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OPENING OF ROUTE "STRANE NORMALI"

Prologue

Alberto da Ronch and I met in person on July 28, 2010, when we climbed, along with Fabio, the Dihedral dall'Oglio. Here is a picture of us at the top of Torre del Lago, after completing the route:

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On August 3, I get a strange SMS from Alberto: "I plan the opening of a new route of 150 meters on the Punta del Caldrolon, next Saturday, in the Pale di San Martino. There is no certainty of success, in case of failure we may possibly do something else nearby. Would you participate?"

This makes me curious, but I am unaware of what awaits me, so I reply with a quick "OK, hear you later for the details, bye". I open the map of the Pale di San Martino, and it takes a while before I can find this elusive peak, in the south-east area, roughly between the Cima d'Oltro and the Sass d'Ortiga.

I already know the blog of Alberto, and I am aware he is interested in summits and routes which are not so popular, although relevant and interesting. I wonder what kind of peak Punta del Caldrolon can be, but I do not care to investigate more; I trust Alberto and his choice.

The day before we have a phone call. Perhaps deliberately, I avoid asking Alberto for too many details. We agree on the meeting time, and we decide to take with us a large supply of nails, a fair amount of spare rope, and a few quick links.


The approach

We meet ad dawn, in Agordo, on August 7:

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We leave together, directed to a parking lot at the end of a road that branches off from the main road just after passing the village of Gosaldo. From there, a path leads to Malga Cavallera. Along the walk, we come across a group of hikers. They go to the Croda Granda; when they learn that we are going to the Punta del Caldrolon, they say: "Congratulations". Just a casual expression?

As we approach the hut, at some point Alberto shows me our destination:

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Its shape reminds me of a huge pine cone, with the lower part characterized by sheer cliffs on all sides. I do not understand how you can climb it up on reasonable difficulties. Alberto tells me that he thinks he has guessed a new ascent route starting from the south-east, which should allow us to reach the grey area of the south wall, climbing which should lead us to the visible ledge covered with mountain pines. Then, after an easy ramp, we shall reach the top ridge, and then the summit, without further difficulty.

Alberto tells me everything with such a natural calm that I think we're talking about something completely normal, one of those quiet climbs of IV degree I am accustomed to.

After travelling a good part of the path that separates us from the Forcella d'Oltro, we see our peak more closely, and it begins to appear impressive:

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And even more, when we start to see it from a different angle:

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Climbing near-to-vertical meadows, we reach the west wall. Above us looms the threatening, overhanging wall on which the normal route goes up; no wonder it is evaluated of VI+ degree.

Alberto shows me the starting point, where he puts a nail, and equips the initial stop:

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I can not help realizing that when we will go round the edge, to climb on the south wall, we will be in a very exposed position. In fact, the ground at the base of the south wall is far lower, compared to our position.


The ascent

We leave behind the things that we won't need, we wear our harnesses and take the material we will need for the climb. Alberto starts, and is quickly around the corner, disappearing from my view. He proceeds pretty fast. I can hear his hammer beating. Shortly after consuming twenty meters of rope, I hear his voice on the walkie-talkie, saying: "I'm stopping here, then we'll see". I hear the hammer beating again.

When it's my turn to go, the feeling that I am engaged in an unusual adventure becomes more intense; this is definitely different from the usual climbing on a well-known and documented route. I sense the unknowns, I am aware that we could not get to the top, I have no idea of the degree of difficulty that we will find, nor the quality of the rock. All these considerations make me feel a particular emotion, much stronger than usual.

When I reach Alberto, I see he has equipped a stop with two nails and a friend. I take a picture back, towards the rock that I have just climbed obliquely to the right:

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So far, a IV degree, nothing more. But looking up, I understand that it will not be so in the next length. The wall rises vertically above us, and I can't guess how many meters we will need to climb before reaching the ledge.

Alberto looks at my troubled face, and asks me if I feel like continuing the enterprise. I tell him that if he feels like going ahead, I will follow him. When he starts climbing again, the first step already reveals as a V degree. I get the impression that this will be the predominant difficulty throughout the second length, and I hope not worse than this, otherwise I will have great trouble going up.

Alberto climbs up cautiously, raising 30 centimeters at a time. Ten meters higher, he tells me that he will establish the actual stop there, on a comfortable ledge, therefore the place where I am is just to be considered a temporary stop. I think it 's a good idea, because this place is very narrow, and anyway it is better to lengthen a bit the first length, while shortening the second one in equal measure.

Below me, the rope hangs vertically:

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A stone falls from above; absentmindedly I expect, as usual, to hear it bouncing along the wall, while it obviously flies straight down to the meadows far below, where it crashes. I have a strong feeling of unusual verticality.

Alberto continues to rise. Every now and then he hammers a nail, so I understand that this rock is not suitable for friends, and has few tunnels. Then he says: "Do not worry if I proceed slowly, it's just because I stop to rest, now and then". After what seems to me a very long time, and after having consumed 45 meters of rope, his voice from the walkie-talkie announces that he has established a solid stop on pines, on the ledge. I thus remember his signature on the forum, which reads: "Never more carelessly dealing with pines", although I know the episode to which it refers has nothing to do with the present situation.

