With fading light and dropping temperatures, the snow and ice were making our descent tiring and treacherous. We were all tired but it was becoming clear that one of us was totally exhausted and their hands were now struggling to grip. The trouble is that every time you slip, falling to be caught with a jolt by the ropes, regaining composure and only a few moments later repeating the same thing, you become more exhausted. We were still hours away from making it down and in that moment we were completely at the mercy of the mountain.
We were starkly reminded of this quote “When you reach the summit, you are only half-way there” which I think was coined by Chris Bonington in his account of climbing Everest in 1985. Mountaineers can be so focused on the summit push that they don’t realise that upon reaching the top they are still only 50% there and need to still have plans, equipment, weather and energy to get them back down. Blinded by the goal of reaching the peak we can often forget “Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory” Ed Viesturs,
We were an experienced group, having already spent a few Septembers climbing together in the French Alps and Italian Dolomites. We were keen to try our abilities against a challenging route high in the Dolomites. The route descriptions and the situation of the Via Ferrata Tomaselli looked like it would be the ideal challenge.
The best way to access the Tomaselli Via Ferrata is by using the Lagazoui cable car from Passo Falzarego which lies between Corvara in Badia and Cortina d’Amprezzo. We planned to stay two nights in the Lagazoui refuge which sits near the top of the cable car and this would give us a long day to climb the challenging route. Booking the Lagazoui Rifugio
Staying the night at altitude is a treat if you enjoy photography and sunsets; the panorama from the rifugio in the evening and morning is amazing.
We set off early in the morning from the refuge, heading north and down towards the Forcella (fork) with Lagazoui and the flat plain sitting between the refuge ridge and the surrounding Fanes group peaks. We headed straight for Punta Sud which took us over to the Fanes mountains and up a slowly climbing path on scree towards the bottom of the rock.
We knew that this was classified as ‘one of the hardest and most overwhelming in the Dolomites’ and this became evident from the moment we started climbing. Immediately we had to traverse a tricky exposed overhang heading to our left. The guidebook said that if you felt uncomfortable making this tricky manoeuvre, you should head back home now! The route ahead had little to no assistance and would be very exposed. One climber, who struggled with this move, decided wisely to stop at this point and head back.
This is a long climb, divided by a couple of path sections about a third of the way up, that takes you to the steep rough walls of the summit. The last bit of path is on a very exposed ledge beneath the rock wall that brought us past a small emergency mountain shelter to the base of the final wall. This final wall was very steep and now with increased exposure, there were very few handholds.
This brought us to the top of a saddle position at the top of the knife-edge of the Fanes ridge with the final section of climbing up to the summit of Punta Sud to the left. At this point the exposure and views are incredible.
After appreciating the panorama from the summit, we would take another route to descend down off the north side of the peak but as soon as we started to descend, we found that there was a lot of snow and ice covering the rock. It was early September and recent snowfall from a few days before hadn’t melted or been softened by the sunshine as it was on the north side. Our hands and feet were slipping and the descent was going to be dangerous. We did consider descending by the route we had climbed up, which was relatively snow-free, but this would have actually been a lot harder due to its steepness and position.
We continued to descend, very slowly but one of the team members struggled under the continued slipping and his hands were tired from all the safety ropework. There was no other option but to progress slowly and carefully down the 600ft climb. It’s in these moments that you know whether you have the extra nerve and energy to pull you through. Working together and continually checking each other’s safety we kept going until we reached a scree path where the going was much easier and this would take us down and around through to the south face again.
The light was now nearly gone and the walk back across the plateau and up to the Lagazoui hut was promising with discussions of what pasta dish would be for dinner! We would have been tired just from the long challenging 1,000ft climb but the descent had taken even more commitment and so we were completely exhausted when we made it back.
What hidden snow & ice is awaiting you beyond your next achievement? Is it all about just getting there?
How we treat life and how we approach success can be very similar. Is reaching your goals, whether they be career, sport or other the whole purpose? Is there more to just getting there? Like the hidden snow and ice, just past the summit, maybe when you reach that goal, you will realise there was a whole lot more to think about. Perhaps it is the lessons learnt whilst getting there or realising there were many you took for granted who helped you attain your success. Reaching great heights means very little unless you can still appreciate who you truly are and where you have come from. Never forget where you came from because when you do, it’s a long way home.