Sometimes you can just tell that an idea is going to end in bedlam as soon as you hear it. Which is why I was overjoyed to get a text from Alex suggesting a few days somewhere craggy on a very last-minute basis. Last time we went out together it was into the teeth of a horrific storm, so there was every chance this holiday would be a bit special, in some meaning or other of the word.
After discounting a few destinations because of rubbish flights, we decided on a visit to the Dolomites, with – somehow – rubbish flights. We each left our respective houses at 07:00 on Saturday morning, met up in Stoke and travelled the rest of the way to Southampton for our delayed flight, then sat through a 3½ hour bus transfer in the rain to our hotel in La Villa. After arriving in time for dinner at midnight we went for a walk up a hill outside town to get our bearings, and eventually settled down at 01:00 (thanks to Alex for taking the sofa-bed all week!).
On Sunday morning we were not too sprightly, but torrential rain encouraged a slow start anyway. We decided to take the cable car up to Piz la Ila, but not until we’d visited the supermarket first for supplies.
The excitement of the cable car soon dissolved in the wind-blown drizzle of the top station, and so we jumped straight back on, whizzed down to the bottom and went for a walk in the valley instead.
Monday was a complete contrast, and as soon as we woke we could see the wall-to-wall sunshine which would become typical of the whole week. We were soon on a bus and two cable cars up to Jimmy’s Hut on the southern edge of the Puez Odle National Park, and spent the day wandering back to La Villa across the rugged limestone plateau (~2400m altitude) at a leisurely pace.
Alex gave me a bit of an education on alpine flora, and we only had to run a little bit to catch the last lift down to town (what a run it was, though – so much fun, even despite me losing my sunglasses).
Tuesday. Via ferrata day. Alex hired a lanyard, and we geared up at the bottom of VF Brigata Tridentina whilst apologising to some Italians about the whole “Brexit” thing. I did the route four years ago so knew what to expect, but had great fun showing Alex how everything works and then just sitting back and relaxing on a chilled-out ascent.
We whizzed back down path 666, hopped on two busses back to the hotel, spent an hour re-arranging gear, and then reversed our trip on another two busses to end up exactly where we’d been two hours earlier, but with bags containing a completely different set of gear.
Oh yes, we had re-packed in anticipation of… the night photography trip! Having checked out some potential locations the previous day we prepared with a dinner of apple strudel in Jimmy’s Hut (it’s what all good dieticians recommend before 16 hours on the hill) and then set off into the
We were treated to a lovely sunset, followed by the most incredible view of the milky way and the rest of the night sky. Much time was taken with long exposures and general faffing and – as expected – Alex got some amazing results and I got some mediocre ones.
When the moon rose, it became so light that headtorches weren’t even needed. At 4AM we left our star-gazing spot and walked for an hour to our sunrise location.
We weren’t disappointed, and the only problem was trying to decide which direction to face and what to shoot.
After a few more hours of shooting we finally packed away the camera gear and pointed ourselves at the nearest cable car. An ice cream in Colfosco at 9AM helped take the edge off the exhaustion, followed by us both falling asleep on the bus back to La Villa.
Wednesday morning involved a little nap, and the afternoon passed with a run down from the Piz La Ila, which proved to be pretty boring even in sunshine instead of the pouring rain of the first day.
Thursday was ‘do your own thing day’, so Alex went off looking for plants and insects (but instead found a bomb, which is exactly the kind of thing I’ve come to expect of him). I went for a run in the Fanes National Park to the east of La Villa.
La Varella is a 3055m peak accessed up two valleys from 1750m, so I got a decent amount of climbing in on my 3 hour ascent. Most of that came pretty relentlessly in the last 40% of the distance, and was hampered a little by frequent stops in the shade of boulders as the sun got progressively higher and hotter. Towards the top things got a bit scrambly and fun, with a fantastic ledge poised above a big drop proving the key to accessing the top of the hill. However, I then went the wrong way at the top of a gully, and ended up crossing the most amazing little ridgy bit with some fantastic exposure, to the wrong summit.
I soon had to re-trace my steps and ended up going the right way along the wider scrambly summit ridge of Piz de Lavarella. Definitely worth the effort! After a brief stop I ran back down through the mountain furnace, now devoid of any shade whatsoever, and eventually got back to the bus stop. I drank plenty of water and slowed down to avoid over-heating, but still suffered from a bit of mild heatstroke that evening and had a weird night of being too hot, then too cold, then too hot, and so on.
Friday proved that Alex had enjoyed the via ferrata earlier in the week, because he asked to go on another one. He’d had a rather heavy day on Thursday as well (too much ‘late for the cable car’, not enough water), so we settled on VF Piz du Lech, a short 350m route running almost immediately from the top of a chairlift above Corvara.
It was a bit more physical than Tridentina earlier in the week, despite being the same grade, and had the refreshing quality of being almost entirely on rock – there’s no metalwork (stemples, bars, etc.) anywhere on the route, other than two ladders up a blank 30m section of wall. I was pretty exhausted after the previous day’s exertion and subsequent thermo-regulation weirdness, so I had a minor sense of humour failure approaching the top of the hill; apologies to Alex for getting a bit grumpy!
That just left the final evening, so we nipped down to the river around 21:30 and took some last-minute shots of the stars over the mountains surrounding the town. I was happier with these than the ones we took on our night out (although I did spend a sizeable portion of that just starting at the sky rather than concentrating on actually taking photos).
By Saturday I was in pieces, metaphorically, and Alex looked like he was but still managed to get out for three hours of photography before our 4½ hour transfer back to the airport through Italian holiday traffic. This was followed by a flight past some spectacular storm clouds, and then a less-than-exciting drive back to Stoke to reunite Alex with his car. Almost a fortnight later I’m just about recovered, I think. Hopefully there will be a bit of proper recovery time before the next text from Mr. Hyde.