Adventures must be done!

The Dolomites – Viae Ferratae Galore

5th August

We arrived in the early afternoon in Dobiacco from where we took a bus to Cortina d’Ampezzo, the well known skiing destination. On the way we had some glimpses of the astounding geological formations like the ‘Tre Cime’. Chucky took in the scenery with mouth gaping awe.
Not much is to be said about Cortina. It falls into the same class as other main tourist destinations like Queenstown (NZ) or Zermatt (CH). We opted therefore to leave as soon as possible and having done some shopping (Via Ferrate gloves and food) we strolled off in direction of Fiames where we had booked the cheapest hotel we could identify on the internet. Having left behind the bustling town we reached a pleasant conifer forest and got a good view of our first target: Punta Fiames.
It took us one hour to get to the hotel; a well deserved walk after all those hours sitting in trains. It also helped us to get accustomed to the place and get a first impression of the adventures awaiting us.
I had booked the room by phone and indeed the well fed hostess was awaiting us. When saw the two of us she told me “Ich habe nur noch ein Zimmer mit Doppelbett!” and with that we made our way upstairs. Chucky had obviously not understood a single word and I warned him ‘Dude, I hope you don’t like me too much!’
“Eh?!? Why’s that?”
“Well, because we’ve got a double bed!”
Right, no worries here, after all, a double bed is technically a bunk bed for two persons. The only trouble is that usually there is only one big blanket as was the case in the room we got. As we had sleeping bag inlets with us anyway and spare blankets were available this situation turned out quite agreeable. Chucky however made a show of rolling the main blanket into a fat, log like structure that separated the two halves of the bed unmistakeably.
So far so good. It seemed fitting to the current situation that our bathroom was tiled in gay pink.
After reorganising ourselves we had a beer downstairs, tried to figure out what the weather was doing, which turned out to be difficult as no one really knew. The hostess guessed that it should be fine tomorrow, but what would you tell your guests? Of course the weather should be fine in a holiday destination.
We planned to leave early to make sure that we had enough time to reach the next hut. To achieve this we got our breakfast pre-packed. A very neat assemblage of food indeed, we even got some chocolate cake with traces of cherry schnaps in it.

6th August
We got up at 5am after an uneventful night, wolved down some breakfast and started towards the entry of the Via Ferrata ‘Michelli Strobel’. The weather was not too good and I guessed that the chances of getting rain were fifty-fifty. There was a cold, strong wind blowing and we assessed the situation again and again. Finally we decided to give it a try and were awarded by not being rained at.
The via ferrata was graded 3B. The number refers to the technical difficulty on a scale 1-5 where 5 is the hardest. The letter indicates the seriousness, e.g. exposure, of the route where A is easy and C is as tough as it gets.
The grade 3B turned out to be quite pleasant. The only minor difficulty was the slickness of some rocks due to the number of people doing this route and over the years polishing the stone.

Chucky on VF Michelli Strobel

From the summit, where we stayed only shortly due to the cold wind, we descended to a col from where a steep scree slope led further downhill. I found it to be very enjoyable to run downhill, Chucky found it less agreeable. I think scree slope running is a form of art. To trust in the crumbliness of the scree, to move fast and bold enough to remain in control of the descent; it is a challenge that I take up again and again without getting tired of it.
Further downhill we got to a signpost where we had two main choices. We could take a low level path or do another via ferrata: Terza Cengia (2C). The description in the guide book was a bit daunting: serious, unprotected exposure, need of a good head for heights. Chucky had been reluctant but I had just got a taste for it on the previous route and lusted for more excitement. How serious would it be?
Off we went. It began with some scrambling up another scree slope, then the trail went onto a ledge that got quite exposed in places, maybe a couple or even three hundred metres of vertical sheer cliff while the ledge was between one and two metres wide. That was a nice thrill, but not too dangerous if one moved carefully and concentrated on the path.

Chucky (see arrow) at the start of an unprotected ledge

A few extreme sections were even protected. We reached the end of this track by summiting the Punta Erbing. After a lunch break near Crèpe de Zumeles in a spot protected from the cold wind I tramped on while Chucky preferred to have a bit of a rest and then take the lift up to Rifugio Guido Lorenzi. I felt that I needed a bit more exercise on that day, thus walked up a crumbly slope towards the Rifugio. Further up I got onto some patches of snow which rather helped the progress. When arriving in the hut I was feeling tired at last, a very good day. Chucky had summed up today’s ascent: 2400m. Not too shabby I should think!

The view from the hut was stunning; as far as we could see anything through the clouds that kept getting thicker and enveloping the higher peaks in fog.
The Rifugio was a nice place, almost like being at someone’s home.

The view from the Rif. Lorenzi

7th August

Cold wind was blowing strongly on the cloud covered tops. We left at 8am in low visibility and headed for the longest bridge in the Dolomites. It was a swing-bridge and we clipped ourselves into the hand rail wires. I was in front and the carabiners sheered of a thin layer of ice on the wire. The wind was being funnelled in the gap that was crossed by the bridge and the loose ice was whipped away into the white out.
There was even some snow on the trail and in those places one had to be more careful to prevent slipping. From time to time the clouds were ripped open and we gained some views of the bizarre, sunlit mountain area that surrounded us. While travelling along the ridgeline with the sun behind me I saw that peculiar halo effect where a circular rainbow enclosed my shadow in the fog below me.

