Pilastro Magno, Sassolungo first winter ascent by Milani and Travaglia
On 8, 9 and 10 January 2013, Giorgio Travaglia and Francesco Milani made the first wintere ascent - with two bivouacs - of "Pilastro Magno" (950m, VI), the route established in summer 1993 by Ivo Rabanser and Marco Furlani up the NE Face of Sassolungo (Dolomites).
Yes, this is a great first winter ascent! Firstly because climbing 950 metres up the NE Face of Sassolungo in mid (and cold!) January isn't an everyday occurrence, requiring total dedication and a complete grasp of alpinism and all its facets. Secondly because the route, Pilastro Magno put up by Ivo Rabanser and Marco Furlani, is a great outing with difficulties up to grade VI which, unsurprisingly, has seen no more than 5 or 6 repeats since its first ascent in 1993. And thirdly because the two who embarked on this beautiful, three-day two-bivy journey were two young alpinists: 25-year-old Francesco Milan and 21-year-old Giorgio Travaglia who we met previously after the first ascent of Pilastro Parmenide on Cima dell'Auta. Before leaving you to Travaglia's report, we simply wanted to point out what little gear they took: a set of crampons, one ice axe and just a pair of climbing shoes for the two of them...
SASSOLUNGO FIRST WINTER ASCENT OF PILASTRO MAGNO by Giorgio Travaglia
Ever since the start of winter we'd been in a "state of alert", ready to pounce when the right moment came about. I'd already made my way to Lecco, to my friends Stefano and Francesco, but the worsening weather in the Dolomites had forced us change plans and go for a quick climb in the Grignetta instead. This time though conditions seemed ideal: warm temperatures, a stable weather forecast and it hadn't snowed for ages. We discussed it quickly and decided to give it a go. In the mountains you really need to know how to take full advantage of conditions: they "decide" when they can be climbed.
Only Francesco joined me this time, Stefano spent his time more conscientiously, studying. Our "original project" wasn't in condition and so I suggested this outing up Sassolungo, a route I'd been wanting to climb for years. At seven am, beneath a disarmingly pure blue sky, we set off with our rucksacks towards the base of this wild face, walking past the Città dei Sassi where ten years previously - as an 11-year-old - I first started climbing.
After the initial skirmishes up unstable snow and thanks to my partners' swift reflexes - at grabbing me as I fell - we both reached the base of the route. In order to climb as lightweight as possible we had stripped our gear to a bare minimum: a pair of crampons, an ice axe and a pair of climbing shoes between the two of us. I'd climb the vertical pitches, while my partner would deal with those plastered in snow. Pitch one was his.
In the shadow of the great face we ascended various pitches following the large yellow corner which clearly marks the line of ascent on this lower section; the day's goal was a bivy ledge at circa half-height. Darkness set in while we were still climbing, accompanied by a northerly "breeze" which blew us around despite the various kilos of gear we were carrying. I placed two pegs in the light of my headtorch and belayed my partner to our stance. The wind never let up throughout the night, we didn't have any water and we couldn't melt any snow with our stove. So we used a technique I'd experimented with last year in worse conditions: we put the water bottle in our sleeping bags and blew on it and slowly but surely the ice began to melt...
We set off early the next morning and after a few challenging pitches such as the airy "Traverso dei rapaci" we finally stopped for breakfast and took advantage of the lack of wind. A short crest, followed by a gully and a traverse which would have been no big deal in summer but now required careful attention as it was full of powder snow, then on to the right, up yellow vertical faces. We reached the summit ridge in the late afternoon. As soon as we found a suitable bivy spot we stopped for the night, keen on not being caught out in the dark once again. Finally something to eat, but above all finally something to drink! A windstill night allowed us to rest properly, snuggled deep into our snow bivy.
Daytime, but a thick blanket of clouds denied us those few rays of morning sun which the NE aspect would have given us. We continued up the crest, plastered with snow and fairly insidious. It was Francesco's "turn" to guide us through the powder snow and poor quality terrain and we summited at one. The tracks left behind by Adam and Hubert after their new route close by greatly facilitated the long descent back down to valley: those who've been up this wild mountain know that once you reach the top, you've only won half the battle!
That evening we were Ivo Rabanser's guests; the first ascentionist concluded the day in fitting style by opening a considerable number of bottles of excellent wine.