Major ice/mixed route climbed in the Dolomites

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 15/12/2013
A summer view of the northwest face of the Sass Pordoi. Red is the line of Ghost Dogs; blue the Fedele Route where different. Lindsay Griffin

Chamonix-based alpinists Jeff Mercier and Korra Pesce have climbed a remarkable ice/mixed route up the famous northwest face of the Sass Pordoi (2,952m) in the Sella Group, Dolomites.

Mercier (French) and Pesce (Italian) are two of the most talented, and prolific, climbers developing hard, free, mixed and drytooling ascents in the Mont Blanc Massif, for example on the Aiguilles Pèlerins and Peigne in autumn 2012.

The two chose a line based on the ultra classic Fedele Route. which is clearly visible from the Sella Pass.

First climbed in 1929 by Fedele Bernard and Giorgio Mase Dari, this ca 26-pitch, 750m-high rock route largely ascends quality limestone on the right side of a huge drainage channel.

This part of the face has many black water stripes, and the constant running water has made the rock solid and covered with holds. In the dry the climbing is sustained at a moderate UIAA III to IV+.

However, to complete the whole route in a day needs speed, and many people finish at a huge terrace around 550m up, where it is possible to walk off right to the descent path.

To check conditions Mercier and Pesce (the latter on his first visit to the Dolomites) first climbed ca 150m (six pitches) up the Fidele, left some gear and rappelled, leaving ropes in place for the following day.

In the dark hours of early morning they re-ascended their ropes and continued  up rock until meeting the first, slim 45m-high ice smear. This had been climbed previously by another party, who had protected the pitch with two bolts in the limestone to the right.

The following pitch climbed a large stalactite at WI5+/6, after which the two moved together on 50-70° wet ice, which proved nice to climb.

Fast progress on this section was essential, as in early afternoon the sun would strike the wall, making for a dangerous arena.

The last two pitches before the large terrace, ca 200m below the summit, featured running water. The first, behind a large ice cone was difficult to protect, while the second, a 30m free-standing pillar, gave a safer but more technical pitch of WI6.

On reaching the terrace, the pair left some equipment and escaped via the terrace. Although a huge scree slope in summer, it is outward sloping and can be avalanche prone in snow. The two belayed until safely off the face, where an easy walk down (in summer) leads to the road.

Continuing the same day would have meant climbing the upper section in the sun, and then most likely descending from the summit in the dark, a scenario they wanted to avoid.

Next morning they ascended on ski, traversed back along the terrace and climbed the large left-facing corner well left of the Fedele finish (itself common with the 1910 Dibona Route, another classic IV+ further right on the face).

This was less difficult than the ground covered the previous day but still featured steep and fragile ice (WI5/5+ and M5).

They named the route Ghost Dogs. It was trad protected throughout, apart from the aforementioned bolts low down, and weighs in at an impressive WI6 X R, M5 and 5+/6a.



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