Scarpa North America Blog

Erik Weihenmayer Takes on the Dolomites

Sep. 14th 2015

One of the world’s foremost adventurers and advocates explores the roots and the routes of one of the world’s most famous mountain ranges.

 

Erik Weihenmayer has climbed the 7 summits, kayaked the Grand Canyon, and so much more all while being blind.

Though he’s blind, Erik Weihenmayer has climbed the 7 Summits, kayaked the Grand Canyon, and much, much more.

We were finally approaching the Marmolada, 2,700 feet of vertical rock and one of the biggest rock faces in the Italian Dolomites. As we hiked the two hours up the trail to the Falier hut, I could hear cowbells jangling as herds of cows grazed in the alpine meadows. My climbing partner, Timmy O’Neill, gazed up and said he could only see the very bottom of the face; the rest was hidden from us in a shroud of mist. Dark clouds loomed around the surrounding peaks. “Looks cold and wet up there,” Timmy said, and I immediately felt our chances of summiting slip away.

It wasn’t perfect by any means; it had been raining the night before, so the rock would be wet, but this was the best chance we’d be given. At 3 AM, we left the hut and humped two hours up the steep scree field to the base of the Don Quixote route of the Marmolada. It was still dark and, despite local knowledge, we wandered around the base trying to figure out where the route actually began. The beginning of the Don Quixote is a sea of slabs that require traversing and weaving up the rock using the path of least resistance. I’m not the fastest climber, to say the least, and we would most likely need all our daylight to reach the top it, so it was vital not to lose time by getting lost.

We now ascended into a misty world of slippery limestone, loose rock holds, and wet overhanging cliffs. As I reached out, scanned my hands, and latched onto seemingly solid holds, they would break off in my hands. Each time I regained my composure, I’d realize I had just squealed in a way unbecoming to a proud bold climber. At other times, I’d feel a delicate seam and stand up on it, only to have my foot slip off the wet surface. More squealing ensued.

Working up the Marmolada in unsettled weather.

Working up the Marmolada in unsettled weather.

By 9 AM we’d overcome the “easier” climbing and reached the large ledge half way up. We still had ten pitches to go, and the hard crux pitches waited above. The mist settled in around us; it was like climbing through a cold steam shower. Over my fleece, I put on my synthetic jacket, followed by a rain shell. I even put on my fleece cap beneath my climbing helmet. Despite that, my legs began to shiver. Timmy and the others were putting on gloves at each belay station and loudly beating out their hands to bring back warmth. “Weather’s feeling worse,” I mentioned to Marco. “It’s perfect Dolomite weather for August,” he responded and then laughed. We kept ascending.

As we climbed the difficult pitches, Timmy climbed above me, coaching me on vital holds and techniques to speed me up. “Feel my foot to the right,” he’d say. “You’re going to need this one.”

“There’s not great holds in this chimney. You’re going to need to stem your way up.”

“There’s a key hold for your left hand. When you get to the third piton reach above it a couple feet to the left and you’ll feel the pocket.”

With this communication, we moved efficiently, or as efficiently as a blind guy can move on vertical and overhanging rock.

The last pitch was the scariest, traversing across a blank face, then above broken and loose terrain, up into a steep, wide chimney with fragile, decomposing rock. Here, the holds pulled off without warning, crumbling away into the void. At 6 PM, we finally reached the top and breathed with relief. We had been climbing for 13 hours through twenty pitches.

Weihenmayer with celebrates with climbing partner Timmy O'Neil

Weihenmayer celebrates with climbing partner Timmy O’Neil

In many moments throughout our trip, I’d doubted whether we would even get our chance to touch the face, and now we were standing on top. Manrico, Fabrizio, and Marco all met me with hugs, and then I embraced Timmy, who’d been my ally to complete this dream. Ironically, the clouds finally parted and I felt the warmth of the sun on my face for the first time that day.

Read the rest of the story at Erik’s blog. Lets just say that when news of a blind climber submitting the Marmolada reaches the Italian press, adjectives get interesting.

SCARPA has been making shoes at the foot of the Dolomites in Asolo, Italy, for almost 80 years. Learn more about our beautiful mountain footwear here.

Victory!

Victory!

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