A very important guidebook was published in 1970, it was a selection of the 100 most significant extreme climbs in the Alps. Lorenzo Trento, a dear friend, gave me his copy a few years ago, which I jealously keep safely in my bookshelf and occasionally pick up and read and browse. The north ridge of Agner is among the selected routes, and I would like to start my post with the presentation of this ascent by the author of the book, Walter Pause.

Walter Pause, “100 Extreme Climbs”. 1970.

From the alpine meadows surrounding the Vazzoler Hut in the Civetta range, looking south, it is possible to see many repeatedly the north ridge of Agner, 1600 mt long, very slender and difficult right from the base, complicated for orientation. The protagonist of the first ascent, Celso Gilberti, overcomes this gigantic rock ridge in August of 1932. Six months later, at the age of 23, he graduates; in the same year, so in 1933, he died falling from the east face of the Paganella… This ridge attracts all those who climb the Civetta; they hear about it, they decide to give it a go someday. They hear that it is an ascent of extreme contrasts, which represents one of the longest climbing itineraries in the Alps, although the summit does not even reach 3000 metres. Good rock, compact, difficult, indeed partly very difficult. In the lower part of the route you have to face some thick patches of pine bushes; you get angry and you’d love to have a machete. How convenient that would be!

The topo of the north ridge of Agner from Walter Pause book.

The environment is more than big: one is often convinced that he has lost the right way, one checks the guidebook (but even that hasn’t been updated for some time now!) and after a period of anguish you finally realize that you’re still on the right spot. Almost everywhere the climbing is wonderful; here and there the terrain is dangerous. All in all, a grandiose and romantic undertaking for experienced climbers with high physical endurance, a fascinating mountaineering adventure. If you reach the summit, a flattened pyramid crown, before evening, you can still glimpse the flames of the refineries in the Venetian hinterland before it gets dark. Then you grope your way down for 30 minutes along the path, partially equipped with steel cables, to the fixed bivouac, so exhausted as if you had climbed the east face of the Watzmann. To tell the truth, that rock face looks like a “parquet” compared to Agner’s tormented ridge. You need to have an almost animal sense of smell, you need to have absolute mastery of your body and above all you need to keep up to the end; this is even more true if the weather is not stable. The climbing time for a good team of two is 10-12 hours. In less time it is difficult to conquer it; backpacks must also be carried to the top. Many times it also depends on the time you take for the approach: 2 hours is the minimum time required, as long as you are lucky with the orientation. The description of this route in «Alpinismus» mentions 4-6 hours from Col di Pra to the start of the climb: it’s exaggerated, it’s good for the disabled. Dietmar Ohngemach didn’t even bother to look for the normal path from Col di Pra, but pointed directly from his tent down the valley straight up in the direction of the col, just running up without a trace, and arrived at the point of attack fast enough. This is a possibility, not a suggestion for anyone.

Agner and its North ridge, taken from the hamlet of Col di Prà.

When GioPilli and I climbed the south face of Tofana di Rozes with Gio Pilli via the Eotvoss Dimai route years ago we were satisfied for having sent a great route (even Steve House was there with his partner Scott Johnston, just to say that beauty has no grade). But that was only the first step. We had called the north east face of the Sassolungo via Pichl “the Mammut”, and we managed to climb it a few years later, on a beautiful day in July.
Every time we had driven back home across the Valparola pass, our eyes and thoughts had always gone to the mountains in the background, the Pale di San Martino group, with the “T-Rex”, “the next level”. The Agner and its north ridge, that’s how we named it. One of the longest in the Alps, 2000 meters from the valley floor to the top, climbed by Gilberti and Soravito back in 1932.

GioPilli topping out the very first pitch of the north ridge of Agner.

These days we are so used to guide books where everything is described in detail (or should be), those few words by Walter Pause give you a clear idea about the route. Climbing the North ridge of Agner is still not easy today, it’s not that popular either. The machete is no longer needed (assuming you don’t get lost) to overcome the two sections of pine bushes. Trenches and tunnels in the vegetation allow you to pass quickly.
The Agner north ridge can’t be defined as a faboulous rock climbing route, better to focus on the routes to the left if that’s what you are looking for. I define it as a vertical journey, away from civilization. An adventure for those who are willing to work hard, sweat, dig deep, climb on all types of terrain, using all their strength to get to the top with still some juice in the tank to climb down the valley before dark. The bivouac option sounds like epic, but above all I would define it as uncomfortable and “heavy” from all points of view. Walter Pause doesn’t take a bivouac as a chance too, giving the advice to stop on the descent at Biasin shelter.
First things first, let’s give you a better idea of what climbing the north ridge of Agner is these days, together with our experience on that incredible journey.

