MI Meet Adamello 2013
|Date: Jul 10 - 24 2013
Submitted by: Anthony Feeney
So yet another MI summer meet, this time in the Adamello / Presanella area of Italy, camping near the village of Temu. PJ and I were unfamiliar with the area and, with everyone else at the meet away on a double overnighter; we arrived to a campsite replete with tents but devoid of human company. The campsite was very friendly (as well as clean and well appointed) and our hosts, young Antonio, soon pointed out a few walks and things we could try on our first days. Later we met up with John and Ruth, a university lecturer and yoga instructor, currently living in Sweden (didn't know Andrew though) and then the famous Jack Bergen strolled over for an introduction. I still think his name sounds like a character in a film noir detective story...
We took the campsite's advice and hoofed 2 hours up to the Bozzi hut from Case Di Viso, after getting lost in the nearby cobbled streets of Ponte De Legno (where was the "ponte" bridge exactly?). We messed up by starting in the lower car park but never mind it was a gently rising path that didn't stress the legs too much, so much so that several mountain bikers were having a go at it too. Hikers were able to take a more direct route later on though cutting out a lot of the interminably long zig zags. This initially meant meeting the same huffing cyclists where the 2 paths crossed but soon turned into a battle to see who'd reach the hut first. In my mind at least. (I won of course). There are a lot of WWI fortifications and old building remains up there and a wee museum, if you care to ask for the key to unlock it. After a beer we decide to walk "down" the long way taking the 3 hour path to Lake Ercavallo, which actually rose up for a long while as it wound round the valley. Lake Disappointissimo might have been more appropriate for the little puddle we passed with a gleefully little painted sign "Laghe ->" pointing out what you'd otherwise have missed. More ruins here and a couple of squeaking marmots, or maybe the same marmot twice, who knows?
By Friday morning we'd gleaned from a few other young fellas (Noel and ...?) that there was a crag above Passo Tornale, accessible by cable car for the princely sum of €9 with the little discount cards we'd gotten from reception. There's a topo at the Tornale ticket office which we took pics of and which highlighted a “ferrata" route so we went back to the car for the VF kits. The crag was only 100m from the gondola and much smaller than expected. The ferrata was a loop of steel rope about 10 feet in diameter so no VF kit required after all. The routes were all 15m - 20m and mostly bolted, though there were a few trad routes on the right side. We ticked off a 4a, 4b and 3b before finishing off on the 5a route, which was a cracking VS with moves through an overhang, up a corner and finishing on some smeary stuff. Time then for beers and a reunion with Alan, Margaret, Andrew, Fergus and everyone else who'd been round the Brenta for a few days.
Friday night was the usual BBQ shenanigans with various musical instruments and Cliodhna's calling out the haphazardly enacted instructions to the sets. Loads of people took their turn to sing, dance, quote poetry and the like and it turned into quite an evening, probably the best MI meet BBQ I've attended. Not to be outdone by the talent on offer I had a go at quoting Drumlister (with some technical help from the iPhone) but giggling uncontrollably at the middle verse probably meant I won't be appearing on X Factor any time soon.
There was a lot of talk about Presanella and Adamello but given that the Brenta party had had a hard 3 days and needed to rest, James "The Major" suggested PJ and I head up to the 2600m Passo Gavia for an acclimatisation walk up one of the nearby peaks. Easily said, not so easily done. The upper part of the road to the pass is a single lane with massive drops to the left and barely 2 cars wide at the passing points. It is a very nervy manoeuvre to reverse down such a road when confronted by a queue of cars coming the other way. In addition you have dozens of hard-as-nails cyclists heading up there on some sort of pilgrimage and an equal number of their petrol-engined cousins equally hell-bent on getting their hogs up there too. You really do breathe a sigh of relief when you get there in one piece.
We loaded up on a pasta / pizzochre / ragu lunch and flipped a coin as to which peak we'd head for and settled on heading west towards a 3000m top. Our path was heavily covered in snow though (as would be the case in all the high paths all week) and we deviated right to avoid it and ended up disturbing a group a group of 3 Ibex, who peeped and whistled at us. Slightly unnerved and not wishing to appear on an episode of "When Ibex Attack" we backed off, refound the path and headed for a different top just south of us, dropping the packs for an easier time of it. We were well pleased when this turned out to 3100m, though some incoming hail sent us back down again sharpish. It was late afternoon so the traffic back down was much less, and this time PJ had the benefit of being next to the drops while I nonchalantly swung into the tight corners.
