The Dolomites, Italy
- June/July, 2001
Kris and I were very happy that we could fit all of our clothes and climbing gear into 2 full size carry ons and 2 small backpacks, so we didn’t have to check anything in.
We flew directly from Seattle to Amsterdam Saturday afternoon. We have never seen SEA-TAC airport so crowded, we were so glad we didn’t have to stand in what looked like a 2 hour line!
While we were waiting for the plane, we noticed a young guy dressed to the nines in a cowboy outfit with a pink and purple fanny pack and a large Alaska belt buckle. i thought it was very strange and Michael guessed that he was a tourist that thought that’s how Americans dressed. Sure enough, we sat right next to him and it turns out he was a Dutch guy who went on a camping tour from Seattle to Alaska. He loves his western wear (his previous trips to the states have been to Montana and Colorado) although he left his cowboy boots at home since he couldn’t fit it in his backpack. We (mostly Michael) had a good time talking to him about the mountains in Washington.
The flight wasn’t too bad and we felt pretty good at the Amsterdam airport. It was a 9+ hour flight and Amsterdam is 9 hours ahead so we arrived at 8am. It wasn’t a huge culture shock as all the signs were in Dutch and English. We had a bad experience there though. I have heard from various sources that there is a chance that the airport security x-ray machines will ruin film, no matter what speed film it is. I didn’t want to pass my film through the x-ray machine but the security guy said that it was my problem and not his. He then threw my whole bag of film through the machine! I was very upset!!! I’m keeping my fingers crossed that none of the rolls are ruined.
From there, we took a KLM flight to Milan and we were very pleased that the chairs on the flight were HUGE - almost business class! On a plane that usually has 3 chairs on each side, they have 2 on one and 3 on the other and made the chairs/armrests bigger to take up that extra space. We flew over the Swiss alps and got a breathtaking view!
When we got out of the airplane, we walked towards the exit and realized that we didn’t get our passports stamped. We talked to other US citizens that were around us and they said “oh yes, you NEED to get it stamped.” It was hell trying to get back in to where the customs agents are. I found out that if you have a US passport, you do not need to get it stamped in Europe. I asked three different people at the airport to confirm this. There are hardly any signs in English and only few people speak English so we felt very lost. All the books we read did not prepare us for this!
After that adventure, we found our way to an ATM got some money and promptly put it into our money belts. We went to the train shuttle station and bought a ticket to the central train station in Milan. We went down to the tracks and there was a train waiting there that said “Milan Nord.” We weren’t exactly sure if that was our train so we asked around and no one spoke English and we didn’t have our phrasebook handy. We finally found someone who did speak English and told us that we were on the right train (this is after we were halfway there). If it wasn’t our train, we don’t know what we would’ve done!
We got off at the main train station and went to the window to buy our tickets to Bolzano. We found out that we were at the wrong station (Cordona) and we needed to take the subway to the main train station. There is no direct train from the airport to the central station. Going down into the subway was quite an experience, very dark and dirty and again, we had no idea which train to get on. We saw a whole bunch of people boarding a train so we decided to get on too. Whether it was the right one or not, we had no idea. We found a map on the train and figured out that it was the right one. The subway train is very loud and screechy!
We got off at the right stop and took an escalator to the street. It was a really cool sight to surface onto the streets of Milan looking up to the huge structure of the train station. It was incredibly hot and we were not prepared for it! We were both wearing long sleeved shirts. We bought our tickets to Bolzano, although we were confused as to which train to board. We needed to take a train first to Verona, then from Verona to Bolzano. The woman at the window told us to catch the 14:05 train, but didn’t tell us which track. There was a train to Venice that left at 14:05 and a train to Verona at 14:15. It was 13:50 so we had very little time to figure out which train we needed to board. Michael ran around trying to ask someone with no luck. We saw an official looking person that spoke very little English that told us that the Venice train was the correct train. So, we got on and crossed our fingers!
We were very thirsty as there are no water fountains hardly anywhere and we didn’t have time to stop and buy some water. Michael left the bags with me and went out to find some. After about 20 minutes, he came back and i was so relieved, I was dying of thirst! I think the last time I was that dehydrated was when we ran out of water climbing at Red Rocks near Las Vegas. I opened the bottle and was so happy to be FINALLY drinking some water. I took a sip and nearly gagged. It turns out that it was carbonated water. How do people drink this stuff? It was the only water I had, Michael said I had to suffer with it. Going back to get another bottle would have taken too long.
We first sat in a compartment but then we got kicked out because it was reserved for a bunch of loud teenage German girls. So we had to sit in the aisle, they had these “pop out” chairs that we could use. About half way to Verona, a woman in another compartment left and the people in there made room for Michael and I. They were a family from New York and we started talking about climbing. They said that they live near the Gunks and that we should visit them. We were amazed at their generosity and exchanged addresses.
There was slight confusion as to which train to transfer to but we found a timetable and figured out where we needed to go. I found a water fountain that i could empty out my carbonated water and put in regular water. Ahhh, it was very nice!
We found some seats and was amazed at how less crowded that train was. It turned out that we were sitting in the first class section and we were booted into the second class section. I cannot describe the heat we endured! That second train was long and slow, so it took awhile to get to Bolzano. The only chairs we found was next to this girl that was sleeping and she ‘ had her legs up next to the chair across from her. Michael had to “form-fit” around her with one leg up and over one of the arm rests. Funny, I always pictured train riding as almost like taking a plane - air conditioned and pleasant.
Michael used the bathroom and heard a strange sound. He then realized that the toilet was just a “hole” and everything was being emptied directly onto the tracks! hmmm…
We finally made it to Bolzano but then realized that we had no idea how to get to our hotel (Kolpinghaus). Michael left the bags with me and ran around Bolzano to find it - they did say that they were five minutes away from the station. He came back 15 minutes later with no luck. I saw a “local” looking guy and decided to ask him for directions. He spoke very little English but with Michael’s knowledge of German (in the South Tyrol region of Italy, most people speak German first and Italian second), we managed to understand his directions. We started walking and I think we looked so pathetic that he offered to walk us there. He even carried one of our bags! We were on guard as we were just reading about all the petty theft that happens - Michael and I were ready to run after him should he decide to take off with our bag. It turns out that he was a very genuine guy and extremely nice. He liked the opportunity to practice his English. Since he was so nice, we invited him to come to dinner with us after we checked into our hotel. He was really surprised that we offered and gladly accepted.
His name is Daniel and he was born in Bolzano and is a musician (clarinet and accordion teacher) and also loves to ski. He is currently practicing some pieces to play in a worldwide(?) symphony and has concerts in Switzerland in July. We went to his favorite pizzeria - Pizzeria Partenope - and had a lot of fun talking about so many things. It’s amazing what you can do with a German/English dictionary and hand gestures.
Michael’s gesturing of “crowded” and “fence” were extremely funny (at least to me). It was so wonderful to have Daniel there! I found a new drink that I like - Spetzi - which is Coke and Fanta mixed together. Michael liked Radler, which is beer and coke mixed together. I also had my first grappa, which is a really, really strong drink, sort of like vodka but it burns as it goes down. You can sip it or do it as a shot. Someone at our work said that the locals drink grappa, so we had to at least try it! We ordered pizza, of course, and this restaurant has 80 combinations of pizza! It was wonderful! It turns out that Daniel loves computers so he was really impressed that we both work for Microsoft. His girlfriend called on his cell phone (every Italian has at least one) during dinner and so we got on that subject - turns out he has many girlfriends all over Italy and he said that it’s hard to keep them from finding out about each other. Quite the player! It was a fun evening and he was just so blown away when we told him that he would pay for his meal. Dinner for three including drinks came out to about $25! After dinner, he gave us his personal tour of the central area of Bolzano and it was such an amazing place - just what we pictured small town Italy to be like! Very romantic with narrow streets and tall buildings crowding on each other and people walking at night. He also told us where to get the best gelati in Bolzano, but it was closed so we couldn’t get any that night.
