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Part of the north face of the Civetta, East Dolomites, Italy. (A) Punta Civetta (2920m), (B) Punta Tissi (2992m) and (C) Monte Civetta (3220m). The red line shows the famous diedre of the Philipp-Flamm (5.10c/d, 1050m, Flamm-Philipp, 1957), which in its day was considered the hardest climb in the Eastern Alps. The blue line is Nuvole Barroche (5.13a/b A2, 1250m, 35 pitches, Bez-de Bona, 1999). This, one of the most “alpine” routes in the Dolomites, had to wait until July this year for a second ascent. [Photo] Claudio Cima collection

The Italian Alessandro Bau, 26, and Alessandro Beber, 21, have made the long-awaited second ascent of Nuvole Barocche, an amazing line up the wall to the right of the famous Philipp-Flamm on the northwest face of the Civetta (3220m), East Dolomites, Italy. Nuvole Barroche was put up in 1999 by the prolific Dolomite activist Venturino de Bona with Piero Bez. It is one of the most “alpine” routes in the Dolomites, as it climbs one of the biggest and most renowned walls in the range, reaching the summit ridge of the Civetta just up and right of Punta Tissi (2992m). The thirty-five pitches that make up this ca. 1250-meter route have difficulties up to 5.13a/b with a little A2. The first nine pitches are protected naturally with difficulties from 5.8/5.9 to 10b. The middle section is partially bolted, contains the sustained free climbing and requires a pendulum on Pitch 12. From Pitch 23 onward the climbing is less sustained and there are two pitches in common with the rarely climbed Comici Route (5.9, 1400m of climbing, Comici-Benedetti, 1931) before three pitches (5.11c) on the upper pillar lead to easier ground and the summit ridge.

Bau had first noticed the wall in 2003, when he climbed his first big route on the Civetta, the Philipp-Flamm (5.10c/d, 1050m, Flamm-Philipp, 1957: when Reinhold Messner soloed this route in the late 1960s, a remarkable achievement for the time, it was considered the hardest route in the Eastern Alps). But Bau had no serious thoughts about Nuvole Barocche until the summer of 2005, when with Enrico Marini he made the second ascent of the neighbouring W Mejico Cabrones, another Venturino de Bona route put up solo in 2001 (5.11c, 33 pitches). This major route starts left of the Comici, cuts through it twice (with a few pitches in common), then forces a line directly up the exposed headwall that the Comici avoids on the right. There are only six bolts and thirty-five pegs in place, and some friable, overhanging rock high on the wall. Bau and Marini were particularly impressed by the boldness of the first ascensionist, who negotiated these brittle sections on his own.

Bau and Beber went up to the Tissi Hut in mid July, from where they could see the route was almost dry. They decided to attempt it straight away and set out on the morning of July 15. The central section proved very difficult. One pitch was wet and, although graded 5.12b on the de Bona topo, spat Bau off twice. Eventually skyhook moves got him to the belay but his resolve had weakened. He called Walter Bellenzier, the warden of the Tissi Hut, who boosted his morale and told him there was no way he should turn back from this point. Bau and Beber persevered to a hammock bivouac and the following day were able to telephone de Bona from high on the wall. De Bona was surprised they had made such good progress and told them they could probably make it out that day. Encouraged, the two Italians continued with renewed strength and after pulling through the exit pitches, were delighted to be greeted by de Bona, who had come up the Normal Route with celebratory beers to meet them on the summit ridge. Bau and Beber used aid on four pitches and think a completely free ascent might be possible at 5.13d.