Ken Roberts - - Climbing

what's here

later this year


see also:  more Europe stories | public discussion | more on Europe

climb Italy


Hexenstein Südkante / Sass di Stria Spigolo Sud

[ map ] - [ photo of peak ]

Fun route on a spectacular peak with straightforward access and walk-off descent. Chimney sections turned out to require very little specific chimney technique. Gi + I climbed it on a sunny Sunday. We had to wait in line for about half an hour at the base, but after that no delays.

Main lesson was that the route topo in the latest German language guidebook by Mauro Bernardi was much better than the one from the English translation of an older German guidebook. Also the description in the English-language Ron James (BMC) guidebook was pretty helpful.

memories on the route:

  • either high on second pitch or low on third pitch, just above a metal ring, better to step left and climb a small overhang than to go straight up obvious groove (which turns out not to have many positive holds).

  • first chimney pitch -- we went too high above after chimney to find belay, perhaps because one guidebook said the pitch was 45 meters. Better to have to gone farther left and found belay lower (which seemed significantly less than 45 meters).

  • second chimney pitch can be "broken up" for belaying into smaller sections. Anchor for second narrow slot behind flake is just above slot behind a rock.

  • final pitch was indeed somewhat polished, but seemed very climbable (perhaps since I had just had lots of practice the day before on polished rock in VF Rio Secco). A bit exciting getting to the first piton, after that I was able to place additional protection from my Trad rack.

VF Gianni Costantini

This is a great via ferrata for those who want to do a long route with a wide variety of mountain situations and many many opportunities to climb with hands + feet directly on the rock (much it of good quality). Often said to be the biggest VF route in the Dolomites. The installed equipment was well-designed and currently in excellent condition. Non-cable-protected sections well-marked with orange paint dots.

Unexpected that I got to do it together with my long-time backcountry skiing partner Gi. He had warned about all the new snow he saw on Saturday while driving down from Germany over the Brenner pass. From looking at webcams, I was optimistic about at least the south faces, so I insisted that we drive up out of the low Adige river valley to get a good luck at the eastern Dolomites -- and we were surprised how little snow we could see -- even though there were large expanses of white plainly visible even on the south faces of the mountains up north along the Austria-Italy frontier. Gi's suggestion is that the ground surface is much warmer (? especially this year ?) farther south, so the new snow melts quickly.

The parking for VF Costantini is at Passo Duran (latitude/longitude approx: N46.3240 E12.0956). northeast from Agordo (which is to the southeast of most of the mountain VF routes in the Dolomites.) The climb and hut are roughly to the north side of the road.

observations + reflections:

  • Easy walk from parking up to the modern hut Rifugio Carestiato (lucky it was open this late in the season) - where we stopped for coffee on the way up, and snack + drink on the way down.

  • Short well-marked approach hike to start of cable, out behind the hut. Note that with the re-routing of trail 554, the approach to the VF is no longer on 554 -- but the return on the descent still uses the re-routed trail 554.

  • I was surprised how much climbing (much of it fun + interesting) I was able to do with my hands directly on the rock, and how few times I grabbed the cable for aid.

  • There's a long-ish hiking section in the middle of the VF route, which gets a little boring. But actually that's no more hiking than many VF routes have before reaching the bottom, so proportional to the very large scale of the route, I don't see it as a big deal.

  • The most difficult section up to the first peak (Masenade, 2737m) is an overhanging traverse, which surely is strenuous, but fairly short, and with good footholds offered.

  • There's another difficult traverse going for (and returning from) the second higher peak (Moiazza Sud, 2878m) which does not have footholds in the rock, but it's shorter. Also on the way up to Moiazza Sud ... a direct-straight-up strenuous section finishing with a slight overhang (but not required to be repeated on descent, if take the "normal" Angel's Ledge descent route).

  • The traverse northeast along the ridge from the first summit (Masenade) toward the second summit (Moiazza) at first looked boring, but turned out to be interesting.

  • The summit of Moiazza Sud is not so remarkable, so if feeling short on time or energy, consider skipping it. There is some interesting climbing on the way up and back, but not all that different from elsewhere on the route.

  • Do not do the "normal" descent to the west by Bivouac Ghedini if it's wet or snowy. (There's an alternate descent east from Forcella Masenade).

