This day developed in many different directions that were very unexpected. But in the end I climbed the route and got back to the van before darkness. My climbing partner got sick and bailed, I climbed solo and later I found a new friend.
Table of contents:
- The Plan
- The whole trip including the tricky decent (Just a little)
- The timings
- Gear to bring (and not to bring)
- GPS positions that are good to have
This is the absolutely most challenging route for my arms and fingers that I have ever done. It was also the final route of a three week road and climbing adventure with 2,7 km vertical climbing before the Comici route. I could defiantly feel that in my body. The route challenged me on many different climbing styles. A hard crux travers, overhanging sections and a little horizontal roof. There was a wet chimney and sometimes a little bit of polished limestone. I found it very physical with many technical sections. One of the sections I ascended three times…
It was very simple. Be the first on the route and be down before darkness. Doing some filming on the crux pitches.
The whole trip:
First of all the weather forecast had been a real challenge. The weather history told us below zero degrees, RAIN and snow. All the time! We waited in Arco and Sarca valley for about ten days before our little window of opportunity came in sight. It was little and not perfect but defiantly worth going for it!
My climbing buddy Mikkel had been ill the day before so I knew that it was not a 100% for sure that we would go for it the next morning and during our early start during darkness he was not at the top. But he fought anyway knowing that we only had this opportunity. We walked in to the route from the Auronzo parking lot. From Auronzo there is a really nice area for camper vans and the track in to the route is exceptional great and easy to follow.
The day before I had walked in to the valley and checked out the conditions, doing some filming and photographs so I knew exactly where and how to start. The start up point is very logical so you do not really need to walk in the day before.
The beginning of the climb: (Red line)
We started to climb the easy line up to the right. I free climbed the first section putting one quick draw in to the crack (Mikkel began to climb) before going up to the left and making an anchor just before the first crux pitch. This was very easy in rock shoes and about 80m of climbing in total.
Now the real climbing starts: (Blue)
VII- right in the leftwards traverse which is some of the first moves. It is about four hard moves with little to the feet. The temperature was just around zero and the sun just came up rising out to the left giving just a few minutes of the sun. It would take around 12 hours before I saw the sun again. I did some warm up on the big ledge and psyched me up for the first moves. It was not possible to see and read all the moves but I could read that the feet and the speed would be a big factor here. I promised myself to give it a 100% knowing that the pitons looked pretty good from the ledge. I have never tried to climb this kind of grade in such temperatures and I was instantly hit in the face when I got up. I felt like an old man and tried to search for the good grip but it was not there. My ambition was to free climb the whole face without any A0 moves. (Pulling in slings and equipment). Time was running out and I was too slow. I clipped in the second piton and my fingers lost their feeling. I really tried to think about the feet so that I could safe some strength in my fingers and arms. Now I could see the good jug just one long move ahead – or was it two moves. I started to get some weird cramps in my joint inside the elbow. I was locked in position. Bad plan from the start – I should have changed hands a little earlier – DAMN! “Go for it”! I said to myself – And I did, only to realize that I had a soft landing in the rope just above the ledge.
That was how I started the climb and I must admit that my confidence was a little low. I was already pretty wasted in my arms… (Maybe I should have climbed a little more intelligent in Arco for the last ten days). I could defiantly feel the last 18 days of climbing and now I knew that I would not be able to free climb the whole face without any A0 moves – this day.
The big decision:
After the first technical pitch Mikkel was completely wasted. So we headed back down and I thought about my options. I had decided the day before that if Mikkel was too wasted to go for the push in the morning I would check out the Comici route alone and make an assessment. I have done some other robe solo trips so I had my system. After the first 30m I had a good feeling about the pitons on the route, which would be impossible for me to do without, so I decided to do the face alone. It was not all perfect since I had two 60m half robes and this is a real “pain in the ass” to do robe solo with two robes. I “normally” like to use a 40m single robe if it is suitable for the specific route. My weather window was now or (maybe) next year and I knew that the weather would be decent the next day so with a sleepover on one of the big ledges I were sure that I could do it in two days. I got some extra water, snacks and an ekstra jacket from Mikkel.
Mikkel did the last abseil from the beginning of the crux pitch so I had the honour to do the VI/A0 alone as my first solo pitch on the face. I did it without any rest but I must admit that when I had to do some VI moves a couple of meters above a piton – to the next piton – my hands got a little wet from some moist somewhere around (and it was not from the cold limestone rock). I managed to continue and on the second pitch I had a real nice flow with all the robe work and moves. Mentally the transition was a little harsh but I soon found my rhythm.
