The good outstrips the bad!
I was looking up at the third pitch of an eight-pitch Dolomite classic above the Sella Pass.
With one of the harder pitches behind me I was feeling confident and decided I needn’t look at the route description tucked into my back pocket, but just follow my nose up the next pitch, which looked obvious enough and, besides, I could see a ring bolt winking at me about 30 metres up. And again, obviously, I thought, that must be the stance.
So racked to the gills I set off up what started out to be an easy enough vertical break heading diagonally to the left. The climbing wasn’t difficult, but the rock was a few shades less than perfect, which always adds a touch of tattered nerves to the recipe. But hey, this is a classic, it has to improve and gear should be forthcoming. Or so I thought.
Five metres up and standing delicately on creaky holds, my nonchalant demeanour is quickly evaporating as I realise that gear is not forthcoming and the situation does not show any signs of improving. My eyes continually scan the rock left and right and above for any signs of weakness where I could slot in a nut, or fiddle in a cam, even a crap manky one will do at this stage. Nothing!
Trying to push the thought of a 12 metre (and counting) factor 2 fall to the back of my mind, I push gingerly on, convinced that there just has to be gear soon, else how could this be the classic route that it is?
Ten metres up and still nothing. My mantra is what an Italian climber told me the other day when I was complaining about the dodgy rock in the Dolomites. ‘No-no,’ he said in his thick Italian accent. ‘In the Dolomiti you don’t pull on the holds, you push.’ So there I am, pushing my way in to the coffin zone, not really knowing when I’m going to get any reprieve.
Squinting up, I see that elusive ring bolt still winking at me, and it still looks a long way away. Right, so now the mind really starts to take control of the situation and, in this case, not in a good way. I can’t down climb. I feel that it is too difficult for that, so my only option is to carry on, or start shouting for help. I opt for carrying on at this stage, keeping the wimp-out option tucked away for now. At this point I also realize that I must be off route.
Somewhere between 15 and 20 metres above the stance (although when I look down at my protectionless rope snaking down to my belay it seems more like 100 metres) I find my first piece of gear – a medium sized cam stuffed behind a flared creaking flake. Crap, I know, but better than nothing and it settles the demons in my mind just enough to push on. Thankfully the climbing stays at a reasonable grade, but is still shaky and with no further kit.
Eventually, after what seems like an eternity, I arrive at the ring bolt. The elation is indescribable. I’m not going to die – well at least not right now. Nothing can beat this feeling. I thread the ropes and lower back down to the stance and touch down with palpable relief.
I grab the route description from my pocket and see that the route actually takes the slightly less obvious right-trending break. Sheepishly I stuff the crumpled piece of paper back in my pocket and set off up an enjoyable well-protected pitch.
What a great route, I thought to myself as I clipped the belay at the next stance, the horrors of only 30 minutes ago quickly losing the battle with the endorphins now coursing through my blood.
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