IV Torre del Sella (2605m), via Parete ovest, "Glück", 265m, V-

After praising the limestone paradise of the Dolomites a sufficient number of times to our climbing group back home, we got Kai and Mark to visit us over an extended weekend and check it out in person. Kai doesn't have super much experience climbing outside, so we decided to again pay the fourth Sella tower a visit. An easy and short approach and a descent that Luigi and I already knew from our climb a few days ago made this seem like a safe choice.

Clear skies on the approach in the morning.
The wall. If you squint you can spot a bunch of people climbing already.
Mark getting off the ground.

We picked the other major route on the tower, the "Glück". It is significantly easier than the one we climbed and may be considered the normal route to reach the top. As such there was a queue of parties climbing it. We had to wait our turn. A party showing up after us decided to bail and do something else instead. We stuck it out, but were a bit dismayed that the two parties immediately ahead of use were mountain guides with incredibly slow and inexperienced clients. As it turned out soon enough, we'd be even slower ;-)

Luigi's lead. We had bumped into the guide in front of us so we improvised an anchor below them. The actual anchor would have been the two pitons you can see clipped in this picture.
My lead through the slightly overhanging and slightly wet crux section.

Luigi and I went first and made good progress on the first couple of pitches. At some point we noticed that we had gotten too far ahead of Kai and Mark and decided to wait in place. Luigi had just led a pitch and waited at the top, while I waited at my anchor at the base. It was a comfortable belay that allowed me to recline a bit. The sun just hit the wall. Beautiful views across the valley. Sun gently warming my face. Easy to drift off... I woke up startled when Mark suddenly appeared next to me. We had waited for more than an hour and I actually fell asleep at the anchor. A first for me ;-)

Kai coming up.
Family photo!
Luigi's "moment of shame": he's way off route here. The actual line follows the couloir on the left. He had to undo all of this in a bit of dicey maneuver on bad crumbling rock. I ended up leading the proper pitch.

We changed our tactic and from that point onwards climbed overlapping pitches with Mark leading concurrently with either Luigi or me. The follower could then support Kai. A much better and more beginner friendly approach that we should have adopted from the beginning. Changed the group dynamic to a more collaborative effort, instead of one party always feeling rushed to keep up with the lead. This way we reached the summit without much difficulty.

View towards the third Sella tower. We climbed the "Vinatzer" on that one. Glorious route, but horrible, horrible descent. The ramp you see in this picture is where you scramble down. Then you traverse the tower on the tiny ledge loaded with loose scree about half-way up. Urgs.
Bird posing on the summit cairn.

To get back down from the summit requires around ten rappels. As a group of four we were fairly slow here too, even with simu rapelling (the safe version, so instead of two rappels with two people each, we had three rappels, one with two people and two with one). To pass the time when waiting around at the anchors, Luigi started blaring bad nineties techno from his cell phone. At this late time in the day we were the only people on the mountain and felt OK about this. Intentionally being the assholes in nature ;-) It did lift our spirits and led to some spontaneous dance parties at the anchors. In a narrow couloir enclosed by vertical walls on either side it also led to some funky audio. Especially when boom-box Luigi was floating down the rappel lines towards us.
Major kudos to Kai for maintaining high spirits and a good mood all the way through. Talk about baptism with fire. Well done!

Mark, Kai, me.
Floating down the couloir.
More rappels.
Anchor dance party. This one to "I Like To Move It". Chosen because we had to get a move on to escape the incoming thunderstorm.
We did get a little wet in the end. But only once we were back on "solid" ground, surfing down the scree slopes.


Sas Pordoi (2950m), Spigolo "Piaz", 360m, VI

The weather forecast for the day predicted thunderstorms starting in the early afternoon. Thus we opted against a big route. We especially wanted to avoid the crazy exposed and risky descents that are typical for many Dolomites climbs. Balancing on loose scree on narrow "trails" over steep drops is not fun in rain. For comfortable descents there is no better choice than climbing up to Sas Pordoi. The routes literally end on the terrace of the cable car top station. We've been there before and at the last minute decided to climb an easier route than the one we originally set our eyes on. So this was a good opportunity to "take revenge" and climb the harder "Piaz" route.

Floating up with the cable car. We climb the tower on the left, on the side that's still in the shade.
The huge plateau at the top of the mountain.
Familiar faces. We've climbed routes on all of the walls in this picture.

This time around we weren't intimidated by the fact that the route is only sparsely protected with a few old pitons. At this point we felt comfortable placing our own gear and were familiar enough with the typical limestone structures of the area that spotting and using natural features of the rock (hourglasses!) had become second nature. Thus the climb didn't feel particularly hard at all and we enjoyed the first pitches tremendously. Anchors are well chosen to offer comfortable belay stances and the climbing is challenging and exposed enough to be interesting but never intimidating.

