Accidental Ice Climbing

After our super relaxing (ahem) rest day, we were back on the Via Ferrata at Brigata Tridentina. Setting off early, we had an hour of hair pin bends followed by a 10 mins walk-in to the crag – epic adventurer’s we are…

Brigata Tridentina sets off, almost straight from the car park with some easy climbing – if it wasn’t for the ice all over the place. [Foreshadowing the rest of the route] We were climbing in the shade and it had dropped to about 3 degrees last night at our nearest town. I doubt it got above zero, up in this pass.

The great thing about Via Ferrata is that you can travel with relatively little kit and still climb big walls. There are guide books available which are super useful and accurate, meaning it is a really accessible sport. This gives lots more people the experience of climbing, but unfortunately the rock becomes really smooth and polished in one particular track.

This is not usually a problem, when dry, because you just pick your way up it carefully. But there was ice everywhere which made it really tricky. We ended up standing on the ice, but holding on for dear life to the cable or the rock in case of a slip. We made it thru the worst of the ice and found a guy down-climbing the route because his boots sole had ripped off! He was going back to the car to get new boots meaning he would have to climb the icey bit AGAIN. He was obviously very skilled climber because he caught us up in no time.

After the icy start, we had an easy walk along a shelf of cliff. Here I found my first GeoCache of the day hidden under a huge rock wedged in a gully. GeoCaches are usually little boxes with a notebook in them to record the date you found it. You use SatNav coordinates to find the general area and then hunt around for the hiding place. There are thousands all over the globe and the ones I was hunting for today would be some of the harder ones to get.

After the shelf we started up the main climb. There was one section of easy ground near a waterfall where we unclipped. This was the site of the second GeoCache, hidden up in a shallow cave. The waterfall had been leeching water that had frozen into slick shiney rivulets all over the rock. This made it really tricky to climb up to the hiding space, so I just bagged a photo of the box and then down-climbed. I wasn’t about to hang around trying to write in the log book in that precarious position.

Still in shadow we carried on climbing. It was still cold but we covered ground quickly till we pulled around a corner and into the sun. It seems that out here, when you are in the sun, it’s nice and warm, but as soon as you are in the shade or the wind blows, it’s arctic! Jumpers came off and we carried on climbing to a rest area where we stopped for some food.

This was when a couple crazy Spaniards danced their way up the route behind us without any harnesses or climbing gear! Turns out their friend had said it was just a 15 mins up to the lake and they had done it with their dad… had clearly lied. We advise them to take the escape path up the gully rather than follow us up the really vertical bit that came next.

Now a couple hours into climbing and having stopped and tackling even steeper ground, we moved a little slower. This gave me plenty of time to look around and enjoy the view. The downside is that it gave me plenty of time to look around and develop some vertigo. I’m pretty good with heights but this was ‘guaranteed death if you fall off’ high, not the normal ‘a bit of an ouchy’ high you get in the UK. I resolved to just focus on the climbing and enjoy the view from the top.

The last 20m or so of the route were spectacular with a fixed ladder and some serious climbing. Then the crowning moment came when we pulled around a corner and had to cross a suspension bridge MANY meters above the valley floor. Again, not that I’m afraid of heights, but there was only 1 cable on one side of the bridge and open to the drop the other side. It was also too short for my 6ft frame so I had to sort of crab-squat my way across. I got a few photos on the bridge, but bravely decided to get across to the other side before taking any more. There must be loads of phones at the bottom of the valley, I didn’t want to add mine.

This was also where I found the last GeoCache of the day, magnetically stuck under the metal rungs of the bridge. A bit sketchy to retrieve but I left my mark in the log book, took a photo and continued to the top of the climb.

Considerately, Aimi and Angus had walked off to the Refugio for a celebratory drink, leaving Scott and I bringing up the rear. 

After our Pils and Strudel lunch, it was time to tackle the walk out. And this was where things actually got a bit dicey for a while. We still wore our harnesses and clipped into a steel cable, but there was so much ice it was slow going and very slippery. At one point a chap who clearly knew what he was doing, donned some walking crampons (metal spiked chains on his boots) and casually breezed past us. There was so much ice and snow, it had compacted into icy chutes that meant for us, we had no choice but to bum-skid our way down.

It too AGES… and then came the switchbacks, which were endless. We expected the walk out to take 1 hour and after 2 and half hours we reached the car. Still alive.

Excellent day out followed by Angus’s feta cheese mediterranean melange of vegetables – super tasty!