Expeditions, Navigation, Guided Walks and Trekking
It’s important to get expedition dates and destinations agreed early. Recently we have struggled to get our group together for a trip abroad. Last year I was laid up after my operation – so it was just Steve and Mike. The year before we just couldn’t seem to get the whole thing together. So this year we all tried harder and six people signed up for a return trip to the Dolomites. Mike wanted a return to the spectacular ledges of the Brenta; I suggested a hut to hut trip; others were just keen to get away with friends and enjoy an Alpine trip. And so the six of us finally met up in an airport hotel in Munich, most of us starting the road trip a day before in Manchester or London. Soon the Discovery was full of gear and people as we set off back to the Brenta.
Our drive down to Italy and back was part of the expedition, keeping travel costs down. Although on occasion, while stuck in a traffic-jam in Germany or on the Brussels ring road, the travelling became a little too much of the overall expedition. Its a difficult choice when mountain time is precious, cost v extra days climbing.
A rain storm started as we drove through the orchards of Trento. The steep zig-zagging road up to Madonna Di Campiglio was running with water. We even had to switch the Discovery into “Bad Weather” mode to help Mike keep the vehicle on the road. Before we arrived at the Rifugio, a short trip into town was needed; to pick up some extra gear. I don’t think I had stressed enough the need for crampons and we were a couple of sets short. Madonna’s mountain guide bureaux/shop was the only place with some in stock. While in the shop we also tried to tempt Nas with the latest Goretex offering there, nicely displayed and a bargain at €440, but the bright green colour was a problem. Declining this offer turned out to be a mistake when we later found that his actual waterproofs were a bargain from Poundstretcher!
The refuge at Vallisinella had recently been rebuilt as a modern-design Bar/Restaurant/Hotel; not at all the usual wooden sloping roofed hut. But the location was superb and the large car park meant we could leave the Discovery safely for the week.
Overnight, the rain turned to snow and then cleared, the morning starting with a frost and clear blue skies. Up above us however, the mountains were covered in snow. Our first pangs of fear came, would we be able to complete our route, which depended on traversing some tricky edges in the sunshine? But the weather forecast look reasonably settled for the next few days, so we set off planning to stick to our itenary. Our big hope just then was that we wouldn’t have to test out the durability of all our waterproofs or find our escape routes.
Tracks through the forest and across the river took us up to Rif Casinei, where walkers were gathering for breakfast. Signs around warned us to follow the “Rules for a good Cohexistance with Bear” (sic). We fully conformed to the rules by talking loudly wherever we went. It seemed to work. Pressing on along the Sentiero Bogan (318), we soon hit the snow line before rounding a steep corner revealing the snow-covered Brenta Alta valley above us. There was time for the snow to be gone before we were due to be up there in four days time. But now, strong sunshine was quickly melting the snow on the Rif Brentai (2,182m) roof, making its eaves a wet and dangerous place to hang around. Inside, the last table was waiting just for us, where we could enjoy our first pasta lunch. The start of an exploration of Pasta Ragu over the next five days.
Well fed, we returned into the bright sunshine. Before we set off again we stopped by the Refugio shrine to lost climbers and old timers from the hut section. This small building framed a spectacular view up the white valley above us.
Our objective for the evening was the Rif Tuckett, the other end of the short and relatively easy Sentiero SOSAT. However to reach the start was a stiff 300m drag up to the foot of the cliff. Soon geared up we started along the first ledges of the trip, skirting around the edge of vertical cliffs before arriving at a “foreboding chasm” into a steep gully. Our guidebook promised a 20m ladder, but the wires actually disappeared over the overhanging edge of the ledge. New stemples in the overhanging lip took us down to the edge of the gully and a short traverse across to the other side of the chasm. In the gully the old ladders were rusting away, safely avoided by the new route. This was far more testing then we had expected from the grade 2B route.
Threading through a field of large boulders and interesting ledges, the hut looked tantalising close across the deep old glacier bottom and moraine. But it still took a couple of hours from the end of the wires before our hard first day ended. Arriving at the spectacularly positioned Rif Tuckett we were inducted in the evening hut routine of a beer; colourful sunset; hot shower and three course pasta dinner before an early night in our bunk room.