Scroll down for: High altitude hikers’ account of part of the Alta Vista 2 route below.
See also the Gallery for stunning photos: https://themmc.org.uk/gallery/nggallery/2017/dolomites-july-2017/page/1
The Marylebone mountaineers arrived at Camping Colfosco in the Dolomites to torrential rain and thunderstorms.
While Sarah and Nicholas were trekking for six days on the Alta Via 2, Damien, Shane, AG and Paolo went climbing, joined by Chuck and Jim for a few days. Steve and Silvia were having a family holiday at Lago de Braises but still managed some climbing and walking.
The climbers discovered new routes including stunning via ferrata and the walkers had such a great time that they vowed to come back.
Read on to find out about the climbing exploits, as told mostly by Paolo.
Jim misinterpreted the mountain climate, deciding not to take a sleeping bag because he claimed it had been warm when he went to the Alps. Not so this time. He spent the next few days searching in vain for a sleeping bag in the local shops – the best he came up with was a nice picnic blanket which turned out to be backed with plastic. Then it rained. And it rained and it was even colder.
Meanwhile everyone had now set up camp with Damien pitched by the road, which proved easy access for a night-time visitor in the shape of a starving fox.
On the climbing front, changeable conditions meant a choosing a local crag with single pitch sports routes. A brief walk in through unpleasant scree and dense scrub soon led us to a crag called ‘Frea’. With mostly mid-grade climbs, the rock was cold, slippery and loose. And given the ominous forecast for the week we were all a little concerned that this might be our lot.
Roads were closed because of a local cycling event, so we decided to catch a cable car up to the majestic Sella Group for what we thought was going to be a short and easy via ferrata, ideal for a bunch of out-of-shape climbers.
Turned out it was a bit more challenging than anticipated and longer than we initially thought! But a few hours later, and after a well-earned late summit lunch, we climbed down in full agreement that the via ferrata was great fun and that we would be doing a few more before the week was out. We basked in the afternoon sun at the ski lift bar before returning to the campsite and cycling mayhem in the valley below for more beer and evening pizza. Meanwhile the fox stole into Damien’s tent porch and feasted on eggs and plums.
Everyone was revved up for what would become (for some) our first multi-pitch trad day out.
AG partnered Shane and set off in AG’s car to meet Damien, Chuck and Paolo at our chosen destination: The Sella Towers. Unfortunately, AG and Shane ran into car trouble on the way, broke down and had to bail.
So we were left to tackle the first Sella Tower as a threesome. Initial difficulty in finding the route (Via Steger IV+ 3*) meant progress was slow but soon Damien was leading his way up with Chuck and Paolo seconding and stripping the gear.
As always the merit of a good kit layering system was discussed at length on the various belay ledges. After approx. 160m and seven pitches later the trio topped out to a chilly summit (2533m) before walking back down and enjoying pizza, beer and steak back at base. Meanwhile the fox visited the tent of his new best friend and enjoyed chocolate spread but decided against boring muesli.
Their weekend trip over, Chuck and Jim were leaving early afternoon so Day 4 took us to ‘La Citta dei Sassi’ (the city of rocks) near the Sella Pass for single pitch sports routes in the lush surroundings of this enormous boulder field. Everyone bagged at least a 6a and spirits were good as the sun was out. Even better, AG and Shane picked up AG’s car from the local garage and once again beer and pizza were procured to celebrate. Later, the fox found his way into the tent and out-stared the furious Aussie occupant.
Earmarked as a ‘rest day’, we chose a via ferrata as an easy challenge. This turned out to be a gruelling day out on the Via Ferrata Punta Anna (VF5C) incorporating the summit of Tofana di Mezzo at 3244m, the third highest peak in the Dolomites.
After several hours of seriously tough ferrata and awesome exposure, AG, Shane, Damien and Paolo nearly missed the last cable car down. And even after catching it, they still had to hike up 600m on a grassy slope for a couple of hours to pick up their cars!
A local dinner in Rifugio Pomedes with some new-found companions (not the fox!) cheered everyone up and the drive home didn’t seem too bad as at least they were sitting down.
This turned into a much needed rest day to get over the previous ‘rest day’ and local walks to the shops and bars. Stocking up supplies was the order of the day, followed by an evening dinner in the campsite and a few more beers. Warm and dry throughout. Clearly fed up with the same menu every night, the fox stole into Shane’s tent for supplies.
Eager to get back on the rock, the four remaining climbers – Paolo, Damien, AG and Shane – were eyeballing Via Kasnapoff (5+ 3*) on the second Sella Tower.
On the rock, Paolo and Damien took it in turns to lead at a modest pace for their second trad multipitch of the week whilst Shane and AG, eager to cut their teeth following their car breakdown on day 3, ploughed on ahead.
Lots of good fissures and chimneys led up a mostly logical route during, what was to become, quite a long and tiring day.
Towards late afternoon a thunderstorm blew in, skimming past the Sella Towers. The views out from our tiny belay ledges were spectacular. Horizontal hailstones were lit up by the sunlight mixed with lightening threatening through moody clouds eastwards.
We topped out (2598m) as evening was drawing in, then darkness was falling by the time we walked out onto the Sella Pass to find our cars. All in all a thrilling day and amazing experience.
