Campanile Basso – 12 August 1897 – 18 August 1899

It is the anniversary of the first ascent of Campanile Basso in the Brenta Dolomites.

The story of Campanile Basso makes fascinating reading with its witches, irredentists and Pan-Germanists of times gone by

Campanile Basso belongs to the central-southern subgroup of the Brenta Dolomites whose Dolomia Principale formation (Trias superiore) is rich in gastropod fossils and molluscs. Its slender shape is the result of orogenetic movements which caused the Dolomite masses to break up, giving rise to joints which suffered the attacks of the weather and alternating freezing and thawing to give us their unusual slender shapes, reminiscent of towers and bell towers.

Like many other peaks which are considered inaccessible, Campanile Basso first appeared on a map as late as 1882 (Topografia del Gruppo di Brenta, in the 8th SAT Annual Report), with the name Campanile di Brenta which identified both the Campanili mountains (High and Low). Two years later, Compton published a map (in Zeitschrift des Deutschen und Oesterreichischen Alpenvereins) where the two summits were classified separately. This should come as no surprise because for many years the exact location and name of a number of summits in the Brenta Dolomites were the subject of controversy. Valley dwellers called the “Low” peak “Campanil dei Massòdi”, while the inhabitations of Val di Cembra, who could see the “Low” peak from a distance, gave it the name “Campanil dèle strie”. The Germans, on the other hand, followed the teachings of Karl Schulz (Die Brenta Gruppe, in E. Richter, Die Erschliessung der Ostalpen, Berlin, 1894) and called it “Guglia di Brenta” (the Spire of Brenta), a name which stuck and is still used by foreign climbers today.

So Campanile Basso already had an interesting history before anyone actually reached its summit.

The first ascent was attempted in 1897. On 12 August Carlo Garbari, a textile merchant (Trento 1869-1937), and Alpine guide Nino Pooli (Covelo, 1862-1935) climbed the south face, getting to within just fifteen metres of the summit; a vertical wall stood before them, defeating them despite the best efforts of the brave and talented Pooli.

Two years later, two climbers from the other side of the Alps, the Austrian geologist Otto Ampferer (Hötting 1874-1947) and Karl Berger (Innsbruck 1880-Madonna di Campiglio 1915), followed in Garbari and Pooli’s footsteps. They too reached the foot of the face, the final obstacle to reaching the summit but, instead of insisting as the climbers from Trentino had done, trying to force their way through, they went around it, finding an alternative route to the top. It was a great milestone for German climbing and a huge disappointment for Trentino climbing. The two clubs – the Società degli Alpinisti Tridentini and the Deutscher und Oesterreichischer Alpenverein – were rivals and this climbing contest became a matter of national pride. For this very reason Pooli returned to Campanile Basso in 1904 with Riccardo Trenti, printer and friend of Cesare Battisti, and together they traced a new 5+ grade route along the same trail which had defeated them the time before; they planted a flag with the colours of Trento at the summit. The honour of the people of Trento was partly saved but it was just the first of many climbing contests between the irredentists and Pan-Germanists.

Riccardo Decarli

Biblioteca della Montagna – SAT