Thursday, 15 September 2011

The spirit of purity and exposure

Photo: Looking focused

Since I first climbed in the Dolomite's during the early 90s I have always had a special relation to the grey and yellow towers and the imposing walls. Driving through the lush valleys in the South Tirol, passing the beautifully flower decorated chalets fills me with joy and happiness. The Dolomite's is a place where I enjoy true happiness no matter whether I'm climbing or not.
The panorama captures the spirit of why we climb. Its simply irresistible not wanting to go climbing the spires and walls.

The Dolomite's is an easy access mountain range not totally lost to commercialism and over exploitation. Climbing in the Dolomite's can still be an affair between the climber and its abilities. Its not just about physical challenges, it's as much about the psychological challenge and the ability of the climber to protect the climb.

The ethics and standards set by the early pioneers have been kept by modern hardcore alpinists setting new standards and constantly raising the bars for what is possible to climb. There is no grade inflation and the topos are not always too detailed. Any climber on any level can find pure adventures far from the beaten track. As we all know love is hard to define but when its there you will know it's there and coming back to Tre Cime gives me that feeling of calm and belonging. The towers are huge and imposing but if you eat a bit of humble pie before you set off there is no limit to the amount of fun and scare you can have on the Tre Cime.

Earlier this summer when I was climbing in Tre Cime on the West Face of Cima Grande we enjoyed epic weather conditions, but still had a blast doing a fairly easy but steep route with little real exposure. I think one reason I love the climbing in the Dolomites is the sense of exposure and commitment, so this time I wanted the real deal. I have had my eyes on a few different routes on the Tre Cime but the huge roof of Cima Ovest is impossible not wanting to climb. There are three routes up the massive roof with the Swiss route being the only one within range of what I can do graded 7B+ in most topos. I'd say a better grading would be E7 6b. The other two routes, signed Alexander Huber is Belavista and Pan Aroma both graded 8C.

I had monitored the weather for quite some time as I was trying to get as fit as possible and now the window was there but not my partner from the last trip. So I asked Helen, a super talented young climber, if she would be up for venturing into the unknown of the North Face of Cima Ovest and its Swiss/Italian route. Helen was a bit of a gamble and wild card in terms of doing exposed big walls as she has not done much of that in the past, but something told me that Helen not only had talent but also drive and the right spirit to be able to pull off some thing like Cima Ovest North Face.

Having climbed with all sorts of people ranging from happy amateurs to some of the best alpinists in the world, I kind of knew Helen would not let me down but I had no idea how surprised I would be with her strength, talent, stamina and ability to suffer through an unplanned bivy at altitude with zero water, one Patagonia Nano Puff hoody and a bunch of Clif Shot BLOKS.

In a way it was "love" at the first bivy... "Love" in the sense that we where a perfect match. We both had our duties during the day and even if the deal was that I would lead all pitches there were plenty of pressure and exposure weighing on Helen. I had brought Helen to Cima Ovest and I knew I had to climb as fast and safe as possible close to the limit of what I can do on my own gear in alpine terrain and still be kind of comfortable so I also had my fair share of pressure. Any pitch in the Tre Cime is hard to lead but don't underestimate the hard work that comes with following on a traversing overhanging route for 10 pitches. Ohhhh MAN... was a frequent scream I would hear when I was hanging in the belay resting and preparing for the next pitch, but asap Helen showed up it was with a smile. As I sorted the gear Helen worked on route finding. MAN she was good at that!

Photo comment: A team is two and the partner is all you got on the wall. Helen was such a champion!

We set off from the parking at 05.10 am and started climbing around 07.00.... Not too sure as we had no working time piece... The climbing is really sustained and I had told Helen not to underestimate the "easy" pitches being graded under 7a.... I was more than right and the hardest pitch for me was as I had predicted the 6c+ pitch after the 7b+ "crux" pitch. In my opinion there is no 6b climbing on the route and the 7a+ in the roof was not too bad, neither was the crux pitch. The exposure and runouts are badass on the "easy" pitches. My personal grade for the route is E7/6B (5.12c R/X) or break down in French sport grading: L1 6Bish, L2 7A+, L3 6C, L4 6C+, L5 6C+, L6 7A+, L7 6B+, L8 7B+, L9 7A+ or 6C/A0, L10 6C.

We ended up at the top of the difficulties at around 5.30 pm (camera time) and decided it was enough for that day; Out of water and not that keen to pass the waterfall on Cassin and end up wet we decided to stay put on the bivy ledge. Alpine climbing is unpredictable and so is unplanned bivys... Helen was so pure and innocent before this trip started and being the old guy I felt quite bad having to break her virginity in terms of enduring an open bivy in "light duty David" style. In the morning as we got to the wall I convinced Helen we would be fine with only one belay jacket; two would have made it so much better!

Photo: At the belay where Belavista 8c meet our route I was greeted by the smiley guy and Three real bolts!

Now we where stuck and Helen was a true champion. I was waisted after a long day and she kindly let me warm up and get back to life in our communal Nano Puff the first few hours. I was starting to regret I had so little to drink during the day and as the night progressed and my SPRAY fiesta slowly died, I dozed off, while Helen was getting comfortable with here feats in the empty back pack.

Thanks Helen for a great first round. Let's get back out there and see what's around the next corner.... And newt time let's go all the way to the summit!


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