Civetta
Civetta
Media: Climbing

Civetta

Chimera Verticale
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Civetta, Italy

The highlight should be an imposing rock face in the Dolomites, previously only a first ascent.

The "Chimera Verticale" on Civetta has 15 difficult alpine pitches, often in the eight and one even a grade nine, plus an easy yet steep final approach offering a total of 900 meters of climbing. And as if this challenging reprise wasn't enough: 14 kilometers high-speed hike and more than 1,000 vertical meters of via ferrata to get there. Achieving this project in one day is what the two young mountain guides Jakob Schweighofer and Florian (Flo) Wurm were aiming for. The 23-year-old from Upper Austria and the 27-year-old from Upper Bavaria saw this challenge as a perfect opportunity to put the new Terrex™ range to the ultimate test. But would they manage?

They had let themselves in for an adventure about which there is much to recount, particularly challenges late at night that they had not bargained for.

FLO "It's getting later and later and at the moment I can't get a saying by legendary climber Emilio Comici out of my head: 'The companion must always have a word of encouragement ready to spur the leader on during the terrible strain he is subjecting himself to.' That is a statement from the era of conquering alpinism, and it only applies partly to us because we are climbing for fun. My 'companion' Jakob doesn't have any words of encouragement for me right now, all I can hear behind me are swear words. We are running out of time.

It is 11:00 pm and we want to get back down to the valley, but we are running up the mountain again for the third time, back towards Rifugio Tissi, scrambling through the bushes, searching for a mark, a sign. We've taken the wrong route. We've only got a small headlamp to illuminate possible footprints, rocks, roots and scree — we dropped our other lamp on the ninth pitch climbing the Civetta earlier in the afternoon; it fell 30m and smashed on the ledge below. It happened when I pulled the camera out of the cover pocket of my rucksack. It's my fault. That's why Jakob is holding the light and is behind me, and I can hardly believe it but we can't find the route down to Masaré. It ought to be an easy hiking path, should be an easy saunter on a sunny day. But it is pitch-black and finding our way is proving to be unfeasibly difficult. There's no moon to help us tonight, we are tired, and we have a gigantic tour behind us.”

Jakob "I'm usually a pretty laid-back kind of guy, but here in the dark after all we've been through even I have to let rip with a cuss word now and again. I just can't believe that we fail on such an easy route. Behind us there are many meters of via ferrata, the steep approach, ups and downs to get there, and the highlight 'Chimera Verticale', a very difficult Dolomite route on the northwest face of the Civetta; 15 pitches of up to grade 9 climbing; an alpine adventure during which not only the ninth key pitch took us to our limits, but we really had to fight all the time and give it our all before finally winning though.

Since the Italian Alessandro Baú created the tour with colleagues in 2009 and after several attempts did the initial ascent, and finally climbed the route redpoint, the 600m route with overhanging buttresses has been waiting for its next climbing team. And that was going to be us. But we also wanted that bit more adventure, too. We wanted to complete both the long approach to the entry point and the even longer descent from the summit back to Masaré in the valley in a single day. We had set our sights on a 'done in a day' challenge. We knew that we would have to not only climb long and hard, but also spend many hours on our feet, running, running and more running. That we end up running around like headless chickens tripping up over bushes at midnight was not part of the plan. Haven't we crossed this cattle grid before? Damn, everything looks the same.”

FLO "In the morning we left the Tissi Mountain Hut at round 04:30 am in the best possible conditions. The weather was perfect; it was one of the few hot days in August, ideal for a long northwest face route in the shade when it is comfortable to keep your jacket on, even on such a fine day. We ran up the approach in three-quarters of an hour, firing up for come challenging climbing; now all we wanted was the wall at last. By the time the sun came up we had reached the final stage of the steep approach, meaning: slabs, dihedrals, loose terrain with easy climbing up to grade 4. It would be overdoing it to put on our climbing shoes in this terrain, we decided. Anyway, our lightweight hiking boots did a much better job on the damp, mossy rock, gravel and remnants of snow and ice. Without ropes we made good progress over this lower section, excited at the prospect of finally getting to grips with some serious grades of difficulty. Who is going to be allowed to lead on the first pitch? That was the controversial question, which we decided to settle with a round of 'rock, paper, scissors'. Paper beats rock — I've won!

That meant leading not just the first pitch, but also the ninth, which the first climbers of this route marked as the key pitch. But who is going to really know, if a route has never been repeated? There is not much information to go on.”

Jakob "It must have been 07:30 am or so as Flo started out on the highlight of our challenge with his belt adorned with removable protection — Camelots and Friends. The 'Chimera Verticale' is a cool line up the central face, flanked on the left and right by older, easier chimneys in which you usually scramble around in the damp. The guys who climbed the 'Chimera' for the first time picked a good one —beautifully steep and dry. I was impressed as from below I evaluated our route straight up the middle. 'Chimera', here we come!

