|Marmolada Ombretta cable car overview.|
|Picture of the summit station at the top of the south wall.|
|The easy way up!|
The same day Alan and I walked with all our gear for an hour and a half from the town to the Refugio Falier, a hut at the base of the south face of the Marmolada. We told them our plans but I got the feeling they were thinking "oh yeah, just more punters about to bail off The Fish". We did meet some young guys from Innsbruck who also had plans for the route the next day. I felt a bit disapointed we wouldnt have the route to ourselves and I told Alan that no matter what we wouldn't be held up by them and would be the first on the route in the morning. Instead of staying in the hut we walked for 45 minutes towards the base of the wall and bivuaced ready to go at first light.
|The first view of the wall.|
|Looking up from Refugio Falier.|
|The last meal before the big climb.|
Only two pitches later I started to hear voices from above. "Theres no way we could have caught up to the other team" I thought. After moving so fast and confidently they had started to bail. It turned out that on a sandbagged 6b+ pitch one of them had made a wrong move far above his last piece of gear. He tried to reverse it but as he downclimbed his foot slipped off a smear and he came unstuck. To make things worse two of his cams skated out of their placements. 20 meters later he hit the wall and was lucky not to break anything. I watched a bruised and in shock climber rappel down. This was 'The Fish' I had heard about.
|I think this was seconding the 6b+ pitch.|
|Alan seconding the 7a+ pitch.|
It was getting dark and we where still a pitch away from the niche shaped like a fish that gives the route its name. There was no time for Alan to lower down and do the pitch clean so I started up the 6c pitch leading to the niche. It is described in Arnoud Petites topo as a one move wonder and at night by head torch I couldn't work out the crux. "Maybe its just reachy" I thought. I went for the dyno to a jug I could see but totally missed it. I was off. I had a bomber cam below my feet and it held as Alan got pulled up into the rock at the belay ripping open the sleeve of his down jacket. I aided through to the niche disheartened about my possible free ascent. Things were falling apart.
|The red arrow shows the fish shaped niche we bivied in.|
|Sitting in the Bivy.|
Above the niche things got harder. The wall was steeper, close to vertical, and the pitches wandered through the line of least resistance. Route finding was confusing and it wasn't uncommon to climb up, then left, then up, back down right, up, left again etc. Alan led the 7a that started out the right side of the niche but ended up above the left side. A long move to a shallow two finger pocket near the end of the pitch got the better of him and he fell. After a cold nights sleep, not drinking enough, and a massive day previous Alans resolve had weakened. He decided to continue the climb happy to free all the moves but not the individual pitches. On long, hard routes in the alpine you set your own rules and up there the only judge is yourself. Generally you strive for a balance between what would be considered the purest ascent (ground up, onsight, in a day, all free, solo) and what you are actually capable of. In the end being happy with your achievement and making it down safely are the most important things. With Alan pointing out the pocket I managed to climb through on second without a fall.
Pitch 16, following the 7a, is regarded as the crux of the route with a boulder problem ending and weighing in at 7b+. I was tired and didnt think I had anywhere near the energy I needed to do this pitch first shot. I made the strategic decision to climb the pitch resting on the abundant fixed gear as I went. In doing this I worked out all the moves without expending a lot of energy. After working out where the line actually went, a big S shape, I arrived at a difficult bouldery traverse to the anchor. I used widely spaced slopy footholds while pulling down on some monos and then a big span across to a small crimp. I lowered back to Alan at the anchor and pulled the rope. After five minutes rest I managed to climb through the pitch clean. Alan raced up the pitch on second and only fell when the beta I had given him about holding the monos in the traverse boulder problem didn't work for him. I have a little more power but less slab technique than Alan so I needed to be able to pull down on something to stay on the wall. After going back to the jug before the crux Alan used a different sidepull crimp and crossed his feet through on smears doing the sequence easily.
|Leading the 7b+ pitch.|
|Alan seconding the 7b+ pitch.|
|Alan in a sea of limestone.|
"Theres no holds!" Alan said.
"There must be. Its only 7a!" I replied.
After a while Alan unlocked a sequence moving down while traversing left on insecure smears for your feet and huge cross overs on half pad slopy pockets for your fingers. After linking the sequence and making it to the belay he shouted down, "You better flash this Logan!". We were running out of time. There was still two pitches to go to a large ledge which was our target for the day and the hour was getting late.
|Approaching the slab traverse on the 7a pendulum pitch.|
I gave it one last try and scrambled my way through the traverse. I felt lucky to not have had a foot pop off and didn't feel at all solid. I sat back on the rope and still didn't think I could do it from the belay. I considered continueing up to Alan and being happy that I had got the sequence but then I thought about the rules I had placed upon myself. "I must free from belay station to belay station and lead at least half the crux pitches". It was a long shot and I am sure Alan must have been getting frustrated with the time I was taking but I asked to be lowered back to the belay. It was a fine balance between crushing the little pockets with my fingers and putting enough, but not too much, weight on my feet but I managed to shake my way across the slab and found myself in the corner. A pumpy layback led to Alan and I was exhuasted. We agreed that this pitch was actually the crux pitch at hard 7b+. The topos were giving it 7a which included using the pendulum as aid.
I led what was to be our final pitch, number 18. It looked nails. A traverse along a flat wall under a roof with bad rock. I set off and found that under the roof where large holds which led to an easy pull around the lip to the anchor. The grade of 6c is spot on. Alan started leading the final pitch, possibly 6c+, to our target ledge but we were both very tired and deteriorating rock quality combined with loose pitons made our decision to start rapelling down easy. We had just enough light left to make the12 rappels down to the ground while constantly worrying about getting our ropes stuck and rockfall which would turn our simple descent into an epic. On the way I convinced myself I was happy with where we ended as I had made it through all the bold and difficult pitches of the climb that give the route its reputation. In the back of my mind I knew I would only be truely finished with 'The Fish' when I had stood on the summit after having climbed the entire route without a fall. There is 18 more easy pitches (3s, 4s and 5s) after the ledge that most likely contain loose rock and are possibly icy. The route tops out on the Marmolada Ombretta summit next to the cable car station. Now that we know the harder pitches we will be able to move much faster on them and continue on to the top for the full ascent. Alan and I are already talking about a return visit.
|Alan rapelling down.|
|Goats chillin' on the tables at the refuge.|
|A rest break at Refugio Ombretta on the walk out.|
|After the climb with the refugio in the background..|