Flower Power, Tognaza, 6b 7L

UkClimbing logbooks

The Dolomites are made of Dolomite right? Any idiot knows that – the clues in the name. Only it’s not necessarily – Marmolada the highest mountain hereabouts is Calcarious Limestone, a cousin of Dolomite, but a fundamentally different beast. There’s agglomerate like that seen on Via Ferrata delle Trincee. But what many don’t know is that there is a whole region in the south west of the range which is entirely Porphyry and Granite – two igneous rocks which are utterly different to the surrounding areas.

Two summers ago whilst driving over Passo Rolle my eyes almost fell out of my head. Not at the stunningly impressive Pale di San Martino (which at the time was shrouded in a cloak of mist) but at the crag on the other side of the road. Unable to stop I resolved to return the following day which we did and together we roamed through the  Scottish Highland-esque landscape. With stunning views over the valley we enjoyed the stark differences in vegetation and the way in which the topology leant itself to small ponds and lakes in contrast to the often bleak arid Dolomite altiplanes we were used to. Of course I wanted to find out more – surely the cliff I’d seen must have rock climbing on it? Indeed we passed a fantastic looking mountain called Colbricon which looked equally stunning.

Mike surveying the crag from the road - 250m of solid igneous. BOOM.
Mike surveying the crag from the road – 250m of solid igneous. BOOM.

Recently returning to the mountains after a month in the UK, I found myself climbing with my good friend Mike Stoger, trying to showcase some of the best crags that surround the house. On the last day, wondering what to do to provide some adventure and finding myself in a bookshop, I came across a copy of the 2011 edition of “Lagorai, Cima d’Asti” by Versante Sud. For anyone familiar with these guidebooks, it is of the normal excellent standard and covers the Lagorai region, of which Passo Rolle is the North-Easternmost corner. I purchased it for 25.50 Euro and off we set.

One of the most attractive things about going to the Lagorai from Alleghe is the stunning drive. First Falcade, an attractive traditional village with old Feniles which soon give way to thick forests and then Passo Valles. Here the landscape changes – a river bubbles down by the side of the road and the woods open out a little. The mountains become a little more rolling and the bare earth of landslips becomes a rich dark brown. Climbing to Passo Rolle the road winds out of the woods across alpine pastures with little sign of anything vertiginous – then you crest the pass and that all changes. First the huge steep walls of the Pale come into view, pale and unforgiving and then seconds later the object of our desires Tognazza, a broad 250m high cliff of Porphyry. The Pale dwarfs this cliff but what is striking about it is it’s obvious quality when compared with what you would find only 1km across the valley.

Parking at the ruined Malga Fosse 1km below the pass, the walk-in is a brief although brutal affair. It starts easily enough with a walk down through a meadow until you have to go back up the otherside, up a steep boulderfield. Still, 15-20 minutes will see you at the base of the cliff. Clearly not as steep as the limestone cliffs or the rest of the Dolomites, Tognazza is delightfully faceted, with cracks, slabs ribs and aretes and deep, perfectly formed diedres.

Pitch 2 - this is what dreams are made of.
Pitch 2 – this is what dreams are made of.


We picked our way to our chosen route Flower Power, a 7 pitch 6b, one of 9 recorded routes on the cliff. The start is well marked – a small stainless steel plaque has been screwed to the rock. Although the topo says small to medium friends are required, in the 5 pitches we climbed, we never needed to place any – the route is well bolted with high quality stainless expansion bolts. I could not vouch for any of the other routes, but this certainly sets a precedent. The pitches are long and varied and the climbing quite sustained.

I set off up the first pitch which starts steadily and builds to a steep, balancy couple of 6a moves through an overlap and steep narrow slab above. With your gear below your feet, just take a deep breath and make the move. Up and right across some grass, a few more moderate moves bring you to a belay.

The second pitch is spectacular, first weaving through a short dihedral and then following a blunt rib and crack with some extremely fine positions and fantastic climbing. Hidden from the belay it’s airy, delicate, powerful, and just plain fun in equal measures.

The subsequent pitch is again totally different, climbing a thin slab (not correctly marked on the topo, but 6a according to another I’ve found). It’s delicate  to start with and then, whilst pulling further right it becomes very well exposed as it reaches a tall arete for the second half. The last few moves before the belay are exquisite as you balance your way up, shifting your weight to take advantage of the small dishes and edges.

