Hi Stefano, tell us why you decided to climb this particular routeThis route was the first ascent in the Dolomites that I made with Silvia Loreggian, it was 2016 and we had just met. At the time, it was a nice challenge that helped us consolidate our climbing relationship and start dreaming about future projects. Before this year's winter solo ascent, therefore, I already had a beautiful memory of Moulin Rouge.
Furthermore, I knew and appreciated the opening style of the first ascentionists, having repeated many routes of Christoph Hainz and his companions: pitons, where they are needed, are there and they are usually well placed too. During my ascent I had to hammer in just a couple of pitons, but relatively not important as the belays are often on 3 or even 4 points.
I wanted to repeat a route that had been opened from the bottom using only traditional pitons, trying to climb as free as possible without doing aid. I am absolutely not against spits in the mountains, but having even just the belays with a bolt would have changed the game and I certainly would not have had the same adventure.
Why climbing solo?I have always been inspired and motivated by the solo achievements of the great mountaineers of the past and present.
Furthermore, in my learning and growth as a mountaineer, I have always felt the need to measure myself and to have confirmations about the path I was on. Moulin Rouge was one of them.
Why in winter?I started to think about a solo ascent of Moulin Rouge in summer, perhaps with a paraglider. However, thanks to the increasingly winters with few snows and the rising temperatures, I dreamt and imagined the possibility of a winter ascent, with a little more engagement. So, when I saw the last window of good weather at the end of March, I decided it was time to pack my backpack and set off.
Have you done a lot of solos in your life?I would say no. Even if I think about it often, try things out and think about techniques and materials, I certainly can't consider myself a veteran of rope soloing (editor's note: solo climbing with a rope, as opposed to free soloing in which there is no rope). I prepared myself for the self-securing manoeuvres at the crag and in the winter of 2022 I climbed Delenda Cartago at the first tower of the Sella. Everything had gone well, and I had planned to climb Roda di Vael the following week, but due to various commitments I had to postpone. In the end, I postponed the project until the following winter.
What was the unknown that worried you most about the climb?Definitely not being able to get to the top before dark.
The wall is very overhanging and the pitches of the route often go sideways. A solo abseil would have cost me a lot of effort and material to leave behind.
In addition, the wall never offers comfortable places to bivouac, except on the last two pitches. At that point, however, I would have been near the end and it would have made more sense to continue in the dark. I therefore decided to climb lightly and not carry a sleeping bag and cooker, trying to reach the summit in one day.
Which part actually proved to be the most challenging?The final part of the route, probably due to tiredness, was where I suffered the most. In order not to waste time, I ate and drank very little during the day. On some pitches, in order to prevent the bag from getting stuck, I decided to attach it to my harness while I was ascending. This led me to get tired quickly and suffer from arm cramps on the last three pitches of the route.
Was it as hard as you expected, more or less?It was definitely more tiring than I thought it would be: being alone involves a lot of extra work, you make and unmake belays all the time, you prepare each pitch in great detail to avoid snags that could cause you to lose precious time. On each pitch I spun the ropes into the rope bags, split the rope fixed for the ascent as I rappelled and was very careful in handling the lower out of the bag.
I must be honest, it was a lot of work trying to get to the top before dark: I worked my head down without interruption and perhaps this meant that I didn't have much time to let my thoughts go free and get excited. It was only when, in the red light of dusk, I secured myself at the last belay below the summit plateau that I realised I had made it and the feeling, yes, it was very strong.
Were you talking aloud to yourself? How was your inner dialogue?I always talk to myself. :) Sometimes out loud and sometimes mentally. It helps me a lot to reason and make decisions in difficult moments. I try to analyse the situation on every pitch, both uphill and downhill, by talking and repeating out loud what I was doing. Sometimes talking to yourself also helps you not to feel alone and to make the situation more 'normal'.
Climbing solo you were always moving, never stationary. Did you take your shoes off sometimes during the day?Before leaving I looked at the various shoes available and in the end I opted for a pair of Scarpa Boostic which were wide enough not to be painful, but which I still used at the crag as a precise shoe. This choice consequently forced me to climb without socks, and in the first part of the route I suffered a little from the cold.
At the belay, I always took off my heel and, when the belay allowed me to move, I put my Phantom Tech back on for the ascent. It wasn't always possible, partly because I didn't want to lose precious time. On the last pitches my feet were really bad.
On the other hand, having the Boostics for free climbing was the best: I climbed well and they gave me a lot of confidence in the more difficult passages.
Do you see more challenging solo climbs in your future?I have some projects in my head, but I don't want them to become obsessions. If I have the right combination of elements, as I did for Roda di Vael, I will go very happily. For now I don't have anything planned.
What was the most beautiful moment of your ascent?When I secured myself at the last belay and saw the snow on the summit plateau just a few metres away, I realised that I could finally let go of the accelerator: I made it! The last rays of the sun could be seen in the distance, I descended to retrieve my gear, put on my boots and switched on my headlamp. Darkness fell just as I started to ascend the rope, perfect timing.
The worst moment, however?There was one bad moment physically and one 'spiritually', if you can call it that way.
While I was climbing the third to last pitch, VIII+, facing the final roof my arms and hands cramped up. I hung onto a bold with fifi and started thinking that I was really at the end of my rope and how I was going to continue in those conditions. I took off my shoes and stood there for a few minutes, frail and hanging in the company of my heavy thoughts. Then I gritted my teeth, pulled myself together and fought to a belay. I was exhausted, but I knew that the hard pitches were below me and I kept my head down to the summit.
The spiritual one is about returning to civilisation the next day. I don't mind being alone, on the contrary, but the contact with the world made me a little sad. Arriving at the car park, I could only see skiers preparing to glide over the suffering tongues of snow in the middle of the meadows, ready for a day that made no sense to my eyes. I had just had an incredible adventure right over their heads, but no one had noticed. There I was, among them but still alone, a coloured dot in the middle of so many white dots.