Now it's my turn, I know I'm secured and do not to run significant objective risks, but in my head this is not the prevailing thought. Meanwhile I remove a nail that has been left a couple of meters to the left of the provisional stop, and also one of the two nails from the stop itself, leaving the other one as a nail along the first length:

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When I start climbing, the ascent proves as difficult as expected, sometimes at the limit of my climbing ability. In addition, the instinct tells me that I am on a virgin wall, and therefore I distrust every hold I find; I beat every one of them with my finger knuckles, to check by their sound whether they are solid or unstable. In some cases I do not even need to check, because some blades or pillars are apparently detached from the wall, and I can certainly not use them to climb. Nevertheless, I must say that the overall quality of the rock is not bad, considering it is a new route.

I proceed slowly, and I have to stop and rest a couple of times. On a few occasions, in the act of removing a nail, I can appreciate how uncomfortable and tiring it is to do it with one hand, without dropping the nail, while with the other hand I have to keep the hold on the wall.

Finally, after passing the only tunnel of the length, I see Alberto among the pines, with his helmet hanging on one side, seemingly calm, as one who lies in his own element:

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He encourages me, "OK, the worst is done, now it is less vertical". And in fact, I reach him without further difficulty, even though I feel rather shattered.

After the customary maneuvers, Alberto departs, without delay, on the third length:

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While climbing the rocks that lead to the clevis on the upper left, he says: "Mhhh, this here is a somewhat 'technical' passage". It's nice of him using these euphemisms, but I understand that this length will not be trivial either. After a while, I get his voice that announces a solid stop on a tunnel.

I go: I first have to overcome the thick pines, and when I come out, I am all fragrant with resin, and I have some extra scratches here and there. The large boulders located before the clevis form occasional chimney passages, which I overcome without particular difficulties; I am just a bit on the alert for fear that those boulders may not be entirely stable. My worries prove groundless; I reach the clevis, pass it, reaching the west side, and I see Alberto hanging at the stop, which I soon reach:

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The fourth length is much easier, on good rock and limited difficulties. It runs on a groove parallel to that of the normal route, just a little more to the right. Alberto proceeds quickly, while I keep him updated on the length of rope that remains, and when it is about to end, he stops on a good spike.

When it's my turn, I enjoy that relaxing length and join him quickly:

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We understand we are approacing the summit, so we feel that we are going to make it. I go and quickly reach the outcrop where lies the lanyard of the final stop. The length is not more than 20 meters:

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I inform Alberto that I can see the summit a few meters ahead. The emotion grows again: success is just round the corner! Alberto joins me, we untie ourselves and climb together the few easy steps to the top, then we shake hands with great enthusiasm, contratulating each other. A photo on the summit is a must, so I run a self-timer:

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Alberto tells me that this summit has been reached by very few people so far. This fact strikes me, and allows me to better understand what we have done. Above all, I can not help admiring the insight, determination and courage of this guy who is more or less half of my age. He guessed the best line of ascent, he lead almost all of it, and made his incredible dream come true!

We take the bottle that contains the notes left by our predecessors, in fact very few, and in less than optimal condition. We have sheets, but not a pen or pencil, therefore we can not leave a mark of our passing, unfortunately. We put the bottle back in place.


The descent

We have to face the descent; we must avoid losing concentration, because the perils are not yet over, and we will be able to consider ourselves actually safe only after putting our feet on the grass at the base of the wall. We choose the descent along the normal route, hoping to find the way without much difficulty. We care to reinforce with fresh lanyard the drop points. We add quick links in order not to overheat the rope, and to allow it sliding better during retrieval. Except a stuck rope after one of the double rope descents, everything runs smoothly.

When he puts his feet on the ground after the last descent, Alberto yells "Terraaa!" Finally, after the last 30 meters of descent into the void, I put my feet on the grass too, and I feel an immense sense of relief. I look at the rope that hangs over us, a lot away from the wall. Pulling it down proves not at all easy, so we pull on it as two bell ringers who are trying to ring a bell too big. Only after a few attempts, pulling a little the other side of the rope and moving a little sideways, we can retrieve the rope, and its liberating snap on the ground marks the successful end of the enterprise.

We recover everything, load the heavy backpacks on our shoulders, and cautiously descend the steep meadows down to the Forcella d'Oltro, where we take the more comfortable return path along the Alta Via. Going down, we repeatedly gaze back to the Punta del Caldrolon, which finally appears shrouded in mist:

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I realize that I'm not the only tired one; Alberto, after a day of effort, concentration and commitment, is tired too. And he has good reason, after what he did. Only the climb took about 5 hours, engaged on a route that no one before had ever guessed or climbed.

I insist that the route should bear his name, as it was the custom in the past. But he says it would not sound good, and prefers to give it a fancy name, as is customary nowadays. I can not interfere in his decision, but in my mind this is the "Route Da Ronch to the Punta del Caldrolon".

I am truly grateful to him for choosing me as a climbing partner in this adventure. If someone, before my holidays in these beautiful places, had told me that I would have done this, I surely would have not believed him.


First repeat

The first repeat was accomplished by Angelo Spadaro, Mila Costa and Massimiliano Emer, on July 8, 2012, almost two years after the opening.

Here is their photograph on the summit:

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Congratulations!

The report written by Angelo can be found here.


First winter ascent

The first winter ascent has been accomplished by Luigi Dal Re and Gabriele Sintoni, on the 1st of January, 2016.

Here is their summit picture:

Luigi dal Re and Gabriele Sintoni on top of the Punta del Caldrolon

Excellent job!

gb, 2010-08-12

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