It is the third day that we are on the north face of the Western Peak of Lavaredo. The arms begin to get heavy with fatigue. We are trying to bring home the “redpoint” ascent complete with “Space Vertigo”, the route opened by me, Alessandro Baù and Claudio Migliorini in 12 attempts, concentrated between the summer of 2018 and 2019. We have 5 pitches left to overcome to get out of the immense overhanging yellow area. We have only vague memories of when we opened them. We remember well that at the opening we made many run-outs and that we often preferred fast protections to pitons. And we didn’t use the bolts, if not to reinforce the stops. So our gazes get lost in this yellow sea, trying to guess the sequence of holds and the points where to protect ourselves.
A climbing challenge at its best
With “Space Vertigo”, we wanted to achieve something new on the “Three Peaks of Lavaredo”. We came here for the first time on 7 September 2016. We spent several hours identifying well the line we wanted to climb and understanding where the other routes on the face were going up. That day we climbed the logical dihedral positioned about twenty meters to the right of the start of the French route “In Ricordo di Jean Couzy” (1959) and strangely left free by a bolt attempt, which climbed just to his left. That attempt stopped at the base of an overhanging white wall. We wanted to tackle that wall, which further up leads to an overhanging dihedral… But we wanted to do it without using bolts. I remember that we stood for a while with our noses up, wondering if it made sense what we wanted to do. Above us, in fact, there were only overhanging walls, closed at the top by a myriad of roofs of all sizes. And we wanted to climb from there without making aid steps, without using bolts to protect ourselves on the pitches and using the cliffs only for bolting. If no one has tried this style on this wall yet, is there a reason why or not?
There is no right or wrong
On the north face of the Cima Ovest di Lavaredo, pages of history have been written and different styles of opening have been tried over the years. There was no right or wrong way, but simply different styles have been experimented with in every era. We didn’t want to replicate what others had already done, but try our style here, already experienced on other walls. That day in 2016 he finished a few meters above the first belay. We didn’t know what to think. The wall was magnetic. The hypothetical line thrilled and frightened us at the same time.
Feeling it together
In spring of 2018 we felt it again and we encouraged each other. In our memories the images of the photos taken at sunset prevailed, with that large sector of the wall remained incredibly free of routes. So in June we decided to go and put our nose on it again. In two days we finished the second pitch and opened two more. Our enthusiasm rose more and more. What seemed impossible to us was becoming possible hold after possible hold. We returned once again for two consecutive days. We zigzagged across the rooftops, a cosmic void opening up more and more below us. It was crazy: I saw my mates fighting meter by meter, trying protections with longer and longer flights. I imagined their emotions: I often tried them on the routes opened at Sass dla Crusc, on Cima Scotoni and here, when it was my turn at the opening. But it was nice to see how, together, we were totally putting ourselves on the line in order not to fall short of the chosen style.
First nights in the portaledge
In the summer of 2019 we took two periods of three days each to be able to stay on the wall. The higher we went, the more complicated the logistics became, and it became essential to sleep in the portaledge. Good to know that our Marmot jackets and pants are both versatile and durable! On the last day we passed the long roof that separates the yellow area from the gray area of the face: we were finally out of the overhanging area. We were able to return at the end of September for another two days to finish the route and put our feet on the summit.
Leaving a mark for the future
If I think back to what we have done, I still cannot believe that we have succeeded. We could have done better: yes, perhaps succeeding in an alpine style ascent (without placing fixed ropes); yes, managing to open the shots on sight; yes, without using cliffs for bolting; yes, not having the bolts even for the stops… But we will leave these possibilities to those who want to try to write something new on this face. We admit, we could not do much more than this. The unknowns that the self-imposed style left us were more than enough to experience a full adventure on this face. The result was anything but obvious.
We still had to go all the way “redpoint” and in a single solution. This result is not at all obvious, given the continuity of the difficulties, the compulsory of some sections, the number of pitches and the need to have many fast protections to be placed along the pitches.
The final chapter of our adventure
And here we were again in 2020, on the morning of September 9th. The first day, due to the humidity that stagnated under the roofs of the first pitches, was an ordeal. We didn’t redpoint more than three pitches, wasting a lot of energy. However, we decided to continue and the next day, we managed to reach the end of pitch 8, where we had prepared the area for the portaledges. At dusk we also closed the accounts with pitch 9.
On September 11th at sunset I saw the silhouette of Alexander disappearing out of the last roof. We were finally out of difficulties. With the front stacks, we doubled down to the portaledges. The next morning, we had the usual alarm clock at 4.00. We went up again to the dark the static ropes that allowed us to reach the highest point touched the day before. At 7.00 we were already climbing the gray rock of the long final shovel. Only pitch 19 required a couple of attempts, having a boulder pass that is not at all easy.
At 2.00 pm the three of us hugged each other at the top, aware that we have written something new in the folds of this magnificent wall. Finally, the mind ran to the many days in which we have tasted and contemplated the beauty and emptiness that surrounded us. Emptiness is something that detaches you from everyday life, something that detaches you from the earth. The more total the void, the more you see it on the wall, you feel it, the more you feel immersed in another dimension. And sleeping hanging there, makes you rhyme in that space of vertigo. Vertigo and emptiness, which nowhere else have we felt so present.
Space Vertigo – Cima Ovest di Lavaredo North Face
Development: 680m, 21 pitches
Compulsory difficulty: around between VIII + and IX-.
Difficulty of the pitches: VII +, IX +, IX, IX + / X-, IX, VIII + / IX-, IX, VIII + / IX-, IX-, VIII +, VIII +, IX, IX-, VIII +, V +, VI, VI, VI +, VIII +, VI , IV
All the nails used remained on the wall.
6 tricams and the ropes in the hourglasses were also left on the wall.
Softshell jackets and climbings pants from Marmot
For the rest you protect yourself with friends (up to 2.0, plus a 3.0 and a 4.0).
Stops are always on 2 fixes.
Text & Photos: Nicola Tondini