  • The "normal" descent by Bivouac Ghedini to the west and then south is pretty interesting compared with lots of other VF routes. Lots of descending while grabbing on the cable, which I think is fun. Much of the non-cable sections of the trail well-designed so that while the overall terrain was steep, the steps down on the trail were mostly not super-steep. Of course there were some loose gravelly sections, like any real mountain descent. Finally trail 554 back to the hut was pretty pleasant. The main "problem" with the descent is that it's long.

  • We started from the hut soon after the sun hit the hut, and found we stayed mostly in shade for a long ways up the route.

  • Pronunciation + spelling of the name "Costantini" -- be careful: only two of letter "n".

VF Spigolo della Bandera + VF Enrico Franco

[ map VF Spigolo Bandera ]

These two nice routes are not in the Dolomites, nor in the "usual" Lake Garda area, rather off on the south-west side of the Lago di Garda, near the town of Salo (in the province of Lombardia). Both routes allow opportunities lots of fun interesting moves with hands + feet directly on the rock which is mostly good. Both are near a hut (Rifugio Pirlo) with a nice view.

The only defect I noticed with either route is that I wish they were longer. Anyway the approach is a pleasant shaded hike mostly along a creek -- so perhaps best to consider it as an overall package of pleasant snack on a terrace with a view, pleasant uphill hike, and some nice climbing moves.

VF Ernesto Franco is much harder, but shorter. I was surprised how much I could do with hands directly on the rock (interesting + thoughtful), but many of the rock holds are pretty small, so I actually wore by technical rock-climbing shoes for that one.

Driving: I found it a bit tricky to drive to ... the turn-off on the northeast end of the town of Salo is not so well-marked, and the traffic pattern for the sharp turn is not easy. The other end of the scenic loop road is farther east along the lake, likely between Barbarano + Toscalano Moderno (but I didn't get to check that out because a section toward that end was closed for construction). Also there's a "false" road out of Barbarano which some GPS road navigators attempt to put you on, but it doesn't go through to anywhere the VF and gets frighteningly narrow. The loop road is nice asphalt, and the asphalt continues after the turn-off north from high village of San Michele toward Colomber. But then after less than 1 km the road surface turns to dirt. Most people parked by the end of the asphalt and hiked from there, about 2.25 km until the narrow dirt road ends, turns into just a hiking trail.

  • I did them in the recommended sequence: VF Bandera on the way up to the hut, VF Franco on the way down -- worked well.

  • You can see the rock for VF Ernesto France by looking roughly straight out (ESE) from the terrace of Rifugio Pirlo. Then you get to it by just walking gently on the forest road toward Passo Spino. Sign for VF along the road, the rock face and cables start just just a couple of meters above the road. From the top of the VF walk around the east side of the cliff back down to the road not far from its start.

  • Guidebook: Klettersteig-Atlas Italien, band 1 Italien West, by Sacha Hoch, Michael Ruettinger, Joerg Zitzmann (, 2008) was very helpful. It also covers north central and northeast Italy.

GPS latitude/longitude (approximate): 

  • turn-off near Salo for west end of scenic loop road up San Michele: (N45.6113 E10.5390)

  • ? turn-off for east end of scenic loop road: (? N45.626 E10.583 ?)

  • turn-off from scenic loop at village of San Michele, north toward Colomber + VF parking: (N45.6365 E10.5506)

  • parking at end of asphalt: (N45.6428 E10.5487) * hiking trail begins at end of dirt road: (N45.6663 E10.5467)

  • junction of trails for approach + descent: (N45.6749 E10.5576)

  • bottom start of VF Spigolo della Bandera: (N45.6762 E10.5579)

  • hut - Rifugio Pirlo: (N45.6780 E10.5570) * bottom start of VF Ernesto Franco: (N45.6763 E10.5624)

  • Passo Spino - junction on descent: (N45.6756 E10.5631)

VF Roccabianca

[ map of Parking ]

Lots of fun moves with hands + feet directly on rock, some was nice schist(?).

By the village of Caprie in valley of Susa / Torino, with a set of sport climbing routes below it.

  • Guidebook: Klettersteig-Atlas Italien, band 1 Italien West, by Sacha Hoch, Michael Ruettinger, Joerg Zitzmann (, 2008) was very helpful. It covers northeast and north central Italy and also around Lake Garda + Arco + Trento + Adige valley.

