Orient Express on Gran Sasso, the story of the first winter attempt and the strength of a partnership
On 30/12/2012 Andrea Di Donato, Andrea Di Pascasio and Lorenzo Angelozzi attempted the first winter ascent of Orient Express, but were stopped by Angelozzi's massive fall. Fortunately there were no serious consequences. Andrea Di Pascasio recounts the story.
A first winter ascent attempt. The route is Orient Express (650, ED- with some sections up to VI+) located on the northern pre-summit of the Paretone, Gran Sasso d'Italia. The climbers are Andrea Di Donato, Andrea Di Lorenzo and Pascasio Angelozzi. A tight-knit team. One of the most active in recent years on Gran Sasso. In 2011 on Gran Sasso the three of them made the first winter ascent of Fulmini e Saette (700m up to VII) up the north-west face of Vetta Orientale. That August Angelozzi then carried out the first solo of Orient Express, the great route established by Massimo Marcheggiani and Fabio Delisi in 1982. Their plan this winter was to climb fast, in a single push, without bivies. All went well until about half-height, to the section they knew as "infamous" and difficult to protect. Lorenzo Angelozzi took a 30 metre fall. A lightening flash of true fear... then everything passed into the hands of the team, in its combined strength. We'll let Andrea Di Pascasio tell the rest.
Orient Express a first winter attempt
It’s only been a few days. I have to admit that it's frightening. I felt nausea. An excess of excitement. Yet the time would come when we'd have to leave this place. We were attempting the first winter ascent of the Orient Express, a route that isn't particularly difficult in summer, yet at the same time it isn’t particularly easy, either. We were trying to live out another one of those small dreams that nourish the soul for so long they bind your feet to the ground and place your head in the clouds.
We were attempting something new, to help us understand who we are and to further delve into our search for beauty: the idea was to climb quickly, in a single-push, starting at night and finishing by day, on the very same day. Climbing non-stop, very fast, lightweight. In short, a modern ascent. It all had to do with strategies and common goals.
Our other winter climbs, all with one or more bivies and all beautiful, had revealed the problem of where and how to spend the nights. These had always been extremely uncomfortable and cold, this then translated into fatigue the next day, mental stress, more weight on our shoulders, mystical nights.
At 18:00 we ate and prepared our gear, we were going to go really light and it was time for bed. All three of us, the idea being that we'd wake up at midnight and set off... but sleeping together proved impossible when you put two sex maniacs in the same bed as a child, you know what I mean? I was hungry and my legs hurt! But I shouldn't eat legs if I know it'll hurt! The night before I read an article by Bergonzoni... and we then imagined this old photo: Andrea below the face with an ice cream in his hand, the caption read: "Andrea frozen under the wall."
It's great to climb fast. We sped across the cengia dei fiori, the ledge of flowers which we knew well and needed just 3 hours to reach the base of the route, truly satisfied. Conditions were special, all things considered we could climb, some ice sections led to hard-packed snow followed by pockets of powder snow. We'd always got to be on our guard...
Some pitches were beautiful, true gullies of thin ice, side walls and hard snow. Beautiful ... and to think we were in the Apennines and the limestone was hard to protect. The climbing was constantly demanding and both Andrea and Lorenzo did some pitches like true alpinists. Delicate, then tough, then up with your feet, remembering to breathe well, always ... it was all pretty hard going.
Climbing this route ws exciting, we found what we'd set out for. After an amazing ice pitch and after having watched the sun rise from the sea and hide behind the mountains we reached the dreaded roof at 11 am. A real bastard even in summer, this paves the way for the upper, final section of the route, harder on paper but now devoid of snow ice and therefore easier to protect.
Lorenzo takes the lead and places a Friend, then another, clips a peg of sorts and puts in another small Friend, then rests on the rope to place something else and... down he falls into the void! In an instant... yes, really! Lorenzo's fallen! And the gear wasn't good and the fall is long and absurd. While falling he shouts "HELP!" like someone lost "HELP!"... desperate. Down he falls into the void. The importance of knowing what you're doing becomes clear when the belay stops the 30m fall, with the two of us clipped to it... two nuts and a thread. And life continues. You don't think of anything, it all happens far too quickly, I find myself instinctively gripping the ice axes with all my might... it’s just an instant....
He's fine, or so it seems, he's made of rubber, he simply bounced off and didn't break a thing. We're alive and safe. We lower off to reach him... Now what should we do? Call the helicopter? A right blow to our morale. Continue? A battle. And we don't really know the classic route, somewhat easier, but how much? We're at least 150m from the top.
Lorenzo feels like continuing, full of aches and pains, he’s a real tough nut, something for which he's famous for around these parts. And after some more difficult and dangerous pitches and some uncertainty, we do it! We're a family! Morale is never low, we always comfort each other, climb with total confidence in each other's abilities. True human warmth!
A great adventure, difficult to decipher. I think it's a step forward, despite not having reached the original goal. Definitely though an experience which I wouldn’t recommended!
That evening in the hospital is fun, the kebab tasts good, the people re nice, the music beautiful...
We're alive... and life is good! And I, if I only knew how to love, I'd say that I love you.
by Andrea Di Pascasio