Friday, July 16, 2010

Cortina d’Ampezzo (day 1)

I rose at 8:00am, still feeling a little tired after only 6 hours of sleep but what choice did I have? I had things to do! The first thing to do was breakfast, which turned out to be subpar compared with my breakfast in Monza, especially the cappuccino which seemed to have some sort of extra sweet simulated milk froth on it instead of the real thing. After breakfast I headed to the grocery store to buy some food for the next couple of days, my rations consisted of: bananas, apples, peaches, oranges, some weird little cookie/cracker things, and chocolate bars. It would have been nice to have spent more time browsing and putting thought into what I would eat, but I knew that time was of the essence and I had to get my adventure under way.

The days itinerary involved a via ferrata adventure in the mountains of the Tofana group, about 5km from Cortina. For my uneducated readers: via ferrata means “iron path” in Italian, and refers to fixed steel cables that Italians have bolted to mountain faces to establish fixed routes up and through the mountains that can be ascended solo, either using the cable itself or the rock, and clipping yourself into the cables using a climbing harness, slings, and locking carabiners so that if you were to fall, the steel cable (or more accurately, the last attachment point of the steel cable to the rock) would arrest your fall. You don’t really want to fall, as in most cases you would go about 10-20 feet before your fall was stopped by the combination of steel cable and static sling, neither of which have much give in them to cushion your fall. Luckily, most of the ascent is not that difficult (especially if you yard on the cable) so it becomes a sort of high-speed vertical hiking adventure, where your pace is limited only by your aerobic capacity since you don’t have to worry about belaying, you just move your carabiner from one section of cable to the next as you progress. Big time fun!

Based on some route descriptions I had read on the internet, I had decided to link together two via ferrata that sounded quite good, the first being the Via Ferrata Guiseppe Olivieri which ascended the Punta Anna, and the second being the Via Ferrata Gianni Agloi which continued on to ascend the Tofana di Mezzo. I drove about 5km from Cortina d’Ampezzo towards the Passo Falzarego and then cut off onto a smaller road which ascended the hill side to a parking area at the Rifigio A. Dibena. I suited up for the day’s adventure, at which point I realized that I had forgotten my sunscreen back at the hotel. Luckily a friendly looking hiker with a really big pack happened to be walking by, and I rationalized that in such a large pack he must surely have some sunscreen, which turned out to be correct and he kindly let me use some of it.

I then headed up the hillside in what I thought was the right direction, but turned out to be on the wrong side of the Punta Anna which I would be ascending. Luckily there turned out to be a short section of Via Ferrata traversing the base of the Punta Anna, so I used this as a bonus section that served as a good warm-up and also put me back on track towards the start of the intended Via Ferrata. Here is a picture as I end this traverse, with the trail that I should have been on all along visible on the right side of the photo:

Back on track, I continued on to the base of the Via Ferrata Guiseppe Oliveri where I found the requisite commemorative plaque installed that I could not read since it was in Italian. Most of the Via Ferrata were installed during World War I to enable training exercises for the alpine units of the Italian Army, though in most cases the hardware has been upgraded since that time.

I then began the ascent, and happily the angle kicked back immediately with some good exposure right off the bat. Here is a shot looking up as the fixed cable disappears off into the distance:

Pretty fun! I stopped for a breather on a ledge that offered a good view of one of the other peaks in the Tofane group, the ???. The summit was enshrouded in clouds, but that often seems to be the case for many of these peaks, even on otherwise beautiful sunny days:

Here is a shot of our protagonist, happy to be out for a day in the Dolomiti:

And here is a shot looking back down towards my starting point:

I continued on up the Punta Anna, passing a few other climbers before reaching the top. Here is a shot looking down from the summit of the Punta Anna to the valley below and Cortina d’Ampezzo:

I hadn’t been going for that long at this point so I continued on towards the next summit of the Tofana di Mezzo, ascending a rickety old steel ladder that didn’t inspire too much confidence as it swayed under my weight. I didn’t bother clipping myself to the cable provided on this fixture, since I figured that if anything failed it was going to be the ladder itself and it wouldn’t matter whether I was clipped into it or not as I would be going down with the ship either way. I held my breath and second guessed having that extra pain chocolat at breakfast, but finally I exited the top with everything still intact.

