Top Ten Less-Extreme Rock Climbing Routes

South Face, Italy
By Cameron M. Burns

South Face "Via Classica": Marmolada di Penia, Dolomites, Italy

The south face of the Marmolada comprises a single, massive, limestone wall, nearly two miles wide and 2,600 feet high, rising to an elevation of almost 11,000 feet.

The summit of the mountain had already been attained from the north, but in 1901, a 42-year-old English woman became infatuated with the Marmaloda's South Face.

Beatrice Tomasson was a mountaineer with an eye for a good line. She hired a guide who climbed the initial chimneys of what was to become the Via Classica to investigate whether the line was feasible, but the guide descended and the route remained unclimbed. In June of 1902, Tomasson returned, hiring two more guides who probed another line without success. The following month, she returned a third time with two more guides and was rewarded with success on the original line, forcing their 2,000-foot climb, up and down in a single day.

This is one of Europe's most cherished classics. The lower part of the route follows chimneys, both tight and wide, while the upper section is straightforward rock climbing. (Rock quality does deteriorate, however.) Stonefall is a danger, so a helmet is essential, and the route should be avoided if crowded. On the sunny south face it is easy to be lulled into a false sense of security, but this is very much an alpine environment. There is snow on the summit and a glacier below the north face, and the Marmolada's altitude attracts bad weather. But if you go prepared, you'll be rewarded with one of Italy's best climbing experiences.

Just the Facts

First ascent: M. Bettega, B. Tomasson, B. Zagonel, 1902

Time required: About 10 hours round-trip from the Rifugio Falier (hut).

Technical grade: Some pitches of 5.6, but mainly 5.5 or easier

References: Classic Dolomite Climbs, by Annette Kohler and Norbert Memmel


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