We went back to the hotel and discovered lots of strange things. We were confused about the towels, imagine that! There is a big linen sheet that I’m guessing is a washcloth (still trying to figure that one out) and then a more absorbent cloth, which we used as a towel, we don’t know for sure if it is one - but it was in the bathroom so it must be. The room was very narrow so the twin beds couldn’t be put side by side, It was top to bottom. I think in Europe there is almost no such thing as a king or queen sized bed. It’s usually two twins put together. The beds were very HARD and forget about air conditioning! We slept with the window opened and listed to the birds, people passing by, motor scooters and cars. We were so tired that the noise didn’t bother us at all! What a day!
I got up at 2am because I was just too excited to stay asleep and because we had to keep the window open since the room was so hot. We both finally got out of bed at 5:30am (can you believe it? For those of you who don’t know our sleeping habits, we’re NOT morning people) and walked around Bolzano.
It was such a neat experience, It made us really like Bolzano, it was a very quiet morning (but still hot) and we went to a bakery and bought something that looks and tastes like a very large donut and an apple something or another. We also saw some very strange looking cars, some that were smaller than 6 feet long!
We went back to our room and I took a short nap - falling asleep to the sounds of cars, scooters and someone playing the flute from the music conservatory next door. Michael went on an adventure to find some shaving cream and a phone card. He first went to a farmacia (pharmacy), which is strictly a pharmacy and is not like our “drug store.” When he couldn’t find it there, he stopped and asked someone where to get shaving cream (had a hard time explaining what he wanted but suddenly remembered the italian word for it - crema da barba) and the guy told him that he had to go to a tabacci shop, which probably has the most products per square foot than any other type of store.
We picked up our rental car - a Fiat Punto - and I was so relieved that the guy said that it had air conditioning! The car was small, but not “funny” small. It was more like a small Honda Civic hatchback. And of course, it DIDN’T have air conditioning! We had to make do with rolling the windows down. There is a button marked “city” and we have no idea what it is for.
We made our way to Cortina d’Ampezzo via the direct and scenic, but stressful and scary route! The road was much curvier than the map made it look. Picture a residential two way street “on a diet” then make it go through very hilly landscape with a billion switchbacks. Then picture motorcycles, cars and very large tour busses in your lane going around blind curves at 50mph! The roads resemble hiking trails more than driving terrain! After about 2 hours of this, I got motion sickness and we had to stop and walk around for awhile. We got the first look at the Dolomites and they were just incredible! We eventually made it to Cortina after 3 very stressful hours. Michael did very well though, he said that he feels “at home” with driving here. Maybe it reminded him of being 18 again?
We then drove up a ONE lane street to the Rifugio Cinque Torri. If you thought the two lane streets were bad, this was way worse! At least we went at a good time when there wasn’t too many cars going the opposite direction. There is one very blind curve at the top that we nearly had a head on collision! ACK! We made it there alive and well but found out that the Cinque Torri Huette was full for the night. There was another Rifugio that was 5 minutes away (for a Sasquatch, 30 minutes for the lay person) but they didn’t open until July 1. We noticed that the air was very thin - we were at 7000 ft - so it was very hard to walk uphill. At first I thought I was just way out of shape, but Michael was having a hard time also and since he is experienced being at high elevations, he knew that it was the air.
We decided to stay in Cortina that night and an Italian couple helped us make a reservation at the hut for the next night. The husband said that he didn’t speak English then later went on to tell us about his trip to Aspen, Colorado! We were a little disappointed with Cortina (especially after liking Bolzano so much) - it is a resort town with no real culture. It has a billion places to stay and 80 restaurants serving only Italian food. The views are incredible though and Winter and August are the busiest times. A lot of places were still closed (open July 1) but we kind of liked that it was empty. We stayed in a place called the Hotel San Marco, right across from the main church. Our friends, Peter and Kim, stayed here last year and highly recommended it. It is very reasonable and centrally located so we don’t have to drive when we’re in town. The rooms are very quiet since it has double doors. Right when we arrived, there was a funeral procession going on - the church bells were ringing and hundreds of people walked out of the church almost single file following a hearse through town. I’m so used to seeing cars in a line, not people, it was very interesting and humbling. We took a nap and woke up too late to have dinner so we just went hungry.
06.26.01: Our first climb - Via delle Guide (by Michael)
I was so excited! It was time to climb in Italy! What would the rock be like? From the pictures, I expected it to be chossy and horrible, ready to break off at any moment. In fact, while I was writing this, a Canadian man walked up and asked me what the rock was like. He was so sure it would be bad that he didn’t bring his rope. tsk tsk…No more “soup” for him! We made that horrid drive up to the hut again, this time with no scary incidents! [Michael was rushing me since he saw a busload of climbers coming. -Kris]
We hiked up, making a few route-finding mistakes, but finally coming beneath the 300-foot high face of Torre Grande’s West Summit. The route was the “Via Della Guide,” first climbed in 1930. In front of us, another party was finishing the first pitch. There is an overhanging section of rock here, and the follower above was having a nervous time. Fidgeting and murmuring in German, he was making Kris nervous too! But then I was climbing, and finally after much speculation found that the rock was wonderful. What looks like “choss,” is just a mottled pattern of black and gray rock. And the holds can be gripped like video-game joysticks. Quickly, I arrived at the overhang, and overcame it with a large baseball bat hold. I found a belay station made up of one cemented piton. Cement? Soon I would grow used to this, but for the first time, I had to back it up with gear. Kris surprised herself by climbing through the overhang with no fuss, no muss! Wow, the sun was out and we were climbing!
We climbed another pitch up easy rock, then a delightful climbing traverse to beneath a great overhang of rock. Stopping to take pictures at every chance, we were enjoying ourselves greatly. Then a pitch with a hard start, protected by an iron piton. In general, it was hard to find protection with my gear. I felt that you need pitons, especially knifeblades for the compact rock here. I used small to medium cams, and small nuts, but I finally quit carrying larger cams, as I never found a place for them. Anyway, back to the climb.
There was one pitch left, and it ends spectacularly with fun climbing right to the summit - an isolated block about 20 feet square. Here we took more pictures, hugged, hung out a while, and made the first of three rappels to a steep trail. We had really had the route to ourselves, something we wouldn’t get again. On the short-but-steep hike back to our boots, we met Carl from Spokane, WA. He had just finished the “via Miram” on the South Summit. Everybody’s happy!
There was a local pinnacle that looked close enough to climb while Kris took a nap. I got my boots on and ran down into a valley, up the other side and met up with a trail going to Passu Giau. I followed this beautiful trail through heather down a gully, then to a long traverse of a mountain side. I kept my eyes open for a way over to the peak, and finally found a ridge that should work. Enjoying the exploration, I was soon below the peak, where I followed steep scree and heather to a saddle with a cairn. I found an expensive tripod head here! Steeper, exposed scree and rock led to the summit, which had a spectacular view in all directions. It took 50 minutes to get here, but it was special because there were no signs of previous passage, and I didn’t even know what it was called. I looked down on the rifugio for a while, then carefully descended. I tore my pants on sharp rock, and Kris repaired them for me with the tiny sewing kit that came with our toiletry bag!
I came back and took a small nap with Kris but that was a big mistake because we missed dinner! The couple that runs the place felt bad for us and gave us some speck (smoked pork) and awful smelling cheese. It was really bad smelling. It was gross. We gagged. Michael said it was like a decomposing rhinoceros. Like the night before, we went to bed hungry.
06.27.01: Locked in the hut but at least Torre Lusy is conquered!
