So just before departing for the Dolomites, I got the news that Davide, my old friend from Scotland and local of the Dolomites, had been landed with some short-notice work overseas. He would have to leave soon, and be very busy finishing up reports-due before departure (he’s a geologist). Maybe he would have time for a day’s climb, but perhaps not. So again I was adrift awhile in a huge expanse of unknown rock. Time to solo some classics, I guess!
Ed had helpfully marked up my ‘Classic Dolomite Climbs’ book with recommendations, so after finding my way to a pleasant overnight park-up in the shadow of Marmolada, I wove my way across the passes towards Cortina d’Ampezzo, and the striking cliffs of Punta Fiames. On the way I tried not to get sea-sick (31 hairpin bends in a row, anyone?) but took my time as the weather was sub-optimal. I parked near the sports-fields in Fiames and next morning awoke to clear skies. My goal for the day was unmissable from the parking. A perfect knife-blade arete that grabbed the eye and begged to be climbed. No wonder that Spigolo Jiro (V+, 400m, 15 pitches) is known as the classic of the Cortina area.
There are two approaches to the base of the route, directly up the scree gully (quicker but an unpleasant slog) or the way-marked trail through the woods to its south that crosses the gully near its top (longer but more pleasant, I used this to descent in the afternoon heat). Either way you follow the marked path north from the gully for about 100m before cutting into the bush at a small cairn. The approach is a scramble, and the initial pitches of the route not much harder, so I kept my approach shoes on until I reached the base of the arete proper (P6). At that point the initial slog became worth it – pitch after pitch of sustained, solid VS up cracks that weave up the arete, with good airy exposure on both sides.
Pausing only to fish out a shiny Kong cam from the crack (booty!) I topped out in good time for lunch with several bemused German ferrata-scramblers. The descent is a looong scree-run down an adjacent gully, and I was glad to get back to the van and empty all the grit out of my socks, shoes, ears etc..
Heading south towards Davide’s house, but still with time to myself, my eye caught the description in my book of a 1000m linkup that “will elevate you from one climber’s Seventh Heaven to the next”. The combination of two long ridges – the Castiglioni/Detassis (V, 650m, 15 pitches) on the NW ridge of Pala del Refugio, and after a scrambly linking section, the Weissner/Kees (VI-, 280m, 9 pitches) on Sasso D’Ortiga is described as one of the longest and most beautiful mid-grade outing in the Dolomites. The area also has a reputation for excellent rock quality (which was a concern of mine coming to the range) and you can walk off without rappels. Now that sounds like a fine day out!
I drove through the tourist-trap of Val Canali in the dark. In ‘Classic Dolomite Climbs’ the description says “At the Cant del Gal guesthouse, turn right and park”, suggesting proximity to the guesthouse, but instead you should strike up the narrow and slightly intimidating road through the forest that starts just right of the Cant del Gal. Continue for a mile or two to find good parking at the trailhead. From there its an easy 45 mins to the refugio, and another 30mins to the base of the climb.
The first couple of pitches were vegetated and a bit wet from recent rain, but the climb soon improves, with perhaps the most beautiful pitch being left of the ridge, just below the first shoulder. I think the description takes you up a chimney, but I spotted a piton out to its left, and was rewarded with lovely flowing 5c up small but incut holds, on an excitingly exposed face. The middle third of the route follows a gully-crack system to the second shoulder, from where the exposure returns as the route weaves an unlikely looking line through the steep and bulging wall that guards the summit. 650m done, 2 hours in, I gave myself a breather, a snack, and relieved my feet into my trainers for a while as I enjoyed the morning sun.
The linking scramble is not to be underestimated, although its well marked with paint. It weaves through chimneys, across gullies and traverses slabs (some bolts for the nervous) before popping through a hole and presenting you at the start of the next route. The view up the Sasso D’Ortiga is quite intimidating – a steep tower split by a huge chimney, but with no other obvious features – how can such a modestly graded route go up there?
The answer lies in the exceptionally well-eroded rock which presents the surprised climber with more jugs that you can possibly use! Ive never before met a route that looks from a distance so much harder than it turns out to be. Some sections were meant to follow chimneys, but (without protection to worry about) it was much more fun to stick to the face, plastered in countless generous holds and a multitude of options. The route flew by, the only technical moment being after you cross the house-sized chockstone at the top of the big chimney – a couple of steep, slightly polished moves into a crack system that soon relents into the last pitch or two for the summit. A thousand meters of high quality climbing finished before lunchtime and a panoramic view to die for. No bad!