Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Ice Ladder on Cima Carega, Italy

I almost got myself killed again, this time on Christmas Eve, probably driven by loneliness. I found myself halfway up the face of Cima Carega in what's called the Piccole Dolomiti, or the "little Dolomites," just shortly after noon when my cable disappeared under a sheet of ice. I was on a "via ferrata" route where you stay clipped into a cable on the mountain. It had been a serious climb to get that far up the route in winter and I didn't want to down climb.

I slammed into the ice with my boots and looked higher up on the wall to where the cable reappeared from the ice. I unclipped and went for it. Those moves, with nothing but protruding pine shrubs and loose snow for holds, seemed. The cable on the other side appeared to move further and further away the more I climbed. Kicking off chunks of snow and ice that crashed down 400' of rock before landing on steep snowy slabs that extended another 2000' below, I made my way to a ledge close to the cables and jumped horizontally to reach the cable.

I grabbed an iron peg and clipped back in. The via ferrata ended soon after that but it left me 100' short of the ridgeline to the summit. Though the ramp wasn't steep, I found, to my dismay, that the snow was rock hard, a perfect slip n slide back down the east face. Picturing myself trying to climb down the face was enough to force me on.

Without an ice axe or crampons, I dug out each step with a rounded carabiner in a gloved hand. Each step took ten minutes to make. Since one bad step could mean my life, I carved with each one with care, ignoring the cold in my hands and the quickly passing time.

Fully two hours later, I was 100' higher and stood on more level ground. Vicious winds licked the runway to the summit. I pulled my clothes tight and wrapped an extra shirt from my pack around my already beanie-ed and scarved head. The snow was no softer than before but I kept from sliding off the mountain by straddling the ridgeline. For the majority of the ridge, I was down on all fours, hugging the mountain like it was my best friend. I came upon the summit suddenly and with it, a view of the easy downclimb on the other side.

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