Wednesday we were up at 4 am to take pictures of the sunrise, but to our surprise the Rifugio door was locked! We had figured to take pictures then get an early start on the climbing, but endured a few tortured hours in our room and the upstairs balcony. I figured I could escape via the W.C. window, and we also could have rappelled from the balcony, but it probably wasn’t worth the furor it would cause. I was especially worried about the bus full of climbers that arrived at nine yesterday and took over the tower we wanted to climb. It might happen again.
But finally, since we missed dinner the night before, we had to stay until breakfast at 7:30. We had yet more bread, and a sort of applesauce/baby-food “juice drink,” and finally left the hut at 8 am. It was already quite hot.
With a vague conception of where Barranco tower was, we climbed up the trail behind the hut. We came to snowy scree gullies and decided to follow a way trail around the towers. Up and down we went, guessing about the tower and being wrong several times. Finally, we circled all the way to the start of via della Guide, hiked up the gully to our rappel point from the day before, and realized our tower was down steep scree all the way back to where we started! And even worse, the climber bus had arrived, and I counted 16 climbers milling around the base of the route we wanted! Eeeyyy…
It turns out we were mistaken about the tower names, and also, the climbers at the base were queuing up for Torre Lusy. But not knowing that, I started climbing a more intimidating route just to the right (via del diedro on Torre Romana). It was well protected, but went up a steep, even overhanging at parts, corner with some reachy moves. Coming out on a ledge, I was a little worried about how Kris would find it. I then followed a line of bolts onto a face and a belay point. Estimating the climb to be a stiff 5.7, I thought about rappelling from there, since I had just enough rope. Kris came up halfway, then I lowered her because it was just too hard for her. She had to pull on every piece of pro and still couldn’t make it. I had used all my slings so it was difficult to set the rappel and finally escape. Once down, we walked around the corner to the more classic climb, and ran into two guys inspecting it. The crowds had disappeared.
These two were Max, an Italian living in St. Louis, and Carl, a fellow Washingtonian from Spokane. The route looked quite steep, and with Kris having just been repelled from a climb, we wanted something easy. Carl’s guidebook described a route just to the left on Lusy, 5 pitches of 5.4 (Via Lusy Pompanin). It looked like a fun route. There was a crowd of climbers above, but we wouldn’t run into them. We needed to do a 50 meter rappel, so we combined our teams and ropes (we each had one 60 meter).
Max and Carl went first, and Kris and I came behind. The climb started out tough, with steep polished holds in a moat between snow and rock. But once the ridge is gained, the climb was really fun, having the same beautiful holds as Via Della Guide. Carl and Max climbed slowly, Carl had just ended a two year moratorium on leading, and Max felt that leading a climb was a sure way to die! So we spend time conversing with Max on ledges, and admiring the views of Tofana. Each pitch had one small difficulty, such as a crack or polished holds. The day was clouding up, and there was a wind blowing.
Abruptly, on pitch 4, a swarm of 6 climbers came up rapidly while Carl was leading out. One was unroped, and the others were from Val Gardena (Italy). Max said that townspeople there learn to climb at age 3. Indeed, they were a swarm, and it was
all I could do to lead up right on Max’s tail to prevent them from swarming over and passing in a huge glut. Kris, belaying me on the ledge with this group later said they were trying to find a way around me, and only quieted when they realized they couldn’t do it. Still, they weren’t rude, just a bit unnerving. Naturally, Kris climbed this interesting and steep pitch quickly. As the clouds darkened, Carl went up for a final pitch to a ledge below the summit. I climbed just behind Max, clipping to their gear to save time, since a light rain had started. Kris arrived and we soon were at the rappel point. Thunder had started, and we were filled with a sense of urgency. Kris and I enjoyed the 40m long free rappel, and the knot came down easily.
Once on the ground, a hailstorm developed, and we took shelter under a (suitably bolted!) overhang while painful bullets of ice fell and lighting cracked in the sky. Carl shared some food he had - sandwiches and smoked (?) sausages that were very prehistoric looking, old and wrinkled like it was 50 years old. I enjoyed the sausage but Kris couldn’t eat it once she found out it was made out of mountain goat! Soon we were drinking back at the hut with Carl, Max and their traveling companions - Doug, Cindy and Mary Frances. Kris had a Spetzi (coke and Fanta), and I had a beer. Max shared his Williams, kind of a pear vodka, which is now one of Kris’s favorite drinks.
We headed back to Cortina and went to the local climbing shops and ate dinner at the 5 Torri restaurant (pretty crappy). Michael discovered that he doesn’t like polenta and the spaghetti tasted like fast food. they are also not big on garlic. bummer. Kris decided to make some calls to home and spent about 10 minutes trying to figure out how to use the phone card. You need to break off this piece of plastic in the corner before the machine would take it. Go figure!
Michael considered climbing today since when we got up there were patches of blue sky. We were told yesterday that the weather would be bad. By the time we got ready, the sky was totally cloudy so we decided to run some errands. We had our morning breakfast and talked to some Canadians.
We went to the local tourist office and found out that Cortina does not have a laundromat. They did have one at some point but it went out of business. There are some at campsites on the outskirts of town but you need to be a guest to use them. We called one of them and asked if we could pay the guest fee, use the laundry facilities and not actually stay, but they said that we had to physically stay there. Ridiculous! They also have a dry cleaning business but it would take 2 days and cost a fortune to wash t-shirts, socks and underwear! We also found out where the Internet point was (very important) and spent a couple of hours writing email.
The weather was really bad and it rained hard almost all day. Michael bought some laundry detergent and I did laundry in our hotel sink. My arms were throbbing after an hour or so of washing clothes. I am so glad I don’t have to do this at home! I also got some film developed (didn’t want to worry about film being damaged on the way home) and wrote some postcards.
We took an afternoon drive to Dobbiaco/Toblach and took some pictures along the way. There was a very picturesque scene of cows in a field amongst cloud covered mountains. We found a small (VERY small) worship area perched on the side of a steep hill with a one lane dirt road up to it. It had six tiny pews that if the church were packed, it would fit about 12 very thin people.
We came back to Cortina and ate dinner at Hotel de la Poste and it was a nice change of pace from the pizzerias but it wasn’t anything to write home about. Wait a minute, I am writing home about it now. hmm… But it’s not a good writing home - the steaks were very raw, almost cold in the middle and that was cooked medium! I had to send my steak back 2 or 3 times for it to be only slightly pink.
06.29.01: We climb the Falzarego Towers and went the wrong way down! (by Michael)
Today was our first chance at a big climb. Torre Piccola, one of the two Falzarego Towers had a 30 minute approach from the road, and offered 7 pitches of climbing to grade IV+. Supposedly the climb should take 1.5 hours, and the descent a mere 45 minutes. Great! We didn’t bring a lunch, fully expecting to be back in town by 2 PM or so. I roused a sleepy Kris, and we made the now-familiar drive to Falzarego Pass. We found a faint trail leading away from the road, then steeply up to intersect a wide path between the pass and the Rifugio Dibona. After a few minutes on this path, we found an amazing ruin: a collection of WWI-era barracks, crumbling amid greenery and spires of rock. A herd of deer grazed at the upper end of the abandoned buildings, and a trio of marmots entertained Kris for some time. She was inspired, and took some great photos while I took a steep path up to the base of the route. I looked for a painted “#10” on the cliff, which marked a start to the route. Despite letters 4 feet high, I didn’t see it until I had scrambled almost on top of it. I descended to the barracks and brought a reluctant Kris up.
