Expeditions, Navigation, Guided Walks and Trekking
Last out of the Rifugio again, we arrived at the bottom of the Vendretta di Tuckett to find many of the early leavers struggling up the snow and ice. We put on our variety of mini crampons, I gave mine another try mixing them with the old-fashioned way of kicking steps. That seemed to work better, no slides this time. Mist swirled through the high pass as we made our way up the glacier, occasionally thinning to give brief glimpses of the cliff walls above us surrounding the Cima Brenta. A cold wind was funneled through the gap when we arrived. It was the same point we had finished the Benini route the day before, this morning with a crowd waiting to climb the long line of ladders. Gearing up as we waited for the queue above us to clear, we were soon ready for some action.
There were just four of us on this route, Nas had decided he was just wasn’t up to this 4C route. It was going to be a hard day and he had exhausted himself on our trail in the snow yesterday. Rob bravely offered to take the walk with Nas around to the next hut – Rif Alimonta. He claimed he was not a fan of snow and ice anyway. A great offer of friendship from him as well though.
This sheltered area at the first section of our route still had plenty of snow and ice around. It was quite a challenge in places where the normally easy scramble hand been transformed into a tricky winter route. Rob definitely made the right decision to avoid this. What should have taken around 40 minutes to reach the top of the climb, took us close to twice as long, time we would need later on.
At the top of a short sharp ridge the ledge section of the route abutted against the ridge. Thankfully we caught our breath at this point and let the seriousness of our position sink in. This was a west-facing path so was mainly clear of snow, but ice was occasionally hidden in the cold shadows. A one point on the ledge we needed to crouch down, our boot soles hanging over a long drop. As the ledge narrowed it also filled with icicles. We had to keep a good grip on the wire as we huddled under the ice.
This route needed such a lot of care we slowed our pace and took our time, using the via ferrata protection to calm our nerves. At one tricky point there was 5 wires slung across a gully, with various degrees of tightness. It wasnt at all clear how to negotiate the wires, some hanging over the bottom of the gully, without getting tangled up. Steve was at the back and was the only one who managed it with any degree of elegance, learning by watching the rest of us try to work the puzzle out.
We had our Speck and Cheese rolls overlooking a flat-topped edge which was the next part of the path. This was our high point of the trip, up at 2,999m the air was cold and thin. Climbers ahead of us took the unprotected and considerably exposed way across the top very carefully. One spot caused everybody to drop down, taking it sat down. From our vantage point we could see that any slip meant a long drop over the cliff.
Even after watching people negotiate the path in front of us, I still managed to get my boot stuck, twice, in-between two boulders. My, how my friends laughed!
After this, the snow-covered edge narrowed and path markings took you down over the edge of a steep knife-edged ridge. Most of this climb down was with little or no via-ferrata protection. Once over the edge we were in the “zone”, focussing on the next move. Reaching the bottom and looking back we stood and wondered at what we had just climbed. A great spot.
Now we worked our way around to a steep cliff, with short ladders and wires taking us down to a narrow natural bridge across steep gullies dropping either side of us. Then up the “Ladder of Friends”, a steep but well protected ferrata up the cliff. Getting of the ladder onto the rock was not easy and led to a scramble across snow filled ledges to a flat area, where were greeted by Choughs waiting to be fed. This was clearly a popular lunch spot, but we had nothing left to feed the birds and so pressed on. A cold and biting wind now cut across this flat plateau before we dropped down again, well protected with wires as we worked around the face of Cima Di Molveno. Some more steep ladders and stemples took us into the valley above our hut and we walked down the moraine to be met halfway by Rob and Nas, relieved to see us. They were just beginning to wonder where we were as most of the other groups had already arrived at the hut.
Tonight we were in the Rifugio Alimonta , a private modern hut, high up on a cliff in the most spectacular position. Service wasn’t as good or friendly as the Tuckett, but the beers were good!