Sun 3rd Sep, 2000

Climbing & Vie Ferrate in the Dolomites

Neville McMillan

Co-ordinator: Neville McMillan

Secretary to the Co-ordinator: Chris Thickett

Members seen in action: Neville McMillan, Sheena Hendrie, Dave Bone, Tony Major, Phil Ramsbottom, Chris Thickett.


A table in the Sellajochhaus was set for six diners. Seats were occupied by four quiet, thoughtful figures whilst the other two remained loud and overwhelmingly empty. Outside the hut, the last vestiges of daylight had been extinguished for some time.

The silence at the table was broken by Sheena, always keen to find a solution to a difficult problem. "I know!" she said, "After the meal, we'll get pissed then go out and look for them with our headtorches."

However, they had not had time to finish enjoying the first course when into the room burst Phil, still with his climbing rucksack and smelly tee-shirt on his back, to announce the delayed return. In the meantime, Chris was confirming with the hut staff that this unplanned lateness would still result in being fed. The others were relieved as they had been spending the last few minutes trying to remember where they had left their headtorches or whether they could operate them effectively in an inebriated condition. These latecomers were also relieved, not because they had narrowly escaped a very cold benightment without water, food or adequate clothing, but that they had just managed to avoid an embarrassing mention in the annual dinner speaker's lampooning.

Let's face it, they had been too casual about setting off that morning. And on that third pitch, two hours had been wasted by themselves and three Italian teams trying to find a way up the wrong bit of rock. As the Italians sensibly roped down, English persistence found the right way up to the scrambling section above. This had led onto the ledge that corkscrewed round the thousand foot high Third Sella Tower. From here, there had been pitch after pitch of great climbing in fantastic positions, although towards the top anxious faces had been silently noting the sun starting to slip quickly down behind Sasso Lungo. Retreat from the summit was achieved in haste as panic circled around not far out of sight. Abseils were set up and completed with great effect whilst fellow evacuees were overtaken in the attempt to avoid that ultimate humiliation. Never mind! As Neville's Italian friend, Carlo, says "In the mountains, you have to be prepared to die!"

This incident happen during the second week of the occupation of the Dolomitic lands by KMC members. The Brenta had been the first object. For the best part of a week, Neville, Sheena, Phil and Chris had concentrated on completing the 'via ferrata' excursions whilst moving from one high hut to another. Weather conditions interfered with the various attempts on the Brenta summits but allowed the passage along these many iron-protected scrambles. The only hazard appeared to be the state of the glaciers, the naked ice causing some slippery problems especially embarrassing for Neville - "Just hold my hand, mein herr, and I will rescue you! So!" The Bocchettes Alte and Centrali, the SOSAT, the Benini, the Brentari, the Orsi, the Palmieri and the Vidi were all experienced by combinations of this wirey bunch. None of these routes could be described as difficult but all proved to be enjoyable with many an exposed section likely to cause embarrassing involuntary bodily functions for the unprepared.

In the meantime, Dave and Tony completed (and, in part, straightened out) the fine 'Fehrman Route' (550m, IV+) up the south-west deidre of the very impressive tower of the Campanile Basso, although some cold discomfort had been endured early that day. These two then spent the following day on the wires where they managed an unexpected encounter with the others.

A first mass migration then saw all re-esemble at the Sellajochhaus in the main Dolomite area. The Sella Pass proved to be a good striking off point for attempts on both rock climbs and vie ferrate.

A particular fine day was completed by the wire-hopping four who climbed the Possnecker route, crossed the Sella plateau and then descended the Tridentina with refreshments taken at the Pisciadu hut.

During this period Dave and Tony climbed the First Sella Tower by the 'Rossi Route' (South Face, 170m, VI+) which had an exciting first pitch considered to be well undergraded; the original 'Schubert Route' on Piz di Ciavazes (220m, VI); and the West Face of the Third Sella Tower (300m, VI). The middle route was first climbed by another of Neville's European cronies, although it must have detracted him from finishing that symphony.

Neville and Sheena sampled the polished rock on the very popular South-west Ridge of the First Tower (100m, IV+) whilst Phil and Chris had climbed the South-west Face of the Third Tower (350m, III) as already mentioned.

The best laugh of the trip was provided by Neville who managed to entertain us with a party trick involving a steel traffic barrier, a tripod and the self-timer on his new camera - "Unattach yourself, mein herr, and I will explain how to take a photograph. So!"

