner did we arrive but the wind picked up, bringing sudden cold and more rain. It was time to get down, and quickly.

Barbara, excited on the descent of the cavernous “Große Schlucht.” (link)

I knew we could abseil the route after down-climbing the last pitch, but there was an anchor on the summit dropping into the vast gully between the two summits. With double 50 meter ropes, I was sure we could use it. Down I went, then Chris then Barbara followed. We stood in a little grotto, somewhat protected from the wind. I belayed Chris down to an anchor on an enormous block wedged between the towers. Barbara followed, keeping our spirits up, as we realized we could become dangerously cold. I was shivering, and told my partners about how to warm up by swinging your arms and doing squats. That definitely helped. We rigged the ropes for descent, and I slid down…I found another wedged boulder that I could swing over too, and briefly contemplated using an anchor here to reconnect with our ascent route. Barbara and Chris were getting cold above, so a better choice was to follow the rope to it’s end in the gully between the towers. This was probably the most fascinating abseil I’d ever done. Free hanging for 40 meters, a cavalcade of overhanging rock on all sides, with a thin ribbon of light out to the hills surrounding the Torre. Shivering somewhat, I freed myself from the rope on a sandy platform and called up. Chris was soon down, and Barbara whooped with delight at the strangeness of the orientation in space.

We scrambled down, then made a single-rope rappel to another sandy continuation. Barbara surprised herself, jumping in an unexpected way on rappel. She had been warmer than Chris and I on the descent, but now she seemed colder. I implored her to warm up, and she did. At least now we could laugh a bit, as we were close to safety…but the serious nature of our predicament was clear — were we to be immobile up there for longer, we would end up hypothermic. I castigated myself for getting us so high up in poor weather! Why not just do single pitch climbs if I insist on climbing in bad weather. Grr. One long double-rope rappel then got us down. We were on the “Via Finlandia” side of the mountain. I remembered climbing the beautiful crack of that route with Aidan 5 years before.

We heartily agreed we’d done enough, and it was time to repair to the hotel in Pocol, which we did post-haste!

Soon we were laying out our things to dry, and enjoying a hot shower then dry clothes. Our room was draped in ropes and clinking gear. Chris’s room upstairs was small so we had some of his things to dry down below. We drove to town for pizza at Cafe Croda. Ach…delicious!

The next day, Chris decided to hang out around the hotel. Barbara thought he’d regret it and get bored, but I thought that for a young fella, it’s fun to have a hotel room and the run of the place for a while. Turns out we were both right, first me, then Barbara!

Barbara could not keep herself in the place, and was already standing by the car and getting her harness on while I finished my orange juice! I love the way she is…

We did the first two pitches of Torre Lusy Nordwand (IV- to here), then I, suitably chastened from the day before, recommended an abseil to the ground. The weather was better…although the rock was wet there was sun on east faces. We went over to Quarta Bassa (III+) and climbed it in three pitches. I vaguely leaned left as I climbed, hoping to connect to the route to the summit of Quarta Alta. I saw the start, but was content to take it easy. We enjoyed the last pitch so much…Barbara did little exercises to climb in harder ways to test herself. Now she felt fully at home on the rock.

Fantastic rock on Torre Quarta Bassa (III+). (link)

On the descent, Barbara retrieved a stuck rope, doing a much better job than I had of whipping the rope around creatively to make it come down. “I feel like a V.I.P.,” she confided, as some wandering hikers saw her equipment and spoke to her about climbing. I laughed, remembering my own boosts in self-esteem in similar situations. Yes, climbing can be cold, wet and dangerous at times, but at times even faint admiration from others can make it seem worthwhile again!

Love on the edge :). (link)

We went back to the car and changed to hiking mode, then wandered up towards the Nuvolau Rifugio. However, sheets of rain were pouring down on all sides, and thunder and lightning began ringing around us. We took refuge in the Scoiattoli Hut after a quick peek down on the west side of the pass, just as the deluge began.

