This morning we were not going to be denied our target climb. We bounded out of bed early like postmen on speed. Gobbled up some scrambled eggs on toast, and were out of the house before 0715.
Then we had to scrape ice off the car windshield for 10 mins with a credit card…
But we got to the closed road that stopped us yesterday in double quick time. There was no traffic so when we pulled up to the Refugio at the top, we must have been only the 10th car up there. YES!
It was so early that the clouds hadn’t even gotten out of bed. They were still lazing around at the bottom of the valley. We had the remarkable experience of walking along a mountain path, above the clouds. Like we were on an island floating in candyfloss. It was spectacular, and well with the early rise.
The long (nearly flat) walk in took us past 2 more Refugios and a small chapel before we reached the start of the Via Ferrata. Again, this path was originally carved out during WW1 for gun emplacements high up into the mountains. I didn’t find out if we were walking along the Austrian or Italian defenses. Either way, you could see how difficult it would have been to assault these trenches. The nooks and dugouts behind small holes in the rockface, way up in the cliff walls would have made incredibly good defenses. It must have been impossible to travel up the pass without being spotted and subsequently shot from these burrows.
This climb was detailed in the guide book as one of the easiest of the trip, but we soon encountered a challenge. We were climbing on the shady side of the mountain and of course there was a section covered in ice. It was a really steep arete that ran parallel, tucked into the rockface, and formed a gully. The cable went up the arete, but you were standing in the gully, trying to find footholds in the icy rock. We got thru it without too much difficulty, but it was the hardest part of the route.
You could start this route from either end of the ridge we were following, so occasionally, we had to negotiate our way past people. This route has lots of off-wire walkways so it never caused an issue, but it was clearly very popular. I’m glad we did it in the direction we had chosen because reversing that icy gully would have been gash.
One of the highlights of the route (if you can have highlights on a tour along the remains of a WW1 battlefront…) was walking up the steep stepped tunnel. The army must have literally cut and blasted their way 45 degrees up, straight thru the centre of the ridge, to emerge on a shelf overlooking the valley. It was a big tunnel, and each step was about double the height of a normal step so after a dozen, coupled with the altitude, we were knackered. Forget dragging machine guns, ammo and supplies up here, just carrying our small packs was enough.
Not long after the tunnels we came to a steep section of cable that divided. You could take this to the summit of one of the peaks. I love getting to the summit of a mountain. It gives a great sense of achievement and, of course, incredible 360 views. This one did not disappoint, overlooking the incredible mountains and wooded valleys. Some industrious and dedicated people had brought a huge wooden crucifix up and fixed it to the peak. You can certainly believe you are closer to the divine up here.
After tucking into yesterday’s soggy sandwich that we had saved, and writing in the log book that was stored in a tin, we headed back down. The route took us down a gully filled with scree, something Scott has developed an intolerance for. I suspect this would not have been the original route, as its significantly more exposed than the rest of it to enemy gunfire (the only projectiles we encountered were Scotts expletives) We had been expelled from the tunnels earlier by a wooden blockade. The tunnel ahead had collapsed so whoever maintains this via ferrata had created this detour.
The route continued along the ridge following natural and manmade shelves, cut outs and tunnels until we emerged back near the path. It was super busy now with loads of people swarming around the top of the pass taking photos and proudly complaining about the 20m of ascent they had just achieved. I guess its good that there exists a place where less active people can still access the majesty of the mountains. But its popularity does make it a little like piccadilly circus.
We dove into the throngs at a Refugio for our customary beer and strudel. This was the first place, even at the top of a mountain, that didn’t accept card. Luckily I had some cash and was able to pay for part of our order. Angus and I had to share the beer today along with the table some chinese tourists joined us at. They papped photos of their food while we watched some enthusiastic rock climbers on the towering cliffs above us. I’m in no condition to be doing that anymore, but would dearly love to be. Better keep running and climbing…
This evening we enjoyed Scotts leek and pea risotto followed by some ice cream. We rounded off the evening watching Penn & Teller magic tricks, which then devolved into Piff The Magic Dragon. The weather was looking crappy tomorrow so we didn’t mind a late night.