This post is part of a longer trip report. You can access the full table of contents here.
The following morning we caught the first bus up the Passo di Falzarego to Cinque Torri. For a while our bus held up three sports cars as we slowly trundled up a series of hairpin bends above Cortina. The second we reached a straighter section, the two Ferraris and a Maserati accelerated past us and proceeded to chase each other up the alpine pass in what alarmingly resembled a James Bond high speed chase scene.
Reaching our stop, I selflessly volunteered myself to go up the chairlift with everyone’s gear. I bought a single ticket but took up three rucksacks of climbing gear which seemed to rile the lift operator. At the top, what appeared to be a pile of rucksacks and helmets waddled off the lift. Seeing the guys sweating up the hill as I sipped a much needed coffee at the Rifugio Scoiattoli with a stupendous view of the mountains all around me was extremely satisfying.
Cinque Torri, which literally translates as five towers, is a collection of impressive broken rock overlooking the valley leading up to the Passo di Falzarego and Cortina on the other. It was the scene of heavy fighting between Italian and Austro-Hungarian troops during the First World War and the remains of trenches can still be traced in the surrounding landscape.
Andy, Dave and I decided to go for the corner between Torres Barancio and Romana. The route was listed in both our guidebooks but we ended up having to choose between sticking to the wide crack in the corner, which showed rusty pegs every couple of meters or a line a fair bit to the right with a row of shiny glinting bolts.
Dave led the first pitch up the corner crack and when I seconded up, I was glad I hadn’t attempted to lead it myself, the crux move being to pull oneself up over an overhanging part of the face right at the start. Dave had wedged himself into a decent ledge in the crack, but it was obvious that this was not the intended belay, which meant that we spent time splitting the pitch in two. When we did find the belay anchor, it left us swinging in mid-air and proved quite awkward for three people to share.
We must have looked like a human ladder as I literally had to climb up Dave (an unverified V2 bouldering problem). The rest of the climb was supposed to get progressively easier, ending on a F3.
The next two pitches were elegant, although harder than what one would expect from the grading. And I wasn’t used to hearing, then seeing, then feeling bits of rock drop past us so often. What seemed like a good hold often came off when tested. We momentarily saw Steve and Giovanni’s heads pop over the lip of the tower to give us a thumbs up. Evidently they had already finished their climb but with only an F3 grade pitch separating us from the top, we felt confident that all was going well.
Unfortunately, the next pitch proved to be a nasty surprise as we slowly realised that we had been climbing something different to the climb we’d picked out in the guidebook. Andy traversed round to the left, back towards the crack, but the bolts clearly led directly up a slightly overhanging part of the tower. Pushing to reach the bolt seemed like a bold move given the available holds.
For over an hour, Andy kept trying over and over again to go for the bolt but kept falling just below it, sending him swinging in all directions. His hands and knees were bloody and I was glad to only be an onlooker. Dave and I had been calling out advice but we gradually got quieter and quieter. Dave didn’t want to try this pitch either.
Finally, Andy took the heroic push to reach for the bolt and continued to climb up a couple more meters onto a wide ledge. Bringing us up after him, I opted to traverse back to the crack. Wedging myself in, I felt an icy blast and I could see the crack stretched through the entire tower. We reached the top and realised that making the last bus down the valley would still be an option if we hurried. We abseiled off the obvious belay anchor at the top.
Dangling on the lower abseil ring, we tried to pull the rope down but it would not budge! We stubbornly spent a lot of time trying to free it, putting all our weight onto it but it just would not give. We had long run out of water, hadn’t had any lunch and none of us had thought to bring a phone up. It was after all supposed to be an easy climb! We also hadn’t seen Steve and Giovanni for a fair few hours, and thought it strange that they’d have left without letting us know. Andy prusiked back up the rope and found the abseil ring we had missed earlier. Reaching the bottom of the tower, we knew it was too late to catch the bus.
We were also puzzled as to why Steve had left his phone and wallet in my rucksack, given that Giovanni had no cash on him to get back to Cortina. Phoning Giovanni, we found out that they were still on a climb somewhere on the main tower. ‘Call us again in an hour if we’re not back’ he said, so we tramped over with our gear to the Rifugio Scoiattoli, which stands less than a couple of minutes walking distance from the Cinque Torre.
By the time we reached it, it was dark and upon entering the restaurant we were met with theatrical horrified stares from a group of elderly German walkers who were enjoying a civilised three course dinner with wine. We counted our change with which we paid for one vegetarian main to share between the three of us and waited.
An hour passed and another phone call revealed that the guys were having trouble finding the abseil ring without head torches. Andy and Dave donned all our warm gear, put their helmets on again and tramped out into the darkness, much to the renewed horror of the walkers.
I smiled back politely as if this were standard procedure, nothing out of the ordinary, and pretended to doze off on a pile of climbing gear. Sometime later I realised that I still couldn’t see any lights coming from the towers, but since I had lent my head torch and all my warm clothes there wasn’t an awful lot I could do.
It was with much relief that everyone trooped back in half an hour later, although I fear we may have given the walkers a dose of indigestion when Steve came in wearing a t-shirt. A couple of unintelligible but clearly productive Italian exchanges later, Giovanni had secured us a taxi back into Cortina from the roadside.
To see what we got up to on the rest of our trip or if you are looking for planning advice, the full table of contents can be accessed here. Alternatively, go to the next article in this collection: Day 3 – Single pitch sport climbing at Landro, night-time adventures in Calalzo.