Thursday, 18 September 2014

A Scottish route on Cima Ovest!

A new route through this roof? Yes, let's do it!!! Photo: Matt Pycroft/Coldhouse Collective.

 I wrote the first few paragraphs below about a week ago in the Dolomites, but didn't post it up. Thankfully, I put them right out of date in the days that followed:

Sep 6th. I am in the Dolomites for the second time this summer, trying to do a new route. I’ve spent over three weeks here and had less than ten days on the wall. The locals tell me it’s been the worst summer in decades. Since there’s not much I can do about that, I’m trying to focus on the good stuff I’ve already done.

First, I came out for a week with Karl and started to try and aid climb through the immensely steep line I wanted to climb. That was a lot of fun, most of the time anyway. After a run of body weight placements on one section, I finally got a big bong fully into a pocket and shouted down to Karl that I finally had a good placement to settle my nerves and potentially retreat from. A few minutes later while sitting on a skyhook above the good peg, it came right out in my hand with the slightest touch.

I pressed on but eventually arrived at a blank roof with no holds for free climbing and realised it wasn’t going to happen. I resigned myself that the new route idea was finished and I’d try Alex Huber’s famous route Panaroma instead. On the last day I went up for a look at Panaroma’s top 8c pitch. From the vantage point of the big loops of static rope in space under the roofs, I spotted a potential other way for the new route. This continued to simmer in my mind while I was back home in Scotland for two weeks of film work.

I arrived back in the Dolomites on Aug 24th and got stuck straight into investigating the line on my own, while Alan Cassidy and Rob Sutton worked on Bellavista. I got a great start and managed to get the pegs in across the roofs and get a fixed rope in place in a couple of days. In the following week, we lost time to bad weather, but I still managed to complete the intense process of cleaning the spectacularly loose rock and figuring out which holds were solid enough.

The route looks utterly amazing. And now it’s ready for me to start working it. But it won’t stop raining and we only have 4 days left. Since I have decided to stop putting so much pressure on myself, I have already accepted that I will have to come back next summer to climb it. It’s just not been the summer for getting stuff done in the Dolomites. We saw Jacopo Larcher going through the same process on Panaroma, slipping off the damp crux repeatedly after hanging out here for the summer.

I’m still happy with the way things have gone. The route is well worth a return trip next summer.

4 days later...

Well it didn’t quite work out like that. Two days among an endless stream of thunderstorm days turned out to be ok. I tried my absolute best to make both of them count. On the first day I shunted up the lower pitches (6b+, 6c+, 7a, 6c+) to warm up, then quickly saw off the first roof pitch which was only 7b+. The next pitch, around 8a+ and the best pitch I’ve ever seen in the Dolomites was great fun to work on. First go up I worked out the moves, which were just brilliant. The pitch kicks off with a huge span across the roof to a flake and wild cut loose, followed by powerful, positive climbing in the most mind blowing situation. On my second go, I nearly linked the whole pitch, but had to give in 15 feet from the belay with terminal rope drag (just needed double ropes). At the belay I was so pumped I couldn’t imagine climbing anything else and was desperate to go down. 

At this point the route joins Alex Huber’s Panaroma just before its 8c pitch through the final roofs. I forced myself to go out and try the moves, since I knew there would be only one more day in the trip to try the project.
The next day I felt like I’d been given a good kicking. I belayed Alan while he destroyed an 8b+ in the valley sport crags, saw off yet another amazing pizza in seconds and then hit the sack. The forecast for the next day was good, and everyone knew it would be the last day for climbing on the project. They asked ‘What time are we getting up?’ Since my best effort on the top 8c was still basically a bolt to bolt, albeit while feeling very tired and shivering in the cold, I told them I would have a 5% chance to succeed so there was no point getting up early. An extra few hours of sleep would do more for my chances. So we rose at 8 and drunk a lot of tea.

The awesome big 8a+ pitch leading up into Panaroma. They don't come much more out there than this pitch. Photo: Matt Pycroft/Coldhouse Collective. Incidentally, Coldhouse filmed our ascent for Mountain Equipment. I'll post up the footage when it's released.

At 11am I started leading the lower wall pitches with Alan Cassidy, which floated by without any dramas. The roof was its usual damp and slippery self, so the 7b+ around the nose felt like a wake up call and I arrived at the diving board perch belay quite pumped. I shared with Alan that I was unsure even to bother continuing since the rock was so damp. But I was just letting of steam - of course there’s no way I would waste an opportunity to try, especially as I noticed some fitness in my arms from the previous session. So, for my damp 8a+ burn, I did the only thing I could do, took out my brain and went for it at full pelt. Where the fall is scary but basically safe, I find the best mindset is to almost invite the fall by removing all inhibitions and climb with total commitment. And so, after some nervous waits at each shakeout along the way, I arrived at the Panaroma belay with a deep burning pump in my arms and stared across at the 8c. 150 metres climbed, 12 metres between me and 6c+ maximum to the top.

Staring out a wet flake on the Panaroma 8c pitch. Photo: Matt Pycroft/Coldhouse Collective.

I knew it would be wet and slippery, and I’d have to engage full on terrier mode to even have a chance. But again, what else would I do? No prizes for not giving it everything. So I shut my mind up, sat for a quiet moment in my harness, and then departed. The next three minutes were not particularly pretty. Feet pinged off wet footholds, brute force kept me on the rock and I don’t think I’ve ever had a higher breathing rate. Then I found myself hanging from a huge jug on the vertical expanse above the final roof, unable to get a word out between gasps for oxygen. After a minute or two, I’d calmed down enough to flop onto the belay ledge and grin.

So. Just two 6c+ pitches and then 400 metres of the Cassin route to go. I looked around at the sky and saw rain showers in all directions. Please don’t rain on us! It didn’t. With fantastic luck, the showers melted away into the evening as we raced higher and higher up the Cassin route, switching rapidly at the belays and speed climbing upwards. at 11pm, we strolled without our headtorches on to the summit of Cima Ovest in glorious full moonlight and a perfectly warm and still night. After taking in the incredible moonlit vista for a while and chatting to Helen and Claire on the phone, we ambled down for beer at 1am.

It was both the hardest and definitely the finest route I've climbed in my 5 or so trips to the Dolomites over the past 13 years. The lower wall free climbs the first 90 metres of the old Baur aid route (don't trust those old drilled pegs, they break!). But the best thing about it is that it climbs more or less straight up through the roof amphitheatre. As I write on September 18th, I'm hoping and waiting eagerly to find out if my country will take it's opportunity to complete it's new route and eclipse this climb as the highlight of my summer so far.

Sept 19th update: I thought of a name. Project Fear 6b+, 6c+, 7a, 6c, 7b+, 8a+, 8c, 6c+, 6c+, 5+, 6a, finish via Cassin.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant, Dave. Fantastic post as well, thank you for sharing.