Friday, 22 May 2020

Alta Via 1. Monte Pelmo Ascent. A Bambino Could Do It. Via Ferrata. Part Two.

                                               ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
A day later in our walk across the Italian Dolomites on the Alta Via 1 we reached a hut directly under the base of Monte Pelmo, one of the giant mountains of this region. We spent the evening in the hut trying to find out any information we could about the climb but apart from one line 'Monte Pelmo: A long and tiring ascent, if an easy one.'  in our guidebook and a post card of Monte Pelmo with a dotted line snaking up it, available for sale in the hut, we gleaned nothing else. We could order beers in Italian, ask about campsites, but that was about it and no one at this hut understood much English on that particular day.
The post card view. This side of Monte Pelmo, the one directly above the hut, at least looked not entirely impossible, if still steep. Other than that we didn't have a clue what was ahead of us. Being a backpacking tour we didn't have ropes, ice axes or crampons but the summit slopes looked to be clear of snow.
The next morning we set off... and the scrambling started almost immediately ... a zig zag line up a steep mountain wall. Attacco was our only clue to the start of the route, no one else around as it was an early start. Fortunately Brian, who rock climbed several grades higher than us, up to E1 level, took the lead, which gave us confidence.
Technically, the scrambling was easy... mostly walking along a narrow ledge system... but as the exposure grew.... and the ledge climbed higher then ran straight across the vertical walls of Monte Pelmo... it took on an entirely serious aspect.
One misplaced step or stumble here and you would be falling a very long way to the green meadows below. It was still easy scrambling but being a first ascent for us, with no clue as to how hard it was round each corner it was a memorable one.
In places it was so exposed you could skydive off this narrow ledge, filled with loose stones underfoot, and soar into mid air, taking minutes  to contemplate your own death on the way down before you landed. And amazingly.... not a sign of any via ferrata, confidence boosting fixed ropes, or anything else to hang onto other than bare limestone and a few scattered pitons where you could put a rope hand line if you had one. No other hillwalkers either. We had the mountain to ourselves mostly. I wonder why?!!!
And then... on one of the crux sections on this long exposed traverse... with overhanging cliffs above and screaming exposure below... we spotted the bambino... a little toddler... about three years old... happily walking along this ledge system with his unconcerned parents.....
or at least that's what it looked like when I got the photos back....our friendly base-jumper was correct... a bambino could do it...
I compared Monte Pelmo to a giant, heavily eroded, white dice in the last post, which is true viewed from some angles with its steep vertical edges falling thousands of feet but here, on this side, the only 'easy' way up this amazing mountain, think of it as a high backed school chair. We had just traversed across the vertical legs and now we found ourselves in a dazzling white limestone scoop of the seat section. It's not called God's Throne for nothing.... and looks like it from afar.
Thankfully this was easier, just a faint but well defined path up scree and a few small ramps to negotiate cliffs. But this was not a mountain to relax on. It's still the scariest hill I've ever climbed in my life. Even these photos give me the creeps all over again. This is the ascent/descent route right behind me... and the thought of going back down to that vertical drop of thousands of feet to find a narrow ledge leading back across the cliffs filled me with dread. It still gives me the creeps thinking about it to this day.
Brian or John here, as close to the edge as he's willing to go. Unbelievably, the drop on the other side was even higher. I can't imagine anyone coming up here in winter, covered in snow, but apparently a few brave or crazy alpine mountaineers do. If you bag peaks in the Dolomites you need seriously big balls. I suppose you get used to this level of exposure but for me, even after 100 mountain rock climbs and dozens of Scottish scrambles it was intense and right at my limit. Yet I would not be surprised to find someone has carried skis up here to ski down the upper bowl, given how extreme the limits are for the best in that field. Climbing/ski mountaineering that is. One ascent was enough for me.
There was also a hell of a lot of loose rock around, dust and scree on every ledge... just what you want near a vertical/overhanging drop of 5000 feet.
The summit ridge. I can see why Italian's are religious....climbing mountains like this every weekend or holiday.... as I started speaking to God as well for one of the very few times in my life... promising inwardly that if he saved me from falling off this unbelievable lump of ancient sea bed I'd be a good little boy in future.
and thankfully we did survive. After Monte Pelmo we split up. Brian wanted to finish the Alta Via 1, clocking up 9 to 10 hour walking days in the process, whereas myself and John fancied a gentler pace once we got to Cortina d Ampezzo, a small mountain town and a hub for via ferrata enthusiasts. After Monte Pelmo we wanted to relax. So we went our separate ways but agreed to meet back in town on our campsite once Brian had finished. Market on a high road pass above.
John on a protected wartime path. During World War One there was intense fighting in these mountains between German and Italian troops and you can still see numerous remains of tunnels, carved ledges, and trenches dug out of these limestone coral walls. Hard to believe they were under the ocean at one point.
Although the next set of photos might look scary or exposed it was nothing compared to the levels of fear I experienced on Monte Pelmo. This was a breeze by comparison as we had wires, ropes, and ladders for safety in the event of a slip or fall. Just an enjoyable romp over several via ferrata routes above Cortina. A fantastic base for hill-walkers. World War One tunnels here.
An alpine hut with a huge cross above it. John on a via ferrata. We did the Paternkofel protected wartime path. De Luca- Innerkofler and the Paternkofel Wind Gap Path for anyone interested. Plus the Ivan Dibona High Level path... and Brian was back in time to join us for that one.
Snakes and ladders on a via ferrata.
Another vertical wall climb but easy and enjoyable rather than terrifying. Amazing the difference a wire makes to confidence.
Even the free solo stuff, see the small figure out on a ledge here, was not as frightening as Monte Pelmo's stark and threatening verticality- more friendly feeling somehow.
John happy on an easy via ferrata to a summit. Averau and Nuvolao. (German guidebook spelling)
These colourful swinging one person capsules instantly reminded me of the film Barbarella for some reason... and also the Alisha's Attic song of the same name- one of my favourite 1990s groups. It was a quick way up to a via ferrata route rather than slog up the scree slopes of what looks like a downhill winter ski run. The Dolomites being a popular and spectacular winter ski resort often featured on Ski Sunday TV shows.
Crossing the highest bridge in the Dolomites here. Dead easy. Via ferrata routes can get you into situations and places you would never dream of going.
Away from the via ferrata routes though, as here, it's still a scary place if you take a wrong turn.
Brian rejoined us for our last couple of days in Cortina and managed to bag a couple of via ferrata with us. The team reunited once more. A hut built into a mountain wall here, protected from snows, lightening strikes, and howling winds. Steep path up to it.
Inside, due to the chairs, it had a fairy tale quality.
Brian on another via ferrata route, this one if I remember correctly containing a long rising tunnel boring up through the mountain in the distance. A wartime tunnel 600m long. (A torch comes in handy.) Paternkofel. Monte Paterno. Sexten Dolomites group. The separate upright pinnacle, clearly seen here, being the 'frankfurter sausage.' This part of the Dolomites is close to the Austrian Tyrol border.
The end. What a great trip. Thanks to Brian and John for the company.