My feelings oscillated between a self-assured 'we can do it' and subliminal nervousness: 'how difficult is it really?’

Jakob "It's going to be exciting, a real cliffhanger; we knew that after the first pitch — just a 5+, but with loose holds and often difficult to secure protection.

Up to the ninth pitch we were doing well, however, although it was getting more difficult and we often had to climb a very long way between bolts. Our courage was really being put to the test. I'll admit that the first eight pitches left my nerves in tatters. Then around 12:20 pm we reached the long-awaited and much feared ninth pitch.

I watch as Flo climbs the grade 9 with three nasty runouts suspended way over the bolts. On-sight! This kind of thing is really psychological — you have to shut out all doubt. Flo puts in some very cool, laid-back moves. I'm impressed and fully motivated. And that's when it happens — while I'm following up, a foothold breaks away and I fall onto the rope. That was it for me as far as the redpoint was concerned — motivation, strength and nerves are also gone. I started to get cramps in my legs.”

FLO "The 10th pitch takes our strength and nerves to the limit. Jakob isn't feeling on top form so I take the lead. Then comes this boulder section, no overview, small edges, round holds where it is difficult to find purchase. I grab for a hold — wrong. And fall. 4m into the rope. Luckily Jakob caught me with a nice soft belay. Shame that our redpoint dreams are out of the window.

Maybe I should mention at this point that there, on the rock face, we always had the all-important 'words of encouragement' ready for our buddy. I often sing while climbing, some catchy number. And we congratulated and motivated each other at the end of each pitch. We always asked: 'you ok to continue?' If you realize that you just aren't up to it, then there is only one option: abseiling!

But we weren't done yet. You've got to put a little bit of effort into it, right? I can do it, I can somehow calm my frayed nerves, I can pull myself together. That's a matter of practice and we learned how to do it on mountain guide training. On the 14th pitch I needed a longer rest to calm down, I looked up and thought: Oh no, that as well! A damp wide crack and then a full-body workout in a dihedral up to grade 8. But, as I had to admit afterwards, it wasn't nearly as bad as I feared. This kind of tour is always full of surprises. "Jakob "When I reached the end of the 14th pitch, I let out a scream that made the rock face wobble. This pitch wasn't difficult, but extremely exposed with plenty of loose holds. We managed to climb up on our last legs, fell into each other's arms and then captured this key moment for posterity. For us this rock face was a really big deal, we were always at the limit of our capabilities. We normally Jakob "We managed that in good time; we were out of breath but kept up a good running pace. Reaching the summit at around 08:00 pm, we see the sun disappear behind the mountains. We are all alone up there and enjoy the hazy summer evening air, the last rays of light as dusk approaches and the view of the steep rock faces of Civetta below us, Monte Pelmo nearby, Marmolada, Piz Boè and in the distance the peaks of the Hohe Tauern. That's an impression that suddenly brings back all your motivation. Now it's all about the descent, starting with a gravel path heading southwest. We are still on schedule

Then, unexpectedly, a temptation lies just off the path. From the little Rifugio Torrani Hut we can hear comforting rock music beckoning and the tempting smell of food wafts past our nostrils. An ice-cold beer was literally within our grasp. No way! The clock is ticking! No time! Although we've been on our feet for almost 16 hours, we are not going to be led astray so easily. We've still got more than 2,900m to go, today, before we reach the valley. And a cool drink and a tasty meal will taste all the better once we have managed the challenge. Let's go!

Gradually it starts to get really dark. Looking out for the red markings on the via ferrata with just a headlight is an interesting experience. 'There it is!' 'No, wrong again, another 10m to the right', like that at running pace for 1,000m of descent and half-way round the Civetta massif back to the backpack drop-off point. There we had something to eat and then continued running, now with two backpacks each, towards the valley. It's not so far now. We thought.”

FLO "Yep, and as I mentioned at the beginning, that's when we got lost. Hurry downhill. And back up again. We wasted at least two hours searching around in the dark. Ridges, gullies, cattle grids, rocks, forest. We hadn't reckoned with this kind of trouble. We were desperate to get home, or at least to a bed in the valley, because we were dead tired, which is why we didn't take that sign seriously. It said 'Casa' or 'Casera', or something like that, I can't remember exactly. We'd run past it at least once before. In the end we took its advice, regardless of which house it led to. And it turned out to really be the right way.

At 03:00 am we finally arrived down in Masaré. We've done it: 'Done in a day'. We add up the whole tour: factoring in the getting lost, an even longer run of at least 20km, with 1,000m of via ferrata plus the 900m of steep climbing. And they were the best, because the 'Chimera' repeat ascent* with its 15 challenging pitches now belongs to us. Our joy at having succeeded wakes us up again. And my buddy Jakob suddenly comes out with a stream of words of encouragement. We are proud. What a day, what an adventure — unforgettable. Climb 7c or 8a, we aren't professional athletes and certainly no mountain heroes. But we did it.”

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