Thursday, September 14, 2017

Climbing in contrasting regions of Italy

The weather around Chamonix had been unsettled , plus the backstory of conditions being shot to bits due to the heat wave of June, Charles Sherwood and I decided to head to the Dolomites. We had not been there together since 2011 when we managed to climb the Comici route on the North Face of the Cima Grande. One of the 6 classic alpine north faces . The weather in the Dolomites was also unsettled but I felt that if we choose slightly less ambitious routes we could get a lot of climbing under our belts. Monday 4th September . We drove from Chamonix to Cortina in about 7 hours. We stayed in the in the Hotel de la Poste bang slap in the center of the town. Tuesday 5th September. The Hotel thought itself as quite posh. So much so that at breakfast the Maître d'hôtel took issue with me turning up to breakfast in flip-flops. I was quite indignant. Especially when a bunch of middle America Americans turned up for breakfast making me look the height of sophistication. Anyway the weather forecast wasn't particularly good so Charles and I choose a climb that was straight forward with bad weather escape options yet it was indisputably a Dolomitic classic . Torre Di Falzarego 2500m first climbed by non other than Emilio Comici the original superstar of Dolomitic climbing was to be our choice. It is a brilliant rock climb but it is one of those routes that falls into the category of a climb which states . "No matter how badly you are climbing it is certain that there will be someone worse than you." It was busy. Wednesday 6th. Again the forecast was not good enough to attempt a route of massive commitment. We headed up to the Rifugio Fonda-Savio Hutte. We were greeted by women dressed in "Heidi kit." Plus they were all speaking German not Italian.Still a grudge toward the First world war which tore the region apart. After an indifferent cappuccino [ clearly not made by a true Italian] we headed out and climbed the Torre Wundt 2517 via the south face IV. The actual climbing wasn't the best but the arrival on the summit was impressive. We munched our picnic while having a debate as how to actually get off the top because it wasn't totally obvious. Five rappels later we were back on the path and moments later drinking beer back at the "Hutte." Thursday 7th. A rather late Hut breakfast at 7,30 and we were away.
We climbed the superbly named Il Gobbo 2560m. The smallest of the trio towers that also include Torre Leo and Torre del Diavolo. This was not our original plan. We climbed the wrong tower. Hind sight is a wonderful thing , but peering up at the towers through the mist it wasn't "blinding obvious which one was which. Yet it was fantastic in its own right and whats more it set up the possibility of climbing all three famous towers. Il Leo , Il Gobbo and Diavolo. We decided to stay with the Heidi women another night and try again the next day. Friday 8th. This was to be the climb of the week: Torre Del Diavolo. The Devils Tower. Immortalized by Hans Dulfer and his crazy step from Torre Leo to actually make the 1st ascent of Torre Diavolo. Our plan [which was yesterdays plan] was to do follow this iconic climb. The weather wasn't ideal , it was very cold and we suffered from numb fingers . It wasn't until I launched my self onto the 3rd pitch of Torre Leo that we ended up in the sun. The pitch is utterly spectacular and one of the best pitches I have climbed in a long while. It finished on the summit of Torre Leo. Now was the challenge of the step over to the Torre Diavolo. I climbed down to attempt to make the stemming move. It was very clear, pretty quickly that it wasn't going to happen. At least until I grew new legs. I gave up and climbed back up to Charles to have a rethink. I then rappelled off the top of the tower and jumped across the gap and lunged for for what I hoped was a good hold. Charles shouted a congratulatory well done. This was my que to find out that the hold wasn't fit for purpose and consequently for me to go spinning into the Void between the two towers. I tried again after giving myself an "I can do this" pep talk. I also suggested that Charles save the congratulations until I was at the belay and tied in. 2nd time lucky. I Climbed up to the anchor sorted the ropes and set myself up to help Charles across.
Next was a steep loose pitch. Followed by another steep loose pitch which gently overhung but ultimately ended on the summit of the Devils Tower. The descent route wasn't blindingly obvious. The obvious rappel point was apparently there as some sort of cruel joke. Fortunately we employed the "measure twice cut once" technique and double checked. Two 50 meter rappels put us at the foot of the route. An hour and a bit later we were back at the car. We headed up the Passo Falzarego and stayed in the Albergo La Locanda del Cantoniere. This was an excellent location other than it was run by a Schizophrenic nutcase. [Update in the next Blog...]
Saturday 9th. Weather was indifferent so we climbed some single pitch bolted climbs at Cinque Torre, then in the afternoon headed for the Messner Museum. It is quirky. For starters it is made as difficult to get to as possibly any museum in the world. Firstly it involves driving up this endless alpine pass where at the top you dump the car and then have the option of taking a shuttle bus/ taxi, up to the actual museum which is an old Fort. Anybody who doesn't opt to take the shuttle bus is in for a mind numbing walk up a track for at least 2 hours. ( Thank god we took the bus.] Basically the museum is a very inaccessible art gallery. Interesting, BUT, neither Charles nor I would be rushing back anytime soon.
We drove to Belluno for no particular reason other than it was on the way and looked interesting. We found a hotel which was a wedding venue extraordinaire because of its beautiful situation. Although perhaps not the night we choose to be there because there were now biblical quantities of rain. Sunday 10th Finale Liguria here we come. Five hours after leaving Belluno we were climbing in Finale complaining about being too hot. Sunday 11th There was the inevitable thrashing around in the trees trying to follow the instructions in the guide book on how to locate the crag but eventually we did. The climbing grades are quite stiff! We stayed in the ultimate B&B , with a world class view. We then eat dinner in the village below which was so beautiful it was like something out of a film set. Monday 13th After an impressive breakfast on the terrace presented by our host Kostas we went climbing on the crag nearest to the B&B. We returned late afternoon then in the evening walked up to the church on the hill. Conveniently the church also doubles as a restaurant with a view. In fact if there is a restaurant with a better view show me it.
Tuesday 14th Charles had to fly home. We drove from to Finale to Geneva airport in 4 hours.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Completing The Iconic Swiss Trilogy: The Jungfrau 4158m

