Ice climbing in Val Pettorina and the surrounding area
Val Pettorina is famous for the Serrai di Sottoguda – it’s a fantastic venue and perfect for those taking their first steps into cascade ice climbing, or those who are already well practiced and want to test themselves on easy access classics. However on 29th October 2018, a hurricane brought huge destruction to the valley. As a consequence I have been developing and recording routes elsewhere in the valley so that visiting climbers do not need to be put off visiting the area. I’ve put together a miniguide available here and reproduced my article published by UKClimbing about the Serrai so that there is a single source for climbing information in the valley.
Prezzi Pazzo Canyon (aka Ru dei Minieri)
If you’re looking for consistent ice, a variety of grades and routes, a mix of cascade ice and mixed climbing, a large number of routes with a 5 minute walk in, easy access from an airport served year round by a multitude of airlines and from different airports and maybe something that’s ridiculously beautiful to look at and then climb, then look no further.
The routes in the Serrai are varied and interesting, ranging from short, easy beginner/warm up routes through to a 60m WI6 pitch as part of a 100m line; from short brutal drytooling routes through to M9+ routes. Mostly fully attached pillars, there are also some detached pillars and stalactites. There are some truly superb lines – notably Excalibur, La Catedrale, Cascata delle Attraversate, La Spada nella Roccia and Cascata del Sole – all in the WI3+ to 5 range, and all with circa 80-100m of fantastic climbing. This is not to do down the quality of the other lines; in amongst the towering walls there are lesser lines which elsewhere would be notable in themselves.
And what do you do when you get bored of the gorge? Well within a 30 minute drive there are numerous other high quality venues, some in the valley and others not far away. Just 5 minutes from the end of the valley, the ice fall at Laste and Digonera are excellent as well, in a more open setting. Cross Passo Fedaia to Canazei and you will find again, more routes than you can shake a stick at within a short walk from a convenient car park. Corvara has some superb routes, whilst explore the Agordino Valley and you will find many hidden, rarely climbed gems.
When to come
With cold temperatures usually starting in November, the icefalls begin to form in December and by the end of January, the vast majority of the main lines will be climbable; by the end of February they will be fat, strong ice formations. Usually the climbing lasts until at least the end of March, but is obviously conditions dependent and of course the altitude you are climbing at – later than that there are obviously still routes which can be done in the higher mountains, so although a little riskier conditions wise, with some ski touring or snow shoeing ability you can still get out on good solid ice if the gorge is out of service. One other thing to mention is that each year, usually towards the middle of January there is an ice climbing meeting, supported by various manufacturers. This gives an opportunity to try out axes and crampons from them and is a great opportunity to see what others get up to in the gorge.
Val Pettorina and how to get there
Val Pettorina is right at the heart of the Dolomites, away from the main tourist villages or Selva di Gardena, Corvara, Arabba and Canazei. To get here takes a 2hr drive from Venice Marco Polo or 1hr and 40 min from Treviso. Either that or take a flight to Innsbruck which although a longer drive ensures that your car will be fitted with snow tyres (unlike in Italy where you have to order them, pay extra and mostly will find they are not available when you arrive) and get to drive some of the most stunning mountain passes in the area! Not to say that the Italian side is any less stunning. On a fine day, taking the road over Passo Staulanza is an eye opener, whilst the easier drive up the Agordino valley is equally breath taking, passing beneath the soaring walls of the Bellunese Dolomites, then Monte Agner, Moiazza and finally Civetta.
The valley itself is quite sleepy, but has everything you need to make your trip comfortable with some good restaurants, a few local shops to get essentials, some bars, a butchers shop, and cafés. The villages are picturesque and original – tourism really has only begun to get a grip on this area and so this is still an authentic mountain valley. The glitz and glamour of Cortina d’Ampezzo and Val Gardena are far away, despite only being an hour’s drive.
The weather here is of course as variable as in any mountain range. Some years the Dolomites sees little snow, and often these are the best conditions of ice formation as it often indicates high pressure weather systems and stable cold spells. In recent years it’s become common for there to be no snow until late January, meaning that you can easily access routes like Hypercoldai and Paperoga at the foot of Civetta very easily.