Luigi starting with some full body jams. The human tricam.
Exciting and steep traverse.
Luigi on the short bouldery crux of the route. Protected by uncharacteristically many pitons. You can tell that many people aid through this section. We climbed it as a clean on-sight.

Unfortunately once you leave the actual tower and get onto the mountain proper, the pitches become far less exciting. The rock turns into a loose chosspile and the terrain is low angle enough that calling it climbing would be an exaggeration. We linked the final pitches and simul-scrambled them with hardly any gear at all.

Checking the topo and taking a selfie.
On the easier pitches towards the top of the tower. Characteristically for the Dolomites and this route: you can protect large parts of the climb by taking advantage of the many natural hourglass features in the rock. Bring lots of slings!

Topping out is fun again though. The final few moves are up the scaffoling of the cable car station and top out right on the terrace of the restaurant. Belaying Luigi while anchored on the railing earned us some surprised stares and people walked up to us, quizzing us about the route and where we came from. We enjoyed the attention with a beer and made our way back down to the car. This again offered a satisfying opportunity to show off a little. The trail is at the same time touristy enough that it has lots of day hikers and steep and difficult enough that many of them struggle on all fours. We literally ran past everyone at full throttle ;-) Feels good for a change. On all these crazy Dolomites climbing routes we usually compare ourselves to the grand names of climbing who pioneered and opened the climbs. Names like Messner, Vinatzer, Buhl. Compared to these icons of mountaineering, who accomplished impossible seeming feats, you can't help but feel inadequate. Even with all our modern gear, topos, accurate weather reports and additional protection added to the routes. So reminding yourself that there are "normal" people too serves for good grounding occasionally.

Exposed, but easy terrain.
Did I mention hourglasses?
Our last anchor was the railing in the back of this picture.
Running down the trail.
Lots of protein. Builds muscle ;-P


IV Torre del Sella (2605m), via Parete nord, "Malsiner e Moroder", 300m, VI+

This year's romp through the Dolomites again began in the Val di Fassa. It's the natural base because Luigi's parents own a vacation home there, so he and family can stay for free. Anita found us a nice appartment in a neighboring village and thus began our third joint vacation in South Tyrol. As a warmup climb Luigi chose the "Masliner e Moroder" up the North face of the fourth Sella tower. Quite a warmup it should be!

Our morning commute to the towers. Conveniently located only a short walk away from the pass.
We watched Search & Rescue pull two people out of the neighboring Via Ferrata on a longline.
I have witnessed quite a few rescue helicopter missions since my own accident. For some reason this one got under my skin and gave me shivers. Weird start to a day of climbing.

The pictures don't quite do justice to just how steep this wall is. One thing to know about limestone is that it reacts with water. This leads to an easy rule of thumb when trying to gauge the angle of a limestone wall at a distance:

  • Black rock is currently wet. Do not go there.
  • Gray rock is frequently exposed to rain and has thus undergone some kind of chemical hardening process. This is the typical limestone look and usually implies less-than vertical terrain.
  • Red or Yellow hues imply the rock has not reacted with a lot of water. Which usually means it's overhanging. Interesting moves to be found here ;-)
TL;DR: This face is mostly yellow. Very steep.

Luigi's lead. Steep.
My lead.
Typical anchor in these parts: a rusty piton backed up by cams. Not my best handywork, but it held us ;-)

We didn't bring our hiking shoes up the tower, expecting to rappel down close to where we started. This calculation was mostly correct. If it wasn't for the fact that the couloir used for the descent is on the other side of the tower and we needed to come back around to our shoes. Not a lot of distance, but steep and very sharp scree that we now had to negotiate. Luigi chose to do so in climbing shoes while I tried my luck barefoot. We were both cursing and swearing. Not sure which approach was superior in the end, both proved to be painful options - bring your shoes!
We both managed a clean on-sight. Very satisfying and motivating start to two weeks of climbing vacation.

Gigi coming up.
Hanging belay with 200 meters of air below my ass.
Ooh yeah! And now get a move-on Luigi before the harness cuts off my circulation too badly!
Vertical ballet.
Looking across to the pass and the Sassolungo.
Topping out.
Luigi somehow missed my cue for "summit selfie!". Or this is his happy look. I don't really know. He's grumpy most of the time ;-P
Preparing the rappels. The first of many.
The tower and face we just climbed.
Meeting up with the family who had spent the afternoon with Strudel and gelato on the terrasse of a nice restaurant at the pass.