The Canalone Neri Is Not A Pastry

The weekend turned out much better than I expected. Mathias called around lunchtime to arrange a tour for the weekend. He had wanted to do a north face with 2 other friends, but his partner bailed out on the day before they were supposed to head out, that is why he had also put an announcement in the Munich Climbing Center Message board looking for someone. I saw his announcement, an email, and was on my lunch break when he called. I agreed to climb a north face with him, then he come to Arco for climbing. I drove down to Garmisch-Partenkirchen after work. Turns out we have exactly the same car: make, model and edition. I said “Your car is the coolest!” We had dinner and looked at 2 week old pictures of the route, at Heike’s house. She was training to be a tour guide for the alpine club, planning to combine our ice tour with an alpine rock one afterwards. Mathias and I left after dinner for Arco to bivy out under the stars in an olive garden. We had our obligatory morning coffee at Caffetrentino before driving to Nago. We stayed on easy routes for the 2 hours, since Mathias had only just begun rock climbing. We left for Madonna di Campiglio, the town near the Brenta mountain range. We were staying in the winter hut “Brentai,” which had no electricity, water or door (you had to climb a ladder to a window on the second floor, climb down the ladder inside the hut and open a window on the bottom floor). My internal monkey loved that. We made it to the hut in 1.5 hours. I got my first look at the Canalone Neri and flushed with panic. The face itself is 900 meters at a 55° angle (very steep!). Blank ice (no snow) was showing in the middle of the otherwise, completely snow covered gully. The blank ice segment seemed about 3 or 4 pitches long (maybe 200 meters) and looked intimidating. Glacier ice has been much much more brittle than waterfall ice, in my experience so far. Only the smallest possible tip of the axe goes into the ice, same thing with the crampons, it doesn’t feel like it could possibly hold. In waterfall ice, you swing from the wrist and nearly bury the shaft into the ice; now that feels solid! Plates of ice break off when you swing hard (because the ice is so hard), on a glacier. On top of that, you have terrible leverage standing making your calves scream. It can be precarious and exhausting. Soooo…I was concerned, not to mention the fact that I hadn’t climbed ice in 6 months, even over 1 year since my last north face! We had dinner together exchanging jokes and stories. We planned our ascent out in detail and went to bed. We hit the hay around 11pm with the alarms set for 2:30am (yes, 2:30 am…) I didn’t really sleep well…had some bizarre dream that a girl named Eli wanted to take my spot in the group and I was quite relieved to let her… the clock went off and for a moment I was wondering where she was. My ice climbing boots are a little too small for me which means that they dig in in a few places and crowd my toes…I usually just manage but wasn’t expecting such a long tour. Mathias reassured me saying they were done by 10 or 11am last time. We set off in the dark, reaching the beginning of the snow field at the foot of the gully, an hour later. We put helmets, gloves and crampons on and traded the hiking poles for ice axes. The face curved into a steep climb rather quickly. We trudged on up the snowfield towards the glacier, often having to dodge falling rocks (well more like bouncing rocks as they came speeding down). The further the day went on, the more the rock came down. As the day warmed up, the “glue” holding loose rocks, melted. We reached the blank ice field around 7am. We could bypass about 2 pitches of ice on a snowfield tongue, which narrowly went up the left side of the glacier. It was much easier and faster to climb than the ice. The day was pretty warm, so the glacier ice was rather soft which was a relief to me. We roped up here and Heike led the 2 pitches. Mario went as second and had 2 ropes tied to his harness for Mathias and me. When he reached the stand, he gave Heike the ice screws he had cleaned from her lead and she continued on leading the next pitch while Mathias and I followed up the first pitch. Since we were 4 people, this was the fastest way of getting everyone over the ice field. We were also able to pool our ice screws together for the lead to go further and safer in one push. The ice ended up taking several hours in the end. Matthias and I got pretty cold waiting for the others to get the stand set up and us on belay. While Heike was climbing, I dug a little snow seat and sat on my backpack. After nodding off twice, I remained standing. Especially considering I wasn’t roped in. All in all, about 4/5 of the face is a solo climb. I found the ice to be pretty easy in the end since it wasn’t actually vertical most of the way. I reached the first anchor quickly followed by Mathias. We had to wait another very long time until Marco was ready for us to follow the second pitch. He and Heike had  first coiled up two ropes, something to drink and Heike set off for the final segment before Mathias and I climbed simultaneously, to the final anchor. We quickly untied and stuffed the ropes into the backpack to get moving on the second half of the face. We had lost a lot of time in the ice. Since both Heike and Marco had already re-tracked an old track in the snow, it was fast and easy for us to catch up to them despite their sizable head start. We ended up passing them and tracked the last fourth of the face. Around 11am and at 13°C, we reached the summit of Cima Tosa. It is a rather flat and large summit in something of a C form around the gully. There isn’t a summit cross, but rather a statue of Madonna. We took our backpacks off and relaxed for about 30mn. The weather was warm enough and we wanted to eat a little bit before starting down. The descent turned out to be the real difficulty. My feet were more or less fine in the wall since it was at such an angle that my steps were rather straight on (like going up steep stairs) but with the descent or walking straight, my toes were stuffed against the front of the boot and that started hurting. We passed over the snowfield down to a set of staggered huge stone walls which required down climbing in about a 3-4 difficulty (you needed your hands and pay attention). We had to find the place to rappel down to speed things up since down climbing was sketchy. Finding the anchor was difficult in the huge wall. We finally did and abseiled 55 meters down. Then we had to find the next anchor for the second 50 meters cliff-band. We got to another snowfield and my feet were pretty well throbbing by now…the toes were cramped and blisters grew… The terrain was not difficult per se, but my boots made every step torture. After the snowfield, a “normal” trail began, wounding along a huge rock face to a col. We hiked a short way up to the gap in the wall and down climb the back to another snowfield. Endlessly long trails ensued until we reached a hut, normally only 45mn away from “ours.”  I needed twice that, by then. We repacked all of our camping things, hoisted the now even heavier packs and started off to the car. We took 1.5 hours to hike it, but I needed 2.5 hours to hike down. As I finally reached the car, I was in pretty bad shape. The pain was making me puke pretty much the final 2 hours and we had been hiking over 16.5 hours basically nonstop and I was dehydrated. I took my boots off as fast as possible. After about 2 minutes of freedom for my poor toes, the exhilaration you get after such a tour, hit me. I felt like had some strength once I was barefoot. We returned to Arco to camp in the olive grove. Needless to say, I slept like a rock. We met up with Iris the next morning and set up our camp site at the official campground. I thoroughly enjoyed a long overdo shower and went to Cafetrentino again. After lunch, we all went to the lake for a swim, some sun and a little nap. It was very relaxing. After that, Massimo, Mathias and I did some easy routes in Nago again. It was evening so the air was a little cooler and we were alone, which was fantastic. We really enjoyed the climbing there. We went to a pizzaria in Torbole after watching the US play Italy in the world cup playoffs. We started the next day with some swimming of to cool down. Iris left for Salzburg and Mathias and I tried to go climbing, but it started raining as we arrived. We returned lake for another swim and some food before heading home after dinner. It was a pretty wild weekend and I enjoyed meeting Mathias, Heike and Marco. I am happy I went for it and didn’t let my nerves hold me back. But I really need to find ice boots in my size!

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