Dolomites, we have arrived!! (Vajolet Towers)

We have been planning on getting to the Dolomites for quite a few months now, and finally we are here. Another outdoor playground to set out on a bunch of adventures! First off we have started the trip in the Catinaccio area, also known as the Rosegarten area.

Local legend say that Catinaccio was ruled by King Laurino, at the centre of his kingdom was a beautiful rose garden. Another king of another realm announced that his daughter would be wed, and all the nobles in the area were invited to a ball, except King Laurino. He defied this, and attended in secret under his invisibility cloak, and immediately fell in love with the daughter, with whom he fled back to his Kingdom. The armies of the other nobles tracked Laurino to the rose garden, where he tried to fight them off, before realising he could not win, and so hid in amongst the roses under his invisibility cloak. Unfortunately the armies saw the roses moving and managed to arrest King Laurino. Devastated at his loss and capture the King cursed the rose garden, vowing that no person should ever see them again by neither day nor night, and so the roses turned to stone. However, the King forgot twilight, which is neither day or night, and so every evening the roses shine pink through the rock…

Two pictures showing the pink rock at twilight

On our first trip up to the mountains, we chose to do a couple of routes up a face called Porte Negre, this face is not overly impressive and most people might overlook the fact it’s there at all, especially with the grand faces and towers that surround it. However there are two sport climbing routes that scale the face, that give a good days climbing. There were three reasons why we decided on these routes; we wanted to do multi pitch climbing, we wanted to find out what Dolomite rock was like with some security (bolts) and one of the routes has a tyroleon which we have not yet encountered on this trip.
The first route was really good, and even though it took us a while to find the start, once on it proved to be well travelled but still sharp, and also well graded. Each pitch felt good for the grade and the rock was solid, even though it often looked unstable, in this sense it reminded me of the gneiss on the aiguille rouge that sometimes looked friable, however after a quick check was solid as a rock (see what I did there?). At the end of the third pitch there was the tyrolean, which was great fun hanging around upside down like a monkey. I tried to remember how to do a regain, like I used to be able to do in the army, but could not remember.

Tyrolean traverse

The rest of the route was non descript, although as a package deal the whole route was great, and a fantastic introduction to the Dolomites. After lunch at the top, we walked and ran our way to the foot of the climb for round two, and a harder round at that, as the climb had a sustained 6a pitch. It turned out the move to unlocking this pitch was climbing around the arête to a vertical face, an awkward job, that even once gained, did not allow for a comfortable rest. The rest of the pitch was quite thin, but there were holds dotted around that were positive and I made my way up but by bit, before reaching an uncomfortable belay.

Jess working hard on the 6a pitch

The next pitch was meant to be a 5a, so easier, although I struggled through a chimney in the middle. There seemed to be a lack of positive holds, which are to be expected on a 5a, and I ended up hunting and moaning my way through the crack direct, wedging my body in to the point that at one time I was able to remove both hands and feet and just remain where I was wedged like a cork in a bottle. This did also mean that I had limited movement, which made the whole next phase harder too. I’m not sure if I chose a harder way, but I certainly felt like I sandbagged that part of the pitch and was stiff in the grade for 5a.

The rest of the climb was similar to that of the other, and was scrambly, grassy and chossy all the way to the top. I ran together the top two pitches, which created a little rope drag, but was not too bad. At this point I was dying for a drink, my mouth felt drier than Ghandis flip flop, only for Jess to top out and confess she had dropped the water bottle, and so I/we had to wait till we were back at the taxi station for a drink! At the end of the day I felt pretty tired and run down, however the weather looks as though it is changing for a couple of days and tomorrow will be our last of good weather, so we need to take advantage of it.
The next day was an early start as we had a long walk in. We thought the taxi/buses started at 07.00am however it did not start until 07.30. This meant we got to the top at around 8 o’clock. We started up the same path as yesterday and was making really good time, so good in fact that we reached the Refugio Alberte in just over an hour, and I’m pleased to say that we beat the guidebook time for the first time ever! This route to the hut was also pretty cool, with lots of scrambling sections mixed in with via Ferrata style metal work and wire.
We had a short break at the refuge, where Jess said they had a sign saying you had to pay to use the toilet, which, as we were in the middle of nowhere seemed a little out of order. I reckon they would soon change this policy if people refused to pay and then took care of their business on their doorstep. I hate paying for the toilet, it’s one of my massive bug bares in life, I’ve always wanted to buck the system, pull down my draws and squat in the middle of London Victoria, and proceed to take care of my natural bodily functions in protest to paying. Maybe I should organise a mass protest, so they really get the message!

We could already see a few groups on the climb, so I was sure we would be in for a busy day on the route. It was a short walk to the foot of the climb and both Jess and me sped through setting up our gear, as there were other groups approaching and we wanted to get on first and not be caught up in queues. This also meant that I ran up the first pitch, which was so easy I did not place any gear, the only time I stopped to do so I looked up and saw a belay anchor, so thought I would continue to that. All this time we had heard the wind building up and by the time we were on the climb, we were tormented by gales of wind, which chilled us both to the core. The rest of the climb was spent dancing on belay ledges to keep the blood flowing and the temperatures up!
The second pitch was Jess’s lead and gave us our first glimpse of exposure, something the route is partially famous for. You literally step up and around the arête and the earth falls from beneath you all the way to the valley below, immediate exposure! It was really cool, and even gave me a bit of dizzying vertigo.

The exposure, slightly obscured by cloud!

The next pitch again swung back to the arête (corner of the rock face), and followed a similar grade, although the polish seemed to have been taken up a notch, I could have had a shave in some of the holds! There were a few pegs which eased the placing of protection, although I still had to place some threads (slings through holes). We were then overtaken by a guide, who was linking pitches and climbing faster, so we followed on. The next few pitches were quite similar, and although the grades on paper stayed the same I felt the route had eased off and we were on easier ground.

The top of the tower was a little underwhelming, although the view did open up some of the surrounding peaks and towers not seen on the approach! The abseil was a bit of a faff, and seemed to wander around the face, although this was done as quickly as possible. Plus the wind had died off a little, so made life a bit more comfortable. At the foot of the climb, we moved away a little before settling down for some lunch, we even had a crow for company, so I fed him some chunks of bread. Jess also joined in, but only managed to throw bits of bread everywhere but where the bird could get them, I’m sure he thought she was taking the piss!
Next was the inevitable descent, part scrambling, part walking and part running. I even got a couple of tut’s and comments from walkers as I ran past, as though running was not allowed, although to be honest running would seem like light speed at the snails pace they were making down the path! All in all, I can see why this climb is a classic it’s just a shame that it has been ruined a little by polish! Really looking forward to the next climb, as the scenery all over is amazing, and it’s great to think, that I will be climbing some of it in the future!

Awesome abseil shot!
Jess and me at the summit

As for van camping, I have noticed many car parks, that have signs indicating we are not welcome to park, and we will be towed away if we do! It’s all very serious! Others simply have barriers to prevent you going in, it all seems a little counter productive to my free loading ethics. There also seems to be less available public facilities like bin points and toilets, although there are plenty of water fountains dotted around. As for internet, the tourist offices seem to be ok, and we have even charged our computers at a couple, although often the quality and speed of the net has been terrible (hence the lack of updates).

The Vajolet towers

Porte Neigre

Jess on the tyrolean
The van, and the Rosengarten behind

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