Escaping the snowstorm. (link)

Inside, we enjoyed a fantastic cappuccino, Barbara raved especially about it. We were warm and happy…we’d had great fun. And now it was snowing outside! Barbara made a video. We started quickly down, half-running, reaching the car in about 20 minutes.

Dinner at Cafe Croda was especially good tonight. We gathered Chris at the hotel. We remembered my beloved green hiking umbrella which I’d left at the Cafe the night before. On return, we set up camp in the lobby of the hotel with a chess board and darts. We had some vodka and orange juice, and more cappuccino for Barbara (the hotel restaurant stayed open very late).

Chris handily beat me at chess, though I surprised him for a short time before he lost all respect when I missed a double rook attack on my king. I think I won against Barbara in an entertaining game where I managed to get my queen back due to an intrepid and stubborn pawn. Meanwhile, we played darts, keeping meticulous score on a sheet of paper. Barbara won every time! Such a great party…

Sunday wasn’t the day we were promised before…in fact, all the surrounding mountains were covered with fairly thick snow. The sky was a mix of clouds and sun. At least the sun was warm when it came out. Let’s go!

Summer?! (link)

We packed our things (Barbara and Chris are very efficient at this, earning my admiration!), sped up to the rock and went right over to Torre Inglese for the Ostwand (IV-), two pitches which I hoped would be in the sun. The first pitch was a fantastic chimney/crack which I thought would be very instructive and enjoyable for Chris and Barbara. From a little notch, we continued up the second pitch, easier (III) across slabs to a glorious ridge (“Kante”) finish. I took a bunch of pictures, and a British pair arrived for the climb. The abseils were awkward and the rope was easily (twice!) stuck in a crack. Once down, we climbed two single pitch climbs nearby (I don’t have the names for these, but they were rated III+ and IV+ according to my rough definition).

On Torre Inglese (link)

Having fun, with Torre Lusy and Barancio behind. (link)

Chris and I were cold, and he suggested walking over to the lift station and restaurant nearby. As usual, Barbara didn’t need anything and only reluctantly left the area of the rock. On the way over we took pictures on the snowy trail. Once there, we had a fantastic pasta lunch, really overdoing it!

Barbara couldn’t sit still anymore though! I paid and we followed her back out. Finally, I thought, we are warm enough and enough snow melted that we can climb what I originally wanted to climb — Torre Lusy Nordwand (IV). We marched over, and I dispatched the first two pitches as one. Chris and Barbara arrived, and I was momentarily nervous. I thought the next pitch would be the key as to whether we could or should continue to the summit and became impatient with short delays. But then I was off, walking back on a ledge and climbing steeply to the ridge crest. From here I could see the rest of the route and felt reassured that we would make it before we froze! Snow on ledges and dramatic skies gave the experience an alpine air.

In fact, the whole weekend was special because for the first time, Barbara was experiencing how serious alpine rock climbing could feel in the right conditions. She loved this, even though Friday had been a bit much. And Chris, for his first alpine rock, was really getting the full monty. Still smiling, which was great!

The best pitch on Torre Lusy! (link)

Barbara found the short vertical section on this pitch to be the hardest of the route. Nonetheless, we continued for pitch 4, which is my favorite. It traverses over to the edge of the tower, with a dramatic gap across to Torre Barancio. “I don’t like the gaps!” said Chris at one point, as the exposure was most deeply felt at this place. The route becomes vertical for a few moves, too, which was nice. Barbara loved this pitch.

Barbara and Chris. (link)

Two more pitches of IV and III, then we were on top. Again, unable to enjoy it for long, because we were cold. We belayed the short trip over to the abseil station, then enjoyed the 35-meter free-hanging abseil.


It was time to pack up and go home, being somewhere after 5 pm. Chris played some interesting German rap music, and I played Cloud Cult, which my companions found very weird.

Again, great pleasure was found in the wet and snowy Dolomite mountains. Thank you Chris, Barbara and thank you Cinque Torre for your hard rock and good handholds. :) (more pics here)

Descent. (link)