Poncione di Cassina Baggio South Wall (2621m) via Herbstwind (6b, 12 pitches, 420m)

I was having a bit of a déjà vu this Sunday. Arne and I set out to climb the route Herbstwind on the Poncione di Cassino Baggio South Wall. I had already climbed the neighboring route Piccadilly a year ago. We were escaping a bad weather report that predicted thunderstorms then and we did again this time. I freaked out on a blank slab and cheated a move then and I did again this time. I screwed up the rappel then and I did again this time. We witnessed a haphazard party then and we did again this time. We got annoyed by the Gotthard traffic jam then and we did again this time. We had a lot of fun then and we did again this time ;-)

Arne on the approach. The route goes up the right side of the wall, starting in the shadow area.
First pitch. A slab leading into the steep black streak in the middle.
The start is well marked with a little arrow pointing the way ;-)

The route is long and of quite sustained difficulties. They present themselves very differently in the lower half of the route than the upper one though. While the lower half is low angle slabby terrain that requires delicate footwork, the upper half is vertical with very powerful and pumpy moves. The pitches go as 6a+, 3b, 5c, 6a+, 5b, 5c, 5c+, 6a+, 6a+, 6b, 5c+, 5c+.

Me lost in a sea of granite. Long pitch!
Higher up on the same pitch.
Just below the anchor.

Both Arne and I fell on the slabs when we already thought ourselves safe and didn't pay enough attention to our footwork any more. No harm done. We witnessed the leader of another party a few rope lengths behind us take a fall on the exact same pitch. He was quite far above the first bolt and fell for something between 8 and 10 meters back past the anchor. His companions patched him up with their first aid kit and the party bailed. They looked spooked and shaken even at a distance.

Pulling in rope after leading one of the steep top pitches. Pumpy!
Arne coming up past the overhang.
Arne leading the crux pitch.

Arne and I topped out and were on our first rappel back down when it started raining. It was just a fizzle and barely enough to wet the rock for a few minutes, but it confirmed our timing and our choice of going here rather than to the North face we originally wanted to climb. We made quick work of the first few rappels but then missed an anchor and had to improvise because we ran out of rope. Arne down-climbed a few meters unprotected and got us back on track. Except for this little fuckup our maneuvers went very efficiently and we were back at the base of the wall at 5pm. 5 hours of climbing, 2 hours rappelling, 3 hours hiking - I think we got our WHO recommended 20 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity a day this Sunday!

The exit pitch. Not hard, but exposed.
Smiling faces at the top.
Granite world.
Final rappel back over the exact line of the first pitch.
Mission accomplished. For some reason the hike back to the car felt much longer than the hike in.


Salbitschijen (2981m) via "Super South-Ridge" (6a, 21 pitches, 800m)

I came home from work a little early on Thursday. I wasn't feeling too well and within the hour I was lying on our couch with several blankets and a hot water bottle piled on top of me, still shivering despite a hot 30°C outside. Stayed home on Friday, still running a fever. Helping Anita carry groceries up the single flight of stairs to our apartment made me break a sweat and gave me a pounding headache. The next day we left for one of the longest climbs I've done.

Luigi on the final approach to the hut.
Dramatic clouds. Unfortunately they meant rain.

To quote a co-worker "no one has ever accused you of being a sensible person". So I packed a bunch of paracetamols and aspirins and Luigi drove us to Ulmi near Göschenen. We made one rope team and Tereza and Mark the second. Sebastian and Arne would arrive in a second car much later in the day and join us at the hut. The 1000 meter elevation gain up to the hut takes 2:30 hours according to the signs. We made it in 1:50 despite stopping frequently along the path to collect berries. Sebastian and Arne would be even faster. Trying to arrive in time for dinner and before the approaching rain they ran up in 1:15. Impressive, as it would turn out that this is the time we'd later need for the descent of the same trail! Chapeau!

Mark, Arne, Sebastian.
Tereza disappearing into the fog on the very first pitch.
Luigi on the sharp end.

Dinner was served at 18:30 and I went to bed immediately afterwards. While the hike went well I wanted to get as much recovery time and rest as possible. After all, I have attempted this exact climb before and we ended up spending an involuntary night on the mountain because we were too slow. It was pouring rain while we were having dinner and we were worried the climb might not be possible at all. Starting super early wouldn't make any sense because we had to give the sun some time to dry off the walls.

Luigi and Tereza.
Luigi. The long ridge peeking through the clouds.

We started climbing at 8 in the morning after a 6:30 breakfast. It was gray, wet and cold. We had opted to climb the Super South Ridge, instead of just the South Ridge. The difference is an extra 190 meter climb, the five pitches of the route "Takala", before you even gain the ridge. Tereza and Mark went first but we soon all climbed on top of one another to save time. Climbing wet slabs with fingers and feet numb from the cold made the route feel much more difficult and risky.

The even longer and harder West ridge.
I'm drowning in a sea of clouds.
Sebastian coming up.

We had party of three Fins follow us. They branched off into a different route but later rejoined us on the ridge, causing a bit of a traffic jam. Luigi and I tried to break free from the "crowd" by linking pitches and climbing as fast as we could. Luigi did a block of two, followed by me leading two, which, from my point of view, led to 150 meters of continuous and fast climbing at nearly 3000 meters altitude. Exhilarating!

Arne and Sebastian's perspective. If you squint, you can see me leading on the summit headwall.
Our perspective: Arne and Sebastian on the Zwillingstower.
It's clearing up!

Our strategy worked and we had the route to ourselves for the rest of the way. The Fins decided to bail and rappelled off. Shortly after so did Tereza and Mark. The route is long and they had already lost a lot of time and felt too slow. I kept following the ridge. I was climbing a few meters above my last piece of protection when the route suddenly stopped. I found myself on the tip of a leaning needle sharp tower. I should have traversed it to the West but screwed up and now had to lower off the top. We lost some time rescuing our ropes and gear. I later learned that Arne did the exact same mistake ;-)

Me on the summit needle. Not difficult climbing but quite intimidating. No protection on the way and _very_ exposed.
Looking down from the summit needle.
Luigi waving to his fans.

Luigi and I topped out on the signature summit needle at 18:00. 10 hours of back to back climbing. Just to mock us (congratulate us?) the weather finally cleared up and we got blue skies and some sun to warm us. A tremendously satisfying climb, especially considering that this was my second attempt. Thanks to Luigi and the gang for making this possible. And to the best wife ever for taking care of our kid and allowing me to indulge on these escapades - love you!

Luigi on the summit needle as seen by Arne and Sebastian.
Rappelling through space.
A bit of spelunking is required to reach the summit. Extraordinary.

The descent is a long and knee braking scramble. Just as we were starting to go down we caught a glimpse of Arne and Sebastian who were still going up on the other side of the mountain, some two hours behind us. We made sure everyone was OK and agreed not to wait. On green meadows, not a stone throw away from the hut, a head sized boulder suddenly came bouncing past us. It must have been kicked loose by grazing sheep above us and hit the trail like a bulls eye. A widow maker just when you thought yourself safe again. A quick dinner at the hut and we made it back to the car at 22:15.

On the descent.
Luigi and I kept quoting this short movie and joked about climbing porn. There's a very obvious objective in this image of the descent couloir ;-P

Dreams of Switzerland describes the route thusly:

The Salbitschijen towers rise up like rockets on a launching pad. They are captivating and unforgettable. With the ascents of the Südgrat, the Westgrat, the Niedermann and the Villiger, some of the most beautiful pages of the annals of Swiss mountaineering have been written." I concur! ;-)


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!