Agner, North ridge. Spiz de Lagunaz and Terza Pala di San Lucano in the background.

The approach In San Lucano valley, a pole with a wooden sign saying “Bivacco Cozzolino – Spigolo Nord” marks the trailhead and it could be easily seen while driving the car even at 3 in the morning, if you’ve never been there before. You find new mule tracks to pass at first, but expect a real mountain path immediately after, pretty narrow and covered with high green grass. All the fear and paranoia about the ticks vanish in few steps, you will likely already hike up with the grass above your knees. You will check yourself on the way, or in the evening. Believe it or not we had no ticks.
During the approach there is only one spot where you could get lost, while you are on a steep gravel before turning left to get into the woods (cairns and tracks to be followed), then once you reach the fixed ropes through the trees then there’s no more problem. The start of the climb, a few meters to the right of the sign leading for the Cozzolino bivouac, is marked by a red arrow on the rock. It takes 1 hour and a half from the car at a normal pace to get there.

The first pitches You can read a lot of stories about these first pitches. What I can tell you is they’re not to be underestimated. You climb up with approach shoes, the rock is steep, well gripped but vertical at times, it’s usually wet or slimy at the beginning (we were lucky here too, it was all dry). It is imperative to move quickly but carefully, there’s a lot of grass, boulders of beautiful rock gripped around questionable pine bushes, it’s a terrain far from being solid. Small rockfalls have happened in the last years, so better be conscious and careful.

Agner, North ridge. Still on the lower section, on the “alpine” arete.

The rocky aretes and the pine bushes.
Getting into the pine bushes is steep and usually slippery, in between this bushes band and the big Larch tree you get to climb a beautiful rock ridge, steep and not super easy, which has a very alpine feeling. Some running belays and few proper pitches are the way to do it. At this point it’s still better to keep your head down. It’s definitely too early to check how far to go to the top.

The big larch tree where climber bivuoac. Agner, North ridge.

From the larch tree on, it’s all rock, finally! Here it is mandatory to look up to recon the chimney with a stuck boulder just to the right of the main ridge, which is not the correct route, but takes the name of “variante dei Triestini”. You traverse underneath it, carefully, going around the spur, to get into a large system of cracks and chmineys. We climbed up on the left of the spur following some beautiful cracks and chimneys up to grade V (few pitons and belays already equipped) and then back up on the main ridge with a short rappel (already equipped with a sling around a spike). Looking back at it, it would be quicker and eaiser to climb more right after the traverse, following easier terrain, and go back higher up the ridge, right where we rappelled. But the face is huge, as much as your fear of getting lost. Take your pick.

The key picthes

I say picthes, because there isn’t just the corner crack with the wood wedges and pitons. I switched to rock shoes on the dihedral graded V, before the hardest pitch, Gio a few pitches earlier. I say this not to brag, but to recommend this option if you don’t want to have painful feet. Until now there are too many easy pitches to have climbing shoes on.
After climbing the nice dihedral graded V, you reach a belay on a small ledge, above you a beautiful and smooth slab that my BAM guys would define as totally “unfuckable”, with a very long sling flying around the wall, should be more than a warning that the right route isn’t up there. It looks like a beautiful hard pitch, but definitely not climbable 90 years ago. Forget those dangling slings, and reassure yourself when you see an arrow pointing to the right engraved on the rock, right in front of your eyes. You go down couple steps, turn the corner to the right, and then you have to concentrate and use a good dose of strength and technique, because pitons and wedges are there on the crack, but they have a pretty ugly look. Your set of cams come handy in here.

Agner, North Ridge. GioPilli topping out the key pitch.

