“Let's go to the Dollies this year” said Mr Railton. “The weather will be good and there is a lot of rock climbing and also via ferratas. We will have fun”. We were kicking off the year in Font bouldering at the time, living the dream, and getting the year ahead sorted seemed like a good idea. A number of people were keen so without further ado we booked flights, ordered guidebooks and, having checked out the cost of large apartments in the Cortina area, put Mr Railton in charge of finding a good campsite.
Fast forward five months and there we all were at Luton Airport, frantically repacking kit into each others bags to stay under the baggage allowance and heading at top speed for the pub/coffee bar/vegan wholefood outlet (depending on personal preferences). Our flight was delayed, but eventually we arrived in Marco Polo after a lovely landing run across Venice, with lightning flickering across the Dolomites and storm clouds building. We got to the campsite in the dark and located Graham & Yvonne and Simon & Alex who had arrived under their own steam and in true Bowline fashion were camped at opposite ends of the field. I made myself popular waking Yvonne and Graham up twice - once to retrieve my tent which they had driven out for us and then again, much later, whilst pitching it next to them after emergency last orders of pizzas and pints at the adjacent cafe.
Graham and Yvonne had been out for a week already and had experienced a lot of rain as well as fifteen centimetres of snow on one day, so they were looking a bit fed up and calling Mr Railton’s weather predictions into question. Weather had only allowed one big route for them up to that point, the Hexenstein.
We were also calling Mr Railton’s weather organising abilities into question the following day, as it was drizzling when we woke up. Undeterred, we ventured into Cortina for more pizza before some people went for a walk. The following day, in continuing poor weather, most of us headed for a sport climbing crag capped by an overhang and therefore reasonably dry. Much fun was had by all and Randal had his first taste of sport climbing and had a smiley face so is clearly a rock gymnast in the making.
The following day was dry, warm and bright and a decision was made to try and do a group walk/via ferrata near the Cinque-Torri. The route took us through some beautiful scenery and after completing the via ferrata and drinking some beers in the bar we accidentally fell into at the summit, some headed back to the campsite and Pixie, Lizzy, myself and Andy Harper headed for another via ferrata which put us at the summit of Monte Averau in time for an amazing sunset.
Eventually a good weather day dawned, and Lizzy, Harper, Pixie and myself headed to the Falzarego area to do a big multi pitch route. Yvonne and Graham headed off to do a big route on the Falzarego Towers, which I am pretty sure they had completed before we left the campsite.
We headed for Lagazuoi Piccolo and the route Lizzy and I picked was the Via del Buco Bassa Variant next to Via del Buco Alta Variant, the line picked by Harper and Pixie. We set off, eventually, following a Pixie style alpine start that meant we didn't get to the base of the crag until midday… less than ideal… Lizzy and I experienced some route finding issues at the start before finally (three pitches up) locating a feature I was happy to match to the guidebook - a number of people seem to have had some issues with the reliability of the Rockfax guide in this area and unbeknownst to us Harper and Pixie were having similar problems. Fortunately we had had a good look at the line from the car park and were able to pick our way through to the top for 6pm. We were concerned to look down from the top of our 9 pitch route to see Pixie and Harper only at the top of pitch three, and we called down to them with various helpful comments like “it will be dark in two hours, you should consider moving swiftly”.
Lizzy and I descended and had a good time playing in the WW1 tunnels at the base of the crag, finding edelweiss flowers and watching another amazing sunset. We then returned to the sacks and started eating all the food that had been left behind. A text came in explaining that the boys understood it was late and that they would finish up our route. Twilight descended. We relaxed against a boulder and gazed up the crag towards Harper and Pixie. It became apparent that they were now a considerable way off to the left of our route and trying to break through an overhanging headwall of doom. Lizzy and I had a brief discussion about whether we should say anything, or just grab the car keys and sneak off.
Our better natures won out and we called up to them 200m above “you’re on the wrong route”. Pixie explained there were bolts and we explained that bolts did not an easy way off make, and in any case there were no bolts on the route which we had done, which was a long way off to the right. Pixie and Harper had an in depth conversation. We put on all the clothes we could find in their rucksacks and settled in for a long wait as they retrieved themselves from the situation they were in, switched on headtorches and proceeded to traverse off to the easier route, topping out by 22.30 and getting back to the cars for 11.30. Beers were called for and a Google search for an all night bar in Cortina ensued as Lizzy drove us down the mountain, flinging the car around the switchbacks in the dark as she cheerfully announced she had only driven a lefthand drive car once before. We located Bar Molo and despite some short lived negativity from Pixie and Lizzy, for whom by now bed was calling, negotiated a pit stop. Soon no one was sleepy and much happiness ensued as Bar Molo is a really cool friendly bar with a good vibe and good skiing videos.
Other adventures during the week included the Malone via ferrata to the summit of Cima Cadin, which we descended in a hail storm and the discovery of a lovely little sports climbing area called Campo E Volpera just above Cortina amongst huge boulders, some of which were overhanging and enabled us to climb on another rainy day. There was also an ace little via ferrata here with a slack line forty feet up, and a wire rope bridge even higher. As I paused in terror on this, contemplating the drop below, I heard Lizzy ask impatiently “what appear to be the blockers here, Zoe?” With this loving encouragement I proceeded across the gulf of despair to the other side and safety.
During the rest of the week various adventures were had by Bowliners in amongst rather unpredictable weather conditions. Lisa, Simon Rankine and Dave had an awesome day on the big Michielli Stobal via ferrata on Punta Fiames and Simon Perry teamed up with Rachel and Tony to do some good routes on the Cinque-Torri and Monte Averau and were joined by Lisa, Ali and Randal on De Luca on the Innerkofler, obtaining some great drone footage which hopefully we were able to show at the Bowline Dinner that Autumn. Lisa et al also ticked La Grotta Di Tofana.
Another Bowline team consisting of Aidan Morris, Dale Colver, Alex Norton and Derek Woo were nearby during the week and ticked the Piaz Arete/Delagokante on the Vajolet Towers, Little Micheluzzi on the Piz Ciava and Via Gaudeamus on Col dei Bos, which leads me to believe their weather gods were better and their Alpine starts more efficient.