#Exercise DELAGO TIGER is Exeter UOTC’s annual expedition to the Dolomite Mountains in N Italy. Our most ambitious trip yet, it comprised 29 Officer Cadets supported by fourteen rock climbing, Via Ferrata and mountaineering instructors and support staff. The OCdts were split into two groups, one for rock climbing the other for Via Ferrata and mountain walking. The rock climbers were split between complete novices and those with some experience and their programme comprised the Rock Skills Foundation course and a Multi-Pitch Assessment. The mountaineers were on a Summer Mountain Foundation course, though, this also aimed to undertake a variety of mountain and ridgeline Via Ferrata routes to maximise the adventurous opportunities the Dolomites can offer. The two weeks, camping throughout supported by our two ever cheerful chefs, Alex and Dai, start in the Cortina / Falzarego Pass area and then move to Canazei / Marmalada Glacier area for the second week, with the opportunity of a day off in Venice during the middle weekend.
The Dolomites are unrivalled for the preponderance of middle graded, easily accessible multi-pitched climbs available on sound rock surrounded by spectacular scenery and with an expectation of good late summer weather. The OCdts on the rockclimbing package were in pairs with an experienced Rock Climbing Instructor, this allows them to progress their skills much more quickly than in larger groups and to quickly move on to the more demanding and exhilarating multi-pitch climbs varying from 50-200 metres in height. The area is also renown for its wild mountainous scenery with vertiginous jagged limestone peaks offering demanding walking routes, mountain refuges and numerous Via Ferrata (Iron Road) routes. These latter originate from the WW1 campaigns fought in the Dolomites and were to enable troops to access and be supported, whilst living and fighting atop the lofty peaks. Now, with modern steel safety cables and a variety of ladders, metal staples and bars to provide hand and footholds to aid climbing, they allow non-climbers to ascend steep mountainous terrain in a safe and secure manner.
“As an inexperienced climber this trip offered everything from relaxed comradery in the campsite to adrenaline pumping pitches on steep exposed crags. The first day was spent learning skills and drills on single-pitch climbs, practising the belaying of other climbers, learning knots, climbing calls and ensuring we had mastered all the safety routines. Thereafter, the instructors did not hold-back and we swiftly set off to attempt a host of multi-pitched routes on the pinnacles at Cinque Torre, all necessitating an abseil to return to the ground. Our fifth and last day in the Falzarego Pass turned into an exhilarating 12-hour adventure. A chair lift and over an hour of steep walking then intense scrambling took us to the start point of the steep and remote Lagazoi Tower, which none of our instructors had climbed before. This comprised six separate pitches exposing us to steep chimneys, seemingly blank walls, exposed belay ledges and precarious traverses where loose rock required frequent shouts of ‘Below’ to warn other climbers! Steadily, we worked our way to the airy summit through ominous swirling clouds that offered both a sense of foreboding and occasional breaks giving glimpses of the magnificent surrounds. Four separate abseils were required to get back to ‘terra firma’ and as relative novices the steep, exposed terrain tested us all. We then ran and surfed down the scree slopes under a spectacular sunset, having missed the last lift down, arriving back to the minibus just before dark. What a day.”
OCdt Iona Roberts
“Some of the most memorable days in the Dolomites this year were spent on Via Ferrata, a method of traversing near vertical cliffs, clipped to steel cables often hundreds of feet above the valley floor. An experience that developed moral courage, team building and leadership amongst those involved whilst they conquered their personal fears. The most memorable day for me was waking up early for the sunrise, as its glow crept across the landscape around the Rifugio Alpe di Tires where we had spent the night. We then undertook two Via Ferratas, the first a grade 2 steadily revealed an amazing panorama of the surrounding mountains as we approached the top. The second, a grade 4 provided a much more technical challenge and sights to compliment, including the compulsory team photo at the top with the Marmolada Glacier in the background. The descent started with a long scree run, where you struggled to stay on your feet as the fine gravelly scree slid under one’s footfall and finished through a lush green valley with spectacular views of the surrounding peaks. An awe-inspiring and challenging day.”
OCdt Dan Fay
“As an intermediate climber, prior to the Dolomites, I had spent three days learning the basics of climbing on an indoor wall and on single-pitch outdoor routes. During the expedition, I climbed for an additional nine full days, earned the Rock Skills Foundation qualification and felt very confident on much longer and more demanding multi-pitch routes. Every route I climbed was certainly memorable and each helped develop my confidence with the array of climbing equipment, I gained a good head for heights and improved my climbing skills in situations often well outside my comfort zone. However, the three climbs I completed, one on each of the 150m high Vajolet Towers, comprising a total of 19 separate pitches and seven abseils, during a challenging two-day expedition whilst staying at the Refugio Alberto was unforgettable and a suitable finale to the expedition.’’
OCdt James Harley
The Dolomite Mountains offer a wealth of high-end and challenging adventure training opportunities for both the Officer Cadets and the instructors who all benefit hugely from the experience. Exeter UOTC is hugely grateful for the generous support provided by the Ulysses Trust over the last two years, which has provided a significant contribution towards the overall success of the expedition.