Easy Does It in the Dolomites


Mar 1, 2000
Outside Magazine

Many of the best peaks in the Dolomites surround the small, tourist-packed, west-central mountain village of Canazei, which is within 200 miles of both Milan and Munich. Marmolada, the highest summit in the Dolomites; the Gruppo di Sella, a massif full of dramatic and challenging vie ferrate; the Catinaccio-Rosengarten massif, also crisscrossed with many good routes; and Mount Collac are all less than a half-hour's drive of Canazei on winding mountain roads. In our quest for the most challenging and daunting routes, Father David and I had settled on Collac and the Gruppo di Sella for our first climbs.
The north face of Collac, split by a vast vertical chasm, loomed ominously above our hotel. In preparation for our ascent, we rolled out of bed at about 8 a.m., grazed on pastries, fresh fruit, and caffe lattes, and drove for seven minutes in our rented Lancia hatchback to a cable-car station where we boarded (vie ferrate often rely on local cable-lifts, which in winter serve the region's ski areas) along with an Italian family, a German couple in wool knickers, and a lone Frenchman wearing corduroy hot pants. From the top of the lift, a 20-minute walk through the wildflowers of a honey-scented meadow brought us to the start of the climb, a slabby gray incline that, within 200 feet, radically steepened. The great chimney included long vertical sections, even some overhangs, but there were always cables to clip into for safety. (Some climbers pull on the cables for assistance, whereas others climb mainly using the rock.) By 1 p.m. we had summited.

The next day we drove north of Canazei for 30 minutes to the Gruppo di Sella, where we climbed one of the most challenging vie ferrate, the Cesare Piazzetta route on Piz Boè (10,338 feet). Again the weather was gauzy, mild; our approach hike took 40 minutes through steeply pitched fields full of sassifrage, campanula, and grazing sheep. We clipped to the cables at the base of the route and ascended a vertical wall for 250 feet, with sections equivalent to 5.7 or 5.8 in technical climbing. Soon the steepness decreased, but the climbing remained strenuous for the next two hours as we shinnied up complex chimneys and followed jagged ridges. At the summit, where I finally began feeling the altitude, we found a rustic hut jutting out over the abyss. Inside was a café, staffed by a small crew who spend the summer serving schnapps and chocolate to the rock weary. We joined a handful of young German climbers drinking celebratory doses of herbal tea in delicate blown glasses.

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