Here I am after finishing the sketchy ladder ascent, feeling happy to be back on solid ground:

I continued along the route, with a brief detour to inadvertently ascend and descend an extra bonus peak. My route finding policy is that when I am faced with two choices, I take the one that looks like it is going up. Usually this serves me well (especially when climbing mountains), but in a few cases you end up gaining some bonus elevation and being forced to backtrack. Back on track, I continued along on the correct route, re-passing a fellow climber who was also moving pretty fast and who I had swapped positions with during my detour. He seemed really nice, though we didn’t speak a common language. I think we felt a sense of inherent camaraderie as we were both doing the ascent by ourselves and moving quickly. Here is a shot of him doing one of the nice exposed traverses (though you don’t get a sense of the exposure from the photo) along the route:

He also had a good mustache, which definitely made me question my clean-shaven state. After passing my mustachioed friend I ascended the final few hundred feet to reach the summit, which was marked by a cross and had good views in all directions:

The summit was not all that exclusive, as in addition to the via ferrata route it could also be reached by cable cars. This made it a little more crowded that it would have been, but also offered the option of taking the cable car down from the top. This possibility flashed through my mind briefly, but I then scanned my surroundings and noticed another nearby peak that was almost the same size. Here is a photo of it:

This was another mountain in the Tofana group, the Tofana di Dentro, and according to my map there was another via ferrata that dropped into the notch between this peak and the one I was on and then ascended to the top of this one. At this point it was only 3:00pm (I had started at 11:00am), so, never one to stand idly by while a nearby mountain goes unclimbed, I decided to continue on and tag this peak as well. This via ferrata was pretty tame compared to the ones I had just completed, so I didn’t end up clipping into it and just used the cable as a handrail since I would have felt comfortable on the terrain even without the cable. This made for a fast ascent, and I reached the top of this peak just before 4:00pm. Here is a shot of your happy protagonist with one more peak under his belt:

And here is a shot looking back towards the Tofana di Mezzo, the summit I had just come from. You can see the cable car station on the upper left shoulder of the mountain:

I reversed my route back to the notch between the two peaks, and from an inspection of my map I noticed that there was a trail descending from the notch that should take me back to my starting point without retracing my ascent route, and avoiding the namby-pamby cable car. The trail was labeled as “difficult” on the map and it looked a little improbable based on the terrain it had to move through the get back to the starting point, but I saw some footprints in the snow field that it started down so off I went. It started by slip-sliding down a lengthy snowfield which made me question my footwear choice of running shoes, but I made it though staying more or less upright and without getting too wet:

After the snowfield the faint trail continued around the shoulder of the mountain, with a few short downclimbs that appeared to have had cables installed on them at one point. This made me wonder if a “difficult” trail was code in Italian for a decommissioned via ferrata route, but at this point I was committed so I continued on. After some more traversing I reached a really long scree field that led back down to an area that I recognized from my initial misguided approach to the via ferrata. Part way down this scree-surfing descent the Rifigio Guissani came into view, allowing me to confirm my whereabouts on my map:

After another long section of scree surfing I finally reached the base of this slope, where my “difficult” path rejoined with a “medium” path which was a real trail instead of a free-for-all down snow fields, scree fields, and 4th class rock. Here is a shot looking back up at my descent route (some trail!):

I happy dumped all the rocks out of my shoes and continued down, reaching the Punta about an hour later at 6:00pm:

I was pretty happy to be back down, as by this point I was quite tired and had a bit of a headache which could have been from any number of things (not enough sleep the previous night, spending much of the day above 10,000 feet, not drinking enough water, etc.). I jumped in my getaway vehicle and headed back down to Cortina d’Ampezzo where I briefly wandered the the town, ate some pizza and capresi salad, and then went to bed at 9:00pm. Bene!

No comments:

Post a Comment