by Rob Powell
South Africans climb the classic Don Quixote on the Marmolada south face, Dolomites.
The Dolomites in Italy should be on every climber’s bucket list. The area has something for everyone, from hard single-pitch sport routes to long easy multi-pitch trad climbs, and everything in between. The mountains are littered with interesting historical sites from the brutal mountain warfare that occurred on its jagged peaks during World War One. It was here and during this bleak time in history that via ferrati came into existence, as the Italians and Austrians vied for defendable positions on lonely and exposed precipices. They needed ways of getting troops to and from defensive positions and created what we know today as via ferrati. They are extremely popular and crazy good fun.
The scenery is some of the most dramatic anywhere. The limestone has been eroded into gigantic and complex faces with towers and pinnacles everywhere. The faces are only part of these wonderful mountains with inaccessible high plateaus, hanging forests, never-ending scree slopes and aquamarine alpine lakes literally in every direction. It’s a visual overload and I love it.
The highest peak in the Dolomites is the Marmolada, and for rock climbers and skiers, it’s a mecca. In winter, the north face, which is permanently glaciated, has skiing from its summit thanks to an incredible gondola system, and in summer the south face is the prize and is legendary in mountaineering circles.
The huge south face, with routes up to 900 metres long, topping out at 3343 metres, is reputed to be a serious climbing venue. The rock can be very compact and does not always provide sufficient opportunities for protection. Where the rock is not compact, it can be a bit snappy and you have to treat it with care. Because the north face is glaciated, climbers need to carry an ice axes and crampons for the descent, which can make for a heavy load. But don’t let any of that put you off; it is absolutely amazing and well worth a climbing trip from South Africa.
Jeremy Colenso and I were lucky enough to climb the south face of the Marmolada via the classic, Don Quixote (VI+) last September. It’s another tick off the list of alpine classics that I have been coveting for ages. The route length varies depending what guidebook you read, but it’s about 750 to 800 metres long and 23 pitches. This is how it went down for us.
From the trail-head parking, it’s a steep walk up a very obvious trail to the Falier Hut. We walked to the hut the afternoon before and enjoyed a lunch of polenta, local sausage, melted cheese and assorted mushrooms. The food was excellent and good value and the hut staff helpful and friendly. The view around the hut is typically of the dolomites, huge mountains all around, but the overall winner was the immense 1600-metre North Face of the Civetta poking out in the distance. Read more…
IMAGE: Jeremy heading up easy ground on one of the lower pitches. Photo Rob Powell