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Tom Ballard finishes the year with back-to-back rope-solo ascents

Posted on: January 11, 2017


Tom Ballard makes the first ascent of Dust in the Wind (M8, 100m), Val di Fassa, Italy, while rope-soloing. [Photo] Tom BallardTom Ballard makes the first ascent of Dust in the Wind (M8, 100m), Val di Fassa, Italy, while rope-soloing. [Photo] Tom Ballard

Apparently Tom Ballard was just getting warmed up after his first ascent of Titanic on the Eiger North Face in early December.

The British alpinist returned to Italy's Dolomites where he currently lives and established a new mixed route, solo, in Val di Fassa that he called Dust in the Wind (M8 100m). He equipped and sent the route while rope soloing over a two-day span, finishing December 28.

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On December 29 he set off on a casual rope-solo of the Gogna Route (5.10, 800m) on Marmolada Punta Rocca (3309m), with nine hours of climbing over a two-day span, summiting December 31. PlanetMountain.com describes the Gogna Route: "This route climbs a long series of slabs, corners, chimneys and cracks up the left-hand arete of Punta Rocca, the second highest peak on the Queen of the Dolomites. It is an excellent, beautiful and varied route that highlights the great intuition needed by the first ascentionists to identify the right line through the smooth slabs, especially in the lower half of the route. The rock transforms in the upper half and at times it may be loose, especially before the finishing slabs, close to the top and cable car."

Ballard savors the sun at the top of the Gogna Route on December 31. [Photo] Tom BallardBallard savors the sun at the top of the Gogna Route on December 31. [Photo] Tom Ballard

"I had never climbed the Gogna before," Ballard said. "But this summer I climbed Tempi Moderni [5.11, 850m] twice, once solo in two days (an afternoon following the approach and the following morning) and again with my girlfriend. I bivied in the same place, [a] halfway ledge, on all three occasions. Tempi Moderni is very close to the Gogna.... The weather was great, not too cold, clear skies forecasted, I love climbing in the South Face in winter because there is absolutely no one. Solitude is guaranteed. I was actually thinking to climb Tempi Moderni again, but decided to climb something new instead and I had brought the Gogna topo as my backup plan. Also the lower section of the route was dry, in summer it's often wet. I was disappointed not to climb it in one day, but since I had bivy gear and most importantly reading material, I made a leisurely end to the year."

Ballard shared the details of his 2016 closeout ascents with Alpinist:

On Christmas day, I finally went to climb a fantastic ice drip I had seen many times from the road. However, it turned out, unsurprisingly, that someone had already climbed up the left-hand side (there were some new looking bolts), not to worry, the shallow corner beneath and exiting on to the right side of the drip was unclimbed! So, I climbed the first ice pitch, then attacked overhanging rock above, placing five bolts on lead, pulling over the final ice bulge onto a spacious ledge. Here I found a new bolt belay and an older peg belay. All day had been very windy, as I was drilling the dust was blown around, mostly into my eyes. Unfortunately, temperatures were rising rapidly, I just had time to bung in a peg and bolt for the next pitch before getting the hell out of there before it all fell down on me.

I returned on December 28. Temperatures were much lower, and the ice was cracking badly with every swing, no matter how delicate I swung. I 'freed' the short but steep pitch up to the drip [at] M7+. Then a few mixed moves lead to 'thin ice' leading to an ice column. When tapped, it made the same sound as a cracked plate! So, I fetched the drill and attacked the wall on the right up to the ice. Then I climbed it free (M6) and then a long section of WI3 to where the ice abruptly ends.

Ballard makes a clip while rope-soloing the first ascent of Dust in the Wind. [Photo] Tom BallardBallard makes a clip while rope-soloing the first ascent of Dust in the Wind. [Photo] Tom Ballard

The following day I approached the Marmolada. The first problem was getting to the start of the route, I had decided not to bring my crampons, and the snow was exceptionally frozen. I had approached up Val Contrin to Passo Ombretta and from there the last 15 minutes are downhill. I found the start of the route and climbed the first easy pitch, which was beginning to run with snowmelt. I left the rope (5 meters short!) and went back to Passo Ombretta and the cold metal box that is the bivouac hut.

The next morning I was climbing (after another nightmare approach/descent) at 7:15 a.m. as the day became light. The climbing was not 'hard' and I didn't even 'self belay' as such, merely tying one end of the rope to the belay and another to my waist and then climbing. But I failed to find a couple of the proper belays, wasting time, and I was generally quite slow. I knew that I needed to arrive on the halfway ledge before 12:30 p.m. to reach the top in daylight. Of course, that's the time I arrived. I climbed the next pitch, then rappelled down as usual to fetch my rucksack and clean the belay, but then I decided to stay on the ledge in the sun. The sun would last on the face until about 4:15 p.m., but temperatures would begin to plummet, and then darkness would fall quickly. I hate climbing in the dark. I had a book to give me something to do for the long afternoon and evening. It was nice to relax in the sun. Certainly, better than on the Eiger—there we didn't see that golden orb for a week.

Ballard enjoys some reading on the comforts of a bivy ledge during his rope-solo of the Gogna Route (5.10, 800m) on Marmolada Punta Rocca (3309m), Dolomites, Italy. [Photo] Tom BallardBallard enjoys some reading on the comforts of a bivy ledge during his rope-solo of the Gogna Route (5.10, 800m) on Marmolada Punta Rocca (3309m), Dolomites, Italy. [Photo] Tom Ballard

On the last day of the year I started to climb at 8:15 a.m. as the sun was beginning to warm the amazing grey sheet of rock that is the Marmolada south face. Well I say 'warm' but I climbed with five layers of clothing on my torso and two layers on my legs! As a soloist, I never stop (apart from to stuff a Mars Bar down my throat, or gulp some water) and so I am kept fairly warm. I would get cold if I had to stop and belay someone! At 11:50 a.m. I had reached the top of the 'climbing' but had to rappel and fetch my rucksack and change from rock shoes into winter boots. I was on the summit 12:20 p.m. I descended alongside the nearby ski [slope], trying hard to ignore the stupid skiers 'sliding' down. My girlfriend fetched me from Passo Fedaia on her lunch break and then I took the bus home.

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