GPS - approx latitude/longitude:

  • Parking: (N45.1207 E7.3370)

  • bottom of first Via Ferrata section: (N45.1228 E7.3384)

  • bottom of second VF section: (N45.1231 E7.3366)

  • top of Via Ferrata route: (N45.1236 E7.3352)

climb France

Mont Aiguille by Tour des Gemeaux

12sep - [ photos | slideshow Picasa ] - [ map ]

Overall: Good outing on a peak with a dramatic look. Not the very best limestone climbing, but interesting enough, and mostly on sound rock, with a remarkable grassy summit.plateau. Descent goes better than I expected (but due to some loose rock, I would avoid doing it when crowded).

Mont Aiguille was the first technical mountain climb in history. Looks like a peak from the Dolomites got dropped into the side of a wide French valley.

[ CampToCamp description ]

Access: We started from the south side because we were meeting people who drove up from Marseille -- which worked fine. (otherwise I don't know any advantage of parking south versus north). On south side, some people park near the end of the asphalt road, others drive higher on the dirt road to parking higher up. The trail starts on the dirt forest road from the higher parking, but then very soon turns right off the forest road. Well-designed up to the pass, then east and around the north side.

Better to stay on the (unmarked) trail all the way to the start of the climb, not take shortcuts. So continue traversing east past the bottom of the (not very prominent) tower (:"tour") of Gemeaux, until reach a definite small rib with some trees on it. Follow the unmarked trail up the rib. Then the way to normal route goes left and the trail to Tour des Gemeaux goes right (south west), then behind a flake. The climb starts on top of the flake. (Descent route used if have double-ropes will come out very close to here).

Pitch 1: Intimidating start: Step across the gap onto the main face, not many holds visible. Difficulty of the lower section is very height+reach dependent ("morpho"). If body height is much less than 169 cm / 66.5 inches, then there are two moves which are much harder than the normally quoted grade.

Pitch 4: The 5c+ section is intimidating to get into, footholds are polished. You keep reaching up thinking there must be a positive handhold somewhere, but there isn't -- just have to pull thru on slopy holds -- or grab a quickdraw for aid. The hard part is straight up and well-protected, then the traverse is much easier.

Pitch 5: Thoughtful climbing with a lack of positive holds, and less protection opporutunities than I would have wished (good thing Yan-Eric was leading it).

Further toward the summit we did a lot of simul-climbing (with some loose rock), trying to stay more on ridge sections (which were interesting). Almost to the top, Yan-Eric tried a "direct" finish up a crack, which looked intimidating (and not well protected) but turned out to go at not more than 5b.

Descent route - (double ropes required): A long ways down a gully, with some climbing moves, some loose rock, often can avoid the worst rockfall danger by going a little on one side or the other. Then a nice 30-meter rappel down the gully. Down a little farther, then up out of gully to right with short traverse to rappel anchor. If have two 60-meter ropes, can aim the rappel rope more toward the right (east), and if the first person down uses some care in getting the rope past some "steps" in the lower gully, saves time on getting down the bottom gully, which comes out just a short ways from start of climb.

[ photos | slideshow Picasa ] - [ map ]

traverse of Aretes du Gerbier

12sep - [ map ]

[ AltitudeRando description | [ CampToCamp description ]

photos : [ AltitudeRando ]

Fun climbing along the top of a spectacular narrow ridge.

Georges and I parked on the west side near Villard-de-Lans and did the traverse north-to-south, starting up the gully toward the Double Breche, finishing at the normal point which is well north of the end of the ridge at Pas de l'Oeille.


  • Rappel? No need to make a rappel at the south end of the ridge, if finishing at the normal point (and not trying to continue to the full south end "integrale", which I've heard does requjire a rappel, and with a rope longer than 30 meters). About a 100 meters south of the Gerbier summit, there is an obvious end of the ridge. To avoid rappelling, just find a way scrambling down toward the east, then squeeze under a roof to go around a corner toward the south, unusual but with good footholds. Then join the normal descent slope to the west.

  • Gear: Any shoes with reasonably adherent rubber will do -- technical rock-climbing shoes not necessary. For protection, a single 30 meter rope, a few long slings (for horns + threads) and a small number of quickdraws is sufficient - (no use for stoppers or cams).

  • The gully on the west side of the Double Breche has a move (with a knotted rope) which is pretty tricky when wet. This gully can be avoided by an alternate route to its north side (see no CampToCamp), or simply by hiking to Col Vert (much longer). Plenty of rockfall opportunity in that gully -- not a place to be with another party above - (suggest use rope only where necessary, since the rope itself can dislodge rocks). Note the CampToCamp description gives an alternate ascent which avoids the gully - (? or could just start on the ridge much farther north at Col Vert ?).