Then began an adventure in route finding. I climbed to the right of the “#10”, for the easier way indicated in the guidebook. But the rock led me up on an obvious route through a crack. Finally, a few vertical moves, and I had reached a bolted belay. I didn’t think Kris would like that, and looking to the next pitch there was a 12 foot slightly overhanging crack to surmount. Wow. Indeed, Kris came up through difficult climbing, and I lowered her from the belay and rappelled myself. During this time, a horde of about 20 climbers had arrived on an easier approach, and were already swarming around and over me. We decided to follow a group we had run into the day before, as their route looked like the true easy start. We climbed one pitch easily, then I tried to follow this group on the next pitch which went up and right, rather than left as the topo indicated. Initially easy terrain became loose and unpleasant. I ended up down-climbing most of a pitch, and making for a long leftward traverse as the topo indicated. This was the right move, and soon Kris arrived on a spectacular traverse. We had now caught up with a small crowd. I shared belay ledges with a girl from Bolzano (Elana) who spoke German with a strange accent. But she could speak a little English, and as we climbed higher her desire to get away from the unrelenting exposure became quite strong! By the barracks were two helicopter pads with a circled red “H.” Kris and I saw these H’s get smaller and smaller, and since the route is on an arete (ridge) for most of the way, the space and air surrounding us was intoxicating. Kris’s solution was to not look down for a while!
For the third pitch, I climbed behind Elana, and got good gear placements while I waited for her to complete a hard move. The pitch ended with a vertical chimney, and I set a gear belay off to the side, since one party belayed off a chockstone and another was using the bolts. This belay station was quite a bottleneck. People seemed a little tense though, and no one talked to me except Elana. I knew Kris would find this climbing harder, so I mentally visualized where she was with each stop and start of the rope. She found it difficult, but we were both pleased that she climbed the pitch solidly. For locals, this pitch felt like a longer first pitch of Midway on Castle Rock.
Pitch four really got my attention, as it was the crux in terms of difficulty and exposure. You start by climbing onto the crest of the arete with an overhang below
you, so you can feel space all around. Then there was a difficult move getting above a piton at an overhang. I worked straight up and left to a sort of chasm, placing much needed gear before committing to a delicate rightward traverse. Whew! I felt that if Kris could climb this, we were home free, as the remaining 4 pitches were easier. And she came up really well, only having problems with the short traverse. I know we were both a little tense here because we didn’t take pictures of pitch 3 or 4, although they offered the most interesting climbing. But our relief was great as we climbed two easy pitches right on the ridge crest. The parties ahead got far enough above us that we had the route to ourselves again. Pitch 7 had some tricky route-finding, sending me on a blank-looking rightward ascent, then back left. After one more easy pitch Kris tentatively stood on the summit, and said she was glad we had done this. She couldn’t exactly say it was fun, but it was fulfilling in a way that mere fun doesn’t provide. I felt really close to her and proud of her, because it seemed that she understood what motivates me to climb. But the most trying work was still ahead of us!
We climbed down about 40 feet of 4th class rock to a rappel station into the notch between the two towers. After a long rappel, we attached the rope between us, and started down a steep gully with blocks of snow. Here began an education in short-roping. I would usually go down ahead, and Kris would follow. Squeezing between snow and
rock, we even climbed past a few rappel stations that didn’t seem necessary. At one point I set a belay and lowered Kris past a small overhang. I was able to down-climb it once she scouted that it had hidden footholds. After the gully, we faced a sea of steep heather and gravelly rock. Although we didn’t know it at the time, we made a wrong turn here, which bought us another hour of delicate, exposed descent. We followed a faint path down to more rock scrambling. At points along here, I would make some moves, and protect Kris by looping the rope over rock horns. Kris climbed carefully and without complaint. Finally we reached a tree at the top of a disintegrating slope (hummocks of dirt would crumble under your feet) and saw that two rappels would reach our packs. We left a sling around the tree, and had to be extra careful not to knock rocks loose during the rappel. Finally, we were “home”, safely back at the start of the route. More down-climbing to the wide path, and a hike back to the car. I don’t remember the exact time, but I can say that this route took us all day long. We were starving, and immediately drove to Cortina and barged into the nearest restaurant for food.
We had dinner at the Hotel Cortina it was wonderful, way better than the Hotel de la Poste! It was almost completely empty, and we couldn’t figure out why. The service was excellent and food was extremely delicious! We think it’s because the rush season hasn’t really started yet. Kris had the spaghetti w/fresh tomato sauce and I had the pepper steak. It was the personal recipes of the bartender/waiter, Marco. He cooked the meals in front of us and put on quite a show! The food was cheap but the drinks expensive but we had such a trying day, I allowed myself to drink Coke! It was 7000 lire ($3) for a very small bottle (8oz?). We went to bed very tired but also very satisfied for finally finding a place that served excellent food!
06.30.01: Our first gondola ride to Rifugio Laguzuoi! (by Michael)
We just had to sleep in a while after such a big day, but we still had ambitions! The goal was to climb a via ferrata on the mountain Col Rosa. After running various errands, we arrived at the trail-head around 10 am. The book described a hike of 500 meters elevation gain to get there, and we gamely started up the road looking for a trail turn-off. We ran into a cheery British couple who gave up walking and led us back and onto various side trails before a close look at the map indicated the turn-off was further up. “Right,” and they were off again. We hiked through forest reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest: all views were obscured by trees! About halfway up we were passed by about 40 or 50 people intent on the via ferrata route. We guessed that they had all come on a bus and gotten off together. A few extra confident types seemed to be guides, and most conversation was in German. It took us a while to reach a high pass, due to the heat, and finally I went ahead a bit and scrambled up the approach to the via ferrata. When I saw how far it was still, I turned back and met Kris. We were happy to eat a lunch of bread, cheese, speck, and cookies, while looking across at some beautiful mountains. This had been a good hike, but without the energy to do the via ferrata, we decided to head back to the car and do something else with the late afternoon. On the way down we took a most excellent nap in a patch of green grass! Again, the trails were empty. We never saw “day hikers” trickling in on the trail in the afternoon the way you might here (in Washington). Instead, the arrival time of hikers seems tied to the first lift or the first bus. Everyone goes in a big clump together. So you can find solitude if you go against this pattern. I would later come back to this climb and defy the pattern so effectively, I didn’t see anyone on the entire climb.
We drove to Falzarego Pass and admired our climb from the day before. We then took a lift up to the Rifugio Lagazoui. This lift carried us up 3000 feet in 4 minutes, and the cables were so far away from the steep mountainside that it felt like we were in a plane. At the top, we got a Coke and took pictures on the sun deck, admiring the views of Marmalota and other peaks. Tofana di Rozes looked magnificent, and I shivered at the idea that Steve and I would climb it. The upper snowfields looked steep, and provoked apprehension. Kris and I walked along the cliff to a plateau, and I continued to a higher plateau with a cross. Like many others in this area, the cross was dedicated to the memory of those who fell in WWI. I had to run back as fast as I could to make the final lift down. Kris was apprehensive because the lift was PACKED with people, and she wondered if this exceeded some weight limit. Imagine 30 non-English speaking people crowded in a gondola and the lift operator telling us to get in. I thought about how I wish I didn’t eat all those pizzas! When you get on, the car isn’t still, it kind of sways back and forth. On the way down you think of the best way for the car to fall - on it’s side so that all the people will cushion you and it will be ok. Then you think about it falling the other way and…oh, the horror! There is a wave of relief from everyone when we get close to the ground station.
We admired a collection of old cars at the pass. Then Kris tried on a Tyrolean hat and looked great. Kris bought some postcards and I bought a book in English (the only one). I tried to read stories in German about the Great War and all the tunnels they dug in the mountains. Incidentally, there was a series of man-made caves near Col Rosa, no doubt used as ammunition dumps in those insane years.
We then drove around looking for a castle that I spotted a few days ago. We didn’t really how to get to it exactly (I only had a vague idea where it was) so with only a few wrong turns, we managed to find it. It was a really cool castle, built around the year 1000. It wasn’t an “attraction” at all, just something really neat to look at. It was a bummer we couldn’t go in since they were remodeling. It probably would have been a hazard anyways since it was quite crumbly.
