2017-08-01

Vajolet Towers (2813m) via Piaz ridge (UIAA IV+) and South face variant (UIAA V)

Picture perfect blue skies and an absolutely stable outlook for the entire day. Also our last opportunity to go climbing before having to head back home. I fall in love with the Comici route on the Langkofel North face, also known as the Salami tower. It is featured on the cover of the local guide book and is one of the great classics in the area. Luigi has different ideas however and an argument I cannot refuse.

The beautiful Rosengarten valley. Great rock everywhere you look.
Approach to the hut.

He has the Vajolet Towers tattooed to his back and has not climbed them yet. Can't argue with a tattoo, so we head for the Rosengarten group. A spectacularly beautiful high valley right behind Luigi's vacation home. The winding mountain road that leads up to it is not accessible to the public so we queue with a bunch of other climbers for the first mini bus at 7 in the morning. We dispatch the 2 hour approach in less than 1.5 hours and stop at the Gartlhut at 2620m right at the base of the towers to take pictures of the guide book and get some last information about the routes. Well prepared as we are, we had arrived with just a bunch of low resolution images downloaded to our phones and no clear idea of the route.

Vajolet Towers. We climbed the two on the left.
Luigi's first lead on the West ridge.

We climb the first tower via the Piaz ridge. The first pitch is trivially easy and would be doable even unroped. But then you traverse out from the anchor onto the West ridge and enter an entirely different world. You step out into huge exposure over a ~300 meter tall overhanging face. It's suddenly icy cold because you are in the shade and a biting wind. Sweeping vistas over the much more modest mountains around Bolzano make you dizzy. It is absolutely beautiful. It is also slightly intimidating. Even Luigi starts chanting a little song of encouragement to himself while leading his pitch: "Don't look down, don't look down, don't look down".

Very exposed.
Very very exposed.

The rock is super nice. Solid and white almost like marble. Climbing it is sheer joy. The route is over far too soon and we find ourselves on the summit of the first tower. We rappel into the canyon separating it from the second tower and scramble around easy terrain to find the start of our next route.

Summit! Bolzano in the distance.
Summit! Second tower behind him.

I eyeball the rock and head straight up. I find the occasional piton, reassuring me that I am still on "a" route. However, it feels way harder than it should according to the topo. I struggle through a pumpy overhanging sequence. When Luigi joins me at the anchor he commends me "Great lead, not sure if I'd want to do that!". Turns out we climbed a direct variant of the intended route.

The rappel route onto a giant boulder jammed between the two towers.
My direct variant pitch up the second tower. First half: trivial. Second half: WTF? This is not class IV terrain anymore.

We are back on the original line and arrive at an anchor in a cave. The topo describes a traverse out of the cave only to circle back on top of it. An inelegant detour. Luigi instead tries the direct variant straight up and out through the roof of the cave. It is eminently climbable but also very hard to protect. A crack takes gear well but is moist and a fall would still end on the bottom of the cave with a sprained ankle or worse. Luigi gives it three attempts, his body dangling almost horizontally from the crack, backpack pulling him down. In the end we decide to play it safe and go with the line the topo suggests.

Super enjoyable corner.

On top of the cave we catch up with another party. They've built a mess of an anchor and generally seem to be in a bit over their head. Their leader is already out of sight while his two followers are waiting with us. They use cell phones as walky talkies to communicate. Cell phone lodged to the rock in front of him, speakers turned to maximum volume, they are essentially keeping up a non-stop conversation. Once they get ready to follow he shouts up "Tiramisu!". This makes me chuckle and I shout after him "Spaghetti!". Turns out Tiramisu means pull me up in Italian. Who knew? ;-)

What counts as an anchor in these parts. Decades old rusty pitons.

We chill out on top of the second tower, waiting for the others to get a move on with their rappels. They fumble badly and set up a long traverse which overwhelms the less experienced in their group. So Luigi volunteers to manage their ropes for them and they rappel the final sixty meters on our ropes instead. Once we finally regroup at the base of the tower we've lost a lot of time, so we decide to call it a day and forgo the third tower.

Summit II!
The tattoo that won the discussion of where to go.

We use the extra energy to run down the trail back to the valley where our wives are waiting with the babies and a picnic in the shade. The run makes us feel young and strong again - the approach to the hut is almost a via ferrata, secured with steel cables. People are clumsily struggling on it with both hands on the wire while we jump past them at full stride. Same for the gravel road further down - running past people who shuffle down sideways step by step. Fun!

The rappel route down the second tower. You can see Luigi helping the noobs.
After running down the mountain and joining the picnic with the women. Satisfying exhaustion.

Now Luigi needs to get an "achievement unlocked" tattoo on top of the existing one ;-) Thank you so much for being the perfect climbing partners, travel companions and guides during our time in the Dolomites Luigi and Silvia! This was a very worthy finale of a fantastic vacation!