The view to the Pale di San Martino - you can just make out Mike climbing the 6a slab pitch at the bottom!
The view to the Pale di San Martino – you can just make out Mike climbing the 6a slab pitch at the bottom!

A quick 5b pitch leads to a soaring crack line graded 6b. To my mind this was not really very hard, certainly not 6b if you’ve climbed a crack or two in your life – maybe if you’re crimping your way around the main event it is? Certainly there was chalf on the small edges either side of the crack when we did it. However that aside, what a phenomenal pitch – if it were gear protected it would be a fantastic HVS/E1 pitch with bomber gear all the way, but as a bolted outing its just plain fun.

And alas that is where the daily rain stopped play – we scampered back down the abseil piste, getting hit by heavy rain as we got to the penultimate station. Down we went, and off to Malga Rolle for a well earned Weiss beer. I can’t wait to go back – the routes on Colbricon look utterly fantastic!

Comici Route, Falzarego Towers, V-

The Comici Route on the Torre Piccolo di Falzarego is a great route with a short 45 minute approach and the grade V- climbing concentrated in the first pitch and which if you like can be bypassed. Otherwise it is mostly IV and is ideal for those looking for the next step up from Sass di Stria.



The walk in is easy – leave the car at the Lagozuoi cable car lift station. From the back of the carpark a path winds first through a boulderfield, then through the stunted pines of the tree line towards the ruins of a World War 1 Field hospital, well worth a look. The Falzarego towers are two modest but satisfying looking peaks, the Picolo being a fine pointed summit, separated from the Grande by a deep cleft, some 4-8 metres wide. To reach the base of the route, walk steeply up and left behind the hospital to reach more or less the lowest point of the buttress where you will find some earthy ledges to gear up, although it might be easier to do so at the hospital where there is flat ground.


What to take:

Gearwise, you can afford a slim rack; there are so many pegs, that I rarely found myself reaching for nuts. Indeed, we had one small set and Camalots 0.4 – 1 (grey – red) and never felt the need for more. Slings are useful for the numerous threads as the insitue tat although frequent is usually faded and untrustworthy.

Standing in the ruins of the field hospital one gets a sense for the isolation and desperation the men must have felt in a sport like this.
Standing in the ruins of the field hospital one gets a sense for the isolation and desperation the men must have felt in a sport like this.

The Climb:

Comici, one of the great pioneers of the Dolomites lends his name to a vast number of routes on an equally vast number of peaks – it’s rare to find his routes disappointing and he is renowned for his bold, aethetically pleasing lines, not to mention their difficulty with many still presenting a serious challange for the aspiring alpine rock athelete. The line on the Falzarego towers does not disappoint, which after a couple of pitches gains the arete of the tower providing great positions. The start seems to have a number of variations at differing grades; we spotted at least 3 different ways to reach the first belay. But as this is a practice area, the route is often marked with red or green way markers, and is very extensively equipped with pitons and cemented in bolts. The third pitch is no less than spectacular, leaving a niche and climbing briefly and steeply up a corner one reaches the top of a flake – step out across air to continue up the arete, which after another 2 pitches leads to the small summit of the tower.

Attacking the first grade V- pitch. The difficulties are not sustained and are found in the groove seen here.
Attacking the first grade V- pitch. The difficulties are not sustained and are found in the groove seen here.

With excellent rock through out, bar the odd loose flake, this is a great introduction to the area. If there is a chance you might feel the need to retreat, or weather is looking a little less than optimal, the belays are mostly bolted, some with new glue-ins, some with cemented rings. Route finding is mostly very straight forwards with waymarkers helping frequently when you are unsure, as does the fixed protection. I would say that a UK leader comfortable leading a multipitch HS would not struggle unduely with this route.

From the top of the third pitch should it be needed, abseiling to the western side of the ridge should see you to an escape route.

Felix Idiens climbing high on the arête with Autumn snows on Averau and Nuvolau behind him.
Felix Idiens climbing high on the arête with Autumn snows on Averau and Nuvolau behind him.


The descent is worth mentioning – once you reach the summit climb quite steeply down the far side of the tower – rings and gear are easy to find so it’s easily protected to a shoulder where you will find three curled steel staples. We used the largest and highest as this was the easiest to access and a 25m abseil landed you at the top of the gully descending between the two towers. This gully is a little tricky in places with two down climbing sections, but could be abseiled with sufficiently long ropes should there still be winter snows in the gully from a ring in the side wall of the gully. Once out of the gully there are two further down climbing sections but they are straight forwards if a little exposed.