An exodus was then made to the Catinaccio or Rosengarten. On arrival at the Alberto hut, Phil and Chris rushed out to climb the nearby and very exposed little tower, Torre Piaz, nominally by the South-west Ridge (60m, IV), finishing the afternoon with a spectacular, mainly free abseil from the top.

Next day, Phil and Sheena did the rather scrappy Winkler Crack (150m, IV) on the majestic Vajolet Towers with Dave and Tony jamming up, in gritstone style, the last pitch of the South Face Direct (110m, V+) just in time for a meeting with the other two on top of the Winkler Tower. Due to the cold wind, there was only one item on the agenda - how to get down! Tony obviously did not go along with the consensus as, instead of a making a shuttle landing onto the chockstone he went for a space walk at the end of one abseil. The previous day which had been quite hot in the sun, he had shivered with Dave on the shaded north face of Punta Emma (North-east Face, 250m, V). Their last climb, again on Punta Emma, was the South-east Face (V-) which was considered to be not worthwhile.

Catinaccio d'Antermoia (3002m) was climbed up and down by vie ferrate, the splendid day being enjoyed by the four wire-snappers. Although easy, the routes proved an interesting traverse of a fine rocky mountain especially in the good prevailing conditions.

Dave and Tony return to the Sella area where they climbed the South Face Direct of Piz di Ciavazes (300m, VI) where they found the difficulties short with lots of easy climbing. They seemed to be the last people on the campsite as end of the season hit the Val di Fassa.

So, they stormed down to Arco. In turn they generated a fohn wind storm of such proportions on the final Saturday with that it took the tops off their enthusiasm as well as the trees. However, Neville and Sheena had managed to frighten themselves on the Mori via ferrata which is to be found near Arco - see below.

Phil and Chris had also returned to the Sella. They drove down to Arabba to catch the 'flying bucket' up to the Trincee route on the Bec de Mesdi. Guess what? The funicular was a building site. A quick change of plan rescued their day with a splendid walk along the scenic Viel dal Pan and the panoramic viewpoint of the Col de Cuch ridge. They also enjoyed a fine walk in the Odle group in uncertain weather that developed into a thunderstorm or two before traversing the Sasso Piatto by the Oskar-Schuster route on the last of the warm days. Following these trips on the tops, they left Sella at around 7 degrees of shiver, and two hours later they were in Arco in 27 degrees of swelter. Here, they completed a climb on the Torre di Piedramurata (Torretta-Schaffer Route, 110m, 3b, loose, definitely not recommended) then followed on the next day with an ascent of the Mori via ferrata. On this latter, the difficulty took them by surprise. It proved to be very strenuous, extremely exposed, yet completely worthwhile. And nackering! The main traverse (Traversata delgi Angeli) must be close to 100 metres long. Highly recommended!

Arco seems to be a unique place - they welcome and encourage climbers! A £100,000 competion climbing frame had been built only this year and there appears to be no restrictions to the crags. Wow! There are miles of giant walls and slabs which must be only partly developed at present. Instead of the scrappy route at Piedramurata, perhaps better use of time could have been spent sampling the bolted routes at Corno di Bo on the shore of Lake Garda itself or on the long slabs of Parête Zebrata a few miles north of the town. But most important of all, the pizzerias, bars and ice-cream parlours were wonderful! - as well as the climbing shops. Many end of season bargains seem to be on offer for the impoverish English mountaineer to snap up - just think of all that money you could save!

Neville McMillan

Meet Promo:

A small loosely-connected group of KMC members and friends is planning to climb and scramble in the Dolomites in early-September. The committee asked me if I would organise this activity as a KMC meet. Since I have never been to the Dolomites before, don't know the routes, don't know the huts, and don't speak Italian, I feel that such organisation is not possible. However, I will try to co-ordinate the activities, and share information, among like-minded KMC members who organise themselves into climbing teams, and organise their own transport.

My own aim is to spend about a week on vie ferrate in the Brenta area, followed by a week climbing in the Rosengarten and Sella areas. I do not plan to do very hard or very long routes, as I do not wish to be benighted! Pit Schubert of the German Alpine Club has agreed to join me, and he brings a good knowledge of the routes in this area, over more than 30 years. Several linked routes on the Violett Towers are planned. Activities in the Brenta are due to start around 2 September; climbing on the Violett Towers on 7 September; return to UK around 17 September.

Would interested KMC members contact me as soon as possible, so that information on dates, places, routes, huts, transport, etc., can be passed around, and ideas and intentions discussed.

Neville McMillan - NOT the meet-leader, only the co-ordinator.

Neville McMillan

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