The sheer southeast ‘Piz da Lech’ face of the ‘Vallon’ cliffs, a coliseum of flawless Dolomite limestone, is home to the steep and exposed three star classic: ‘Via Dorigatti’.
I was working as a Chalet Host for the summer in the Italian Dolomites. We lived in Corvara, the back end of the Sella shelf always looming over us; we couldn’t not try a route up there. Max and I had the typical evening of thumbing through the battered Chalet copy of the Dolomites Rockfax guide. A ritual familiar to us by this point in the season.
We had to choose a route we could do relatively quickly as we were planning to climb on what we referred to as a ‘doms day’: a day where we had to work the morning and evening but had the afternoon off.
So knowing time would be a key factor we elected for a route on the southeast ‘Piz da Lech’ face, hoping the quick descent offered would make up time for the sustained climbing and cruxy traverse. Route picked, gear racked and bags packed we settled down for the night.
We finished morning domestics in good time and were out of the Chalet by ten, running down the hill to the lift station, climbing packs rattling. After rides on Boe gondola and the seemingly endless Vallon chairlift we were at the foot of an amphitheatre of archetypical dolomite rock: steep walls awash with scorched yellows, lustreless greys and ominous blacks.
The approach was short but strenuous: battling up relentlessly steep, sun baked scree slopes, arduous even without full climbing packs. But we moved at a good pace, eager to start climbing, and eventually arrived at the foot of the cliff. The normal route finding deliberations ensued, constant references back to the guidebook and topos, until finally we were confident we were in the right spot.
We’d arranged the alternating leads so I could take the exposed traverse pitch: considered the crux of the route. That meant Max had first lead so while he arranged the rack I flaked our ropes, both of us now giddy with quiet anticipation. The now habitual process of tie ins, checks and ceremonial fist bumps signalled it was time to start climbing. We both took a moment to take in our tranquil surroundings, we were the only climbers that day, everything was perfectly quiet and still.
The 1st pitch of 40m began up a steep corner crack that, once surpassed, gave way to easier ground up to the right. Placing some solid gear early on, Max stemmed up the corner. Having once more placed some good protection, he pulled up over the lip onto the ledge that lead upwards to the right. Traversing delicately over the loose rock, distinctive of these early pitches, Max reached the belay stance on a small ledge with two reasonable looking pegs for protection. I quickly followed, and arrived at the stance to Max’s grinning face.
The 2nd pitch was 25m on similarly easy ground and, after exchanging gear and the customary fist bump, I headed up the chimney to the right of the belay. Placing only a few pieces of gear due the straightforward climbing and arriving at the next belay promptly. Max followed swiftly and another pitch fell.
The 3rd pitch (45m) had the first technical moves on the route, involving an awkward step to gain the steep, grey chimney directly above the stance. Max placed a good looking wire in a crack to the side of the hanging chimney, smeared his boots against the rock and pulled himself up into the dihedral of the chimney. The technical step was over and the chimney itself, whilst strenuous, looked straightforward.
However, following the awkward move to gain the chimney, Max had dislodged the wire so was now a fair distance above the belay with no gear. I calmly suggested he look to get something in if he was comfy, fortunately once in the chimney the stance was fairly amenable. So, after sticking a good nut on a runner in the back of the chimney, Max made quick progress up the positive holds of the chimney eventually reaching a roof with belay in a niche to the left.
The 4th pitch was the crux: an exposed 20m traverse leading left beneath the roof; with over 100m of air directly below. I left a good portion of the rack with Max, seeing scarce options for gear but a handful of hopeful looking pegs. I left the security of the belay with a delicate step left, not finding any good handholds above I rocked onto the left foot and reached out to find a good side pull lower down. I swapped feet, catching a good glimpse of the sheer rock face below me and getting a little rush of adrenaline.
Next I made for a decent ledge further left for my feet and found a more positive hand hold allowing me to clip one of the pegs I’d spotted earlier. I felt myself relax, then cringed as I looked back at the belay and saw how far I’d gone without gear. Max grinned back at me encouragingly and I looked back left, spotting the next belay consisting of two bolts on an otherwise blank section of rock. A few more reachey and balancey moves on sparse but good enough holds, clipping the other two pegs and placing a few small wires to protect Max’s second and I was at the belay.
I secured myself to the two bolts then let myself hang for a moment before pulling through the ropes and awkwardly stacking them over my shoulders at the hanging stance. Max followed without a problem and we gave ourselves a moment to admire our surroundings at our exposed belay.
A hard 30m 5th pitch lay ahead so after a brief rest we cracked on. The pitch took Max up left, around a bulge and out of sight. As always when you lose sight of your climber, time seemed to slow. I kept paying out and taking in rope, feeling for small adjustments in the tension that might give a clue as to Max’s whereabouts. Eventually I heard the faint call of “I’m safe!” And with a sigh of relief, I took Max off belay and readied myself to climb.
I met Max at the next belay, both of us now feeling the effects of the sun beating down on us all day; there was very little respite on the steep route. I foolishly wore a black helmet which was effectively cooking my head. We chugged some of our remaining water and looked up at what were to be the final two pitches. We had passed the crux pitches and everything looked fairly straightforward, but with the sustained exposure on this route neither of us could switch off.
My lead, the 6th pitch followed good holds 30m up a striking, yellow corner crack. Protection was plentiful and the holds all positive and it felt good to flow up the steep corner after my thrutchy traverse lead earlier. I arrived at the belay all too soon, greatly enjoying the good rock of these upper pitches. I assembled the belay quickly: using a sling over large spike and a thread higher up. Max followed easily and then all of a sudden we were looking at the last pitch.
As we exchanged gear and sorted the ropes for the last time, we experienced the quiet acquiesce that always accompanies the end of such an enjoyable route. We exchanged a penultimate fist bump and Max started up the last pitch of the day. The angle of the face eased for the first time on this final pitch and Max made short work of the last 35m of climbing quickly finding himself on the summit plateau. I joined him not long after and looked out across the vast plateau, both of us grinning like idiots.
We racked up in silence, both ecstatic to have made it but dejected that it was over. It had been a day that neither of us wanted to end. We walked briskly across the summit platform, following a well cairned path that led to the summit cross.