Beauty and the Beast in the Pale di San Martino, Dolomites
Winter climbing in the Dolomites: Simone Banal and Matteo Faletti report about their first ascents, on 8 and 9 January 2019 of 'La Bella' (265m AI5+, 90°) and ‘La Bestia' (250m, AI5+, M6) up Cima del Focobon, Pale di San Martino group, with Alessandro Beber, Marco Pellegrini and Marco Zanni.
"Stop the car IMMEDIATELY!" I rush out of the car and start taking pictures of an amazing drip that plunges down Cima del Focobo. My climbing partner, somewhat contrite, shouts out "You could have told me you wanted to shoot some photos, I thought I was just about to crash into something!”
In truth it's me who’s been hit, by a juggernaut of ice that starts from a snowfield just below the summit and stretches all the way down to the ground, 250 meters below. A line that strikes me like a thunderbolt. I start to daydream, my mind is immediately lost in a sort of mental trance. I send the photo to my friends and they immediately reply... "No way! When are we going to give it a go?"
Two days later I'm back again, at 7 in the morning waiting for sunrise with a 300mm lens to take some better photos. The sun appears and the drip appears in full splendour... beautiful! This line attracts me like a magnet, I simply have to take some days off work and from the family. The holidays pass by and I start to worry that someone has climbed it in the meantime, but on 8 January we decide to climb it nevertheless and set off towards Val Venegia, loaded like mules.
I can’t be in better company: Alessandro Beber, Matteo Faletti, Marco Pellegrini Pelle and Marco Zanni Sbiru, great friends and all colleagues of the Mountime mountain guides group. Unfortunately Fabrizio Dellai Bicio has fallen ill and, right at the last minute, has to give it a miss.
The approach is long yet although we wade through deep snow with our heavy rucksacks, our thirst for adventure needs quenching and after a few hours we reach the Mulaz hut where we deposit our food and sleeping bag.
We reach the base of the drips and split into two teams, Ale and myself tackle the line on the left, while Matteo, Pelle and Sbiru try the route on the right. We climb two pitches before a blizzard forces us to retreat and descend back to the winter bivouac of the Mulaz hut for the night. Outside it's snowing and the winds are strong, we hope the next day will bring better weather.
I feel sick during the night and am overcome by nausea... maybe it’s the cold, damn. For a while I reckon I can’t even crawl out of my sleeping bag, but the thought of all my efforts going to waste motivates me to at least give it a go. At around 6 am the clouds lift, giving way to a starry sky.
We walk towards the base of Cima Focobon at dawn. The view is breathtaking. It’s a pity that I feel like throwing up. Alessandro quickly and confidently dispatches with the crux pitch, ever cheerful and smiling. However, he looses his sense of humour for an instant when, perched precariously on some thin ice, I hand him the drill without the battery (what an idiot I’ve been!).
The route is fantastic, the environment surreal. Our ice axes work wonders in this compressed snow, but the ice screws hold almost nothing. We had been undecided until the end whether or not to even bring the drill, but now realise we’ve made the right decision. We can’t trust this ice and the few islands of rock that appear here and there offer no chance to use cams or pegs. At around midday we are almost at the top of the route and my stomach starts to settle down.
As we prepare for the abseils we see that to our right Matteo has finished La Bestia and as we rappel we admire the masterpiece pitch he’s just climbed: chapeau!
All five of us meet down and the bivouac, next to out friendly thermometer that’s always blocked right down at the end of its line, then we descend into Val Venegia where a fiery sunset gifts us with an exciting, spectacular blaze. A photographer would pay thousands to be there at that precise moment, but the best images are those that remain etched in our memories.
I’ll certainly remember this splendid adventure with great friends for a long time. All that remains to be done is give these twin lines a name and, given their nature, La Bella and La Bestia seem ideal. Beauty and the beast!
Thanks to Alessandro Beber, Matteo Faletti, Marco Pellegrini and Marco Zanni for sharing these moments with me.
LA BESTIA by Matteo Faletti
A winter like this one hasn’t happened for a while. In the mountains, especially above 2000m, quite particular conditions have come into force, compressed snow has fused with snow and ice, plastering walls that usually remaine dry or were only dusted with a thin layer of snow. Simone sends a message with a photo, “Know what it is?" I think of it for a moment and Focobon instinctively springs to mind! "Precisely" is his answer!
Simone doesn’t take long to organize a team. At 5.00am on 8 January we all meet and set off for Pale di San Martino. Loaded like mules we ascend to the Mulaz hut, stash the gear, have a bite to eat and head towards the face to see what lies in store.
Simone and Alessandro climb the drip on the left while Pelle, Sbiru and I somewhat perplexedly opt for the route on the right. I look at the face, look at my partners and ask "Can I take the lead?" Without any hesitation they let me start the climb.
The first few meters are quite delicate, the ice seems to have become detached from the wall, luckily I manage to protect myself on the rock with some friends. Just as I thought, when my partners start climbing the delicate section gives way, leaving some beautiful rock to be climbed. I climb another pitch, a little bit easier than the first., to reach the base of a small drip. In the meantime the wind picks up again and it starts to snow, we have to descend to the hut and get our strength back. We try to have dinner and get some rest, Simone doesn’t feel well, we hope that with a good night's sleep he’ll recover.
The next morning dawn breaks with a stars in the sky, after a night of howling winds and sleet. We return to the face and quickly reach our highpoint. Pelle offers to continue for the next two pitches, here too good pro is lacking but nevertheless we manage to reach the base of the final steep section. The drip seems very thin, too thin to be climbed to the top.
I ask my partners if they want to lead but they are tired, so it’s up to me to solve the last pitch. From the other side of the wall Alessandro tells us that if going directly up is too difficult, a traverse leftwards look easier.
I climb up for about ten meters trying to protect myself with some friends, but quickly understand that it’s safer to continue up the corner crack that takes me away from but ice but gives me the chance to place some good pro. I reach the end of the difficulties and also the end of the rope, a 60m masterpiece, what a beautiful pitch! All we have to do now is abseil and return home.
The cold continues to sting but the clouds begin to disappear, yielding to fiery red sunset. Even the rocks in the Pale massif are on fire and provide an amazing backdrop to our wonderful adventure.
Thanks to Simone who made us take part in this project and thanks to the other climbing partners for sharing this wonderful experience with me. A few days later a friend, Paolo Baroldi and Giuseppe Vidoni repeated our way, what an honor and satisfaction when others follow in our footsteps. They confirmed the grades but on the final wall opted to climb direct upwards on the thin ice, grading it AI 6. Well done!
TOPO: La Bella, Cima Focobon, Dolomites
TOPO: La Bestia, Cima Focobon, Dolomites
Alessandro Beber thanks SCARPA
Simone Banal and Matteo Faletti thanks La Sportiva
All thank Millet, official sponsor of the mountain guides office Mountime-Outdoor Adventures