The limestone mountains of Tre Cime sit in the North of the Italian Dolomites, close to the village of Misurina. Three huge skyscrapers of fear holding some of Europe's most testing Alpine routes. The central tower, Cima Grande is the most famous of the three and its imposing North wall plays host to a bevy of hard climbs, spanning many periods in the history of the Dolomites. Most mountains are by the nature of physics quite slabby overall – it is what stops them from falling down, but the giant monolithic needle of the Cima Grande juts impossibly from the hill side, too huge and too steep to hold itself up.
Cima Grande Route
© Jack Geldard, Jun 2007
Of the early routes, Comici's creation (known simply as The Comici Route) from August 1933 climbs the only obvious line of weakness in the North face – a huge crack system on the right hand side. This is by far the most popular route on the face and during our visit to the area we saw many parties attempt to scale its long chimneys and steep cracks. The blank yellow sweep of wall thundering leftwards from the safety of Comici's chimneys screams impossible to anyone looking from below. 500 meters of smooth and overhanging rock appears more like an arena of modern sport routes than a canvass for 1950's alpine excursions. On closer inspection through some optimistic eyes, a line of corners can be picked out high on the wall. Reaching them appears to be the crux of the route, but such is the secretive nature of the rock – littered with hidden crimps and blind pockets, that the obvious corners themselves offer the hardest technical climbing. The lower pitches, although difficult to envisage from the base, provide steady climbing on reasonable holds.
Dietrich Hasse, the main driving force behind the first ascent of the Brandler-Hasse route (known then simply as 'The Directissima') scanned carefully every inch of the face when he climbed the Comici route. It was this knowledge of the lines of weaknesses that gave him the courage to start out on his wild journey upwards that was to yield one of Europe's best and most sought after prizes.
Our initial attempt at the route was thwarted by our impatience to start climbing and by a poor and inaccurate topo that we printed from the internet. We arrived at the base of the wall in the semi-darkness of dawn with no guidebook and no map. Spurred on by the words of our topo 'it's impossible to go the wrong way...', I launched up the freezing rock, full of fighting spirit.
After five of so rope lengths of increasing difficulty we ran in to some problems. What was supposed to be a straightforward pitch saw me gasping for breath, fighting against the pump and eventually falling on to an old aid peg. Descending to the belay to rest we realised what had happened. Instead of being on the left hand side of the face, heading to the overhanging corners, we had taken too direct a line, right up the middle; inadvertently attempting the 'Superdirectissima' a much harder and seldom freed climb, half way between our intended route and the Comici. The disappointment of our failure was mixed with a relief – both my climbing partner Juha and I really wanted to climb the Brandler-Hasse onsight and we still had our chance. Viewed in the daylight, the line of the route was easy to spot and we spent some time gazing up from the base before packing our bags and heading off – ready to return the following day. The mistake was easy to avoid, a brief look at the wall the day before an attempt and an accurate topo showing the long horizontal traverse of the second pitch are enough to set you on the right path.
Juha Saatsi on pitch 6 (6b+)
Our successful ascent was quite an adventure. We found the corner pitches seeping with water, but the positive nature of the holds still allowed us an onsight and free ascent. A topo with inaccurate pitch grades and descriptions added to the sense of unknown. Chalk dots remained on some holds from Alex Huber's amazing free solo of the route in 2001. I can only imagine how exposed those pitches feel without the comfort of a rope and partner.
It is difficult to transfer the grade of the route in to the British system, but I would say that a party capable of confidently climbing multi pitch E5 on a cliff such as Gogarth would be suitably experienced to tackle the Brandler-Hasse.
Approach and The Route
From the Auronzo hut at the top of the toll road from Misurina: Follow the wide gravel path beneath the South face of the Tre Cima past the small chapel until you reach the Lavaredo Hut. From here continue along the wide path (or take a smaller short cut path on the left saving 5 mins) until reaching the viewing col of Forcella Lavaredo (an obvious flat col from which it is possible to see the north faces). A steep scree path leads from here beneath the North Faces on the left. 40mins.
Cima Grande Map
© Jack Geldard, Jun 2007
The route starts on the right hand side of the face at a pillar of easier angled dark rock. This pillar is climbed for one long pitch (either the obvious wide corner crack or slightly to either side) until a ledge and fixed belay is reached. From this belay descend the left side of the ledge for 3 meters then traverse horizontally leftwards for 1 pitch.
From here on the route is obvious and follows pegs up the only real line of weakness.
The three crux pitches in the corners are all adequately protected with some nuts and friends, but mainly insitu pegs of varying antiquity. The first 7a pitch follows a steep rightward trending corner with underclings and a crux at the end. The second 7a pitch is a wide crack on the left enabling jams and shoulder bars with reasonable foot holds and crimps on the right wall. The final 7a+ crux pitch is a stamina crack, steeper than it looks, protected by many old pegs.
From the ring ledge: Traverse leftwards (facing in) around the ring ledge until you are just around the corner from the North Face. An abseil with bolt anchors and a chain in marked with a small cairn, near a gully. Abseil here (full rope length) and continue down the well trodden route (some down climbing or short abseils) passing lots of polished sections and scree paths. Follow the track rightwards (facing down) horizontally to reach the large gully between the Cima Grande and Cima Ovest passing a final tricky step to reach the gully bottom. From here a steep path leads to the hut. 2 hours from the ring ledge.
Juha Saatsi at the viewing col, mentioned in the approach text
We mainly clipped insitu gear, but a light rack of nuts and friends are needed to back it up in places. A large selection of quickdraws (approx 20) to clip in to pegs and tat are essential. Most belays are fixed with pegs and there are some bolts.
Money saving tip:
The toll road up to the large car park is unmanned after approximately 9pm. Many campervans and climbers sleep in the top car parks to enable an early start – so it is best to head up the road after an evening pizza in Misurina.
Jack Geldard (26) is a mountain safety advisor for Exploration Logistics PLC (overseas) and a Mountaineering Instructor based in Snowdonia. He has been climbing for 15 years from big walls in Morrocco to Peruvian Andes and lots in between including winter alpine North face epics and Scottish winter classics up to VII/VII. He has onsighted up to E7, done F8b redpoints, and has made first ascents up to E8/9, most recently Spinal Crack in Cwm Idwal. Gritstone bouldering highlights include Brad Pit, Jason's Roof (Crookrise), Underworld (Earl) and other V10-11 ish boulders. He's a bit of an all-rounder. He hasn't any sponsors but once, "won a quickdraw in a raffle."
Jack Geldard on Warpath (E5 6a) at Rhoscolyn © Dave Pickford