We ate dinner at the Hotel Cortina (AGAIN!) and got to know Marco (the waiter) a little better. He told us about his pets and how much he misses them since his house is near the Swiss border and he lives in the hotel when he’s in Cortina. We asked if it was a dog or cat and he said “No, they’re Japanese chickens!” We burst out laughing because that was so unexpected. We had a wonderful meal and then went back to our hotel room and spent the evening looking at our slides and choosing our favorites.
07.01.01: We go to Innsbruck, Austria for a little culture and to do laundry! (by Kris)
We ran a few errands this morning (went to the co-op for some food, checked out of our hotel, etc.) then went on a drive to Innsbruck. It took us about 3 hours from Cortina. Since there was a lot of construction on the autostrada, we didn’t make as good of a time as we thought we would. It was a nice drive though, lots of pretty green hillsides with a few houses sprinkles here and there.
This was the first time that we had taken the autostrada and we didn’t know what to do when we arrived at a toll booth. We just went into some lane and there was no person there. No instructions were in English so we didn’t know what we were supposed to do. Michael pushed the only button that was there (hopefully to call someone?) and a ticket printed and the gate lifted up. Ok, that was weird, we didn’t have to pay anything. We eventually figured out that the ticket just “marks” where you enter the autostrada then you pay at the next toll booth. We encountered a slight unexpected culture shock entering Austria, as everything abruptly switches from Italian to German. Although Michael can read some German, seeing EVERYTHING in German was kind of weird. We learned the Italian way and got used to it, so switching took a few hours to get adjusted.
We arrived in downtown Innsbruck at around noon and immediately found our way to the tourist information office and found a place to stay for the night. This is the first time we did this and it was so easy to find a reasonable place to stay. It was a really picturesque building right near the center of town and it wasn’t too expensive. Close by was a good Chinese restaurant and a movie theater (I’ll talk about these later).
We drove to the hotel and the woman assured us that parking on the street would be no problem. But she forgot to mention there was some kind of parade(?) going on so they blocked off some of the roads and we found no parking on the street at all. We decided to park in a lot nearby so we don’t waste our time looking for parking.
The first thing on our agenda was LAUNDRY! You have no idea what Michael’s socks smell like after they have been worn at least 3 days in a row. We found a place called “Bubble Point Waschsalon” and it was a very high tech laundramat. Everything was controlled by a central kiosk and they even gave us free laundry detergent! We had some problems with the darn bill acceptor - you cannot have any wrinkles whatsoever in your bills, or it spits it right back out. We were hoping to use the two Internet computers there but people were already on it. Apparently, they have found a way to use it for free. I tried to look over the guys shoulder to see how he did it, but he was protective of his secret. He put money in the kiosk that controls Internet access and then somehow got it to return his money and give him access time.
We walked around for a bit and realized that it was Sunday and everything was pretty much closed. So we went back to the tourist office to ask if there is another Internet point. There was one place really close by, so we went there while we waited for our laundry. They also had phones you could use to call long distance for really cheap so we called our friend from Germany, Mattias, and made plans to meet in Cortina Tuesday evening. He was supposed to come Monday evening but he was playing American style football and injured his foot.
We passed by a McDonald’s and bought some fries, and we were amazed at how good they were. Even though it was junk food, it was kind of nice to have something familiar. We went back to the car to drop off our laundry and realized that we should make plans for the week so that we can get as much in as we can. This involved calling Refugio’s in Italy, calling Mattias several more times, but we finally got our plan straight. Now that we had our laundry done, we could do some sight seeing.
We entered what people call the “old” part of town and ate lunch. I had a typical German dish of dumplings and cheese (that Michael really liked) and Michael had sausage and sauerkraut. It was refreshing to eat something other than Italian food! We then went to the Golden Roof and learned about how powerful Emperor Maximilian I was and that he was an avid climber!
We also climbed the 148 steps to the top of the clock tower for a great view of the city. The weather wasn’t very good that day, mostly cloudy, but there were a few “god beams” breaking through the clouds that gave the city a very holy appearance.
We went back to our hotel room to rest a little while and Michael watched a really strange-yet-addicting game show. It was in German so we didn’t really know everything that was happening. But what Michael did understand was there was a bunch of people that lived together for awhile and the goal is to see who loses the most amount of weight. After living together for a certain period of time, they come into the studio and tell their stories and weigh in. This guy, who still looked like he could lose a few, was cheering because he lost 3 pounds. It was weird, but so weird that you couldn’t stop watching it.
We then went out to dinner at the Waldorf Chinese restaurant, which was right behind the hotel that we were staying in. It was a surreal environment, it looks kind of closed (almost boarded up) from the outside and on the inside is a “wall” that goes up about 3/4 to the ceiling with another door that you have to go through - at this point we weren’t sure if we’re supposed to just go in or wait for someone to come out and greet us. We went inside anyway and was greeted by a really nice Chinese woman. The inside structure was kind of strange, like it was a building from the middle ages decorated in 1975 Chinese stuff. Strange. Anyways, the woman really liked me, I’m assuming because I’m asian and they don’t see many asians in Innsbruck. We found out that she moved to Austria because she went on a holiday to Innsbruck, really liked the town, moved and opened up the restaurant. It’s been there for the last 20 years! The food was excellent and Michael said it was the best Chinese meal he has ever had! WOW!
I really wanted to see a blockbuster American movie in a foreign language, so we went to see “Die Mummy Kehrt Zuruck” at the theater that was literally 15 steps away from our hotel. We enjoyed it thoroughly - as the theater seats were the big, cushy, rock-back kind and even though we didn’t understand what was going on word-for-word, we knew the general plot (how hard is that???). Every few minutes, Michael would lean over and whisper “That guy is just a friend who is helping them out” or other tidbits he could understand. Seeing a bad American movie in a foreign language adds a lot to the excitement! So now we’re looking forward to the English version to see what we didn’t catch. If you’re ever in a non-English speaking country, I highly recommend doing this!
We got up fairly early and had breakfast. We talked to a family from Louisiana and they had been in Europe for the past 5 months! The father was on sabbatical from the University. I was very interested to know how traveling for so long with two kids (5 and 7) was. He explained the good and the bad and how they had to adjust to the different way of life for awhile. They looked like they were having quite the experience!
The first thing on my agenda after checking out was to call my mother in Hawaii since I haven’t talked to her in over a week. They are 11 hours behind, so I tried to call them around 10am. I went to the pay phone near the parking garage and realized that I didn’t know the country code for the US. Was it the same as calling from Italy? I looked everywhere in the phone booth and no country code for the US could be found. Luckily, there was a phone book in the booth so I could look it up. ARRRGH! The front pages that might have all that kind of information were missing! So, I stopped a guy on the street and he didn’t know. He came back 30 seconds later and said “the front pages of the phone book should have the information!” Thanks a lot, mister! We tried to use the phone card to call information but it doesn’t connect. I had one 5 shilling coin (about 30 cents) and called information using that. Just as the operator was going to give me the country code, the phone got cut off since my time was up. Great.
We drove to the Alpenzoo very frustrated! We couldn’t believe how hard it was to get just the darn country code for the US. We parked in the lot of the zoo and asked someone else if they knew it and sure enough, it was the same as Italy (at least we think so), 001. So, I went to the phone in the zoo parking lot, excited to finally be calling my mom, and I find out that you cannot use a phone card with that phone (it wasn’t touch tone?). At that point, I gave up. There’s no use in ruining the whole day trying to call Hawaii and it was getting late anyway.