The 'spectre of the mountain' in a halo

Some exposed places were bare of any protection and required more care, but generally travel was easy and the grade 3B can be regarded as adequate.
The ridge line we followed had been a front line in WWI and thus a good deal of fox holes, bunkers and derelict shelters can be found along this via ferrata.
Six hours after leaving the hut we reached the road where we waited for a bus to take us back to Cortina. We were just in time to catch the last gondola and two successive chairlifts up to Rif. Pomedes.

From the front porch of the Rifugio we had a good view of Punta Anna, a steep looking peak that loomed above us.

8th August
Luckily the weather started perfect the next morning and we got an early start on our next via ferrata: Punta Anna (5C). A very interesting climb with some airy sections. By now we were accustomed to heights quite well and I enjoyed to hang somewhere in a wall that dropped a few hundred metres below me.

Me climbing VF Punta Anna

Tofana di Rozes as seen from VF Punta Anna

By the time we reached the top of Punta Anna clouds were already forming again and we therefore abandoned plans to do Tofana di Mezzo but returned to Rif. Pomedes by another, easy graded VF.
Due to the unstable weather conditions Chucky opted to return to Switzerland earlier than planned but I convinced him to stay a bit longer. After lunch at the Rifugio we tramped another 3hrs to Rif. Lagazuoi along some spectacular cliffs and through boulder strewn alpine pastures.

The weather complied with our decision and clear up, resulting in the best views we had had so far.

9th August
The weather pattern of the last few days repeated itself again. A brilliant, cloudless morning sky was gradually clouding towards midday and some darker clouds promised the possibility of thunderstorms later on. Under such conditions early starts are preferable and we got to the start of the via ferrata Tomaselli after 8am, a good hour from the rifugio.
The climb started instantly with a very tough section and I found that I couldn’t concentrate very well today. I climbed unfocused and therefore needed a lot more energy to get past the strenuous, exposed parts. After half the height was covered I slowly started to get into ‘the zone’ and all of a sudden I could enjoy the considerable airiness of this route. Most enjoyable was the ‘cheval stance’ where one could sit on the ridge with a leg on either side with hundreds of metres of thin air below.

Me on the last few metres of Punta Sud. The 'cheval stance' is the sharp ridge below on the right hand side.
Great views on the top, supported by the sunlit cliffs that contrasted with the dark clouds that started to build up. Thunderstorms seemed inevitable at some point and we stated: ‘Time to bugger off!’
The down climb was not that hard but strenuous. At the end of the via ferrata a scree slope led down a gully. I was by now a 100% in the mountaineering zone and hopped down with great joy. Chucky however hated it and was glad to reach flatter, easier ground.
A cross country tramp led us towards the Rifugio Giussani (CAI). The last via ferrata of the day, ‘Scala del Minghel’ was not graded but we gave it a 1C afterwards. A sheer, smooth cliff face had been made negotiable by means of a great number of iron bars that were inserted to build some sort of a ladder. The bars were bent upwards on the outer end to prevent slipping, indeed a worry as some of the bars were considerably sloping downhill after many decades of use. Cables ran along the stairs but were clamped in such distances that any fall would have been disastrous. ‘Just don’t fall, mate’ I warned Chucky when I was a few metres up.
We got to a ledge when we met another group descending. Crossing was easy at this point, thus no worries, but just at this point in time hail and rain stared to pour down and forced us to put on our jackets. The rest of the climb will always remain in our memories as remarkably dangerous. The bars got as slippery as if they were coated with soap, we held on for our dear life. The whole adventure got even more interesting as some of the bars were already a bit wobbly. I must admit that I somehow enjoyed the challenge. Move careful and nothing can happen. Chucky however was a bit less enthusiastic and took in a deep breath when he reached to top. Then he exclaimed “We almost f***ing died!”. That was a bit exaggerated this time. Surely we had been much, much closer to
death before.

A last uphill slug that gnawed on our reserves got us to the hut around 2.30pm. Time for a late lunch (Gulasch and Knoedel) and a well deserved afternoon nap. It rained all afternoon and even into the night; a mountain hut is indeed a good thing!
After dinner we had a good yarn with three middle aged Americans.

10th August
A marathon to get back to Zetzwil (Switzerland) awaited us: descent to the road (Along the way Chucky slipped in a muddy bit. For a split second I had the impression of Chucky floating in mid air, feet and hands up in the air, then gravity took over and he landed on his back in the mud! I couldn’t stop laughing for minutes!), bus ride to Cortina, bus ride to Dobiacco, train to Fortezza, train to Innsbruck, train to Zurich (Here we met some crazy skater dude and a girl from Austria. The bloke offered us a beer each (!) and this part of the journey passed pretty nicely), train to Aarau, train to Zetzwil and at last by car to my parents home.