  • Direction or traverse? Often recommended to do it N-to-S, I think mostly because descending from the Double Breche is less pleasant than descending the south. Also I guess that if doing the "full" south end of the ridge, it is very difficult (or impossible?) to climb that in the S-to-N direction. If extending the north end to Col Vert, than I guess there's a better "crescendo" if start with the easier hiking + scrambling at the north end, then finishing on the more dramatic rock sections south of the Double Breche.

  • Park on which side, West or East? We parked on the west side near Villard-de-Lans. On a different day I tried parking on the east side, at slightly higher altitude. I explored the east gully of the Double Breche -- the bottom seemed ugly, dirty, loose -- so I turned back. Went back down, then traversed way south and hiked up over Pas de l'Oeillle to the south end of the normal route. Interesting hike, but requires going down a ways on west side between "normal" south end of ridge traverse and the Pas. So parking on the east side does not save any vertical climbing unless you do the full south "integrale" finish of the traverse (which requires a longer rope for required rappel), likely can only be done in N-to-S direction. Perhaps could avoid east gully of Double Breche by starting ridge traverse farther north at Col Vert.

l'Obiou : voie Paul Arthaud

12sep - [ photos | slideshow Picasa ] - [ map ]

The Obiou is the highest peak in the Devoluy group, pretty complicated terrain with an interesting look.

Not a great climb, but has some interesting sections, and it's surely a more interesting than the normal hiking route as a.way to get to the summit or one of the climbing routes on the upper mountain.

[ CampToCamp description ]

HIking approach to the cave below the route fairly straightforward. Steep scramble up to base of route not as hard as it looked. Yan-Eric and I started climbing a bit to left side of gully - likely would have been better to go higher start more toward right side. Higher up there were times when maybe the climbing would have been more interesting if we had stayed more on the arete.

At the top of the second pillar it would have been possible to escape by traversing left (south) roughly horizontally to meet the normal route. But we down-climbed into the (loose) gully for more climbing. The next pitch (with short worthwhile climbing) goes up the right side of the gully, then a gentle section with much loose rock, then another short worthwhile climbing section, then another gentler section to what seemed like top of gully. Weather seemed threatening, so we escaped to the normal route (which we descended without going to the summit).

There was one more pitch of climbing above which we did not do, but rumor is that it was not very sound rock anyway - (? though perhaps it might have been a shorter way to reach the Chatieres route to the summit ?)

Descent by normal route was not so much fun -- very steep hiking trail on sloping rock surface. Not a place to be the rock were wet. So we thought it was a good thing that we had abandoned going to the summit given any threat of rain.

crag Roche Corbière / Rochetaillée / Pilat

Parc naturel régional du Pilat, near St-Emilion SW from Lyon

We used the new guidebook (? 2008 ?) for Parc Pilat, helpful photos.

We climbed only single-pitch routes on the Gendarme, but multi-pitch routes are available on the main rock. Lots of fun moves on schist with good holds. [ CampToCamp description ]

(near Via Ferrata du Planfoy, which we did not visit)


  • near Exit 21 from highway N88: latitude-longitude approx (N45.4197 E4.4115)

  • Parking: latitude-longitude approx (N45.3951 E4.4483)
    . . . (main rock is visible above from the Parking.

crag Petit Desert near Grenoble

Easy access hiking, close driving east up from Grenoble.

We climbed the section closest to the parking - limestone was somewhat polished, many handholds were embedded flint (silex) which tended to be sharp + slippery. Interesting moves.

Nice quiet atmosphere (but can be crowded on weekends). West-facing.

GPS - latitude-longitude approx:

  • parking (N45.1778 E5.6813)
    walk on forest road north from the parking, but after not more than 100 meters go right onto trail going down at first, then up NW to junction w another trail ...

  • junction of trails (N45.1794 E5.6813)
    then a little farther turn L onto a trail going NW to ...

  • S end of crag (N45.1814 E5.6796)

  • N end of crag (N45.1843 E5.6783)

VF Crolles : Cascade de l'Oule

12sep : photos + story by David

I climbed two routes near Grenoble, both accessed from the same cog railway / funicular.  I'm generally not in favor of via ferrata the "French" style (lots of metal rungs + bars, not much direct contact with rock), I liked these routes well enough -- rather impressed with the harder one.

Key thing I liked a lot the Crolles site is ... No walking down ... (unless you like that sort of thing). Instead go down on the cog railway. Also use the cog railway to greatly shorten the approach hike to the bottom of the VF. They sell a special ticket for VF climbers.

