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Marco Milanese on P4 of Cascata Per Leo - Croda Marcora, Gruppo Sorapis
Photo by arch. G. Ballico
Cascata Per Leo - Croda Marcora, Gruppo Sorapis
Photo by arch. G. Ballico
Beppe Ballico on P3 of Cascata Per Leo - Croda Marcora, Sorapiss
Photo by arch. G. Ballico
Cascata Per Leo - Croda Marcora, Gruppo Sorapis
Photo by arch. G. Ballico
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Cascata Per Leo, rare icefall on Sorapiss, Dolomites


On 21 December Giuseppe 'Beppe' Ballico and Marco Milanese climbed "Cascata Per Leo" (270m, IV, WI 5+ XR) a beautiful icefall which rarely comes into condition on the SW Face of Croda Marcora (Sorapiss, Dolomites).

You have to wait for years for some icefalls to form. At times, the rendez-vu never even happens. While at other times the meeting turns out to be a perfect match. There's no hard and fast rule, no sure means of telling when... but in the end, this game of waiting, of watching and of delusions, is what best describes this strange sport of climbing frozen ice falls with crampons and ice axes. And this is exactly what happened to Beppe Ballico and Marco Milanese.

This is the story of a highly sought after strip of ice which never forms perfectly. It reveals itself on one of the most frequented and famous roads in the Dolomites (connecting San Vito to Cortina), and everyone who drives past marvels at it. Many dream about it. No one knows for certain whether it has ever been climbed before or not... Until one day - and this is the small miracle - all things slipped into place.

What follows is the report of a perfect day on a perfect icefall: Cascata Per Leo, climbed by Ballico and Milanese on 12 December. Their ascent is possibly the first ascent... but anyone who has already climbed this beautiful and ephemeral drip beneath the Sorapiss needs do nothing other than come forward and let us know. The dream resists for repeat ascents, too...

by Marco Milanese and Beppe Ballico

Marco. During my retreat in the Cadore dedicated to skiing and climbing I always drove around with a pair of binoculars in my car to keep a watchful eye on the icefalls. The extended period of rain, followed by intense cold, has resulted in exceptional ice formations. And so, between one ski trip and the next, on Sunday 12 December I carried out a rare repeat of "Con il sole in Poppa" at Passo Tre Croci together with Marco Kulot. This heralded a splendid start to the season, with the sun warming my arse, protected by black pants... I drive beneath Croda Marcora every day and so, dodging numerous accidents, I always glance up at that thin line of ice just beyond San Vito. I'd never seen it that thick before... Without hesitating I phoned Beppe, certain he'd be interested in this project...

Beppe. Saturday 18 December, my friend Marco from Udine phoned me to say that an icefall had come into condition just before Cortina... I answered quickly "By any chance is it the drip beneath Croda Marcora?" "Yes" he replied "it's the one beneath Sorapiss". Somewhat doubtful I questioned further "but are you sure it's formed completely?" "Yes, yes, I looked at it through my binocular and it looks good." "Wow! I'll be there tomorrow to check it out." And so on Sunday 19 December I joined him in San Vito. The temps were freezing (-15) and we continued on to the old Customs Office where the icefall springs into view. I spontaneously shouted out "Oh my God, it's done it!" I'd driven past it for many a winter and my eyes had always been attracted to it as it deceived me into believing it had formed. But superficial ice or entire sections missing had meant that the drip had remained firmly in my dreams, until the other day when I was lucky enough to find it in condition enabling me to seize the day. Or almost...

Marco. On Sunday we were ready to set off but it was simply too cold and, what's more, my foot hurt due to minor frostbite. Climbing such a delicate drip seemed out of the question. We decide to postpone the climb to Tuesday when warmer temperatures were forecast.

Beppe. So as not to waste a day, we decided to just check the approach and the amount of ice. We reached the route: the temperature at midday didn't want to rise about -10°C and this made me feel a bit better about not climbing that day. Due to its particular chandelier formation the ice seemed very fragile, and dangerous. I was free on Tuesday 21 December and it was also one of the last days with a decent forecast. How could we resist?

Marco. And so, with strong arms and weak intestines we reached the base of the most beautiful icefall both of us have ever climbed before (it's worth noting that the number of routes we've both climbed is very different).

Beppe. We reached the start at 10:00am, the sky was covered with clouds and the temperature began to rise as predicted, but suddenly and just once the sun came out, warmed us up and unfortunately also the icefall... we had to climb quickly.

Marco. The soft ice meant that we progressed more easily but the noise it made certainly wasn't the best!

Beppe. After a second pitch up thin ice which echoed with every blow I reached the base of the "missile". A comfortable ledge was the belay for the third pitch.

Marco. Beppe climbed up the third pitch, long, demanding, wet... This was to be the crux.

Beppe. I set off, decided where to set up the belay but when I reached the small cave I realised I was too "fat" to enter. Furthermore, a conspicuous continuous drip of water impended on my back, forcing me to make a decision: belay here together with the salmon or continue up the drip for somewhere better? The latter option proved appropriate.. I belayed Marco and he then got to work cleaning "cauliflower and jellyfish" to reach the short overhanging section which, in turn, led to a fantastic gully set deep in the rocks.

Marco. After a short musical interlude dedicated to Frizzi, Comini and Tonazzi, it was my turn. A short bouldery section with a lock-off down to the waist got me beyond the difficulties. A hundred or so meters lay ahead of us, in an exceptional environment, in a gully wedged deep in the rock.

Beppe. And then there was the final pitch, which seemed to be a slab... it turned out to be demanding but thanks to the sun-kissed ice it turned out to be great fun.

Marco. Today was unique, simple but very efficient.

Beppe. Beautiful, beautiful and I'll continue to repeat it, beautiful.... Thanks Marco for the excellent company but above all for having given me the opportunity to climb this route I'd dreamt about for so long.

Marco Milanese and Giuseppe Ballico





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