12 screws are the main requirement here. On the cascade routes you will rarely if ever find rock protection, although I often carry a set of Wild Country Superlight offsets as a compromise. Many routes have bolted belays, but be prepared as some do not so screw or Abalakov/Anderson thread belays are required. Besides, you may need to retreat for some unforeseen reason, so take a length of cord which you can leave as a thread. Mixed routes are often equipped adequately with expansion bolts, but sometimes a small selection of nuts and/or cams can add to security.
In places trees provide an abseil anchor – please be aware that at the moment most insitu anchors have been put in place by individuals, so do not blindly trust their strength. Inspect (as normal) all anchors to which you trust your life, and where deemed sensible, add or entirely replace cord which may be aging or badly installed. Please ensure you take sufficient rope with you to rig your own belay for descent. If you need more tat, screws or general gear, we can recommend De Grandi sport, in Bosco Verde who stock a really good selection of equipment.
The standard grading here is the WI system with M grades on mixed routes. Sometimes UIAA grades are given but generally these aren’t that far removed from the WI grade. Grades in the gorge vary from WI2 through to WI6+ and M9+. The main grade spread is around WI3+ to 4+ which makes it ideal for the intermediate ice climber.
I will describe this for each venue in this guide. Please be aware at the time of writing there is officially NO ACCESS TO THE SERRAI DI SOTTOGUDA due to the state of the road access which was destroyed during the October 2018 storm.
The best guidebook for the gorge is Ghiaccio Verticale Vol.2 which covers the Dolomites to the east of the Adige Valley and stretches as far as Slovenia. This is in Italian only, but does give graphical descriptions of some routes and their position in the gorge. It is by far the most comprehensive guide.
Alternatively there is Eisklettern in Sudtirol, which is a German language book.
Rest day and alternative activities
What to do when you fancy a day off or just want to do something else? Well the Dolomites is world famous for its piste skiing. Boasting one of the largest linked areas on one ski pass in the world, you simply won’t run out! From Val Pettorina you can ski in the Marmolada and Arabba, Civetta, Alta Badia, Lagozuoi, Falcade/San Pellegrino and Canazei Ski Range with no more than a 35 minute drive. Indeed Marmolada is right at your doorstep, which as the tallest mountain in the Dolomites and with a large glacier to ensure good snow, one has access to a fantastic on and off piste resource. Take the lift to Monte Padon and cross over to Arabba and you will find some of the finest intermediate to advanced skiing in the Dolomites, whilst the Civetta range is ideal for those who like a more leisurely pace, with many moderate blue and red runs. Of course if off piste is more your bag, the sky is the limit with famous runs across the Sella Group like Val di Mezdi and Val Lasties, or touring ascents of Marmolada Punta Penia, Forcella di Marmolada or Forcella Franzei.
Snowshoeing in these parts is also a big deal – rental of kit is available at De Grandi Sport and also from Camping Malga Ciapela, where there is a “giro del volpo” or circuit of the fox. They grant access to the mountains for those without the ability to ski. A walk up to Malga Ombretta beneath the towering walls of Marmolada will take your breath away and inspire you for the summer.
Cross Country skiing also is served at Malga Ciapela with some long circuits through the woods beneath the ramparts of Marmolada. Again, hire kit at De Grandi Sport or Camping Malga Ciapela.
Rock climbing is occasionally possible if weather is too warm for safe ice – chose a south facing or low crag and you should be OK. In fact on a warm spring day in late March I have been climbing on the south facing Civazes. If you know the abseil pistes, anything is possible. Of course sport climbing is the easiest option, and here, the ice climbing in Caprile, on Sass di Roccia at Ronch, on Sas de Beita or Penia di Canazei can be an option.
Of course there is alpine climbing to be had in the area as well which can be viable in late season when the cragging ice becomes less reliable – examples are Mistica on the Torre Innerkofler, Couloir Serauta on Punta Serauta of Marmolada, or indeed the North Face of Marmolada to Punta Penia.
For a more in-depth overview, take a look at James Rushforth’s excellent destination article, Dolomites – Ski Mountaineering and Snowshoeing