An epic birthday

Our first climb in the Dolomites: Torre Quarta and Torre Grande

A TRUE STORY by Jukka Kukkonen – It happened on July 8, 2016

I wanted to do something epic for my 54th birthday, so I contacted mountain guide Enrico Maioni in Cortina, Italy. He promised to arrange a week of mountain sports for me and my son Jon in July 2016.

In the morning of the 5th day of our Cortina Epic Week it was a bit cooler and cloudier. We headed out to 5 Torri for some rock climbing with our guide Enrico. Although we had practiced a little easy bouldering and indoor climbing in Finland, this was something completely different.

There were a wide variety of boulders all around. 5 Torri has about 130 climbing routes. One of them is Via Finlandia on Torre Grande (Cima Nord) by Matti A. Jokinen, a pioneer Finnish climber from our hometown Helsinki. There were lots of people in the area hiking or climbing already. We passed a recently fallen tower. The base remained, but the top had crashed down.

Enrico drove us to Rifugio 5 Torri at 2137m. We hiked about the trail up to about 2200m, above the treeline. From Cortina they look like five towers.

When you get closer you can see many more towers. Torre Grande is divided into Cima Sud, Nord and Ovest. Torre Seconda consists of three boulders: Lusy, Barancio and Romana. The third peak is Torre Latina. Torre Quarta (4th) has two separate towers: Quarta Bassa (lower) and Quarta Alta (higher). The Fifth tower has been named Torre Inglese.

Enrico lead us to Torre Quarta Bassa and told us this would be our first climb today. We were stunned: the tower looked huge when we stood by it. I started to have some doubts whether I could do this, but it was too late to turn back.

Jukka & Jon climbing Torre Quarta

We put on our harnesses, climbing shoes and helmets. Enrico lead fixing our ropes with quickdraws to the bolts. We simply followed the rope, picking up the quickdraws as we went by. Soon we were about half-way with a tricky section. First there was a scary traverse under a protruding overhang. The people on the ground looked small as I looked down, searching for the next step. We cleared the horizontal part quite easily, but the next hold up seemed problematic. My son went for it first and made it without issues. I followed and soon we were on the top of Torre Quarta. I had scratches on my hands already but felt triumphant as Enrico lowered us to the ground on the other side.

The clouds cleared while we had a relaxing pause between the towers. My iPhone indicated there was a geocache just a few meters away. Enrico had never tried geocaching, so we showed him how to search. The GPS was a bit jumpy between these tall towers. After looking under various rocks we found it.

Then we headed for the tallest tower: 140-meter Torre Grande. Enrico lead us to Cima Ovest (West Peak), assuring us it would be easy. I couldn’t help thinking we were about to climb twice the height of Helsinki Olympic Stadium tower.

The climb was divided into five lengths of rope. It was mostly easy, but it was long and high. I could hear people down on the meadows. When I looked down to see what they were doing, they looked small as ants.

Somewhere in the middle section my son shouted that he cannot reach the next hold for his hand. I quickly moved under him and pushed him up. Then we came to a traverse to the right without nothing to stand on. We grabbed the rock hard with our hands and somehow made it.

The remaining pitch felt relatively easy, and soon we reached the top of Torre Grande beside smiling Enrico. I felt so exhausted that I had to lie down on my back with my eyes closed for a while. The view was incredible. We felt euphoric while shooting photos.

Climbing Torre Grande

We were not finished yet. Five pitches up meant five pitches down as well. The safest way down was on the other side. We had to wait for some other climbers to get down before us. We carefully avoided dropping loose rocks. When rappelling down I hit my shin bulging sharp rock and got a nice scratch despite wearing long trousers. There was no pain, thanks to the adrenaline flowing in my veins.

Finally, we reached a trail down to the bottom of the tower. We quickly moved away as they were other climbers coming down already. They were perhaps too fast, and some rocks rolled down the steep slope. Soon we found our bags and stopped for some drinks and snacks. Then we hiked down to the 5 Torri hut. The restaurant was open, so we celebrated with drinks before returning to our hotel in early afternoon.

This was mentally one of the hardest workouts ever, and certainly, the most epic day of our week!
Grazie mille Enrico.