What I enjoy most about traveling is the shift in perspective that comes from being in a new place. I begin to see and think about things differently the minute I leave home. As a climber and mountain guide, this shift has most often been connected with adventures in the mountains and is a major reason I keep returning to the hills.
This August I spent three weeks guiding rock climbing in the Dolomites of northern Italy. Despite being a “Rossi” (the most common surname in Italy), I hadn’t been to Italy and was excited to make the trip happen. After talking with friends and pouring over guidebooks, I chose Cortina d’Ampezzo to serve as “base camp.” Cortina is a beautiful town nestled between the limestone mountains and hills of the Dolomites – just a two hour drive north of Venice. The fact that the 1956 Winter Olympics were hosted here, and that portions of Cliffhanger were shot here, hints at the beauty and ruggedness of the area. Not to mention that the rock climbing in the Dolomites is some of the finest limestone climbing in the world.
My time in Italy consisted of three good friends and clients scheduled for a week of climbing each. We climbed over twenty-five different rock routes in roughly 15 days of climbing. The most committing route of the trip was the fourteen-hundred-foot Primo Spigolo on Tofana di Rozas. First climbed in 1946 by Alvera and Pompanin, pitch after pitch of the route climbs directly up the exposed edge of the first pillar on Tofana di Rozas. The rock quality is excellent and clean – a five star route, for sure. With numerous fixed anchors at belays, we were able to spend just four hours on route, with the entire day totaling about eight hours car-to-car. Of course, we did stop in at Rifugio Giussani for an amazing lunch and espresso on the way down! When in Rome…
The Dolomites are truly a mountain playground. They have it all: long, moderate rock routes on big peaks, short, hard sport climbing crags, day-long climbs via ferrata’s, and fantastic hiking and biking. Not sure if you want to spend every day in the hills? Don’t worry. The food and wine in Cortina are reason enough to make the trip across the Atlantic. I swore that every single meal I ate in Cortina was the best I’d had. The gnocchi, pasta, pizza, and soups are utterly amazing. The local wines are very inexpensive and better than most you’ll find in the US. And for the coffee lovers, you’ll never go back to drip coffee after an Italian espresso. I promise.
Whether climbing on your own or with a mountain guide, traveling and climbing is about having an amazing experience. Certainly time spent in the mountains is a big part of that experience, but you may want more than just good rock and vistas. Local foods, wines, and the rich culture of an area are just as important as the adventures. If you’re looking for a destination and experience that satisfies all these criteria, I highly recommend the Dolomites.
– Silas Rossi