Pale Morning, Tofane Afternoon
Saturday, September 12
The forecast had called for unsettled and at least partially-cloudy conditions for the next few days, so we were somewhat surprised to find the skies clear the next morning. Not that we were complaining, of course. The vista out of our private room was a quiet, majestic scene of morning twilight over dark peaks, here and there wreathed in a few layers of clouds.
The main dining room was still empty (of other guests) as we slid into our booth for morning breakfast. It was a continental-type of affair, with an assortment of breads, cheeses and meats served with hot coffee, tea, or milk.
Our itinerary for today was best characterized as "down-and-up": we would climb and hike back down to the car, drive to another location in the Dolomites, and then hike up to a different rifugio, where we would spend the night. With this itinerary came a definite timeline, as it is important to arrive at mountain rifugios before the evening dinner call (which varies between 6:30-7:00 pm for most places). Therefore, leaving bright and early was a must.
Departing from the rifugio at about 7:30 a.m., we turned our attention upslope, to the south. There, the final few peaks of the southern Pale di San Martino group stood between us and the car. Our route would involve another via ferrata route called the Via Ferrata Dino Buzzati. It is graded as a 2B on the Fletcher/Smith scale - the next notch up in difficulty from yesterday's grade 1.
The trail leading to the VF Dino Buzzati was designated #742. It led up over a gravelly scree slope to a notch in the ridgeline above. This notch gave us our first rays of morning sun, along with a spectacular view towards craggy, backlit peaks.
The trail turned at the notch (not going through it, since the other side was a precipitous drop) and began an ascent up a steep face of solid rock. It was more scrambling than trail, and marked by splotches of paint rather than having a discernable path. Although there was mild exposure along this stretch, the rock was extremely blocky and solid, making for very easy climbing. Any steeper, however, and they probably would have cabled this section.
Notch below C. della Madonna
Fifteen minutes of easy scrambling brought us to the top of the solid rocky slope, and we found ourselves atop a short section of ridgecrest, known on the maps as the Cima della Stanga. From here, we had an excellent view in all directions; to our left, towering way above us, were the two biggest towers of the southern Pale group: Cima della Madonna and Sass Maor, both well-known in local climber lore. To the south, in our direction of travel, stood a craggy southern outlier of the range: the so-called 2500-metre high Cimerlo. Connecting us to Cimerlo was a narrow, knife-edged ridgeline. The ferrata Dino Buzzato climbed over Cimerlo, which meant our trail needed to follow along said narrow ridgeline to get to it. Pretty cool.
With clear skies and a bright morning sun still shining overhead, we began our descent towards the connecting ridgeline (still following trail 742). Partway down this half-grassy, half-stoney descent, we arrived at a trail junction, and switched onto trail 747 towards Cimerlo and the VF Dino Buzzati.
Trail 747 led south, soon reaching and then following that very narrow knife-edged bit of trail. The ridgeline wasn't symmetrical: while the right-hand side was a vertical cliff, the left-hand side was a steep grassy slope, and it was onto this slope that the trail was carved, making walking quite easy.
At this point, I could see we were nearing what was obviously more technical terrain on the slopes of Cimerlo, so I stopped to don climbing gear (and to wait for Roland, who was being cautious with his damaged ankle).
While waiting for Roland and Stephanie to catch up, I took stock of the beautiful scene: from this vantage point on our grassy ridgeline a fantastic panorama of crags, towers, and spires surrounded us. In the valley bottom below, cottony clouds were starting to form, gradually rising higher as time passed. Probably wouldn't be too long before the clouds would rise high enough to envelope us entirely. Hopefully, I thought, we'd have managed to get to the top of Cimerlo and taken in the view.
Soon we were all together again and suited up for via ferrata-ing. Unlike yesterday's grade 1, where we forewent harnesses and lanyards, today we had the full kit on. Typically the grade 2 or higher ferrate have enough exposure to warrant it.
Five or so more minutes along the ridgeline brought us to the start of the ferrata and the route safety plaque.
The wire was clean, solidly attached, and looked new. It quickly led up through an interesting maze of crags and towers - typically not climbing vertically but rather around and across steep terrain. Interesting gullies and clefts fell steeply away around every turn.
The ferrata route finished its winding approach to the main mass of Cimerlo, and then started up a couple of vertical gullies and chimneys towards the summit. These were fortified with metal stemples and pegs (to keep the climbing at a grade 2 level). It wasn't hard, but still very scenic and fun.
Traverse on VF Dino Buzzati
Not far above the steep gullies and chimneys, the wire ended, and we arrived at a grassy shoulder close to the summit of Cimerlo. From my guidebook's description, I knew that the route/trail climbed over this shoulder and continued down the southern slopes of the peak, not actually going over the very summit. However, the clouds had started to roll in, half-covering the summit area (somewhat limiting views), and the markings on the ground were not clear enough for my liking. I was fairly sure that the route/trail (#747) continued over the shoulder at this point and downward to the south, but I wan't 100% sure.
In the interest of establishing certainty (on terrain like this, uncertainty can often lead to a face-to-face encounter with unexpected cliffs and dropoffs), we decided to head west, up the crest towards Cimerlo's actual summit. We knew for sure that the route crossed over somewhere between where we were now and the summit, so if we continued as far as the summit, keeping our eyes peeled, we should be able to spot the south-slope descent route - should we encounter it. If not, then we could return and be much more certain that our initial hunch was correct.
Near Cimerlo Summit
Wisps of cloud wafted over us as we hiked and lightly scrambled westward. There were a few steepish spots, but nothing that couldn't be scrambled with some care. Roland, Stephanie and Jenn only followed for a short while, deciding that they didn't need to be on this scouting expedition.
I continued along, not seeing anything particularly trail-like heading downhill to the south, until I reached a higher point with a distinct cairn on top. Beyond this, the land was consistently and progressively lower. This, then, must be the actual summit of Cimerlo. And it also meant that the spot where our path had crossed over the shoulder, now back a hundred or so metres to the east, was most likely the point where the southern descent route started.
Although my side trip to the summit was un-necessary, it was also nice to have reached it. So, after giving the top of the cairn a quick tap, I headed back, soon joining the others. When I arrived, a mid-morning snack break had already commenced.