Not all Limestone is Limestone, thankfully (Dolomites PtII)

So finally I made it down to Casa Davide, where I enjoyed the hospitality of pretty much his entire extended family over the course of a few days. Pleasure to meet you all, and thanks for putting up with me! And donkeys, Davide loves donkeys. He got his reports finished and the overseas trip was put back while paperwork was organised, so he had time to play!

First outing was to a wee sport crag to the south, Facerghera, where he and some friends are working on a guidebook. Here was classic limestone. Water-formed features like details from a Gaudi cathedral, razor edged pockets and boilerplate slabs. Needless to say I found it hard, so Im not sure i helped the guidebook grade confirmation!

Next day Davide decided that he had time for a quick half-day mission, so picked a couple of potential short-but-hard routes. The downside was that they had a 2hr slog to get to the base, which turned from muggy forests to open hillside only to reveal (or not!) that the entire cliff was shrouded in low cloud. We sat on a boulder for a while waiting for a momentary break in the visibity, spotted what looked right from the topo, and struck up into the gloom.


We chose A Cena col Siringa (VIII+, 185m, 5 pitches) on the Spiz d’Agner Sud. Davide was attracted to the line as it was opened by one of his local climbing heroes, and we would be one of very few repeating parties since it was opened. Luigi dal Pozzo was known to be ‘minimal’ in his bolting, never being shy of taking the big fall, so it should be exciting but safe. The first pitch set the tone – delicate slabby 6a+ with spaced pockets. Davide set off up the 2nd pitch (6b) but unfortunately his head wasn’t in it – the atmosphere was indimitating, the route somewhat unknown, and he had not been climbing enough recently to ‘feel’ the movement. He took an intermediate belay, and I led through into the third (6b) pitch, which had a crackline (yay!) but it contained plants (boo!). Toward the end of the pitch, I pulled out a block the size of a loaf of bread, managed not to fall off, but then had a nervous moment lobbing it blindly into the pea-soup, and hoping there was nobody below!

When I looked at the next pitch on the topo, I had to check with Davide what VIII+ meant. 7a+/7b he reminded me. Ah, I thought, time to get spanked! I had somehow not processed that information when we were choosing the route! I got the boulder-problem start second go as there was a crack to slap for, but then it moved into my non-speciality – pocketed face climbing. I got about half way up before I had to admit I simply couldnt pull on the tiny razor-crimps required to get past the next sequence! A bit of french-free followed, and another move or two led to the last of the bolts. The way wasnt clear, pockets left and right, I placed a weird cam and struck out, only to slip and, as the cam followed suit, ended up at the start of the bolts 10m below. Not sure if I could do the moves above the bolts again (and cams in limestone – yup, nuf said) I pulled out the secret skyhook, aided a move then left it in place as lead-protection while I sketched my way to the anchor (the first time i have led above a hook – so reasurring! And yet better than a cam..).

The last pitch was a good honest 6c, which suited me fine, at least in part because it followed a crack system. A whole different proposition to the previous. We topped out finally as the rain finally lived up to its threats and started soaking the face (and us). We had finished in the nick of time, and were glad to be heading downwards towards dry clothes!


Next day, we took a leisurely start to visit a couple of sport crags that Davide knew well since childhood, bunking off school to go climbing. The first, Podenzoi, was entertainingly vertical and technical, and stayed dry in the light rain, but when the thunderstorm properly hit, we ran to Erto, a crag reknowned for being ever-dry, and thus popular. Unfortunatly, the flip-side of popularity on limestone is polish, and I have never known its like as here! I tried to go for the classic ‘Contessa’ (7a) a steep prow with huge holds and big moves. The footholds were about the size of bookshelves, but I was slithering around like a dog on an icerink! So after Davide demonstated the right way to climb Contessa, we moved left to Libellula rosa (7a) with a boulder-problem start, that I had to get angry with to overcome. Above was more pleasant technical ground, reminicent of ‘Persistence of Vision’ at Dumbarton. Eventually the polish grump got to me, also reminicent of Dumbarton! Dont go there if you dont like slippy challenges.

Before I left we managed to get a classic bit of Dolomitic climbing in, to counterbalance the pocket and polish dramas of the previous days. We chose the ‘Solda‘ on the south-east face of Pala Delle Masenade (VI, 250m, 9 pitches), both a gentle walk-in and grade for good times. The line takes a weaving, physical, line up an unlikely-looking steep face, on generally good rock. On this occasion, Davide’s topo varied from the hypocryphal to the downright inaccurate (go by the Kohler/Memmel version) which made for interesting route-finding. All the same, the top came too soon, we enjoyed the crystal-clear visibility (a change from our previous outings!) and wandered back down the via-ferrata to the refugio and beer.

Here I learned my lesson why all limestone is not limestone. I had long been under the impression that the Dolomites were made from limestone, and indeed some parts are, but they are characterised by the hard grey slabs and pockets we had found on A Cena col Siringa, and includes the slabs of Marmolada. Its the oldest rock form in the area, and originates from when the whole range was under-sea. Dolomia on the other hand, which makes up the more distinctive yellow/grey spires of the range varies from excellent juggy joy (see Sasso D’Ortiga) to chossy rubbish. This also comes down to age, the older being the better (primary dolomitic), while the younger is distinguished by visible horizontal banding of strata (secondary dolomitic) and can be death-on-a-stick. If Im remembering this all wrong, Davide, do let me know!

So on balance, despite my best efforts, I still fundamentaly dont get on with limestone (with the exception of the Picos, perhaps), but have learned to enjoy primary Dolomia, and be wary of its younger cousin. Its good to know your adversary. But now Im returning to a known, and loved medium. Greg, an old Edinburgh resident and circus denizen, now of New Zealand, is psyched for Val di Mello, so Im hare-ing it back to granite heaven as fast as Naranjo can take me.


Author: naranjoclimbs

Ropemonkey, monkeybotherer, crack-lover,

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