Piz Ciavazes (2828m) via Spigolo Abram (UIAA VII, 370m)

For our third multi-pitch route in the Dolomites we chose the Spigolo Abram up Piz Ciavazes. It is a much harder, more sustained and longer route than the ones we did before. We hiked to the base of the climb with one party two pitches ahead of us and another on the approach just a few steps behind us. A very popular route. The two guys behind us turned out to be from Slovenia and let us go first.

Luigi leading the first pitch with the roofs of the route looming menacingly above us.
Me happy to have made it through a difficult pitch off a less than trustworthy anchor.
The views are getting better!

We quickly dispatched the first few easy pitches and arrived at a less than ideal anchor: a hanging belay from some ancient wobbly pitons. Luigi put in some nuts to back it up, but I would not have liked to fall on it. It was my lead off that anchor into the first hard pitch of the route. The first few moves were slightly overhanging with no idea where the next piton or good gear placement would be. I have to say I was very happy once I finally had some gear in.

Luigi in an easy pitch where I missed the anchor (if you squint you can actually see a piton in the lower section).
A UIAA IV pitch that features vertical and slightly overhanging (!) terrain.
Another IV pitch up a super exposed and beautifully structured pillar.

Luigi's lead on the next pitch was the crux of the route. If you free climb it cleanly it is graded as UIAA VII. However, it is obvious that almost nobody does. There are pitons every few meters with slings hanging off them to facilitate dangling from one to the next. There are even some ancient wooden blocks jammed into the cracks as nuts. Luigi put in a valiant effort and made it cleanly through what we thought was the hardest sequence: a series of moves on underclings where you pull hard to keep pressure on tiny foot placements. It was the steep traverse that followed this that finally shut him down and required a single grab for a sling. Even as a follower I failed on the exact same move. It's one thing to puzzle out something like this on a single pitch crag - an entirely different matter to do it as part of a 370 meter climb with a backpack on your back...

Nearly there now.

The pitch that followed was a slab with luxuriously many giant jugs. I cruised up until I felt like I should be at the anchor. The topo indicated it should be right there. I climbed back and forth a bit and retreated a few meters before improvising my own anchor. Luigi came up and finally spotted the anchor not three meters from where I made camp. I had climbed past it a few times. Ah well. The party that used to be ahead of us was now at the same height, but completely off route. They were out of sight around a corner and were struggling to find their way. Compared to them I think I did rather well with overlooking just a few pitons but otherwise staying on track ;-)

The band is our hiking trail back down. You do not want to slip on this one!
A short crawl section on the trail.

The final 8 or so pitches proved no significant challenges but sustained difficulties and steep climbing with fantastic exposure on great quality rock. We topped out happy but tired with a long hiking descent still ahead of us. We worried a bit about the Slovenians behind us because we hadn't heard or seen them in hours and it was getting late on a route that doesn't really allow for bailing. We saw them again much later, so they turned out to be OK, only much slower than us.

Luigi pointing at the crux roof of the route.
This is where the ladies were waiting for us - with nice views of the entire route.

The hiking trail requires two rappels to get back down to street level. On the second one we met two Russians who graciously let us use their rope for a faster process. When Luigi was about to go first without using a prusik as a backup one of the Russians pointed out with a thick accent: "Big risk!". He was right of course and Luigi obliged. The expression "Big risk!" stuck with us for the rest of our vacation and we intoned it many times in climbs to come.

Another fantastic day out. I think at this point we've graduated the Dolomites intermediate climbing class ;-)

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