Climbing Cima Grande via Comici-Dimai (VII, 550m) – Dolomites, Italy
With one objective on our mind and a slew of post objective bagging plans, we set out early for the North Face of Cima Grande – one of the six classic alpine North Faces of Europe. Our plan was to climb the North Face via the Directissima (VIII+) route, more commonly referred to as Hasse-Brandler; however, as we approached the base of the climb we were surprised to find a Disneyland attraction-esque queue. As it turns out, our definition of early was somewhat skewed from our climbing compadres’ definition. A casual 5am start from the Rifugio Auronzo parking lot was about three hours behind that of the other climbers who intended to climb the North Face via its various routes – a party of four made its painstakingly slow route finding attempts at pitch one of Hasse-Brandler and three to four parties of two were in a traffic jam at the third pitch of the über classic Comici-Dimai, the first pitch of real difficulty on the route.
My climbing partner and I took some time to deliberate on what our plans were to be – or rather, what was the safest and most respectful way to ascend the North Face of Cima Grande. Given the slow ascension of the group on Hasse-Brandler, we almost immediately ruled out this as a viable option and then evaluated the safety of climbing Comici-Dimai behind so many parties where rockfall is a serious threat. We decided Comici-Dimai was our only ticket up and waited for the parties to traverse enough of the line to allow us to start climbing. Thankfully, we had stashed a topo for both the Hasse-Brandler AND Comici-Dimai routes. We scornfully tossed the Hasse-Brandler topo into the bottom of our pack and ever so carefully folded the Comici-Dimai topo in our pocket.
Comici-Dimai is a beautiful climb, arguably the most famous in the Dolomites, and one we had both intended to climb at some point in our climbing career. The majority of the pitches are very aesthetic and on clean rock. The physical crux is found very low on the climb, the mental crux is found nearly midway and the entirety of the climb is so elegantly positioned. We also enjoyed our first row seat to the party of four ascending the Hasse-Brandler route to our far left and a party of two on the mentally challenging ISO-2000 directly to our left.
Below is a pitch-by-pitch breakdown of the Comici-Dimai route, not intended to replace the guidebook (see quick reference section).
- (III) Climb an easy ramp, then left to enter a dihedral, formed by the ramp and the main wall, and finally left to a stance over a ledge.
- (IV) A dihedral-crack on the left leads to a small ledge.
- (VII- or VI A0) On the left-hand side of the stance, climb a thin crack (peg), then traverse left to another peg. Go straight up a yellow wall, then slant left and finally straight to a stance on the right.
- (VI+ or VI A0) Go straight up from the stance heading to a flake; climb it on the left, getting to another stance.
- (VII- or VI A0) Traverse left to a yellow corner and climb it.
- (VI) Climb another dihedral-crack, then exit right to a small ledge with two pegs. Another corner leads to a stance on the right.
- (VII- or VI A0) Traverse right to a small corner and climb it.
- (VII or VI A0) Slant right toward a small roof, traverse right under the roof and then climb up a gray wall leading to a stance over a ledge (Costantini variant starting point – goes straight up from here).
- (IV+) From this ledge Comici original route traverses left, reaching a chimney system, rising towards a significant black roof 100 m above.
- (IV+) More chimney. The chimney system leads to a terrace below a distinct black and yellow dihedral-crack.
- (V+) First of two pitches up the dihedral-crack.
- (V+) Continue up the dihedral-crack. Gain a small roof to your belay at a terrace.
- (IV+) Climb a black chimney (WET!), leading above the huge black roof (Aschenbrenner variant starting point).
- (IV) Original route traverses left 30 m (if you cut the traverse shy, you will end up on some looser and less attractive rock), while Aschenbrenner variant goes straight up.
- (IV) Climb a new chimney system.
- (IV) More chimney leading to the large circular ledge, the ringband (good place to unrope for competent parties). Follow the ledge 20 m climber’s right to a trail littered with cairns and easy chimneys to the summit.
Quick Reference Guide
Location: Tre Cime di Lavaredo – Dolomites, Italy
Best Time to Climb:
Late June to early September, depends on weather. August is the most consistent time. Thunderstorms and afternoon rain are common, plan accordingly.
- 60m rope (single or twins), or a single 70m
- set of nuts 1-10
- Cams 0.5, 1,2,3
- 16-20 alpine quick draws
- approach shoes
- comfy rock climbing shoes
- alpine climbing clothing (rain in the afternoon is typical)
From Rifugio Auronzo, follow the obvious fire road to a trail heading to the left, just before Rifugio Lavaredo. Follow along the right (North side) of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo group. The route starts at the far end of the middle tower, Cima Grande, up a broken pedestal. It is wise to wear your helmet while walking along the base of Cima Grande as it is highly exposed to rockfall.
Descend via the Normal Route. Large cairns indicate the top of the normal route, to climber’s left of Comici-Dimai. Abseil down the chimney (our 70m worked fine) and down climbing until reaching a scree slope. Follow the cairns left, until a short abseil leads a saddle. Once at the saddle, the Southeast Face, you reach a steep, east facing gully which can abseiled or down climbed (II). Traverse left along the ledge leading to the gully separating Cima Grande from Cima Piccola, follow the obvious and well-trodden trail. The entirety of the descent has blue markers indicating direction on descent and neon yellow circles indicating fixed abseil anchor points.
- Classic Dolomite Climbs, by Annette Kohler and Norbert Memmel
- Arrampicare a Cortina D’ Ampezzo e dintori, Dolomiti, by Mauro Bernardi
- Dolomites, West and East: Alpine Club Climbing Guidebook, by Ron James
- Rock Climbing Europe, by Stewart M. Green