The guide to rock climbing cinque torri
Just a few more steps and you’re there. My entire body is on fire, droplets of sweat dripping down my face. You can do it. My legs feel like lead. I was carrying a large chunk of our trad climbing kit, hiking up this steep, steep hill. Angus and I were too cheap to pay for the chairlift. After what felt like hours later, we finally arrived at the top. All that breathing, all that burn and all that prolific sweating became forgotten, and what lay before me was something words can’t describe. I dropped by pack down, and sat in the grass, enjoying the view. I was in mountain heaven.
Cinque Torri, or Five Towers in Italian, is one of the cornerstones of climbing in the Dolomites. Each tower its unique in its own, and has a variety of climbing with grades from 3 to 8b. There’s tons of routes for both alpinist and sport climbers alike. And it’s now one of my most favourite places ever. If you’re reading this, you may be climbing Cinque Torri soon. You’re probably curious to find some details you couldn’t find anywhere else, because let’s be real. You like reading all about your next adventure before you actually embark on it. I know I did.
Transportation by car: From Cortina d’Ampezzo, take the SS48 and follow signs for the Falzarego Pass. Drive the windy pass for just under 15km until you see a large and well signed ‘Cinque Torri charilift’ and ‘Rifugio Bai de Dones’ car park on the left. Drive carefully and tune into any loud honking noises, because lots of buses go through this pass and you’ll have to let them pass through the windy bits. The Cinque Torri chairlift car park is free.
Transportation by bus: In the summer, there is a regular bus service (either Dolomiti bus or Cortina Express) that takes you from the Cortina d’Ampezzo bus station up through the Falzarego Pass. The bus driver almost always stops at the Cinque Torri chairlift, but for good measure, we let him know that’s where we were headed. The bus ride took a little less than 30 minutes. In the summer, the bus runs every hour or every 2 hours, depending on their schedule. You can pick up a schedule at the bus station. Tickets cost about 4 euro each way.
From the Charilift: Once you’ve reached the chairlift, you can take the chairlift for 15 euro return. The chairlift will get you up there in about 10-15 minutes. However, if you’re cheap like us, you can walk up under the chairlift, which is about an hour’s hike.
Climbing Cinque Torri
We spent 2 days climbing Cinque Torri. On both days, the air was cool, crisp, fresh. We started with some warm ups on Torre Terza/Latina at the School of Rock crag, then proceeded to head to Torre Grande, the biggest tower. I hopped onto Fra Fra, a classic Dolomites 6a climb as onlookers and tourists watched on. Fra fra by far felt like the hardest 6a start I’ve ever done. It begins with a bouldery, strong move that requires you to hold onto a crimp with your left hand, then bump from your shitty right hold onto a jug on the top of a far lip. It’s not a move for the weak. After a few tries, I hoisted myself up on top of the lip, my arms already feeling the familiar burning sensation of a pump. The rest of the climb felt like a pleasant scramble compared to the start.
The next day was an experience for the books. It was going to be my first multi-pitch, lead trad climb. I was nervous as hell. Have I mentioned that I’m terrified of heights? Yup, and I was going to be up. On a cliff. Over 400 feet up, actually. Naturally, I wanted to do a climb that was fun, highly rated but one that did not make me piss myself scared. We opted for another classic Dolomites climb, the Via Normale Quarta Bassa, a 3/3 star climb rated at a III+. What we didn’t realise, however, was that this climb was completely bolt-protected. So, the “trad” climb felt more like a multi-pitch sport climb, to be honest. But, I wasn’t complaining. It was a relaxing climb, with 3 pitches and excellent holds. Once we got to the top, we got a great view of the rest of the Dolomites.
Instead of abseiling the entire way down, we went down one pitch, and went left to climb the Via Normale Quarta Alta (IV-). This other highly rated trad climb shares the initial two pitches with Via Normale Quarta Bassa, then veers off to the left up to Torre Quarta Alta. This climb had some bits of protection, but allowed us to practise lead trad at the same time. I know some outdoor purists wouldn’t count it as trad climbing, but I certainly did. I felt safer and more confident knowing that at least my belayer was tied into a bolt, and that I didn’t have to rely on ALL my trad gear to keep me on the wall for the first time. It was a good half-way point between trad and sport. We sent the two pitches up to the top of Torre Quarta Alta, where we got to check out the other climbers climbing Cinque Torri.
Things to note
Layers are all the rage. They keep you warm when you’re on top of a climb, shielding you from the wind. They’re easy to take off when you’re in the middle of your climb and realise that you really didn’t need to be wearing your down jacket. I was so thankful to have all my layers at the bottom of the carpark, during my climb and at the top of Torre Quarta Alta.
Bring water and food. Cinque Torri is a climbing mecca but also a tourist destination. The rifugio nearby sells food, but you’ll be paying a good €5 for a simple ham and cheese sandwich. Make some sandwiches ahead of time, stay hydrated and your body will thank you.
Get a guidebook. We got the The Dolomites – Rock Climbs and Via Ferrata (Rockfax Climbing Guide) (Rockfax Climbing Guide Series). It kept us in the know-all. It showed us descriptions of all the climbs, its rating, its grade and everything else we needed to know. If you’re climbing in the Dolomites at all, this book is a must-have.
Overall, climbing Cinque Torri is something I’ll never forget doing. The climbs, the views, the experiences were a dream and a half. It’s another place in my big heart that I’ve fallen in love with, and I cannot wait to go back.