Dave and Sandra had arrived when we got back and were quite ready to join us on a Presanella expedition, time being precious and not to be wasted on acclimatisation and all that malarkey. So we set off on Sunday morning in 3 car loads to Velon and the steep, twisting track up towards the Segantini hut, which was a bit "Colin McRae" to say the least. Inches from the rock wall on one side and steep drops into the forest on the other, it was every bit as hair raising as the Passo Gavia. Sadly Sandra's wee hire car didn't make it intact and it sported some lovely new "go faster" stripes for the rest of the week. The path to hut winds along a ledge path, through a tunnel and under a waterfall, more big worrying drops and cracking views down the valley. It was a lovely 90 min walk; with a rewarding view of the Presanella and its sister peak Cima Vermiglio at the end.
Of course a beer was required and we began to discuss the next day's Facile route up the glacier and round behind the ridge, utilising the hut's photographic memoir and maps. Then Andrew and Fergus discovered a topo with PD route on it and all hell broke loose. "Oooh a PD route!" "Can I borrow your 60m rope and I'll give so-an-so my 30m rope and you can use this 20m rope and can we borrow your rack of gear and I know someone has a couple of spare friends and can we join your party and hang on your gear, no can you leave your gear in for us and we'll climb behind you, no wait, who's doing the PD route? Who's doing the Facile route?" And on and on and on.... And the whole time The Major is getting excited and shouting "I have 2 slings! I have 2 slings!"
PJ, Dave, Sandra and I stuck to our plan to do the Facile route (it was Dave's first proper snowy Alpine peak) and bemusedly watched the chaos erupt around us. In the end Fergus and Andrew had enough of the manic behaviour and also decided to stick to the Facile. Alan, Major James and Con were in 1 PD party, Jack and Aisling in another and Gerry and Elaine in another (armed only with slings).
With that eventually settled it was time for another beer but we then discovered that the group of 30 kids occupying the other room was having mass said by the priest who was leading them. There was no escape! Well there was... we hoofed it out the window like truant children.
6am start the next day and we easily hoofed up through the moraine, lost the path a little in the middle but were soon donning the crampons for the glacier crossing. Back in the distance we could see the other parties already into the steep climb up their end of the glacier to the PD ridge. Andrew "The Racing Snake" and Fergus were well ahead of us 4 but we made good time to the col, coiled up alpine-style with 4 on a rope. From the col the path circle round to the very edge of the ridge between Vermiglio and Presanella, at times coming within feet of the sheer drop down the front. Then through some rock bands, across a narrowish snow ridge above the hanging glacier and finally an easy scramble round the back to the top. We met Andrew and Fergus at the snow ridge and they pointed out the parties on the ridge, who looked an awfully long way down, with plenty of ridge to go.
Jack and Aisling actually finished the ridge very quickly and weren't too far behind us in the descent but when we'd trudged (and sunk) our way back through the soft snow and moraine to the hut, the boys told us they'd just seen Alan and co. on the snow ridge leaving the top. We calculated they were 3 hours behind us. Then more confusion started. Who was going home in which car? Who had the car keys? Wasn't someone descending to the Mandrone hut instead? Gaah! In the end we just waited for Alan, who'd abandoned The Major on the easy glacier as he took off his crampons for the 10th time and wanted "a spot of lunch". Alan must have run down the peak because he only took half the time we predicted and arrived red-faced and ready for the proffered cold beer. No calamities on the descent of the rally road to report.
We planned to do very little the next couple of days except lie around in the sunshine reading, tanning and drying out gear but the Monday started with a shock. 7 missed calls from my mother on the iPhone which had been charging in the car. "I better call her" I told PJ, thinking one of the grandkids had been messing with her phone, "She's probably lying half dead on the kitchen floor". Turned out she was in Altnagelvin hospital and didn't I feel the fool? Having had "a bad night" as she put it, she'd been unable to contact the wee sister in Malin Head or the brother in Lisburn and had tried to call me in Italy. In the end she phoned herself an ambulance who actually berated her for not phoning them much, much earlier. She had had a suspected heart attack, so they fitted her up with Wharfarin and stints and kicked her out again. She's as right as rain now.
So where was I? Oh yeah, lying round in the sunshine. We did nothing the day after either, except ride Alan and Margaret's mountain bikes up to Ponte De Legno to lounge in a bar drinking "Spritz" aperitifs, basically Prosecco and Aperol with a slice of orange and a few ice cubes. Hard work getting there but the run down again was worth it. More than you get when you struggle uphill a pied, for then you have to walk back down too!