About eleven years ago Chris Dovell and I climbed the Eiger and the Monch but we failed to climb the Jungfrau due to high winds and bad weather and therefore the classic Bernese Trilogy. Chris then got distracted and went off to climb the "Seven Summits." So now having got this out of his system he returned with his wife, Lia ,to try the Jungfrau one more time. We left the Monchjoch Hut at about 4.00am and made our way down the glacier. This was all quite straight forward .Yet getting from the glacier and established on the buttress was far from straight forward. There was a steep 40 meter traverse on hard black ice. Lia was having issues with her crampons and we lost time. In addition the previous days weather had been extremely hot and we had not had a good solid freeze. Thus conditions were deteriorating and I could see that things were running away from us. At the col we elected to turn around for safety's sake. We decided that we would try again the next day. Lia was who was still recovering from a major knee injury felt she would leave Chris and I to try alone. We headed back to the Monchjoch Hut. The Hut could be an okay place apart from the fact that it is run by a man who is defiantly in the wrong job. The guardian is the most unwelcoming , unhelpful, mean spirited git I have had the misfortune to cross in a very long time. 3.30Am We choose to have an early a breakfast as we could so that we would have the maximum chance of it being cold. In addition the previous day we had sussed out the direct descent from the col. It is rarely feasible , but when conditions are good it cuts the time of the route by half. There were some big deep "tower block" swallowing crevasses to negotiate but we sped up the route taking of advantage of our earlier start and the better freeze. We arrived at yesterdays high point some two hours quicker . From here the route goes out onto a steep face which has metal posts in place to belay around. We motored up the final section. But contrived to arrive on the summit in thick mist at 9.00am. It was only on the way down that we got the view back.
We were back at the Jungfraujoch Station about 2 hours from leaving the summit.