A question that climbers continually ask each other. A question that requires a formal response. I deffered my response.
05:00 had found us bags packed and walking into the base of the Cima Piccola in the Tre Cima de Laverado in the Italian Dolomites. I hadn't been back here since Neil and I had climbed the Comici Route and the Cassin Route 2004. Foul weather had forced Andy and I to run from Bregaglia the previous day. You have to be ready to follow the weather if you only have a 9 day holiday,
The South Arete is more commonly known as "The Yellow Edge". I had spied it in 2004 from the summit of the Cima Piccolissima 12 yrs previously. It's such a stunning stand out line, climbed in 1933!!!
Like a lot of Dolomite climbs there are no warm up pitches, it's hard from the get go. A vertical VS/HVS 5a pitch on semi suspect rock up a corner, requiring lots of high steps and bridging.
The Topo had said it would be polished. If the Italians think that is polished rock then they should try climbing on Peak District Limestone. This rock was positivly virgin compared to Stoney Middleton.
The first crux loomed and Andy, the rope gun, set off in pursuit. Some grunts and remarks such as "well, that's woken me up" floated down and it was my time to follow.
Please don't let me fluff this pitch. I don't want to look an idiot by greasing off the first hard bit. Ah, a jam to pull throught he roof, thank Peak District Gritstone for that :-) I can jam all day. Little bit cocky, "only just 5b that Andy, what do you think? Not sure if Comici knew how to jam"
Couple of parties were gearing up below us but that didn't bother us. We were climbing at a reasonable pace and were more efficeint than most at belays. Shouldn't hold anyone up, we hoped.
The route then steps round onto the East face for ~150m of technically slightly easier climbing. The rock is a little bit suspect so I'd still say it fell into the VS 4a bracket. Pitch 6 brought Andy a spicy little shallow crack which depositied onto the first decent ledge of the route so far. The teams below hadn't caught us up so we were going well. Topo said a short traverse next.
Oh my word.
What stood before me was the most pant wetting looking traverse I'd ever seen. Loose rock combined with very small footholds 200+m directly above the screes. No time for weakness now. I was silent as we swapped the gear from Andy to me. You just don't get this in the UK, not at Gogarth not anywhere. Deep breath and a repeated mantra "I'm a Professional Mountainnering Instructor, VS in any conditions, I'm MIA, you will do this".
I made it to a tiny little hanging stance. 2 pegs and a thread was not going to be enough for this stance for me. added 2 extra wires and a friend to make a "Gogarth Style" belay. Definately a Type 2 fun belay stance. We weren't even at the crux yet.
The crux was a two pitch overhanging corner. Given the UIAA grade VI in the topo, that is supposed to relate to UK grade of HVS 5b. Standing below it, this was quite clearly not Great North Road at Milestone. Quite glad it was Andy's lead if truth be known. The plan was for Andy to tie the two pitches of the corner together into one long pitch, this would hopefully put some distance between us and the team below who was just one pitch behind us.
Andy's lead was just phenomenal, fast and efficient whilst throwing some wiild positions to get through the overhangs. The pitch ended up being about 45m long, Andy ran out of quickdraws at 35m so just ran it out (through the 5c moves) to the ledge. I fought my way up to him, "Spicey" was his description of the lead. I think sustained E2 5c would be a fair grade for this pitch.
"I think you've earn't some Haribo Crocodiles Andy". Andy's route food of choice for any climb. So far we had been surviving on water, Energy Gels and Rice Crispie bars. The Haribo was a celebration. However frantically Andy searched it became apparant that the Crocodiles were not to be found, dissappointment dawned when he realised that he had left them at the very base of the route. Gutted.
Another pant wetting exposed traverse for me led to a decent ledge where i could actually remove my shoes for once. Ah, the relief.
With the crux behind us what was left was just another 100m of further VS 4c/5a ground until we basked in the sunlight on the summit 7.5hrs after we had set off.
A traverse off the fore summit led to four abseils off the West side down into a gully between Cima Piccola and Cima Grande and an easy, if very loose, walk down the gully.
To top the day, Andy managed to find his beloved Haribo crocodiles at the base of the route. A forced march back to the Rigugio Auronzo for beer and medals (the medal was meeting Catherine Destivelle who had just come off the Comici on Cima Grande).
The Yellow Edge is a big route with some really wild exposure. The rock is fairly solid for the dolomites, don't beleive the buff about the route being polished. It really isn't. It's worth getting up early to make sure that you are the first on the route.
2# x 50m DMM Ropes
12# Quickdraws (4 Alpine Draws, 8 fixed)
1# Full set of Nuts
1# Full set of Cams up to DMM Dragon 3 (the blue one)
4# Slings + carabiner
3# Free carabiners Each
1.5ltr of water each
4# SIS Energy Gels Each
2# SIS Protein Bars Each (Mint Chocolate, nice)
2# Rice Krispie Bars each
6# packs Haribo mini teddies
1/2 big pack Haribo Crocodiles (left at base of route)