John Hornbaker climbing in the Dolomites • July 28-August 1, 2007

Once again John joined Mark for a few days of "Alpine Scrambles", this time in the Dolomites of northeastern Italy. We had a typical Alps mix of weather, though never terribly bad, managing a good climb every day. Starting in the Cortina area, we first climbing on the Paternkofel before moving west to base ourselves from Canazei.

Other Recent Trips


John has been living in London for some years. But just recently, he, and his newly promoted wife-to-be are making plans to move back to the US. Leaving Europe is always a good excuse for a climbing holiday.

This photo was taken on the summit of the Delago Tower in the Rosengarten group of peaks.


The Paternkofel, our first climb, has a little of everything Dolomitic – a short, gentle approach passing several huts, spectacular surroundings (the Tre Cime Lavaredo, in this case) World War One vintage tunnels and trenches on the approach, and a via ferrata for the descent. And also some good climbing.

Here is a typical Dolomites scene, a chapel, about 20 minutes walk from the car, under the Tre Cime.


Much of the Dolomites was the scene of an epic struggle in World War One between the Austrian troops to the north and the Italians to the south. Because each side was so well dug in it became almost impossible to displace them. During the length of the war, the front moved very little, and with each position being so well defended, there were relatively few casualties here. Even though the winters were cold, being stationed in the Dolomites was vastly preferable to many other locations.

Unable to move the front by traditional tactics, both side occasionally resorted to tunneling under the enemy, in an effort to either blow them up or simply to gain a new firing position. But tunneling is quite noisy, and surprise attacks were virtually impossible. However this did not prevent the attempts.

As a result there are many, many small back-bending tunnels to explore. And the Paternkofel has perhaps more than its share.


Looking up at the Northwest Ridge of the Paternkofel, with our route marked. To get to the start we followed a steep trail in trenches and tunnels, some requiring headlamps to negotiate.


This is a short climb, really only about 5 significant rope-lengths. But it is quite exposed. Here, John is climbing on pitch 2.


While there is some nasty loose rock on the approach, the climb gets better and better as you go higher. And the last pitch, seen here, is an amazing ride up an airy arete.


The descent is easy, following a via ferrata, and more trenches and tunnels. Just out of view to the left is the Lavaredo hut, a good spot for refreshment, before the nearly-level 20 minute walk back to the car.


Our next climb was the Southeast Ridge of the Hexenstein. This is a popular route, not too hard, but with a good number of great pitches, exposed and on consistently good rock. The descent is an easy walk, also through a maze of World War One tunnels and trenches.


While most of the climbing is on a sharp arete, there are a couple short chimney sections. Here, John moves through the first.


The last pitch, looking down on the Falzarego Pass.


We had hoped to do another climb in the afternoon, but dark clouds, followed by rain forced a change of plans. Here we are looking at the Cinque Torre group across the valley.


But the following day looked better, and we were able to climb the Torre Piccola di Falzarego. The route starts out of sight to the right, climbing two steep pitches before emerging on the sharp ridge crest.


The rappel off the back side leads to some down climbing and another short walk back to the car.


For our next climb, we chose the traverse of the Fünffingerspitzen. This is a big and complex day with some outrageous exposed climbing on the "Thumb".


The approach is via the odd coffin lift to the Demetz hut, then a 5 minute walk to the wall and first pitch.


Climbing on the Northwest Ridge of the Thumb, very exposed.


Arriving on the summit of the Thumb.


From the Thumb, a bit of downclimbing, then two rappels leads to the gap with the Index Finger. Two steep pitches (the second of which is shown here) lead to easier ground and a few more rope lengths to the summit of the Index Finger, the highest of the group.


Several rappels, traverses and downclimbing finally lead to the major notch at the south end of the peak. Here, John downclimbs before the last long rappel into the gap below.


Our last climb was the famous Delagokante on the Valojet Towers. Though short, this route is a "must-do". The second pitch is one of the most exposed pitches I have ever done – a sharp, vertical knife-edge, studded with holds.


The approach involves about an hour and a half of uphill walking. But, as is often the case, there are plenty of huts at which to rest. This is the Preuss hut, nicely positioned.


And only a few minutes from the start of the route is the Rifugio Alberto, a good spot for another drink before tackling the tower itself.


John climbs pitch 3 on the Delagokante.


The top of the first of several very steep rappels on the descent.


Rappel number three on the way down.


With much of the day remaining, we decided to take the long way home, crossing two passes, and negotiating a long via ferrata as well. This photo was taken from the first pass, near the Rifugio Santner. Buddhist pray flags flying off a Catholic cross.


Refreshment at the Rifugio Gardeccia while waiting for the bus ride to the valley.


On our last day, we had a few hours before beginning the long drive across northern Italy to Geneva (for John) and Les Houches (for Mark). We decided to simply do a bit or walking from the summit of the Sass Pordoi, reached rather handily by cable car.


From the top station of the cable car we and several hundred other hikers walked the short, but occasionally steep trail to the top of Piz Boé, a fantastic viewpoint.

Later in the day, the weather came in, with a rapidly moving front overtaking all of the Alps. Perfect timing.

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