I'd had a plan all week to try and get up to the Sentiero Di Fiori via ferrata but people kept telling us it was far too snowed up. The two young lads who'd pointed us at the crag earlier in the week though had hatched a plan to start this path from the Mandrone hut and work back to Passo Tornale, with plenty of chances to escape the ridge if time grew short. They'd managed maybe 3/4 of it, so Dave, Sandra, PJ and I formulated a plan with some tips from the guide on an unknown via ferrata to gain the ridge from above the Cima Presena chairlift. So next day we did just that, with a minor blip where we missed the start of the via ferrata and I had to traverse a bit on a belay, climb up a bit more and then bring the other 3 up.
The plan was to the Cima Lago Scuro, reverse and clamber part of the ridge before dropping off and walking to the Mandrone hut. But a heavily snowed path made it look very difficult so we just stayed on the ridge to the old fortifications below Cima Payer and then headed down. As we got near to rejoining the path to the Mandrone hut though, the sky started to get very dark and we were soon covering up against an almighty hail storm, with lightning bouncing off the ridge we'd just been on. Top tip: if you're gonna bring a water proof coat, bring trousers too, or you'll just be wet from the waist down!
And so it was that the four of us ended up in a very bedraggled state in the Madrone hut, which had a drying room but the radiator didn't work. Fortunately there was a massive wood burning stove in the dining area with little metal bars that you could hang clothes on (there was still a bit of a fight to get our stuff hanging on it). Having no change of trousers, Dave and I opted for sitting in our wet pants with a jacket to cover our modesty while the girls did all the fetching and carrying of beers and wet trousers. Imagine our horror when the hut girl indicated that we should move to another table for dinner. The applause from a group of female Dutch climbers was mortifying. Everyone had raved about the food at Mandrone and indeed the roast pork shin, the hut specialty, was pretty amazing. Our host’s lack of English though meant that my hopefully ordered "krauti" turned out to be pickled cabbage. Bleh! Nice panacotta though.
Day 9 - 10
Next day we were up early for the 500m assault up to the Passo Lagha Pisgana where we would gain the ridge. There wasn't really a path as such but we eventually stumbled upon the red and white markers that marked a way through the huge boulder field and onto the snow. From below it had looked like an easy scramble up onto the ridge but things were a little tougher up close. We had to cross 3 peaks: Punta Pisgana; Punta Di Signale and Cima Payer to get back to our original drop off point the day before. The heavy snow that blighted every high excursion on this trip meant that at times we were kicking steps up steep snow when we should have just been meandering on an easy path. 3 times we had to get the rope out to cross because it was just too steep and the consequences of a slip would have been dangerous. This slowed things down immeasurably and our estimation of a 2pm finish back at the chairlift was slowly eroded.
The main via ferrata up over Cima Payer was strenuous to say the least and not helped by me getting my boot stuck fast, deep in a crack. A helpful sling from PJ allowed me to secure myself and get it free thankfully. But by about 4pm we were starting to realise that we might miss the chairlift and a walk out was looking increasingly likely. Every time we got a clear section and started to make progress we'd be thwarted by another steep snow patch. Twice we had to leave some tat behind and abseil down. It was a real test of mountaineering skill though and happily we all pulled together without any egotism or cross words. It was frustrating though to reach the final via ferrata section where we'd started the day before and look down as the chairlift ground to a halt just 15 minutes below us. It was only a 1.5 hour walk out but we could have done without that after a 12 hour day on the ridge. Poor Dave's feet were in tatters by the time we reached the car.
We'd missed the "Farewell Alun" party on the Thursday night but managed a little impromptu BBQ ourselves that night, ending up in the campsite common room when the thunder and lightning emptied the heavens on us. Most people had already left or were planning to leave the next day but PJ and I still had a few days left. After the grueling ridge encounter we swore that we'd had enough mountains and a tentative plan to copy the earlier party's 3 day trip round the Brenta via ferrata was very much on the back burner. But a day's rest later and with Alan and Andrew extolling the virtues of the trip we were soon re-enthused.
So Sunday morning we drove round to Madonna Di Campiglio (not the fallen one with the huge boobies) and got the cable car up to Passo Groste. The sky was looking threatening so we hustled down to the Refugio Tuckett in about an hour, had a bite of lunch and were straight onto the SOSAT via ferrata. This started off easily on a few cabled sections, plundered steeply up through a moonscape of huge broken boulders and more snow and then we were onto the proper cabled sections. This immediately dropped straight down into a gorge where you tiptoed across a huge wedged boulder, ignoring the massive drops a foot on either side. I couldn't see the way back up initially, only a rusty looking ladder and closer inspection revealed it was missing the bottom and top 5 or 6 rungs! "How the hell are we gonna get up that?!" I declared. But then PJ spotted the stemples rising up the vertical wall on stemples on the other side. There was a quare bit of huffing and puffing to get up there! All the while you are looking down, up and across at the huge Dolomite walls surrounding you, a truly magnificent spectacle.