The first animals that we saw at the zoo were two grizzly bears. It was amazing how close up they were. They were down in a pit and we were directly above them, about 10 feet away. I’m so used to seeing bears 50 feet away with a moat separating the people from the animals. I was amazed that having them closer to you made you almost connect with them. I didn’t make a connection in my mind that since it was an zoo with Alpine animals, that the whole zoo would be on the side of a hill. We spent the first half going uphill (ugh!) watching the Ibex scratch their backs with their horns, the red deer sleeping in the shade, the large birds eying you as if you’re their next meal, a small water snake forcing his food down by swimming like a tornado, and a sleeping river otter. They even had a petting zoo where we connected with some goats and watched a piglets wrestle each other as they’re mother lay down to feed them. We did make fun of the pig because people always say “pigs are very smart, smarter than dogs and cats.” We watched the mother pig get up and trot over to her pool. She got in and drank some water then starting urinating in it! We were grossing out and wondering who in their right minds would think that this animal was smarter than our cats! Geez! The only disappointment of the zoo was that all the marmots were hiding!
We headed back to Italy and headed straight to the Rifugio Fonda Savio. It’s about a 1 hour hike in and well worth it! The rifugio sits in a saddle between spectacular towers and since there was some snow still around, it made it even more scenic! We were running a little late so I had Michael run ahead to make sure that we can still get dinner. It turns out that we were supposed to be there by 6pm (no one mentioned that whenever we made our reservation) and since we arrived at 6:15pm, they gave our beds to someone else! The woman was kind of rude at first but then said that they had extra beds for emergencies.
She then took us to our beds, which were in the attic. You have to climb a 12 foot ladder to get up, which was scary at first, and up there was about 30 cots. Ours were in the “overflow” room - 5 cots with 2 tanks of something. Michael thought it would be funny if it was a septic tank. I think it was hot water tanks. We shared the room with a guy from California who didn’t talk very much. The bathroom is downstairs and everyone shares one bathroom (no shower)! So you have to plan accordingly because going up and down the ladder is not efficient.
We sat down for dinner and sat next to these kind of snooty German or Austrian climbers. The dinner was pretty decent, even better than some restaurants in Cortina. The owner (a woman in her mid-thirties) sat next to us and we enjoyed talking to her. She gave us good beta on some routes that we were planning to do the next day. We wanted to to “Il Gobbo” but found out that the approach is still covered in snow. So, Torre Wundt was going to be our climb for tomorrow. Everyone kind of looked at us and didn’t think we could climb or something because when we said that we were going to climb it, they would always say something like “do you have the equipment?” or “have you climbed before?” We’ll show them!
It was hard for us to mix with the people there since no one really spoke English and everyone knew each other. We found out that almost all of them were part of a climbing course from the University of Innsbruck. We felt so out of place and no one showed interest in talking to us so we went to our room and organized our stuff. Then I went to sleep and Michael stayed up awhile reading.
Michael finally went to bed but a horrible, foul noise woke him up. He said a old man sleeping next to me was farting really loudly then chuckling/coughing repeatedly. He had no control. The room filled with toxic levels of methane. There were some really long, moist intestinal activity going on right next to me! Thank god I was asleep! Michael was horrified but eventually managed to fall asleep between chuckles.
07.03.01: We do Torre Wundt (by Michael)
- Climb: Torre Wundt, South Face, 7 pitches, 5.5
After breakfast we went outside to get a look at the route. I had gone to check out the base the evening before, and had a pretty good idea of the start. There was some steep scree to hike up, and I knew Kris would love that! The hut owner said the climb gets sun only after 11 am, due to high walls on the other side of the narrow valley. We sat outside for an hour, but finally at 10 am, we got tired of waiting and started up. We were gearing up at the base when a large guided group (about 7 people) arrived. I made sure to look very ready when they arrived!
Kris belayed me on the first pitch, a cold chimney, but with solid, water-worn rock. Kris enjoyed this. A shorter, easier pitch led us to the crux of the route - a 50 meter pitch on an imposing black wall. I could hug the left edge which offered chances to place protection, but the climbing was harder. The center wall was easier but unprotected. I veered between the two choices, really paying attention until I reached a belay station. Kris was talking with the guide below, and came up the pitch very nicely. Next a series of chimneys, starting with a difficult crack move led me to a huge belay bolt at the entrance to a cave. From here, we climbed out of the cave on the left. I escaped by climbing a crack, and combined two short pitches to reach a rock horn with incredible views down to the hut. Placing a sling over the horn, I brought Kris up to here. We were now in the warm sun, and enjoying ourselves greatly. One or two rope lengths of very easy climbing brought us to the summit. We signed the register, some of the only English language signatures there! After a few photos, we started down on what proved to be a complex and time-consuming descent.
We made five rappels with our single rope, each of which traversed slightly. Then I lowered Kris a rope length to a high pass between towers. We simul-climbed on a traverse around the mountain across several gullies. I was able to place gear at difficult sections to protect Kris. Finally we reached another pass and looked down to the trail we had come up the day before, but there was a big problem. The colouir was filled with snow, and it became very steep! We both wore rock shoes, and Kris has never been comfortable climbing on snow. She was very worried, and we thought about our options as the guided group that followed us up came along. We decided to wait and let them go first.
Their guide confidently stepped down the slope in good boots. He reached a rock horn with rappel slings, and encouraged his party to follow. Watching them teeter down uncertainly just made Kris worry more about our fate! From here, the guide lowered a woman a full rope length to the end of the snow, then everyone else rappelled, presumably past the worst difficulties. Now I was confident that we could safely descend. I lowered Kris to the rappel station, then climbed down myself. After lowering her to the end of the snow, I rappelled, then downclimbed. I was happy to have the nice steps created by those with boots. Still, it was slippery in my traction-less shoes, and by the time I got off the snow, I was yelping due to near-frozen hands and feet. It felt so good to get my nice warm socks and boots on! After hiking back up to the hut to retrieve gear, we continued down, glancing back at the magical realm of Torre Wundt.
Notes from Kris:
We went straight to Marco and ordered big portions of pasta. He showed us his web page with pictures of his pets (the Japanese chickens) and we showed him our page.
We called Mattias, and he was still at home. We didn’t know why he hadn’t left!
Also, Jeff came into the restaurant for a few minutes, said he was in town and was looking for Mattias.
07.04.01: A complete rest day (by Kris)
Sorry to disappoint you folks, but we didn’t to much today. We had a full day with Torre Wundt, so we basically just napped and hung around Cortina. We went to the Internet place for awhile and sent out some mail and I got more slides and pictures developed, but that’s about it. I think this was the most down time we had on the whole trip. Nothing exciting…just resting and relaxing.
07.05.01: Long, long day! (by Kris and Michael)
Michael woke up at 4:30am and had to climb out of the drawing room window to get out of the hotel. He drove to the Olympia Campground and climbed the Bovero via ferrata (Col Rosa). This was very quick and he was back by 9:30am. He saw a heard of Ibex.
Report on Col Rosa: (by Michael)
Since Kris and I had made the forested hike up to the start of this route a few days before, I was really keen on finishing it. The crux of the climb was escaping from the hotel. Every door was locked, so I started searching for a window. I found a drawing room one floor above the parking lot and a series of pipes and ivy I could climb down. It was pretty scary lowering myself out the window, especially since if I made a mistake and fell, the embarrassment would kill me. I could just see the lights turning on and the nice little old lady screaming about a burglar! Heart racing, I jumped into the car and took off for the campground that marks the start of the route. I zoomed up the trail in damp, misty forest, and shortly after turning onto the steep, rough climbers trail I found myself emerging above the dense clouds. What joy! I half expected to be “socked-in” for the entire trip. I took some pictures and put on my harness and helmet. Soon, I came to the route, and began fumbling with the short lengths of rope and carabiners that made up my safety equipment.
Soon, the route became steep, and fairly challenging if you avoid touching the metal rungs as I did. Metal pegs would stop your fall in case of an accident, but the pegs were sometimes 20 feet apart, thus offering little comfort. But despite occasional worries, I moved quickly, and seemingly insurmountable cliffs and buttresses piled up below me. I remember one fantastic exposed traverse to the left around a blind corner. The village was still wreathed in clouds below, and the sun was beginning to peak around high Sorapis. I reached a subpeak, and hiking terrain. An ibex jumped away from me. Some more cables led me to the summit, which hosted a beautiful iron cross. This had been an excellent introduction to via ferrata, and I wished Kris had been with me. On our previous attempt we started in the heat of the day (11 am), and were quickly passed by over 50 people led by a guide. By going early I had cool conditions, and didn’t see anyone until reaching the car.
