It’s not every day I get to pack skyhooks in with my holiday gear, but then, this was no ordinary holiday: a five day trip to the Dolomites to climb two of its most famous routes. The trip had always been a bit of a gamble, squeezed in to suit Rob’s work commitments and the end of my exams, we needed good weather and good fitness.
Our holiday began with a 2:30am start for the airport followed by a full day of travel bringing us to the Fallier hut below the South face of the Marmolada by early evening. The Fallier hut lies almost directly below the start of The Fish and is a good place to take a look at the route, relax and prepare. The Fish is a classic hard alpine route first climbed in 1981 with aid by Igor Koller and Jindrich Sustr. It is known for its long and difficult pitches and also for its boldness: on the whole route the only usable bolts were on the Fish ledge which is very rare for alpine or Dolomite routes. The route is 1220m long and has 38 pitches up to E6 6c (F7b+) in difficulty, that’s as long as the biggest routes on El Capitan! A bivi is deemed necessary for most parties and the descent is down a large, though easily negotiable glacier.
We’d packed light for a two day ascent, saving weight by taking plastic survival bags for the bivi and a minimal quantity of food and water. Another early start got us well on our way in the early morning drizzle up the easy yet serious lower pitches. The grading in our guidebook was rather conservative: F5+ pitches felt loose, bold and technical whilst the F6b to F7a pitches higher up were total sandbags but brilliant to climb thanks to the intricate and technical slab climbing on immaculate water worn pockets.
As the morning drew on the sun burned off the clouds and the temperature stepped up a notch as we arrived at the first difficult pitch, a tricky traverse which helped get the brain in gear for what was to come. After another tricky pitch we reached the first crux pitch, an incredible curving open groove on perfect limestone. I set off confidently up the lower slab but on reaching the crux felt pretty exposed fearing a long fall due to a jammed old tri-cam taking up the highest gear placement. I balanced a skyhook on a small hold as some psychological protection but shocked myself by slipping off- only to be held by the skyhook a few feet lower! Rob later humorously commented that this was more impressive than the on-sight! I finished off the pitch and Rob led through to the fish cave.
I wasted valuable energy and time trying to leave the wrong side of the fish cave, hanging off some small holds and separated from the belay by only a couple of skyhooks. In the end we changed our attack to the other side of the cave which was a bit easier and less frightening. The following three pitches were still tough, all graded at F7a in our guide (though more correctly at F7a+, 7b+ and 7a+ elsewhere!) and we were forced to take several rests and ‘Yosemite’ Rob had to make a couple of cheeky French free moves on one pitch which brought us thankfully to easier ground and the big ledge with the bivi cave.
Our bivi was utterly freezing and uncomfortable in only our survival bags with the ropes for pillows; consequently we got no sleep and were back moving at first light- a real shame because the bivi was a truly lovely spot with amazing views. The remaining 14 pitches were pleasant and quite easy but tiring as we were only fuelled with a thimble full of water each and a packet of fruitella! We were pretty relieved to reach the summit of Punta Rocca (3265m) but totally chuffed to have climbed such an amazing route. The glacier descent proved to be fine in trainers although we both got terrible sunburn having left the sun cream behind in our attempt at a light approach.
Keen to make the most of the good weather we set off to climb the classic Brandler-Hasse on Cima Grande the following morning. We were surprised to bump into some other Brits, Ben and Theo at the bottom of the route and enjoyed a sociable ascent of the route. The Hasse climbs through spectacular terrain and is predominantly a sport climb on the harder pitches due to a mass of in-situ gear, unfortunately Rob and I were totally boxed after our previous exertions and I had to take a hang on the final hard pitch. Rob made a spectacular on-sight of the previous F7a pitch, more off than on and later commented that it was one of his best ever efforts due to his exhaustion!
We spent the next couple of days drinking coffee, eating pizza and doing a bit of sightseeing in amongst some relaxed sport climbing before our return home. The Dolomites are a truly amazing place to climb, certainly up there with the very best long routes in the world and totally convenient with plenty of cafes and pizzeria’s to help a nice days RNR. Both Rob and I agreed that we would definitely return at some point in the future. The Dolomites are just so impressive and it seems really odd how they are so out of vogue with British climbers.
On my return from the Dolomites I found that North Wales was experiencing some lovely weather. I decided it was time to seal the deal with one of my projects up on the East Wall of the Idwal slabs at Ogwen. I originally attempted the line on-sight but couldn’t commit to the dynamic moves above a large ledge. I returned the following week with my dad belaying and after a quick top rope was confident I could lead the route quite easily. I underestimated its difficulty and took a painful fall onto the ledge when I failed to hold a dynamic move.
On this occasion I felt worse than I had previously, I was still tired after the Dolomites and also slightly worried about the hot weather and the state of my boots. I also knew that a fall from the final moves of the route would be very nasty indeed. A few goes on top rope helped me find a more secure sequence though this was offset by my tired arms. I decided to pull the ropes and go for the lead. My first attempt saw me take a safe fall near the beginning of the hard climbing which really frustrated me as I began to see the climb slipping out of my grasp yet again. Next go I went all guns blazing, I was unable to chalk up for the final few moves and my legs were shaking awfully but I dug deep and finished it off, slightly surprised to have reached the top. The route is very good and I found it unusually hard on lead due to its dynamic style. It starts up a classic E3 called Capital Punishment then breaks out up a 12m headwall in a very grit like style. I called it The Great Escape, E8 6c.