HARD, COLD AND LIGHT IN THE DOLOMITES

Posted on: February 22, 2007


David Bruder at the belay after the first of four crux pitches (6c) of the big roof on The Swiss Route (7b+, 6c obl., 550m), Cima Ovest, Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Dolomites, Italy. On January 20, Bruder and Jonathan Trango made a daring winter ascent of the route in a single push. The peaks in the background are the Paternkofel. [Photo] Jonathan Trango

The north face of the Cima Grande (2998m) in Italy's Dolomites is known as one of the classic six north faces in the Alps, alongside the Eiger, Matterhorn, Grand Jorasses, Dru and Piz Badile. When the weather turns cold, all of these faces become severe. On January 20 David Bruder and I made an alpine-style ascent of The Swiss Route (7b+, 6c obl., 550m) on the north face of Cima Ovest (2973m), just west of Cima Grande. Not many people, to say the least, attempt this difficult classic in winter, let alone try a light and fast climb with no mountaineering boots, no crampons, no ice tools and no bivy gear.

We reached the wall at 9 a.m. after a three hour approach. It was terribly cold (0 degrees C during the day and -10 degrees C at night) to attempt one of the hardest routes on the shady face. I could only feel my hands and feet for short sections, as we wore rock shoes for fifteen straight hours. We tried to climb free as much as possible (the route goes free at 7b+), but the cold was prohibitive, allowing us to work through the crux—a committing 30-meter roof—at 6c, with a few sections of A2.

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The route was quite steep, especially at the crux, which required acrobatic climbing on questionable rock—a frightening experience in the dark, even for a seasoned climber. Rappelling after this section, 150 meters off the ground, was out of the question, so the only way to finish was up. We climbed in the dark through a few pitches of 6a, which turned into 6a covered in snow, an unexpected disappointment after such a warm winter. One of David's pitches that should have been easy was a nightmare of loose, unprotectable snow. We breathed a sigh of relief at midnight when we reached the top, rappelled down the back side, and arrived at our car after 21 hours of non-stop activity.

It was an adventure worth the travel through the snow and cold—but next time I might bring a light ax and a pair of aluminum crampons!

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