"Cascade de l'Oule" is what the cliff area is called: in its midst is a waterfall. The Difficult route goes next to its bottom and later to a pool at its top. The super-difficult route requires a short side-trip to visit the waterfall.

Another notable feature shared by both routes is a very long horizontal ledge which can be walked on (with cable for security) with a big view over the Isere river valley and to the wild Belledonne mountains. The area is also popular for parapente flying -- the main launch site is near the top of the VF routes.

some helpful info at
* cog railway / funicular website
* Crolles city website

VF Vire des Lavandieres

La Vire des Lavandieres is the non-super-difficult route. It has several overhanging moves, so it deserves its rating of D = Difficile, and it requires athletic arm strength - (though since it's a "French" style VF route, the hands grab usually-well-positioned metal rungs or bars, not hauling on the cable like "Italian" style)

VF Grand Dièdre

Le Grand Diedre (Great Dihedral or "open book") is the super-difficult route, rated ED = Extreme Difficile. The overhanging moves are more overhanging, and come in sustained overhanging sequences in the Great Dihedral -- which is a remarkable rock feature for climbing -- starts overhanging and continues roughly vertical for a long ways -- so I was looking straight down a long ways thru open air.

Usually thought to be one of the two hardest VF routes in France (the other is VF Grotte Carret, an hour's drive to the north). Because the sequences of hard moves on the Grand Diedre are so long + sustained, definitely bring special equipment resting on a VF route without any weight supported by your hands - (for me that's a 50cm leash / longe / cow's tail with a large carabiner attached to my harness belay loop.

I'd say it should only be attempted by people with extensive experience with overhanging rock-climbing routes. Seemed like many of the moves on the Grand Diedre are roughly as hard as moves on overhanging climbing routes rated 5b (or perhaps 5c?) at the nearby Espace Vertical indoor climbing gyms in Grenoble. But falling with a via ferrata kit tends to have more impact on your body (and the kit) than falling in rock climbing with a rope. And if you do not have the strength to continue climbing on the Grand Diedre, getting "stuck" in the middle of a vertical cliff outdoors could be a big problem.

So it's best to be solid climbing at least 5c -- and to have lots of endurance climbing 5b/5c (like be able to multiple laps on strenuous indoor overhanging routes with no rest in between).


  • Some of the harder sections of the Grand Diedre get sun in the morning, but go into shade after 14:00 in afternoon.

  • If use the cog railway / funicular special VF ticket to get access to these routes, they make a special stop around mid-height on the railway to let climbers get off. Then walk on trail upward and to left (South) of railway tracks -- some steep switchbacks, some traverses left, short cable sections and at least one creek-crossing before reaching the bottom of the two VF routes.

  • Rockfall is a definite possibility: Be careful about getting anywhere underneath other climbers (tho rocks could also be dislodged by walkers along the upper rim, or even just by wind or rain) -- and wear a rock-climbing helmet.

  • To visit the waterfall when doing the Grand Diedre, at the top of the starting section shared by both routes, go left a short ways roughly horizontal following La Vire des Lavandieres route to the waterfall.

  • The difficulty of higher sections of La Vire des Lavandieres is roughly comparable to the difficulty of the shared starting section.

  • But higher sections of the Grand Diedre are much harder than the initial shared section. So unless you're finding the starting section pretty easy, likely should not try the Grand Diedre route.

  • Just before the top of La Vire des Lavandieres, if looking for something harder, it is possibly to make a long roughly horizontal traverse to the left (south) and join the finish of the Grand Diedre route.

  • At the top of any of the routes, walk on a trail toward the right (north) to reach the top station of the cog railway / funicular.

  • ? optical illusion? Seems like many photos of the Grand Diedre route make it look like there’s a downhill section in the lower half. Actually out there on the rock that section is horizontal. And another horizontal in the upper half. No downhill on that route.


  • parking at bottom station + ticket office of cog railway / funicular: . . latitude-longitude approx (N45.2998 E5.8983)

  • bottom start of VF routes: . . latitude-longitude approx (N45.3049 E5.8893)

more . . .

see also


concept words: roberts Europe European visit trip vacation holiday American visitor report reports

climbing: technical rock mountain free climb climber climbers

routes: climbs route routes tour tours map maps

places: cliff cliffs rocks mountains peak peaks group place state country region regions area areas

escalade escalades steig steigen

via ferrata: klettersteig cable-protected