On the hike down I startled a herd of ibex. I took some pictures, but without a zoom lens they were too far away. The trail was good, although very steep and exposed on sandy ledges at one point. Soon, I was driving home for some breakfast!
Back to Kris…
Mattias and Georg knocked on the door at 7:30am. Apparently, they were at the hotel at 6:15am but didn’t want to wake me. They also had to convince the lady downstairs to let him come up and knock on my door. They have a policy not to let anyone who is not a guest upstairs.
Since they don’t allow non-guests in the room, we had to wait for Michael in the lobby. We visited for a little while then they had to run some errands.
Kris ate breakfast and Michael came back from Col Rosa. We quickly packed up and checked out, Mat and Georg in tow.
We drove to Cinque Torri and hiked up to Torre Inglese. To avoid snow, Kris had to take a long way around that I thought would be easier, but dang, it was harder! She arrived and we climbed the via Normale route behind Mattias and Georg. Kris found hard moves on the very polished first pitch. I climbed a variation to the right out of the chimney for more fun and to get around Mattias and Georg. The upper pitch was fun. 2 rappels.
Kris was happy there was no walk off. [that may seem a strange comment, but in Kris’s experience, walking down from a climb usually entails scrambling in steep, dirty gullies that can be scarier than the climb itself. Consequently, she’s come to prefer rappels!] Michael, Georg and Mattias climbed a fun sport route - (5.9/10a, we think it was Tinsemal on Torre Quarta Alta).
Then they climbed Torre del Barancio (the route was Via Ignazio Dibona) and said that it would only take and hour so I should come, but I (Kris) was smart and took a small nap on the rocks below instead. They ended up taking 2.5 hours and Georg waved to me on almost every belay.
Mattias and I took turns leading. I started first. The climb was steep right off the ground, and very exciting. With two ropes I was able to belay Georg and Mat up at the same time. I think he got the crux pitch with a steep crack, then I climbed a long easy pitch that angled off halfway up. The ropes got tangled pretty bad on the last pitch because Mat wouldn’t slow down and give us a chance to untangle them!
We descended with two steep single rope rappels. I bruised my arm and cut my leg on an overhang, caused by the very jerky belay device. I ended up carrying both ropes and the rack back to Kris, demanding payment in beer!
We drove to town and looked for signs of Jeff. We bought dinner for Mattias and Georg at the Hotel Cortina. Eventually Jeff came in and told us that he had waited all day at the Cinque Torri for us. I guess we just missed him? Anyway, Marco gave us extra food for free, so Jeff got a meal, and we said goodbye to Marco, who had been such a friend in cooking excellent meals for us!
We wished them well on their way (they were doing more climbing) and we headed to Bolzano. It was a mistake to drive in the dark, since it was very stressful and we were tired. We even stopped for 30 minutes to rest our eyes. The gas credit card machine ate our credit card when we put it in upside down. We called the credit card company who said they know about these machines at the gas stations, and that our card was “certainly destroyed.”
We arrived at the Hotel Citta at 2:00am. We had to drive through town and passed a lot of ladies of the night (a really strange scene). We checked into our room and went to sleep, really cranky and tired!
07.06.01: We find the best Hotel in the world! (by Kris)
Woke up in the morning to find water dripping in the room. Kris thought it was in the bathroom but on the way to check, she stepped in the puddle of water from the air conditioning vents. The lights also stopped working so Michael had to take a shower in the dark. Kris went to the tourist office to find another hotel since this one was so bad. She found one and we checked out. We told the people at the front desk about the problems and instead of giving us a discount or something, they said we should think of it as romantic that the lights weren’t working. Yeah, right lady. We nicknamed this hotel the “Hotel Shitta,” it was so terrible, we will never go back. [ part of the reason for this hostility was that this hotel was far more expensive than any other hotel of our entire stay. We also only spent a few hours there, since we came in so late - Michael]
We chose the Gasthof Kohlern, which was up a hill and overlooked Bolzano. You can drive up a one lane windy road or you can take the gondola up and down. We drove up and it was only 170,000 lire ($74) for their best room. It was beautiful, just what we needed to wind down and relax from the night before. Lunch was incredible. The fresh risotto was delicious!
After lunch and a nap, we took the gondola down to Bolzano and was surprised that we were the only ones in it! We had a great view as we approached the city from above. We ran some errands - we went to Avis and found out we can return our car to Verona and then we went to the Archaeological museum where the 5300 year old man - Oetzi - is kept. We were amazed at how short he was (5 feet and 4 inches) and enjoyed the multimedia presentations they had about finding him and about all the discoveries they made since they found him.
We met up with our friends from Portland, Steve and Sarah, just to say hello, and they were naturally really tired. We decided when and where to meet the next morning. We had to get back before the last gondola up the mountain left, and it was about a 1 miles walk. We made it just in time, as the conductor was standing outside apparently looking for us (he smiled broadly when we arrived). Whew!
Dinner was delicious and we met Axel and Natalie, a German couple on their honeymoon. Natalie had lived in Texas for a few years. We shared some wine and made some new friends - something so easy to do in Italy!
07.07.01: Michael and Steve head to Cortina, Kris and Sarah stay in Bolzano (by Michael and Kris)
Notes from Kris:
Woke up, had breakfast. Drove to town to meet Steve and Sarah. We went to their room and showed them some slides. After they checked out, we showed them where to buy and use phone cards (this gave us a lot of trouble!). Sarah totally didn’t believe you just have to dial 001 and the number to call the U.S. Michael called his mom just to prove that this is all you do, totally forgetting that it was 2 am in Washington! To her credit, she never let on that it was so late, instead, she chatted pleasantly until he hung up. Oh brother!
Steve and Michael took our car, and Sarah and I decided to explore Bolzano. We walked around a bit but quickly found out everything was closed for the afternoon. We found some shops to come back to on Monday. We ate lunch at a so-so cafe, then I went back to the Gasthof Kohlern, and Sarah went to her hotel. Sarah and I had a great dinner at the Gasthof, and took some sunset pictures. I stayed in a smaller room, since Michael was gone, but I wished he was there with me!
Notes from Michael:
Steve and I drove quickly to Cortina, eager to get some climbing in and check the weather forecast. I forgot all the shops would be closed on a Sunday afternoon, so we headed for the Cinque Torre, and climbed Torre Inglese to introduce Steve to the rock. A few drops of rain fell from threatening clouds, so we climbed and rappelled quickly. Steve liked the rock, as I had promised! We looked across at the massive wall of Tofana di Rozes that we proposed to climb, and realized that with a grim weather forecast we shouldn’t go up there. We went back to town and bought lightweight ice axes, planning to do a via ferrata on Tofana that was still “closed” due to snow. Jeff had told us two Swiss guys had climbed it days before, so we decided to give it a try. We drove to the Rifugio Dibona, on a flank of the mountain, and had a rather unsatisfactory stay. We shared a crowded room with 5 (very nice) Italians and endured a greasy dinner. This cost 50 dollars a person, not to mention the fact that they had no potable water. We had to purchase water for the next days climb. We went for a brisk hike to look at the routes on the south face of Tofana. With a light rain falling and waterfalls pouring down fissures in the face, it didn’t look very enticing for technical climbing the next day.
07.08.01: Michael and Steve do a via ferrata, Kris and Sarah head to Castelrotto (by Michael and Kris)
Continued notes from Michael about Tofana di Rozes:
Thunder, lightning and heavy rain kept us up much of the night. We decided to get up at 5 am and go outside no matter what. Typical of Europeans, our bunk-mates thought getting up early meant 7 am! We got lucky, because we stepped outside to a vista of stars, fading in a clear sky.
