Sometimes you just have to leave a couple of bits of gear and bail. Then you deconstruct what just happened on the walk out before stuffing your face with cake.
Our first full day in the Dolomites and we decided, since we we’re up in the mountains, it would be right to go try our luck at multipitch. Lee is a skeptical soul when it comes to limestone, he doesn’t like it at all, but as he’s a nice boyfriend he agreed to give it a go.
We didn’t have a guidebook for the area as we weren’t planning on staying long, but 27crags and summitpost pulled through and I found the topo and directions to a nearby ‘classic’. Route notes screenshotted, and a handwritten copy duplicated as backup, we were sorted.
It was a lovely, but steep walk in, I can say that now it’s over. I really have no stamina, and it shows as soon as the path is anything but flat – something to work on I guess. Just over an hour after we left the car park we were staring up at Ghedina Spur on Castelletto, looking for where to start the route.
We managed to work out where the route went, and nothing looked too tricky from the ground. It was 220ish meters of Diff to VS climbing we reckoned. The route was six pitches, so Lee will start then I get both the crux and the glory pitch at the top, seems like a fair deal. We scoffed some grub, racked up, flaked the ropes and we were off.
Starting up the first pitch Lee was swift and efficient, as usual. He quickly picked his way up the corner, placing gear regularly, and started to move out of sight.
“Move!”… “Move! Move!” It took me a second to work out what he was shouting. I looked up to see a wave of limestone shrapnel starting to bounce down the ledges towards me and it suddenly clicked. Fuck.
It wasn’t just a few rocks, and they weren’t just small pebbles, these were sizeable and increasing in number. I dived in toward the wall then across to a little alcove in the corner. My hands wrapped tightly around the ropes hoping Lee had decent gear in. My head tucked low, I crouched slightly to bury myself into the rock as the patter of rocks on my helmet started to increase in number.
The rocks didn’t seem to stop. I couldn’t hear Lee shouting anymore, all I could hear was rocks tumbling down the face, bouncing off ledges. A rock that felt about the size of a soup can hit me in the middle of my back, right between the shoulder blades. I winced, I knew it wasn’t anything serious, but it gave me a shock.
A few moments later the torrent had subsided. I shouted up “Safe” and stepped back squinted to see what was going on. Nothing. “LEE” I shouted up. Still nothing.
The ropes suddenly started to move again. A sign Lee was ok. A few moments passed and he shouted down, asking if I was ok. Phew, we’re both safe. Shit. I’ve gotta get up there and clean the pitch.
I waited as he set up a belay. You get to know how the ropes move when someone’s making themselves safe. One rope goes taught, pay out a few meters. Back comes a bit of slack. Repeat on the second rope. Then lots of sharp pulls to signal safe. I took him of belay and put on my boots ready to climb.
Waited for the ropes to go tight, I paused, then started up the corner. The climbing wasn’t so bad. A little polished, and now gravel on every ledge but steady climbing. The whole time I was thinking to myself, I’m not sure how I’m going to make myself lead the next pitch. Turns out being on the receiving end of some rockfall made me pretty shaky. Not the best position to be in for leading.
Making my way up the pitch I finally popped my head over a ledge to see Lee belaying. He was ok, there was no blood in sight. Relief. “Do NOT touch that block” was the response I got. I looked to my left. Right where you want a nice block to pull up onto the scree slope was a nice big block. I looked quizzically back at him. That block is loose. The block had just rolled down the scree slope after he touched it. And stopped on the edge. That block the size of a side table. Shit, that was close.
I suddenly realised why Lee hadn’t been shouting ‘below’ or ‘rocks’ like usual. This time I really had needed to move out the way.
Scrambling up the scree slope in Lee’s footsteps I reached the belay. “do you mind if we bail?”- “no, we’re bailing” that was the response I was looking for. Looking back, we were now past the most dangerous bit of the climb, but neither of us were in the mood to do another 5 pitches.
Whilst we sorted out which sling and carabiner to leave and inspected the pegs for abseil worthiness Lee gave me the full run down of what happened. He’d got to the start of the scree slope, which we were unaware of the existence of, gone down a bit and placed a bomber nut. He then pulled over onto the scree. He barely touched the large rock before it started to roll towards the edge. Right to where he’d been climbing, and above where I was belaying. He’d started shouting for me to move whilst watching the rock slowly rolling down the slope. It stopped right on the edge. Scrambling up to the belay he’d made himself safe, and well, we know the rest.
Before we could head back to the van, and cake, the rock needed clearing. Setting up the abseil Lee went first and, checking there were no walkers or other climbers underneath, trundled the rock off the edge. It shattered into six, a couple of the bits landing right where I was belaying.
Maybe bouldering isn’t so bad afterall.
For those that are interested, Summit Post info here, It’s not all excellent rock like they describe.