I’d always wanted to try Via Ferrata as a form of protected technical scrambling on a grand scale, and the Dolomites is the homeland of this activity. The term (roughly translated as ‘iron way’) originates from the high mountain routes equipped by troops during World War I on the disputed borders between Italy and Austria. There are some historical routes which have survived, and many more modern equipped routes – think scrambling meets sport climbing. With a trip planned for September, I bought the Rockfax guide to the Dolomites by James Rushforth. As a climber at heart, I thought I’d probably want to do a rock route or two in between day’s of ferrata-ing – and other people I was going with already had the Cicerone guides to the area.
There’s nothing like a climbing guidebook to get the palm’s sweating in anticipation… The Rockfax Dolomites guide is basically as inspirational as a coffee table book but in a (just about) portable guidebook format. The photography is stunning; I must have sat enthralled for a full hour without looking up from the book – not something that usually happens with a cut and dried guidebook! I soon found myself bookmarking page after page of potential routes. I hadn’t expected to be so drawn to the rock climbing, as I’d initially been focussed on the Via Ferrata, but with so many awesome looking routes at amenable grades I couldn’t resist. As it turned out the weather basically dictated what we could do. Being the end of September, the air temperature was pretty frigid unless you were in full sun, and mid-week we had rain and snow down to 1500m. So we enjoyed a mix of Via Ferrata (when it was cold enough to wear gloves) and sunny rock climbing (when it was mostly warm enough not to need gloves!).
There were several long (10+ pitches, 200m+) routes that had caught my eye, with the advice to climb fast and travel light. Now I am neither fast, nor good at packing light, but I knew that carrying almost a kilo of guidebook up the route wasn’t going to help me (apart from with directions!). Then I remembered I’d read somewhere about an app version of the guide. After a quick google I found a UKC thread inviting beta testers for the Rockfax App which was almost ready for launch. Sweet! A quick email and a couple of downloads later I was enjoying zooming in to topos on my phone over lunch.
I took the guidebook with me to Italy, but it never made it into my pack. We did take a photo of the day’s planned route on another device, as a back up in case my iPhone battery died (or worse!) but never actually needed it. The app worked perfectly, with good detailed topos, pitch descriptions and approach/ descent information all at the tip of my fingers. It even allowed me to add the day’s route to my UKC logbook whilst enjoying the local pizzeria’s gelato and free wifi! I would definitely use the app again on any multipitch route, though admittedly I probably won’t be bothering for single pitch routes in the Peak.
So how was the climbing, you may be wondering? On the whole, really good. There’s a huge variety: we climbed some of the grippiest limestone and some of the worst choss I’ve ever experienced. Cracks, corners, chimneys and slabs – there really is something for everyone. I can see now why people go back to the Dolomites again and again. It has such a lot going for it: quality rock routes, interesting history, Via Ferrata for every ability, fantastic food (not to mention the coffee!), and simply amazing scenery. There’s easily a lifetime of fun to be had there. Just go!