No doubt that I missed a climbing buddy but I would defiantly prefer to climb alone rather than feel pity for my self down at the bottom. The risk here was a long fall in the robe.
My new friend:
I am looking down and I see that four climbers are retreating. I know that it is our naboes from the camper van area and I yell down!
15 minutes after I shake hands with my new climbing buddy, Dimitri from Greece. The warm blooded Greeks retreated because of the cold but Dimitri with the “Russian name” must have had some colder blood in his vains because he is ready for the adventure even though he breathes in his hands all the time. A lot of time has been wasted so without any chitchat I start to lead the next pitch immediately. Dimitri takes the next and I can see that he is a good climber.
The first eight pitches on Cima Grande are magnificent. The rock is almost only solid and it is splendid climbing. The most enjoyable I have ever experienced. There are many awesome hand jams and it is very physical with a couple of completely overhanging sections. I remember especially a roof that I free climbed, on the seventh technical pitch I believe. It was a hand jam up and in to a horizontal crack, then sent in a bulletproof friend, and continue out and above. There was only air underneath.
Two days after the route I am writing this and my fingers and arms is still smashed.
First yellow track:
Very easy and logical climbing towards the chimney.
The swim in the chimney and the traverse: (Purple track)
The chimney was very wet after ten days of rain and some snow on the top and now it was my turn. It was longer than I expected but slow progress with secure feet made it feel okay. There are many good foot placements and I was very happy to climb a pitch where my arms could have a little rest. I also did the traverse, which gave me a hard time with a lot of robe drag.
Do not take the first exit up that you see even thought there is a great anchor– it comes after 20 m or so – and I was close. But Dimitri was well aware and told me to continue before I could make up my mind.
The exit: (Yellow finish)
Very easy pitch for about 65-70m that we simul climbed with Dimitri in the lead. When you climb up, the anchor is hidden around a corner just up to the right.
And then it goes for the traverse around the mountain to the opposite side where there is a hidden treasure. The awesome anchor for the descent. We were both very happy when we found it.
We walked and crawled around the mountain in a western direction to the opposite side on the southeast side. There comes a stone bivy site and after around twenty meters there is a couple of cairns giving you a hint of the direction down to the right following the ridge down. The first anchor is hidden down to the right by a little cairn and it took us around five minutes to locate it. Then we did about four abseils down. There was two sections were we packed the robe down and down climbed. It is a good idea to have a detailed map for the descent route since there comes a couple of places were you might come in doubt whether if it is right or left around it? I would defiantly say that it is very difficult to do the descent during darkness. If you take the wrong abseil route it could be out in the void.
The rock fall down the decent route is defiantly a factor. A rock hit me on my shoulder during the descent. It was my own robe that pushed it down.
1 hour from the Auronzo hut to the beginning of the route in a slow pace
Normally around 8-9 hours up to the exit of the route. It took me 11 hours with all the mess included
About 3 hours down to the Auronzo hut from where the ringband startes on the North side
Gear to bring and not to bring:
I would say that two 50m robes would be sufficient for the descent. Whether to bring a single robe or two half robes for the ascent is a dealer’s choice. But I was happy with our choice of bringing two half robes.
8 cams – two yellow size 2 (BD) and just a one single counting down.
6 nuts – small and medium size
4 – 60cm slings with two karabiners
1 – 120 cm sling for extra extension
1 – 240 cm sling to back up a 3 piton anchor
- Make sure that you have some very small karabiners to clip in to the preplaced pegs. Some of the pitons are very close to the rock and is placed inside corners so it is actually impossible to clip some of them with a standard karabiner. It is also very nice to have some small karabiners for the anchors when you need to back up the cord. Many anchors are made out of three pitons and there is only some very narrow space to put in a sling or a karabiner.
You will climb in the shade all day so we decided only to bring one litre of water each. (Even though the chimney is wet it will take a while to fill a bottle).
We also decided not to bring any bivy equipment at all. On the top you will defiantly be able to find a spot with minimum of wind and under some rock if it gets rainy.
Very important: Be as light as possible
To the start of the route from Auronzo starting with the best track onto the route:
N46° 37.266’, E012° 17.228’ (2330m) and N46° 37.234’, E012° 17.576’ (2382m) – The easiest track to the Comici route
Where the route starts: N46° 37.177’, E012° 18.103’ (2492m)
First descent anchor: N46° 37.133’, E012° 18.233’ (2845m)
The exit of the descent: N46° 37.050’, E012° 18.367 (2516m)