Saturday, 15 June 2013

Week 1 and 2: 02/06/13 - 15/06/13








― Jane Austen

It feels like we have done so much that it's hard to believe we have only been away for two weeks. Currently we are enjoying the sunshine of Lago di Garda; it's not quite the Alps, but we are going to head back there in a couple of days with the hope that there will be a bit less snow than there was before! Here's how we ended up in Arco climbing long rock routes in the sun and eating ice-cream:

Piz Bernina

After two long days of driving, we arrived at "Campo Moro" around 11pm, which was to be our starting point for the walk in to Piz Bernina. We had decided to approach from the South because the guidebook suggested it was a shorter walk in and the maps suggested it was mostly on rocky terrain. But this was not so! We set off in high spirits under a hot sun, and after only an hour we hit the snowline! We fought our way through wet knee deep snow, breaking trail and sweating off all our suncream. It looked like no one else had been here recently. It took us six gruelling hours to reach the Marinelli hut, which was only supposed to take three hours, and decided to stop there for the night. The hut was not yet open for summer, so after digging the door out from a metre of snow, we took advantage of the winter room. It was quite a treat - a lot of food had been left from last year, and in the knowledge that they would re-open in just a couple of weeks we didnt feel too guilty helping ourselves to a tin of minestrone soup - our trip was already going to take at least a night longer than we had expected. We spent the afternoon sitting out enjoying the sun, sat on top of the picnic tables  since the benches were buried beneath snow.

The next morning we continued up towards the Marco e Rosa hut. Again, we were fighting our way through knee deep snow and it was completely energy zapping! There was a crust on top of the snow just firm enough to hold your weight so that you had to step up from the previous foot-hole, and just as you committed your weight to it, it would give way and you sank down into the next hole. Exhausting! The last part of the route up to the hut involved a Via Ferrata, but from afar it looked as if it was largely buried in snow, and the sight of melted ice/rock hurtling down the face it was on confirmed our decision to avoid it. Instead we went up a steep colouir, then traversed round to the top section of the via ferrata. We roped up and moved together on the last secton, clipping into the wire that was visible above the snow. The wire finished right at the entrance to the front door of the winter hut. At 3609m, the hut is only 440m from the summit of Piz Bernina. However, from the hut we could see most of the summit ridge, and it looked heavily laden with snow. It was a very difficult decision to make, considering the massive effort we had made to get this far, but we decided that so much snow on the ridge meant that this would be a very different experience to the PD+ it gets as a rock ridge in summer. The next morning we made an early start, and descended the via ferrata using a mixture of methods including pitching and abseiling. We enjoyed about an hour of walking on firm early morning snow, before it turned back into the slush we were familiar with! Throughout the three days we had seen and heard quite a lot of small avalanches from high up peaks but they always seemed to be very far away. However, it was with concern that we discovered several runs of avalanched snow breaking the path of our footsteps from when we had walked in three days ago. Arriving back at the car after a ten hour day, we decided that we should go somewhere else for a couple of weeks. We were wanting to link together a lot of the 4000er peaks, and it seemed a little pointless to go and pick off a few of the peaks that would be do-able with this amount of snow, when we would end up very close to them again before long. So after much contemplation, we decided to drive to Cortina and have some fun in the Dolomites.

The Dolomites

We decided to treat ourselves by staying at a campsite in la Cortina (having slept 3 nights in the car and 2 in huts), and very much enjoyed the first shower of the trip! There seemed to be a lot of snow around here as well but we had noticed whilst driving over that Cinqe Torre looked quite bare, so we went and climbed a route on one of the towers, called "Via Delle Guide". We enjoyed some hailstones on the first pitch, and abseiling off the top we found ourselves in a snow filled gully! The next day we climbed an enjoyable via ferrata on Col de Bois, next to the popular Falzarego towers.

Both days it had rained heavily from about 11am onwards, and when it continued to rain overnight and all of the next day we decided to head into Cortina to find an internet cafe to check out the forecast and consider alternative ideas. We happened to check the forecast for Arco, and the week long string of "sun sun sun" icons was pretty much irresistible! Five hours later we found ourselves in Riva del Garda.


Dropping height from the Dolomites and finding ourselves in the sunny and hot climate that surrounds lago di garda, we knew we had come to the right place! We sent a message to Mark and Deziree who were on holiday in Arco and they invited us to join them on a via feratta they were doing the next day. It involved 1200m of ascent, picking its way up an improbable looking rock face, with a surreal top out in grassy meadows. It was a brilliant day out! They very kindly gave us several suggestions of multipitch climbs to do, as well as another via feratta, which ended up forming our ticklist for the next few days. We did three multipitch climbs of length 200-250m, (Helena, Aphrodite, Le strane volle di Amelie), and a superb via feratta which wound its way up a gorge to Drena Castle just outside Dro. Alongside this, we have had a great time relaxing in the sunshine, swimming in rivers and wandering around Arco and Riva eating ice cream!

What's Next?
This afternoon we have been checking forecasts and lift information and it looks like we are going to head to the Bernese Oberland in a couple of days. We ended up taking our skis with us, and we wonder if we might be able to put them to use doing some peaks based from the Konkordia hut. That's the plan for now!

With thanks to Alpkit, MCofS, sportscotland and the Julie Tullis Memorial Award

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