We hiked quickly to the base of the via ferrata Lipella. First we scoped the start of the Via Commune (an excellent climbing route) for a future attempt. Lipella begins with an 800 meter long war tunnel, complete with side chambers and rusting metal. The end of the tunnel had scrambling over wet slabs. We spent about 30 minutes continuing too high in the tunnel, then out onto the face for a thrilling, but unnecessary iron path. We descended back into the tunnel and took an earlier exit that led to hiking on a broad shoulder. We had to cross a steep, frozen snow slope that would have been impassable without the axes we purchased. Even with them, it was difficult! Then we climbed a series of protected rock steps separated by scenic long traverses on exposed ledges. This route seemed intent on providing a full tour of the mountain, crossing an entire face, then doubling back higher up. For one section, we switched to rock shoes, but in general, it wasn’t necessary to bring them, it just allowed us to choose harder climbing variations slightly away from the iron cables.
Sadly, we don’t have many pictures, since there was confusion about one roll had 24 or 36 exposures. It was 24, so we had to conserve pictures greatly. We came to a junction with a via ferrata that came from the other side of the mountain. Meeting a group of Italians here, we continued together on the route. We reached a steep and exposed 900 foot high rock step. It was festooned with people! They had beat us by taking the shorter way from the other side of the mountain. We fell into line behind them and enjoyed the scenery. The Italians with us had no protective gear, and were apprehensive about continuing. As Steve and I climbed, he got a pounding headache. We were reaching an altitude of 10,000 feet, too high for a fellow just off the plane!
Near the end of the rock, a member of the guided party ahead took a short fall. This prompted them to get out a rope and begin knocking rocks off on us. After a few near misses, I was eager to somehow get around them! I unhooked from the iron rope, and investigated ways to pass on the right. The terrain was exposed class 3, fairly loose, but with ledges. Before I could go far, their guide offered to let Steve and I pass. For some reason, we didn’t think this would be forthcoming, but they were very nice, and I’m sorry I didn’t just ask earlier. Moving ahead, we came to a high shoulder, and the end of the iron way. Snow slopes led several hundred feet to the summit. A mass of about 15 people was piled up on the shoulder, evidently waiting for someone to kick steps to the summit! Obligingly, Steve and I started up. He was pretty unhappy due to the headache, and general feeling of nausea. Again, the ice axes came in handy as we climbed the steepening snow, and after a long interval, we were walking to the iron cross, seemingly present on every mountain of importance here! Steve took a picture of me climbing on the cross, that is something I probably shouldn’t have done. I felt a little embarrassed, I hope I didn’t defile a sacred object!
As we started down, we met a very happy man, thanking us for making steps, and a little emotional about the joy of reaching the summit. His attitude was infectious, and we parted very warmly despite being total strangers. I stomped down the snow and waited for Steve at the shoulder. I was surprised at how long he was taking, since usually he is a whiz on snow, down at the ground while I’m still scrabbling and cursing. His hiking boots made poorer purchase than my own, and the altitude was having an affect on him. Eager to lose altitude, I started down the standard way, which consisted of shelves of crumbly rock mixed with snow slopes. Keeping Steve in sight was a challenge, as he came very slowly and rested often on easy terrain. Only then did I see how powerfully the altitude had hit him. I kept closer and began thinking of what we might do should we need help. As I waited, I convinced a Czech couple without gloves or ice axes to turn around. They were slipping on icy slopes, hands red and raw from touching the snow.
We made some standing glissades, sliding joyfully down the slopes. Steve improved markedly - he had been having trouble breathing. At the hut, we ate Apfel Struedel and drank orange soda. The walls of the hut were plastered with articles and pictures of climbing on Tofana di Rozes. What a cool place! We quickly hiked down to Rifugio Dibona and our car.
We found a room at a cheap but very nice Gasthaus. I took a shower with only shaving cream to function as soap and shampoo! Later the shops opened at we ate at the Pizzeria Cinque Torri and went to bed. We checked the town bulletin board for a message from Mat, but they had left.
07.09.01: Michael and Steve climb, Kris and Sarah go shopping (by Michael and Kris)
Steve and I had decided on a climb of Monte Averau, via the Southwest Face, first climbed in 1945. The grade was about 5.6, and there were 7 pitches. We had some hope of climbing this, then going over for the Hexenstein in the afternoon. Waking at 5, we drove to Passu Giau. As we left the car, Steve locked the keys in the trunk! Oh boy. Rather than worry about this problem, we decided to climb and enjoy ourselves, and later figure out a solution!
The guidebook had some great text for this route, really going into overdrive to sell it: It is not particularly big. It is not particularly impressive. But the Averau, perched on a rise between the Falzarego Pass and Passo Giau, will tempt you onto its sunny Southwest face with an utterly worthwhile route where the grade IV climber is king for the day!…A small route, but perfectly formed – and guaranteed to hold your attention! Naturally, we were excited. It took a bit over an hour to hike to the base of the route, and we roped up for some 4th class climbing in the loose approach gully. This route did turn out to be really fun, but I must say it is the most indistinct route of the trip. The guidebook describes the start this way: Start on the rubble-strewn ledge at a chimney, just left of an ill-defined arete. The words “ill-defined” and “vague” occur repeatedly in the route topo! Anyway, we believe we identified the start, mainly because of an old piton. Steve took the first lead, with a difficult bouldering start. The rock was still very cold. From his constructed belay, I continued up a chimney to a saddle, then climbed right up a series of face and chimney moves. I reached a bolt station on a long ledge that traversed the face, completely unsure of my location in regards to the topo.
Steve carefully walked 40 meters to the left on this ledge, identifying the start of pitch 3. After following the traverse, I belayed Steve up a hard pitch into the “yellow groove.” He brought me up from a piton belay. The next pitch was pretty interesting, as it was a 50 foot traverse to the right with some challenging climbing. I found good protection early on, then a long silent stretch where I tried not to pay too much attention to the ground far below! Finally, I escaped into a cave with belay bolts. This cave contained a route register, which we signed before moving on. The next pitch climbed straight up on vertical rock. My foot slipped on a greasy hold, but everything else stayed attached! Then easier wandering left then right led to a sling belay. There was little protection on this difficult pitch.
Pitch 6 turned out to be the crux of the route. It started up a loose, shattered chimney, protected by tiny nuts. It went left then right again, where I clipped a fixed sling before a very committing overhang. There were a few moves of 5.8 to climb the overhang, and I gratefully clipped a piton above this section. My pack tried to pull me off the next overhang! But I reached a bolt belay after a short rightward traverse. We really couldn’t make sense of this pitch in regard to the topo, but it must have been the route since the entire face overhangs in this area. It was pretty ingenious how the first ascentionists found this twisting way through very forbidding terrain! Steve was glad I had that lead, and he took us to the summit on an easy but loose traverse.
We took some pictures and hiked down, eventually coming to a short but fun via ferrata. We just used climbing slings to attach to the iron, knowing full well that a real fall would break them. Consequently, we climbed down very conservatively, always ready to hang on the sling rather than risk a fall. We met a couple who had climbed the Punta Anna via ferrata the day before. It’s too bad we didn’t have time to do that one, as it is quite long and hard. Once down, we hiked back to Passu Giau, and Steve paid a mechanic 25 dollars to come up from town and open the car. What a great price! It was fairly late, so we started our drive back to Bolzano. We took a new route down and up to magnificent Pordoi Pass. Here we got out and hiked a while. Then on to Sella Pass and Val Gardena. Steve was getting his first chance to drive on Italian mountain roads, and took to it well. Before dark we triumphantly arrived at the Gasthof Kollern, meeting Kris and Sarah for dinner. We each had plenty to say about our day!