At the Alimonta hut we were tabled next to a group of English fellas who proceeded to get loudly drunk on Grappa, fling shoes about, tell tall tales and finally got the hut guardian to stamp their foreheads in ink. "Let's stay up till 6am!” they declared, "It's been done before!" one of them managed to get locked in the loo and PJ and I had to rescue him as he climbed out the window and across the outside roof.
They were a little more subdued next morning as we geared up for the Destassis via ferrata. This route winds out of the hut and loops back round in a clockwise circle but you can break off and join the Centrale over to the Refugio Pedrotti. It starts on a rocky path and then is supposed to go up steep scree but for once the snow was in our favour and there were well kicked steps to the first ladder. We were closely followed by a large party of Italians but we soon left them behind on the steep vertical ladders. As we neared the Bocca dei Massodi at the end we looked fearfully over at the narrow snow crossing and almost started on the Alte via ferrata because surely we didn't have to cross that perilous bit of snow?? Up close though it was easier and with only 1 minor wrong above turn we were soon back above the Alimonta hut and veering off up the steep snow to the Bocca dei Armi and the Centrale start.
Alan had declared this the best via ferrata ever and once past the starting ladders you can see why: you traverse a lot of narrow ledges horizontally along the rock walls with huge drops to the gorges and valleys below. We had a bit of cloud around us and I was never quite sure if I was grateful or disappointed for the lack of view. Occasional glimpses into the void as the cloud swirled and cleared were enough to make the heart flutter. It didn't help that a climber approached us at the start with a stern "Attention!" and warned us of loose rock on the paths ahead. Not every section is cabled, though the path is often quite narrow and I for one was taking a lot of care not to trip and do a Frank Spencer. Several snow sections and quite steep descents and ascents just added to the spice. By the end my head was rolling with the exposure, 6 hours of this was quite enough and I was very glad when our final ledge path gradually merged with the steep snow up to the Pedrotti hut and I didn't have to fear my clumsy feet no more. An unforgettable experience!
The Pedrotti hut was lovely; we even managed to get our phones charged after borrowing an Italian iPhone charger from the Swiss team next to us. Food though was a bit meh. My (again) hopefully ordered meal turned out to be a huge pink slightly sweaty-looking sausage and more bloody krauti, while PJ's awful sounding order turned out to be a nice pork stew. We really do need to learna da lingo. On route to beddy-byes that night I stopped in the landing to view something I'd never seen before: a lightning storm below me in the next valley over. The way the lightning danced round and silhouetted the clouds and peaks with its silvery-green fire was just amazing. I sat open mouthed and awestruck for a good twenty minutes and finally had to tear myself away. Being underneath a storm is one thing, watching it serenely from above and at a distance was a marvelous joy.
The final day's return to Passo Groste was to take us along the Orsi via ferrata, which was nothing more than a walk really with 2 short cabled sections. The initial climb to Spallone dei Massodi was very gentle and quite lovely in the cool morning but there then followed the cables which were buried in snow, some very large snow sections where the path was buried and finally a very steep pull up more snow and scree to the Bocca del Tuckett, hereby renamed the Bocca del F***ett for this tortuous climb.
The final climb out of the Bocca del F****ett to start the Benini via ferrata was initially on metal ladders and quite enjoyable. There followed a steep pull up some snow and half way up I realised why some people would have dropped off after the ladders down to the Refugio Tuckett and walked back up to the cable car. We persevered though and were rewarded with several more descending snow fields, a strenuous pull up through some cables and finally a rising series of ledges not unlike the Centrale ones. We plundered down the final snow field to the hut thoroughly wet footed, with one eye on an yet another approaching lightning storm in the next valley which was booming and cracking away. We'd just time for a very welcome beer on the veranda of the bar before the storm arrived over head with the loudest thunderclap I've ever heard in my life.
It was with heavy hearts that we took the cable car back down; those 3 days combined with the ridge we'd done with Dave and Sandra were some of the most epic mountain days I've ever experienced. The Presanella was nice and all but really just a walk in the park. This holiday started with a bit of a downer in an empty campsite with no clue as to our surroundings but gradually the "brio" ramped up and we ended on a crescendo. What a trip!
05 Aug 2013
Great report Anthony, sounds like you guys had an amazing trip.
06 Aug 2013
08 Aug 2013
08 Aug 2013
Excellent report Anthony and well done on your via ferrata. Good times!!
23 Aug 2013
Great report Anthony. Sounds like an amazing trip and you guys must have had a ball.