Words By
Jim Walton

05:00 found us bags packed and walking into the base of the Cima Piccola in the Tre Cima de Laverado in the Italian Dolomites. I hadn’t been back here since Neil and I had climbed the Comici and Cassin routes in 2004. On this trip, foul weather had forced Andy and I to run from Bregaglia just the day before. You have to be ready to follow the weather if you only have a 9 day holiday and so we were heading to Cima Piccola in the hope of finding some dry rock.

The South Arête (our objective for the day) is more commonly known as “The Yellow Edge”. I had spied it in 2004 from the summit of the Cima Piccolissima. It’s a stunning, stand out line, that amazingly was first climbed in 1933! Like a lot of Dolomite climbs there are no warm up pitches, it’s hard from the get go. A vertical VS/HVS 5a pitch on semi-suspect rock, requiring lots of high steps and bridging. What’s more, the topo had said it would be polished, though if the Italians think that this is polished rock then they should try climbing on Peak District Limestone. This rock was positively virgin compared to Stoney Middleton.

The first crux loomed and Andy, the rope gun, set off in pursuit. Some grunts and remarks such as “well, that’s woken me up” floated down and it was soon time for me to follow. ‘Please don’t let me fluff this pitch’, I thought, I don’t want to look an idiot by greasing off the first hard bit. A couple of parties were gearing up below but that didn’t bother us. We were climbing at a reasonable pace and were more efficient than most at belays. Shouldn’t hold anyone up, we hoped.

The route soon steps round onto the East face of the peak for 150m of slightly easier climbing. Some more suspect rock later and Pitch 6 brought Andy a spicy little shallow crack which climbed to the first of the route’s decent ledges. The teams below hadn’t caught us up so we were going well and the topo indicated a short traverse next.

Oh my word! What stood before me was the most pant wetting traverse I’d ever seen! Loose rock combined with very small footholds, 200m directly above screes. No time for weakness now. I was silent as we swapped the gear from Andy to me, you just don’t get this in the UK, not at Gogarth, not anywhere. A deep breath and a repeated mantra, “I’m a Professional Mountainnering Instructor, VS in any conditions, I’m MIA; you will do this!”

I made it to a tiny little hanging stance. Two pegs and a thread was not going to be enough for this stance for me. I added two extra wires and a friend to make a “Gogarth Style” belay. Safe. We weren’t even at the crux yet…

The crux, when it came, was a two pitch overhanging corner. Given the UIAA grade VI in the topo, (this is supposed to relate to a UK grade of HVS 5b). Standing below it, this was quite clearly much harder than that. I was quite glad it was Andy’s lead if truth be known. The plan was for Andy to tie the two pitches of the corner together into one long pitch, this would hopefully put some distance between us and the team below who were now just one pitch behind us.

Andy’s lead was just phenomenal, fast and efficient whilst throwing some wiild positions to get through the overhangs. The pitch ended up being about 45m long. Andy ran out of quickdraws at 35m, so just ran it out, through the 5c moves, to the ledge. “Spicey” was his description of the lead!

“I think you’ve earn’t some Haribo Crocodiles Andy”, Andy’s route food of choice for any climb. So far we had been surviving on water, energy gels and Rice Krispie bars. The Haribo were supposed to be a celebration, however, as Andy frantically searched, it became apparent that the Crocodiles were not to be found. Disappointment dawned when he realised that he had left them at the very base of the route. Gutted.

Another pant-wetting exposed traverse for me led to a decent ledge where I could actually remove my shoes for once. Ah, the relief. With the crux behind us, what was left was just another 100m of easier ground until we were basking in sunlight on the summit 7.5hrs after we had set off.

A traverse off the fore summit led to four abseils off the West face, down into a gully between Cima Piccola and Cima Grande and an easy, if very loose, walk down the gully. To top the day, Andy managed to find his beloved Haribo Crocodiles at the base of the route!

If you fancy tackling Cima Piccola yourself, here are the key things you need to know.

Getting There

The easiest way is to drive up the toll road (25 Euros) from above the small town of Misurina, although you can avoid the toll if you travel before 0700 and after 1900. This brings you right up to the Rifugio Auronzo, where there is a very large car park.

Where to Stay

There are two huts very close to the base of the route. Rifugio Auronzo (40mins) and the Rifugio Laverado (20mins). We stayed at the Auronzo where a 2 bed room (no food) cost us 24 Euros between us with our BMC reciprocal rights card. For those on a budget, you are allowed to park camper vans at the car park outside the Auronzo hut. Wild camping away from the huts is also allowed outside of daylight hours.

When to go

Late spring through to Early Autumn is the best time to visit. On the two occasions I’ve been to the area, it has been in August. If you want to be first on the route then get up early, we left the Auronzo hut at 05:00 and were only just the first people at the base.

The Route – ‘Spigolo Giallo’ (The Yellow Edge)

The route follows an almost vertical arête for 350m. It tackles corners, cracks, wildly exposed traverses and slabs. On the whole the rock is good but care is needed in places. Two 50m ropes will be sufficient for most parties. The descent is from fixed abseil points into the gully between Cima Piccola and Cima Grande.

Many thanks to Jim for this month’s Summit Special. If you’ve been inspired by his trip, then give him a follow on InstagramFacebook and Twitter, or check out his website here.

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Having grown up in the Lake District, Jim has been walking, scrambling and climbing for the last 20 years. A holder of the Mountain Instructor Award and an AMI member, he has travelled widely, having climbed extensively in the UK and further afield in places such as the Alps and the Antarctic.