The plan was simple, get the ice climbing mileage in time for smashing out the late season Ben Nevis ice routes. We couldn’t decide on where to go, Kandersteg, Rjukan, Cogne. In the end, we settled on Serrai di Sottoguda based on a couple of UKC articles and a recommendation from a few locals.
We were advised to fly to Innsbruck to ensure we got a winter tyre equipped car at a reasonable cost. Apparently, in Italy, it can be a little more difficult as they are not necessarily required, depending on where you pick the car up from. Flights were pretty cheap from Manchester and the plane was empty! We picked up the car, psyched when we were told it had 6 km on the clock and with significantly more frills than our cars at home. Despite being warned, we still messed up with the snow chains, the ones we were given were broken and by the time we realised the office was closed. Nevermind, we were excited to get on the road.
Serrai di Sottoguda is fantastic, like a roadside gritstone crag but full of Ice! Wandering through the gorge everything looked steep, long and scary. Pete and I figured we were seasoned Scottish winter climbers so got straight on WI3+/4 Cascata del Sole. Optimistic is one word for it. Either way, we puntered up the 60 m icefall in a few more pitches than the guide book suggested, getting pumped out of our minds. It was harder than most of the ice we had done in Scotland and it turns out, ice climbing wizards we were not. Fran and Jamie had a more conservative start to the trip on some WI2/3’s further up the gorge.
We decided to explore some other nearby routes too. Visiting Cascata di Digonera, which has a 10 m walk in from a bridge, we left 2 to climb here, then went in search of Cascata di Moe. We never found Moe (still not sure how),instead following the same path to Cacascata del Inferno. It wasn’t in great condition higher up, but we still got a couple of pitches in before abseiling off. Still in the Scottish mentality of long routes, we headed to Val Corpassa for Cascata del Nevara;a long classic route that follows a frozen stream bed with some fun steeper steeps dotted along it. The guidebook says you would have to be blind to miss it. We nearly did, awkward… Walking up the frozen river with varying steps of ice, most of which we could happily solo, was great for a long day. After the final steep ice pitch, we topped out into deep powder and buried trees requiring a lot of wading to get up and over two cols before finally heading down.
For the final few days we stuck around Sottoguda, keen to make the most of the gorge and good ice even if it meant fighting for routes with the local guides. Arriving early meant that we got a pitch done before the masses arrived but as soon as we blinked about 40 guides and their clients were staring up at us. Having got the hang of steeper ice, we started to get on some of the classic cascades of the gorge. The Cattedrale is a stunning wide icefall, lit up at night to make an even more beautiful feature in the gorge. Up next was Excalibur, the king line of the gorge, the first pitch had been hooked out completely by guides top-roping earlier in the day so I barely had to swing my axes for 35 m. Jamie led the middle pitch of slightly less steep ice which I found harder when I suddenly had to swing my axes again. The top pitch was my lead again, which felt much more like what I though WI4+ should be and was another great pitch.
We stayed in a great self-catering apartment in Rocca Pietore, 5 minutes from Serrai di Sottoguda. It was a far-cry from the wet, cold layby we are used to in Scotland, set up perfectly for wet, cold climbers and skiers. If you are in the area, or planning your own trip to the Dolomites, we would recommend checking out Casa Alfredino-Mike and Sophie were really helpful, it’s well priced and the drying room can handle 240 m of drying ropes.
Now we are back, the season seems to be ending, in Scotland and in Italy, but fingers still crossed for fat ice on the Ben!
Gear - Bits we took and would take again
Dry treated ropes
We all took dry-treated ropes, all of varying age. Only one of us had a dry rope after a night of drying. Apparently, a half rope abused on sea-cliffs and mountain routes becomes a bit of sponge. Fran had a brand new rope and every evening he smugly reminded us that his rope was as dry as it was when we left the UK.
Fran and I looked a right pair turning up wearing the same jacket, but it did work well. I wore it over a baselayer and under a hardshell on most days, keeping me just the right temperature between climbing and belaying.
I hate being cold, so I carried the Phantac as a belay jacket, I didn’t need it much but was very glad of it when I did. Plus the hydrophobic down meant I didn’t worry about getting it soaked and packing it away. It dried easily when we got home. Fran took the Filo instead, but looked just as toasty on belays.
A hot drink is a real treat when you come down from a route and is a great way to warm yourself up after shivering on belays. The Clip worked a treat for this, maybe too well in fact as I think we all burned our tongues at least once!