Almost every time I headed for the Alps I drove past or even through the Dolomites on the way to bigger mountains like Mont Blanc or the Swiss Alps. Last year I stopped for a few days in Arco, an Italyan climbing Mecca, just at the Southern edge of the Dolomites and I felt very attracted to the beauty of the place and the richness of the area. I knew that somewhere North, behind the high ridges of Dolomiti di Brenta lies even a greater paradise of rock walls and towers. The subconscious mind of  a climber had already started to work and see itself visit the heart of the Dolomites.

One year later I took an opportunity to be part of a road trip in this area. Because I couldn’t exclude the climbing from the agenda, or at least not in the Dolomites, I planned to join forces for a couple of days with Alex Prigoana and Vasile Dumitrica (surely my most common climbing partners). Me and Alex had discussed for almost one year about what would be  interesting to climb in the Dolomites. Of course we both had an eye for the North walls of Tre Cime di Lavaredo, but we also thought that Hasse-Brandler route on the North Face of Cima Grande could be a very interesting line  to climb, in a more modern style than the neighboring Comici-Dimai, more overhanging and definitely a nice challenge for us.

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For me the trip hasn’t started very well. Just after leaving from home I found out that I can’t drive my car outside the country with my brand new number plates (…Romanian bureaucratic system). We changed the car and unfortunately this new car broke down, 200 km later.  We tried to fix the problem at a couple of services but the problem was way too complicated to be dealt with right away. After so many signs from  fate that we should abandon the trip, we rented a car and continued against the odds. Bottom line was that we lost almost 48 hours on the roads, parkings, car services and Mc Donalds, and however we were still enthusiastic about the trip.

I got to Cortina d’Ampezzo very tired and confused. Alex and Vasile were already at Tre Cime, had already done a warm up route and they were ready and confident to get on Hasse Brandler first thing in the morning. I joined them late in the evening the day before the climb. We haven’t talked much about the route, for me it seemed that they  had already sorted out the details and gear, so my best plan was to stick to their strategy and focus on my own climbing, try not to be tired or slow the team down. I went to sleep with these thoughts in my head and with some of the most spectacular views that I had ever seen. Great sharp ridges and rock spires sticking out from the darkness while the lights were all gathered deep in the valley far from us and our attention.

After just 4 hours and a half of sleep, we woke up. It was still dark and quite cold. We went around Cima Grande and Cima Picola to get to the North faces. Suddenly the view of these faces made me feel like this was  another planet, cold and distant, and the climbing looked so damn serious. I asked myself again “why haven’t I tried to climb something else before, just to get used to this atmosphere?”. “Never mind, keep going now” I said to myself. “Questions like this will only make things worse”.

At the base of the route we met two more teams who were about to start the climb. The first moved quite slow and the second decided to bail remained positive. On the second pitch Vasile’s route finding skills payed off and we managed to pass them. The first impression for me on this wall was that the grades were not really as described in the topo, but slightly “more serious”. The route has some long traverses, not difficult but really exposed. My eyes were trying to fix the spot were I might end my pendulum in case of a fall… OMG… too much sport climbing doesn’t really help here :).

Pitch by pitch we moved up the wall. Then we got to the most overhanging part, the overhanging dihedral, four pitches between 6c+ and 7a+. Unfortunately, as we were expecting, these overhangs were soaking wet so we switched to “French free” style of climbing. Nevertheless, because of the constant overhang, pulling on gear (old rusted pitons, some fixed nuts or microfriends) was still pretty exhausting. After this part ended, I felt more relaxed, I knew we were then going to finish the route on daylight. So, the next 7 pitches had easier climbing but less protection… not too bad though, I guess we were already used with the exposure.

We finished the climb and got to the big final ledge where we started traversing to the left to reach the S-E face of the mountain. We still had a lot to go, because the descent was long and tricky… and entirely in the dark :).

Friends have asked me: how hard was Hasse Brandler? How was the crux pitch? Was the rock good for free climbing? Were there any bolts? I have thought of all these things but in fact the challenge of this route is that it is big and exposed so you have to move fast (very fast on easy sections) and with lots of confidence because the protection is far from being like on a sport route. For me the dolomite didn’t seem to be a very solid rock so I was careful about that the entire route. It doesn’t really matter the hardest grade of the route (7a+) because that is just a small section, but the rest is a lot of real climbing and it requires focus and to keep on going.

It’s been an intense experience to be on the North Face of Cima Grande even if it wasn’t one of my best days as a climber.

Hats off for Alex and Vasile for they’ve led all the pitches. Great one guys ! :)

the team