“Sport” or bolted climbing is becoming increasingly popular in the Dolomites. It presents a lower risk activity which can be completed with a minimum of equipment, less experience and can be considered a good gateway to more difficult climbs. Although not especially renowned for this style of climbing, there are an increasing number of fully bolted “falesie” or “palestre”, faces or “gyms” where newer climbers can climb in relative safety and hone their skills. Likewise experienced climbers can push their technical bounds. Val Pettorina is no exception in this respect and we have some of the finest rock climbing on our doorstep. In addition, there are longer multi pitch routes which are often not fully bolted and may require clipping pegs, making threads in rock, or even taking a small collection of trad equipment to augment the existing fixed protection
The majority of sport climbing in the area is single pitch and on either Dolomite rock or Calcareous LImestone, although some is on the volcanic conglomerate. Very often the routes are at the base of larger cliffs or in some cases on freestanding boulders. It is often of a steep nature, but particularly in the upper Val Pettorina when climbing on the Marmolada limestone it can be very pocketed and water-worn with excellent rock.
When to come
The main climbing season is from May to October, although climbing here is possible virtually all year round when you select a south-facing cliff and a warm day. Some are particularly suited and a note is made of these in the individual description. The best times are from June until late September. With the longer multipitch routes you need to be aware in the summer of storms created by heat and it’s best to aim to be finished by mid-afternoon.
What equipment will I need?
A certified climbing sit harness – a comfortable single buckle sport-climbing oriented sit harness with between 2 and 5 gear loops is best.
A pair of well fitting rock climbing shoes – the number of styles and types are innumerable. Most likely you will have to kiss a few frogs before you find your prince but visiting a good climbing shop with a large selection is the best course of action so you can try lots on.
A chalk bag – although you don’t have to, most people use magnesium chalk to dry their hands. Using a separate belt to attach it rather than a carabiner on your harness we find much better as it places the bag close to you and makes it easier to dip into it quickly.
A certified helmet – a helmet for sport climbing is optional depending on the situation you are in. If you are climbing at the base of a larger cliff it is essential as the danger here is from falling rocks. On smaller, safer cliffs it is up to the individual although they can help protect your head from injury during a fall.
A single rope – ropes come in many different varieties and lengths. For single pitch climbing a UIAA rated single rope of between 8.9mm and 10mm diameter is best. The wider diameter ropes are in general more robust but heavier. 60m length is now the normal length as you will lower from chains which may be up to 30m above the ground. Check that the pitch length is shorter than half the length of your rope!
Double or twin ropes – if you plan on climbing long multipitch routes, consider taking double ropes. Although they may not be essential, they do make retreat during an unexpected storm much easier and quicker. Diameters between 8 and 8.5mm we find best.
Extenders aka quickdraws – a set of two carabiners with a sewn stiff sling between them. Again there are many varieties and your preference will depend on budget and taste. For longer routes wire gate carabiners lighter the load considerably for the approach and descent, whilst for very hard routes, a solid gate with an ergonomically shaped spine work very well and make clipping in a stressful position more comfortable.
Adjustable Lanyard – these are not essential but are very very useful indeed. Products like the Petzl Connect, Metolius PAS amongst others are ideal for clipping in at the belay chains at the top of the route to allow you to thread them before lowering down the route. Being adjustable allows you to position yourself optimally.
Maillion Rapide or leaver ‘biner – again not essential especially if you are climbing within your grade, but useful if you plan to push yourself to your limit as it allows retreat without leaving expensive carabiners. A leaver ‘biner could just be an old snapgate. Usually you have one clipped to the back of your harness out of the way until you need it.
Clip stick – if you plan on pushing yourself or want to make the first clip of the route safer (for example if there is a particularly high first bolt) Clip sticks can be very useful and allow you to preinstall extenders with the rope preclipped.
Grading is nearly exclusively using the French Grading system, giving each pitch an overview of the difficulty of the pitch as a whole rather than the difficulty of an individual move. Thus a pitch with many moves of a particular difficulty will receive a higher grade than a route with just one of the same difficulty and vice versa, a route with one extremely hard move may receive the same as a route with sustained easier moves.
For our area the best guide to buy is “falesie nell’agordino” written by “La Rivolta” an association of local sport climbers. Other information is contained in the Rock Fax Dolomites guidebook, and there is also a useful guide for multipitch climbing, “Arrampicare su vie moderne Dolomiti settentrionali” by Athesa books.