The rock on this pitch is a bit polished, it felt much more than VI+ to me(I’m amazed that someone say VI-…), but maybe you should blame the heavy backpacks and consider that we had already been climbing for 10 hours…or it’s just a hard pitch.
It’s better to wait for another pitch to catch your breath, because the next one isn’t straight forward in the first meters above the belay.
There is still a tough overhang couple pitches higher up, graded V, with a long cordelette if one wants to aid, that still requires one last powerful move, before chilling down, set up the cruise control and scramble up some flatter terrain and then onto the top of this endless ridge.
As you send the north ridge, the summit is still half hour further up, following the steel cables and some easy scrambling on the normal route, without climbing ropes or backpacks that can wait you down. I think this detail convinced GioPilli to climb up to the top, and despite feeling light on his back, more than once he would have wanted to turn around because the summit cross never shows up. We took our summit selfie, very tired by the long day and heat, 15 hours and 10 minutes after leaving the car 2000 meters below, in San Lucano valley.

On top of the Agner after climbing the North ridge.

Strategy and tactics

Even if many people plan the climb of Agner North ridge with a bivouac, whether for personal reasons/weaknesses or perhaps even “heroic” reasons, a good team should be able to climb the route in 10-15 hours. I’m very much against the bivouac option, and I explain you why. Given that a climb of this size must be planned with absolutely good weather, the “North” of the ridge is only the exposure, but the whole context is much more similar to a south aspect. You are hit by the sun rays almost all the day. If you also consider the mid-mountain altitude, a climb like this requires a lot of water.

Agner, North ridge. On the pitches above the larch tree, at the same heigth of the “Variante dei Triestini”.

Getting to the point, 3 liters of water each are recommended in very hot weather (at the beginning of July the isotherm was just under 5000 metres) if you want to top out with still some gas in the tank, and you’re not a superhero with a degree in fast and light. Normally for shorter climbs, even up to 4-500 meters vertical, I don’t bring more than half a liter, and sometimes I don’t even finish it. On the Agner I drank the last sip of my precious three liters 5 minutes from Rifugio Scarpa at 8.30 in the evening.
I don’t want to think how much water you should bring planning a bivouac, together with all the rest of the equipment you need to sleep and eat. A bulky rucksack is almost dangerous up the first pitches and certainly annoying when you make your way up through the bushes. Don’t think that we didn’t have a bivouac emergency sack for two and a down jacket each, I would have been an idiot, having never climbed the route before. But our training, the awareness of being a fast team on this kind of terrain, and above all our mindset to set off on a journey where 1) we have plenty of daylight hours because it is the beginning of July 2) there is no turning back 3) we don’t want to camp out; these three points were the fundamental ingredients for a winning strategy.
Having said that, climbing with two 60mt half ropes is not necessary, unless you want to climb on a team of 3 members (perhaps to split the weight of a bivouac, and if this is the case I don’t recommend it). A 60m single rope is plenty (even if you go in 3, knowing how to use it is fine). There are several transitions between short rope – simul climbing / running belay – long pitches, and everything would be heavier and more complex with 120 meters of rope to adjust whenever necessary. With 10 quickdraws and a set of cams up to the #2 and you’re ready to go. If you need more than that, and if you want me to be straight (but fair), stay home, train more, or go with a a experience friend / hire a guide. This is a long and demanding climb that must be taken with respect and training.

Agner north ridge, before the key pitches.

Online topos
On the Internet the SassBaloss website describes the route in detail with 50 pitches. We lost count of how many we did, certainly less than that. Many (and also several of my colleagues) recommend simul climbing to link many pitches both at the start and along the easy sections. Personally, some times I was so annoyed by having to drag the rope up that I don’t know how convenient it is. The pitches are often “winding”, you have to put some protection (in my case much more for the partner whenever needed for him), and it is very easy to have friction when you have 60mt rope out. Make your own choice, and in case you can also untie yourself. It’s definitely not a choice I can make when guiding.
I like the topo by Daniel Ladurner you can find on Bergsteigen, it’s simple and easy to read. With a good picture of the wall with the climbing draw, his topo and maybe some close looks at the description you find on Sass Baloss, you should be all set and good to go.
For the latest info on the conditions of the route, don’t hesitate to call Marco Bergamo at Rifugio Scarpa. It’s always good to get some beta from the locals, especially if they are mountain guides.</ahref=”https:>

Agner, Spigolo Nord. We’re finally so close to Rifugio Scarpa and to the end of the journey.

I think you have all the info now, for me it was a great satisfaction and achievement to guide Giovanni without having previously climbed the ridge, and to make it all way down to the Scarpa hut the same day, right in time to wolf some delicious food down. It was a beautiful and very long journey in a wild corner of our Dolomites, which left a clear mark on the rest of my and our climbing season.