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Weeks after making the second ascent of one of Europe’s best granite multipitch climbs, Siebe Vanhee has repeated Project Fear, a 550-meter 8b+/c (5.14a/b) on the North Face of Cima Ovest di Lavaredo in the Italian Dolomites. He linked the three crux pitches in a single 50-meter roof pitch. Then he downgraded it.
Established by Dave MacLeod and Alan Cassidy in 2014, Project Fear is a connection between the Bauer Route—an aid line first climbed in 1968 by Gerhard Bauer, Eric Rudolph, and Walter Rudolph—and Pan Aroma, a 500 meter 8c (5.14b) first done by Alex Huber in 2007.
After tackling the first 90 meters—three pitches—of the Bauer Route, Project Fear adds three original pitches before connecting with Pan Aroma. At 6c (5.11b) the first of these pitches is light fare, but the second and third pitches—originally graded 7b+ (5.12c) and 8a+ (5.13c)—voyage through the 40 meter great roof before connecting directly into the 8c (5.14b) pitch of Pan Aroma. (Watch MacLeod’s ascent here.)
On his blog, MacLeod describes the route as “both the hardest and definitely the finest route I’ve climbed in my five or so trips to the Dolomites over the past 13 years.”
Vanhee began trying the route in late August with Pete Lowe, and the duo spent two days working the crux pitches. Lowe inflamed an old injury and decided to suspend his efforts, forcing Vanhee to find another partner, but Vanhee gives credit for the pitch-linking vision to him.
“He came up with the idea to link all the pitches that go through the roof,” Vanhee says. The new link connects the three pitches of Project Fear, doing a 5.12c into a 5.13c into the 5.14b crux pitch in a single push. He had to climb with extra long slings to minimize rope drag.
Supported by Nico Cad, a tough Dolomite local, Vanhee started up the wall at 8:00 a.m. on August 29th. “It was freezing cold and clouds were visible in [the] distance, adding to the spice of the route. Once [we] arrived at the base of the roof, at the start of the 7b+, I racked up with long slings aiming for the link up. Linking the 7b+ into the 8a+ felt good. At the start of the 8c is a great rest where I could recover fairly good. I continued and got into the first crux where my foot came off. I had super cold feet and was probably too nervous.”
After lowering to the anchor, Vanhee rested for 15 minutes, then tried again. “This time I felt warmed up, had warm feet and believed I could do it! I got past the first crux and entered the second crux pretty solid. Going to the final jug over the lip I suddenly lost my grip in the last pocket and came off.”
Devastated by having come so close, and convinced he had only enough energy for one more good try, he rested for a full hour while Cad, who “was the best support ever,” hung out patiently in the cold.
On his final try, after making it through the first two sections, Vanhee shook out under the 5.14b, pondering the cruxes above him in the roof. “I recovered completely and took off. Arriving at the lip of the roof I gave it all and this time stuck the final jug.”
He screamed in triumph, and his screams “were answered by my crazy Italian belayer and a big audience at a small hut below Cima Ovest.” It was three more hours of climbing—with some snowfall added to the mix—before they reached the top.
Concerning the grade, Vanhee feels that it needs revising. “Macleod’s 8a+ felt more like 8a and the 8c of Pan Aroma more like 8b. I don’t want to underestimate the work and impressive first ascents of both MacLeod and the Huber brothers. I can understand how intimidating a first ascent in this roof on this kind of rock might be back in the day! Thank you all for the work and imagination. With the new grading of the separate pitches I would consider the grade 8b+ or 8c for the link up of the 7b+, 8a and 8b.”
Regardless of the grade, he says, the route offers amazing movement in a “magical place.”