The Scariest Moment of my Life

The following from Five Ten rock climber Sasha Digiulian recounts a close call in the Dolomites.

“Free soloing a vertical cliff at 350 meters elevation is not where you will normally find me climbing. The difference between free climbing and free soloing is that, while free climbing you have protection and a rope so if you fall the fatality risk is actually very low; whereas, if you fall doing the latter, the fatality risk is almost certain. What keeps me from feeling inclined to free solo are the uncontrollable aspects of the sport. While climbing, it is beautiful to feel in complete control of yourself and your movements – to feel aware of your surroundings and to know that the utmost concentration is necessary in order to succeed upwards; however, this beauty comes with uncontrollable dangers like rocks breaking. At times in the Dolomites, the likelihood that the rock will break feels more likely than the possibility of it not breaking.

Photo courtesy
Photo courtesy

Although, desperate times call for desperate measures and what would a day of big wall climbing in the Dolomites be without being an epic one? I do not think that Edu and I found that out!

After sending Bellavista and having a few days to rest, recover, and take photos, we set out to do another Big Wall project. This time, we had our eyes set on an onsight attempt of  “Camillotto Pellissier,” a route up Cime Grande that includes pitches 7b+ – 7c – 8a+ – 8a – 7a – 8a+ – 6c+ – 6b – 6a – ….etc. (5.13c pitches) to the top of the tower. No female had free climbed the route before, so I was going for the first female ascent as well as for the onsight. We had been watching the forecast for a perfect day to climb (even though the forecast in Tre Cime is not very accurate), found a day with good weather, woke up early, and went for it. Edu led the first pitch, then I led the second, and we traded off like this for the whole route. The person who climbed second had to follow but they got to climb with the backpack full of RedBull, water, and food.

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Each pitch we successfully onsighted. By the time we got past the harder pitches, we were optimistic about the send and figured that we only had smooth sailing ahead. We were prepared with our Gore-Tex jackets just in case of an unexpected storm like on Bellavista.

Photo courtesy
Photo courtesy

The book did not mention that the top easy pitches did not have any pitons or bolts, though, so we were not prepared with friends or pitons to place. While the top section consists only of easy climbing, you are still vertical and 350 meters above the ground on loose rock, so ideally you have some form of protection. We were optimistic about finding at least some rusty pitons to place our draws in to and to keep a rope, though, after not finding anything for about thirty meters, we decided to just untie and climb simultaneously to the top.

Given our situation, we did not have too many options. Once you are at that height on the wall, your only option is up so you can descend the other side. I focused all my attention on keeping four-points plastered to the wall as often as possible and to check each rock before advancing. I zoned everything else out. The thought of falling was not something that occurred to me because it was something that I just could not let happen. That was until the crater-like rock that I thought was really solid – that I had my left hand and left foot on – ripped from the wall. I felt the jerk of the rock as it plundered first into my knee and then wisped into the long vat of air between the ground and me. My right arm and right foot seized to the wall and my heart skipped a beat. I had a death grip on my right side and all I thought in that moment was shift to the right and stay on the wall.

“The thought of falling was not something that occurred to me.”

This moment was a decade. Life went on pause and then I was searching for a sturdy new place for my left hand and foot to go. After this rock break I felt the enormity of the danger much more prevalently. I was scared but I could not stop because I knew we had to get to the top. I realized there is no room for complaining in a situation like that. Complaining will get you nowhere – only to a more negative mind set and it will detract from your attention to the task.

At the top, we began our treacherous descent. Like Bellavista, the first portion of the descent consisted of occasional sketchy rappelling off old pitons, and then just down climbing, ideally through crevasses.

After climbing three separate big walls, including our main project, and feeling lucky for being okay (albeit bruised) after our potentially fatal situations, we decided to spend the last four days of our trip comfortably sport climbing.

We went to Erto one day, (I sent Tucson), then Dardago (I sent Linea Calda!) for a photo shoot with Jensen Walker for a new Five Ten poster, and then to Frankenjura, Germany for the last day and a half. We felt nice and light climbing without all our gear like jumars, repel devices, grigris, approach shoes, etc., attached to us. Sport climbing sure was a comfortable regression.

You can never expand your comfort zone unless you step outside of it and test yourself. This trip, I certainly pushed new personal limits and I learned a lot about new gear, how to calmly deal with life-threatening situations, how to get through harsh circumstances, and I also experienced a whole new scope of challenging climbing that I had been unfamiliar with before. Going on a trip like this with someone that I could trust, get along with, and spend three-weeks straight with was essential. I had a blast with Edu Marin the Machine and I cannot wait for our next adventure!”

Photo courtesy
Photo courtesy