Kris, the boys, Cesar and I drove down to Val Gardena for a short June vacation. Cesar would stay for a few days to finally see the Dolomites, and the family would stay for a week in total. We had a great time.

On the drive down

The adults hanging out, eating chips and drinking wine

Cesar and I went for breakfast supplies Sunday morning, and were taken by this hilarious Noah’s Ark sculpture:

Kris and Elijah playing around on a closed lift:

We did some great climbing on the little crag right near our place (in fact we could walk there but we drove the first time)

It took us a long time to get this picture:

Here was one of many attempts:

Part of the problem was that Cesar and Kris kept doing handstands!

Another fambly pic:

Punctuated by more handstands:

The boys had a cat to play with:

Cesar and I went for a cool hike on the mountain behind our place to the Rifugio Stevia. Really fun walk with beautiful scenes:

And handstands!

Elijah loved hiking through this meadow:

Sigh, a lady leaned out her window and scolded us for walking through it. Overall, there was a remarkable lack of friendliness in Val Gardena. Either we saw no one or we were being scolded.

Later it rained so we went to Bolzano and tried to go to a climbing gym which was unfortunately closed. We tried to have fun though! Mainly Kris and Cesar loved the free WIFI.

A day or two later I went for a big hike by myself on the via ferrata Tridentina, starting my walk from our apartment, and going to the Groednerjoch by an interesting cross-country ridge hike to a peak called Bustacia. It was about 1600 meters round trip up and down. The via ferrata felt pretty steep and lonely sometimes.

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Actually, I just found I wrote a bigger narrative about this hike:

Somehow I woke up early. I looked outside, and was happy that it wasn’t raining. The house was quiet, and I was able to very silently get ready to go. After a couple of pieces of bread with butter and jelly, I headed off, walking east from the house for the Danterceipes lift station. I hiked up under the lift and got bored, deciding to take a road into the forest. It led to the top of another ski lift and an apparent dead end. I spied a barely visible trail through tree roots and pine needles through a brush layer on the crest of a steep ridge. I continued following this faint trail, figuring that if it kept going up so steeply I would be okay on it. I knew I was well south of the official trail through a valley, but by traveling east, I would reach the high country near the pass.

Grabbing exposed roots, and hauling myself up the ridge, I eventually came to a curious hidden cabin, well locked against intruders. Continuing, the ground went up and down, and views increased to show the road to Groedner Joch. On a summit with an intricately carved Christ, I started down to the pass. Once there, I continued up the south side on steep trail to reach a balcony below the northern cliffs. A long walk east and downhill got me to the base of the “Tridentina” via ferrata (iron way). I rested and called Kris to tell her after 2.5 hours I’d reached the base of the climb and would try it out.

I started up, feeling a bit apprehensive due to the steepness. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a helmet, and this made me behave very carefully when I stood up, remembering how easy it is to bump your head on this beautiful, bubbly Dolomiti rock. I remembered why Kris and I loved this via ferrata: the rock is so excellent, the hand-holds so easy to wrap securely around, and so plentiful.

I climbed the lower buttress, then up and left beside the great waterfall. I stopped to mentally imagine climbing down from strategic points. The route was quite steep and exposed, and it was important to have a clear head. For a while I felt uncomfortable, and then I would wait for a natural curiosity to return and overwhelm apprehension, meanwhile visualizing the tricky parts on a descent. I’d been on a via ferrata without protection gear many times before, but this one was more mentally challenging than others. I remembered a moonlight climb of the vertical ladders above the Garda Lake, wearing only shorts and an iPod…surely this was easier! Actually the lack of a helmet was what really bothered me, and required me to always keep one hand on the security cable. Normally, I would like to just climb the rock more.

So these apprehensions aside, I climbed through mist to the upper buttress and considered taking the easy exit through the valley to the Piscadu Hut. But no…I wanted to see the little bridge at the top of the route. The 100 meters above that junction point with the easy trail were probably the most exciting. The route is so steep that it resorts to bolted ladders for long stretches. As usual, I followed a mathematical pattern on the closely spaced rungs: hand, hand. Right foot high, skipping a rung, left, right. High hand, hand. Repeat legs. Repeat hands. I rested from the huge vertical exposure in little notches, hands on good rock holds, face pressed to the cliff. Whew!

Before I expected it, I’d reached the bridge. Carefully crossed, I made a little movie with my phone, showing how the vertical drop below is lost in the mist. I imagined the pterodactyls from Jurassic Park III flying around here!

Back to normal hiking again, I reached the hut and sat around a while. It had taken me an hour and 20 minutes on the route. Not too shabby, considering my guidebook recommends 3 to 4 hours for the climb. And I felt like I’d rested quite a bit. I think if I’d had a helmet and harness to clip in with for crux moves, I could have actually gone fast.

I hiked gently up through snow to reach trail 666 (ominous!) which should take me down through snowy cliffs to the Groedner Joch (Pass). I was glad for tracks, which meant someone had been down it. I verified that the tracks didn’t double back, feeling assured that someone, at least, had made it down despite the snow.

