The Dolomites: The Tomaselli Ferrata
Friday, July 2
Another fine and sunny day. Just like all of the days before, and perfect for our upcoming climb of the Tomaselli ferrata. We really needed good weather, though: I am never a fan of being attached to what amounts to a huge grounding cable on a mountain peak in a sudden afternoon thunderstorm. That situation is to be avoided at all costs.
R. Lagazuoi and the Tofane
So, to that end (having good weather), we got up early, had breakfast right away, and headed out soon thereafter into the bright morning sun. I'd gotten a little bit of heartening beta from one of the rifugio staff while paying for our rooms: apparently, a group had done the Tomaselli route just a few days before and had reported that the whole length of it - up and down the other side, was free of any obstacles (i.e. such as snow fields).
Stunning Morning Landscape
By 6:45 a.m., we were on our way - a nice and early start. The first thing we had to do was a bit of descending. Seeing as we were on a peak that was not the peak we were going to climb, we first needed to head down off of it.
War Ruins, Little Lagazuoi
There was a large, somewhat slushy snowfield that obscured much of the trail on the way down, making for a somewhat damp descent. After that, it was easy walking along mostly flat paths that led across a large, barren basin, ringed by higher crags and peaks. To the north was our destination, the high-but-otherwise-nondescript-looking walls of the Fanis group, and of Punta Sud in particular. I imagined where the route might go, but from this vantage point, nothing could be determined for sure.
With an occasional '20-b' painted on the rocks to guide us along, the walls of the Fanes Group slowly grew larger. Presently we came to the edge of the gravel and scree slope that is at the base of the walls. The path then started a rising traverse, first directly on the scree slope, and then, higher up, by cleverly exploiting natural ramps through more exposed, cliffy terrain. Above this, the path swung back southeast and climbed to a small pass: the Forcella Grande.
Ferrata Tomaselli, Annotated
Amidst a few small snowfields just below the pass was a small rounded shack. This was what Italians like to call a 'bivacco' (a bivouac). It's basically a small shelter from the elements that can be used for overnight sleeping or in general as an emergency shelter. This particular bivacco, known as the Bivacco della Chiesa, is pretty old. It was placed here in 1954 by the Rome section of the Alpine Club of Italy. It's a bit rundown, but in general still in pretty good shape for being up here in the harsh mountain weather for the past 66 years.
We stopped for a snack break and to put on our gear. The start of the ferrata was not far above this point.
Interior, Bivacco della Chiesa
After getting our gear ready, we headed off uphill, diverging from path 20-b. There were a few snow fields to pass down here (on easy terrain), but up above on the cliffs, it all looked pretty dry. It was now only a short walk further up some scree slopes to the start of the wires leading up to one of the harder ferrate in the dolomites!
Junction, Forcella Grande
Soon the path up the scree slope ended and the solid bedrock of the mountain began. Just above us, affixed to the mountain, were the dark metal plaques commemorating the route. Up above this, we could see a few very rickety old wooden ladders and some old twisted pieces of metal sticking out of the bedrock. This wasn't the route of the Tomaselli Ferrata, however. It traversed left horizontally, out over a fairly big dropoff, too.
Now was the time to find out how hard this thing really was. We clipped in, and started climbing. Almost immediately, things got pretty stiff: the route went sideways over a big dropoff. However, in addition to that, the footholds melted away down to little slopey nubbins that were difficult to stick in mountaineering boots, and the handholds were nothing to write home about either. I recognized this section (from guidebook descriptions) as the so-called 'nose section' of the route. And in fact, the profile of the cliff looking out sideways over open air did kind of look like a nose. I didn't pay attention to that for long, however: this section was strenuous! (by the way, we noticed the cables seem quite new and taut, in seeming contrast to some of the guidebook descriptions we'd read. Perhaps a recent recabling activity had occurred?)
Start Plaque, Tomaselli Route
After 'the nose' traverse, the routed turned upwards, climbing over rock with better holds, but now quite steep, and overall still quite strenuous. I was glad to eventually see the angle ease slightly, and then the first section of wire ended and the route turned into a steep path for a bit.
There were some large old eye-ring metal bars sticking out of the ground along the path, but they weren't really needed. The exposure was not that great here and the footing on the path was good. The path wound upwards for a bit, then arrived at a large-ish flat area below a sharp-edged arete on the mountain. (There's an escape route around the corner on this flat area, should one need it).
Looking down, Ferrata Tomaselli
The wire resumed, climbing up fairly steep rock and still fairly strenuously. We were moving very quickly, trying to get up as quickly as possible (and therefore using the wire quite a bit): After having seen the afternoon instability in the weather from yesterday (and seeing that today's forecast was the same), I wanted to make sure we completed the climbs up AND down this mountain before any inclement weather hit us. However, going so fast did require a fair bit of cardiovascular effort.
This second stretch of wire eventually ended, and another [more exposed] path traversed sideways partway up a large cliff. This sideways traverse ended at another platform below another sharped-edge arete. Immediately around the corner, very close to the crest of the arete, the third section of wire led straight upwards.
We started climbing this third (and last) section of ferrata. It started off boldly near the crest of the arete, with lots of exposure all around. There were lots of good holds here, but that changed higher up, where there was a section that has much smaller holds and even more exposure. The wire was very firmly in place, though, so we felt well-protected. Although I don't remember the specifics of the next section, I do recall that the climb continued, often steeply and often quite strenuously, until we reached a knife-edged, very exposed arete -- The 'a cheval' stance that the Fletcher and Smith guidebook mentions.
The position was quite breathtaking. We were near the top of the Punta Sud now, and there were huge dropoffs on either side of us. We were looking straight down on huge towers and crags from directly above.
Down to 'a cheval' stance