Serra Dolcedorme – “Via Pietra Colonna”

Late September, and this insatiable desire to climb something slightly more challenging… This time I had planed on doing “Via Pietra Colonna”, one of the most demanding and, as I can say now, the most beautiful routes on the south face of Serra Dolcedorme. Usually a fantastic winter climb, also without snow it is truly worth a visit. A stupid inaccuracy in my guidebook (or the altimeter?) made me solo the crux section of an even harder variant of the classic route.

An early start from Valle Piano around AM 7.00… In order to avoid the usual hiking path to the pass ‘Passo di Valle Cupa’ and find the right angle and space for taking some snap shots I opted for a shortcut, a more or less straight line up to the broad south ridge of Serra Dolcedorme.

As usual, the views offered by the ridge are peerless. The fresh and clear autumn air, the dark green of the pine trees beyond the still green canopy of the beech forest and only a few lazy clouds hovering far off over the silent scenery, still undecided whether to dissolve or simply drift away.

At the pass I picked up the well discernible hiking path in direction of “Valle Cupa” and the clearing that indicates the onset of a broad scree ramp leading up to a bifurcation, at about 1,520m. The right branch is for “Via Luzzo”, another classic winter route, the left one for “Via Pietra Colonna” instead.

After a while the gully, by now strewn with dead wood and even huge tree trunks, narrows. It is here that one comes upon the first easier climbing passages (III+, UIAA) of the route.

Further up the terrain steepens noticeable. The gully is becoming pokier, too, and the surroundings are getting wilder still, with the first grown specimens of the Bosnian Pine saluting from the almost bare limestone escarpments lining the gully.

It happened here that my the guidebook led me astray. I knew that in order to follow the classic variant of the route at some point I would have to turn left and take the rocky outcrop instead of following the gully. However, I did not remember where exactly I would have to turn. The guidebook gave 2,000m as the altitude for leaving the gully. (Actually it’s rather 1,900m!)

A look on the altimeter and I decided to carry on, choosing a rocky staircase close to the right wall of the gully.

Already climbing for a while I started nurturing the sensation that at least a couple of passages I had just soloed might be well beyond the route’s rating III+/AD-.

Finally, feeling already sweaty and slightly muddled by the passages I could still see ahead of me, evidence came along in form of a good old rock nail. Also a look around confirmed my apprehensions: the surrounding rocks were wearing the scars from a number of fights with steel crampons…


“Alright,” – I thought, “that’s the intermediate variant then! At least that can explain the strange sensation I had with some moves.” – This route variant is usually rated D-, instead of AD-, quite a difference I’d say. But by now there was only one way through… up!

I had to use every single part of body in order to jam, bridge or simply pull myself over the last almost vertical parts of the staircase. A large Bosnian Pine allowed me a to catch some breath and have a look around. … The beauty of that place was simply overwhelming!

After a short break I continued on easier terrain. Indeed, the gully seemed to flatten out. I reached another scree ramp with an inferior inclination and … my eyes fell on the very distinctive rock formation that has given name to this route: “Pietra Colonna”.

Further up the slope, where the choices seem to multiply, I decided to stick with the main gully and, later, climb a huge jagged limestone cliff that eventually met with the east ridge of the mountain, not too far away from the actual summit I reached after more than 6 hours and 1,400 m of elevation gain.

By now, I do no longer count the times on the summit of this splendid mountain. But, I have to say, I could not remember the last time feeling that happy and satisfied sitting on a small heap of rocks…