Using the cables as handholds, I descended the icy trail into a dark cleft. When the cable was buried, I was aided by secure footholds kicked by someone yesterday. I found sharp rocks to use as impromptu axes in the snow, and keep my fingers from getting too cold. Eventually, the trail veered off into snow-free scree-heavy switchbacks. Instead I followed tracks down a long finger of snow which was easier on the knees. I had some fun “skiing” in my tennis shoes for long stretches, then bounding down…this made for a quick 100-200 vertical meters. Soon I was back on the trail of the morning.

Tiredly, I arrived at the pass and headed into a restaraunt, hungry for some apple pie and coffee. But the waitress gave me a mean look. I sat down apprehensively. She didn’t bring me a menu. Then two loud happy parties of construction workers came in and were given menus. Quickly their drinks were ordered. For some reason I wasn’t wanted here, and so I left, disappointed.

I’ve formed a theory that restaurants and businesses at popular “tourist trap” passes prefer motorcycle customers. They often advertise that they are motorcycle friendly. The other people in the restaurant were all clad in thick leather outfits, and seemed happy enough. I’ll bet hikers have a reputation for being stingy or something. In general, I got the feeling, as (seemingly) the sole hiker in the region, I was reminding the staff of the tiresome months to come, serving hot tired people. The mountains were full of “infrastructure people,” driving trucks and bulldozers, upgrading mechanical lifts, grading roads. Anyway, I was sorry to seem like such an odd duck to these people.

Back on the road, with no other restaurants, but a super hungry belly, all I could do was buy some chocolate from the curio shop. I spoke in German, they answered in English, but like the restaurant waitresses, spoke Italian to each other. This experience was kind of an extension of the standoffishness Kris and I noticed in the town, which we attributed to the Germanic influence. Now I was getting it from Italian-Italians too. Jeez. Maybe it’s my bright orange shoes which are so offensive?

Oh well, I can enjoy myself alone in a crowd I guess. I hiked up the hill a couple hundred meters to reach the trail down the Dantercepies lift to town, munching chocolate. I listened to the gripping audiobook, “Matterhorn,” a very raw yet technical account of a corner of the war in Vietnam. The soldiers were forced to advance on a jungle base they’d previously entrenched, and was now occupied by the NVA.

An old woman in town restored my faith in people. She wanted to know where I’d been. I told her and she asked if there was snow. “Oh yes, quite a bit at the top!” I replied in German. This satisfied her and I waved goodbye. A few friendly words are nice. I walked in and grunted and groaned over my sore legs, happy to see Kris and the kids.

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Later in the early evening the boys and I did something interesting that I unfortunately don’t have pictures of. Elijah reminded me that I promised him to take him on the narrow, exposed trail leading around the cliff from the Castle Wolkenstein, if we came back with a rope. “Okay, let’s do it…after my nap!” I said.

We hiked up into the castle, and roped up with 25 meters of line to each boy. I secured them to the via ferrata cable with carabiners, then headed out, placing quickdraws at stempel points. I taught them to unclip the draws as they followed. We moved together for the last 10 meters to an anchor of steel poles surrounding a curious pit in a cave. I belayed them in to the pit, then lowered them inside. I climbed in too, and we imagined what it must have been like to live up in this castle. Surely the pit was a part of the complex, and we didn’t know what. It didn’t smell that great, but was clean enough. Later, we decided it must have been a dungeon. The walls of the pit were about 11 feet high. With a grate over the top, it would be an effective jail, with enough room for 3-4 people to lie down, or 8 people to stand. I boosted the boys out of the pit, came out myself, then belayed them for a quick visit to an upper foundation, which they could climb inside. On the descent, they went first, clipping the draws, and making sure to keep slack out of the rope. Then they waited for me at the bottom anchor point, bringing in rope (no belay) as I suggested. I was proud of them. It was not hard rock climbing at all, in fact Elijah complained that he didn’t need a rope several times. But the terrain was very dangerous in case of a fall, and they got to experience the curious joys of roped travel, moving from one safe point to another.

We hiked down, laughing, only a little late for Kris’ dinner of chicken, bacon and rice, with ice cream for the kids and wine for the parents. Kris gave the boys “massages” which were just tickling sessions with a delicate fiction of “therapy” to lure them in. We watched part of “E.T.” And so another great day in the Dolomites comes to a close!

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On another occasion Kris, the boys and I went for a hike to a meadow, here is a “panorama” she made:

Panorama from the Wolkenstein Ruin

For our last adventure we did a via ferrata together on the Cirspitze. This was fantastic! Kris had Rowan tied to about 10 meters of rope, and I had Elijah on the same length. Kris and I had via ferrata gear, and the boys each had a sling, and they would be kept tight by Kris and I climbing above them, and offering quick belays. The boys did just great, and we really enjoyed ourselves. It was just the best, best, best time!