A 5 minute video here of the ascent of Monte Pelmo. These guys are very fast and make it look easy. Probably done it before or used to dolomite levels of exposure. One slip or stumble on that traverse and you are dead though. Probably due to increasing popularity or a higher degree of public safety awareness in modern times several fixed rope sections exist on this ascent by the looks of it. On our climb, over 20 years earlier, it was empty of any confidence booster worth the name but even today it still demands a good head for heights and steady footwork.


Andy said...

Superb stuff. I was just looking at the photos thinking "scary, but I reckon I could do it" then I watched the video which made me shudder and realise I won't be climbing that mountain! :)
I watched "Free Solo" last night for the first time which has some palm-sweating images and a very interesting insight into the mind of someone who pushes themselves to the limit of personal risk. Hard to believe it wasn't staged in some way. A great watch if you haven't see it.

Anabel Marsh said...

Jings, that should have come with a health warning! My knees are like water and my stomach is somersaulting. I even watched the video which was a mistake.

Rosemary said...

I don't like the look of that wartime path with nothing to hold on to. I have been along very narrow edges in the Austrian Alps, but they usually have hooks fixed securely into the rock with a metal cable running through which at least gives you a sense of security.

Carol said...

You should get your video links to go to a separate tab as, when the video crashed (as they are wont to do on an XP machine as I have) it took all your website session down with it! So I saw a minute or so of it - certainly enough to see that there's no way I'd go up there without a rope and proper belays! Why on earth don't they fix it with via ferrata?!

I might have been able to get up some of the upward scrambling but couldn't have done those exposed traverses and there's no way I'd come back down it! Completely mad!

Great photos though...

Wish I could find something to write up - I suppose I could go back to the archives but can't put anything current up as films are accumulating in my drawer and there's no-one to process them so they'd be photo-less posts :-(

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Andy,
Yes, I've seen Free Solo and the blind climber who led the Old Man of Hoy at E1 was on recently and the Hamish MacInnes Documentary, Final Ascent. All Good. I would recommend the Dolomites for a holiday. AV1 is a classic trail and Cortina makes a great base with loads of Via Ferrata at all grades nearby.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Anabel,
Aye, sorry about that. That's as gripping as it gets. Can't believe the speed they danced across that ledge. Very impressive.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Rosemary,
Even walking at lower levels there is impressive and we completed a full low level valley tour around Monte Pelmo afterwards. Stunning scenery between villages as well, locations of many films like Pink Panther, Krull, Cliffhhanger etc

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
I'll look into that. Putting them up as it's been 10 years in some cases since I've last looked at them. More interesting than featuring my local park walks during lock down.

Carol said...

Oh, and, by the way, of course a child could do it! No-one that young is afraid of heights or anything else much as they haven't yet broken bones or had painful, injurious falls to warn them of the true dangers!

Kay G. said...

Goodness me, I could NEVER even think of climbing like this! Why, I am a bit scared just looking at the photos, don't think I could take the video! :-)

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
Maybe the reason no via ferrata up Pelmo is that it might encourage 100s more tourists up there onto what is a potentially lethal summit with huge drops all around. Even that ledge would be desperate if the weather changed suddenly.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Kay,
amazing to think that all that vertical limestone was once formed under a shallow coral sea.