Meanwhile Sarah returned to the campsite after her six day expedition, joining everyone for yet more beer and pizza.
AG and Shane went off to scale more rock while Sarah joined Damien and Paolo for a fun via ferrata.
We had our last meal at the campsite – or would have done if a storm hadn’t have rolled in. Paolo left to embark on the long journey home by car only for his windscreen to be smashed in the same horrendous hailstone storm.
Meanwhile in the haste to clear our stuff away quickly because of the storm, Damien had left his cooking bag within easy access in the porch of his tent.
Next morning, Sarah was off to warmer climes to rest her aching muscles and escape the constant thunderstorms. Paulo had fortunately survived the stormy drive home.
Damien was last seen searching for his bag in the forest, much to the bemusement of the entire campsite. He had been outfoxed yet again.
Finally, Steve and Silvia’s family holiday also in the Dolomites involved some climbing, walking and via ferrata. They both did Sesto 1 (Via Ferrata) and Silvia walked from Rifugio Fondavalle to Rifugio Comici and Rufugio Locatelli. Steve climbed Via Steger 4+ and Via Trinker 5+ on the Sella Towers and the 650m Cinquantenario VII 6b on Sas Ciampac which was fantastic but long!
All in all, a superb trip was had! For more fantastic photos check out the 2017 photo gallery – you’re sure to be inspired to join us next time!
High altitude hiking
By Nick Round
While the rest of the MMC were hanging off ropes and wires, Sarah and Nick took on the altitude and distance challenge of the Alta Via 2 (well, half of it anyway). Read on to hear more about their six day expedition from Nick.
Both of us had early starts to the trail-head: Sarah contended with a cross-country bus and ski lift route from the campsite while I had the small matter of 1,900m ascent from the town of Brixen/Bressanone to knock off before we could meet on the way to the Plose hut.
Sarah had discovered the previous day that her mobile was not a fan of roaming so it was with some relief that I spotted her coming off the ski lift around lunchtime on the first day. We then had an easy hike to the hut and the first (of many) wheat beers and strudel binges where we met some fellow AV2-ers. This included a couple of Australians (one of whom turned out to be a pretty handy climber with both an ascent of El Cap and fourth in the World Cup bouldering on her cv!) that we would see often in the coming days. We also met two fell runners who were looking to do the whole AV2 in six days – the time we had allotted to complete half of it.
The next day dawned grey and murky but as our route ran along the base of some classic sheer dolomite peaks the vistas were still impressive, we made the second hut in good time.
This allowed me to go scrambling on the rocks above the hut (trying to catch marmots) and Sarah to investigate the accommodation (trying to catch 40 winks) before dinner.
Since the usual trail hut was busy, on the third day Sarah told me that we’d need to perform the Odle variation. Being a newcomer to the club I thought at first that this might involve an advanced two-to-a-bunk sleeping technique but it turned out we just had to divert off the main path for a day so as to stay at an alternative hut. This turned out to be a great decision since not only was the hike fantastic, including a memorable climb up and over the Odle range into a stupendous green valley reminiscent of Hobbiton, it also resulted in us having a beer-fuelled singsong with some German hikers during the evening.
However, it also meant we had a huge fourth day ahead of us: up and across the plateau of the Puez range, dropping down the other side and then steeply (very steeply) up into the fortress of the Sella range. In view of this, I had suggested the previous day that an Alpine Start might be appropriate; in the event, though, a night of singing and drinking suggested otherwise so we began our marathon, bleary-eyed at around 8 am.
Sarah Glover on the Alta Vista 2
Thankfully, 11 hours later we were clinging to cables two-thirds of the way up to the Pisciadu hut wondering when the pain would stop. After negotiating some small patches of snow and final steep (cable assisted) scrambling.
we found ourselves within the Sella fortress with the hut, picturesquely set against the backdrop of a tarn, a few hundred yards away. Our arrival was right on the stroke of dinner so we didn’t have to wait long for some well deserved fodder and refreshment (wheat beer, obviously!
On day five we woke to leaden skies and even more leaden legs. The route that day crossed the Sella range (with a small side trip up Piz Boe, one of the highest peaks of the Dolomites at 3,152m) before dropping steeply – 600m in 1km steeply – to the Pordoi pass. Due to the previous day’s exertion this almost finished us off but we were not done quite yet. We then had a further climb and a ridge walk to complete before again dropping steeply to our final hut, this time set rather less picturesquely against an artificial reservoir. Dramatic views of the ‘Queen of the Dolomites’ (Mt Marmolada – not Sarah), a lucky glimpse of some wild chamois goats, and many, many Ricola sweets got us through and we made the hut before a threatening looking thunderstorm rolled in.
We ate with the Australians for the last time that evening and wished them luck in completing the AV2 before making plans for our final day on the trail. Sarah suggested we take a short walk to Malga Ciapela where we could ascend Marmolada by cable car to take in the views and also see the First World War museum at the top. Incredibly, Marmolada was the front line between the Austrian and Italian armies during the conflict and trenches were built into the rock almost at the summit. A via ferrata can be used to explore this further but with neither of us having this kit we will have to save that, and the second half of the AV2 for another time.