The Dolomites are hardly considered an ice-climbing destination. The range is instead known for long rock routes and via ferratas on soft and sometimes crumbling dolomite. In winter, it is transformed. “Exposed to winds from the north, snow often sticks to the vertical faces, transforming them into something reminiscent of the Himalaya,” writes Tyrolean climber Andreas Tonelli.
On March 16, Tonelli and Philipp Angelo, also of South Tyrol, completed one of the longest ice lines in the region. L’onda di Hokusai (WI5+ M3 60 degrees, 750m) climbs the northeast face of Molignon (2852m), in the Rosengarten region, so named for the unique pink dolomite in the area. The route climbs 10 pitches of pure ice split into two sections, with 150m of 45-degree snow between them. The penultimate pitch peters out into M3 terrain for 60m.
Tonelli discovered the route last December. “The long crest is traversed by the beautiful and panoramic Via Ferrata Laurenzi that links Molignon with the Antermoia valley, rendering this area fairly popular throughout the warmer months, but in winter there isn’t a soul in sight. I’ve often wondered if the face could be climbed in winter.”
Borrowing a pair of binoculars from the Flachkofel Zallinger hut, Tonelli spotted a thin runnel of ice that seemed to disappear before restarting farther down the face. Later, in January, while skiing the run off Antermoia from the Seiser Alm (the highest mountain plateau in Europe) with Angelo and Thomas Gianola, Tonelli saw the complete route. A section, hidden by a rocky outcropping from his earlier perspective, connected the two flows he had seen. Tonelli writes: “and now that we’d discovered this cold water, all we needed to do was pack our bags and set off…”
The pair’s first attempt on March 2 was too slow, and they abandoned the effort two pitches shy of the summit. They returned on March 16, this time with friends Thomas Gianola (17) and Klaus Baumgartner (18), who climbed behind them and completed the route’s second ascent. This time they moved faster, overcoming occasionally rotten ice and reaching the summit of Molignon as the sun was setting. “This is an outstanding vertical journey, long and demanding in a grandiose, wild environment,” Tonelli writes. And though pure ice lines like L’onda di Hokusai are still a rare find in the Dolomites, Tonelli and Angelo’s climb is hardly the only one. For alpinists seeking unclimbed winter lines in Europe, their pictures bespeak a wealth of possibilities.
The pair dedicated the climb to Manuel Moroder, a 15-year-old climber from Val Gardena who died in an avalanche on Monte Pic on February 3, and Giulio Longatti, a 37-year old alpinist from Bolzano who died in an avalanche on the Gran Zebru on March 16.