Blatant discrimination…

Don’t worry, this is not a tale of anti-British behaviour. No-one has taken us to task over Brexit. We have not been refused entry to anywhere just because we share a nationality with Nigel Farage. So calm yourself dear reader and read on safe in the knowledge that there are absolutely no scenes of mild (or otherwise) distress in today’s post.

Mr P, a shadow of his former self

Today is a rest day which is a good job as Mrs P has picked up a rotten cold. How does that even happen? Wouldn’t it be fascinating if you were able to look back and see exactly where you picked up a cold? Was it from the man who served us bratwurst? Had he not washed his hands properly? Did Mrs P inadvertently rub her eye having been near the coughing man? Can boot camp give you a cold? Can you catch a cold from a glacier? (Glaciers are cold, catch a cold. Geddit?… oh, please yourself!)

Either way, the poor lamb is feeling like that famous non-existent cartoon character that I just made up, Snot filled the Bogeyman. For my American readers a bogey, in this instance, is neither a golf score nor an imaginary evil spirit but a piece of dried mucus that comes from inside your nose. (Noun. British; informal). Too much information? I think so.

Mrs P, off to find some tissues. (The Ortler in the background is 3,905 m high and on our to do list).

Anyway, she’s not a happy bunny so it’s a good job today is a rest day.

So, lets move on to discriminatory happenings…

We moved to a nearby and considerably cheaper campsite today.

Camping im Park, in Glurns (Trust me, I’m not making these names up.)

It is lovely and less than half the price of last night’s stay.

Anyway, this sorry (1st World problem) tale concerns a conversation that took place on arrival at the campsite with a delightful girl on reception, whose English incidentally, was probably better than mine (in my defence, I am half Brummie, half Canadian). Let’s call her DGOR cos we all love a good acronym.

DGOR: “The showers are 50 cents. Ladies get four minutes, men get three…”

German man behind me (GMBM) laughing: “Well that’s just discrimination.”

I have to admit that I agreed with him whole heartedly.

DGOR: “It’s not discrimination. Women have long hair.”

GMBM and I shared a glance, both far from hirsute we conceded that we could only agree with her on this point. Where’s Russell Brand when you need him? (Now that’s not a sentence I ever thought I would write.)

Anyway, lovely campsite apart from the discrimination. #baldist

Fingers crossed that Mrs P is feeling better soon. There are mountains to climb for heavens sake.

Glurns, the smallest town in South Tyrol.

We head out for a gentle ride into Glurns (see photo above). It is advertised on their website as, ‘…the smallest town in South Tyrol where little has changed since the 16th century.” This obviously does not include the 80 foot crane in the photo but does include their attitude to visitors. Don’t get me wrong, they are a very friendly bunch but, obviously believe that your average visitor is likely to die of bubonic plague before they find the information centre so why bother with any signs?

Anyway. Early night as we are off to see Ötzi tomorrow. We first met him in 2006. Very excited…

Sometimes it pays to make a mistake.

Saturday 17th August. On Saturdays there is a single 7am gondola from Sulden up to 2,500m which, if you get your skates on, allows you to climb Monte Cevedale 3,769m and get back before the final gondola down at 5pm. If you miss it you face a 2.5 hour 600 metre hike down into the valley. Having missed a gondola before it is not something we intend to repeat.

All looks good. However, I’ve made a mistake. How can this be? I’ve done my homework. I’ve looked at the map. I’ve carefully read the route and we have packed our kit accordingly. Mistake!? Moi?

With hindsight maybe I should buy a new guidebook. Glaciers change, routes change. And over the last couple of decades that change has been huge. When was my guidebook published? Hang on… just checking… erm… 1990. Just the 29 years out of date then!

A lot of exclamation marks in those last 2 paragraphs. I think you deserve a photo by way of respite.

Following groups into the glacier. Our objective is beyond, above and a bit left of everything you can see in the background

Shortly after taking the above photo I realised my mistake. The previous night I had said to Mrs P, “We won’t need helmets. It’s mostly glacier.” Muppet! The map clearly showed a quick trip over the Eiseeepass. The reality showed a horrible, 150m high, choss ridden, rockfall zone of a gully filled with guide led groups comprising people with little or no idea of the danger of throwing rocks down in those below.

Dynamic risk assessment time… stuff it, we’ll go over the Suldenspitze (peak) and access the glacier system that leads to our mountain that way. What can go wrong?

Summit of the Suldenspitze 3,376m with a cross made from old bits of artillery from the war.

Turns out nothing can go wrong and we get 2 mountains for the price of one. Result! Three of you count the fact that we must return over the same peak. Lovely, if rather crevassey (made up word meaning lots of crevasses. I shall write to the Oxford English and ask them to add it) glacier route and a bimble over an easy peak. Admittedly we had to descend a hundred metres the other side but, this supposedly slower route got us well ahead of a group we were climbing with just before they opted for the choss gully. Tortoise and hare.

Past the Rifugio Casati at 3,269m after 3 hours and onto the Vedretta (‘glacier‘ I think) del Cevedale.

Colder than 2018 so better ice on the glaciers at this time of year.

We are now out alone in the middle of a few groups of climbers but near none. Stunning views. Glorious ice. Thin air. So, slowly, slowly. Mrs P may have a different view of my interpretation of the word ‘slow.’ However, she is on the end of a rope 15 metres behind me so I can’t hear if she complains. La, la, la… (to be honest, she never complains. Just gets on with the business of enjoying and being ‘ard.)

The final 200m or so is steep. Traversing a 50 degree slope (don’t fall off) leading to a circa 100m long narrow ridge. 70 degree ice slope on your right leading to certain deathville and a ‘best not think about it drop‘ on the left leading to the same place but with a somewhat faster acceleration approach. It’s fine though, the ridge must be a good 50cm (1.5 feet) wide of solid ice with the odd hole added for amusements sake.

The wide angle lens doesn’t do it justice. It also fails to show how far down you would fall either ( a looong way.)

Stunning views from the summit and a strange reminder of the futility of war.

The summit of Monte Cevedale 3,769m
Mrs P enjoying a grand day out

just shy of the summit are the remains of an old guard hut. Very small, very exposed. This area was the scene of ferocious fighting during WW2 between the very nations who are now sharing a friendly lunch together. My futile message to world leaders is; ‘Stop fighting. The little people, who outnumber your millions to 1, really don’t care. Just let us have a quiet lunch together.’

That’s World peace sorted and it’s only noon. Time to go down. It took us 4 hrs 45 mins to the summit, last gondola is at 5. Easy. Gravity is on our side.

Stunning view of the Konigspitze 3,851m

Descent via a restorative as we return past the Rifugio Casati. Coffee for Mr P, Coca-Cola for Mrs P. (Odd, she never drinks Coca-Cola!?)

Back at the gondola at 4.15. 9 hours on the go. Mrs P loves a good boot camp/grand day out.

Back with Gandalf at 5pm and drive down into the valley to find a campsite with a shower. It’s been 3 days of free camping so a shower is long overdue.

Great day. Great area. More things need climbing but for now, a couple of rest days beckon.

The goats in the machine

Catching up on a couple of days here. Yesterday (Thursday 15th August) we moved up to Sulden in the Ortler Stelvio National Park. Or ‘Italy’ to his friends.

We arrived late afternoon and wanted to go for an acclimatisation hike i.e. over 2,600m. Bit late to hike up from the valley so we dig deep into our pockets and take a chairlift up to 2,348 (how much!?). With the luxury of very light bags, containing not much more than lunch and some water, we headed for the Düsseldorfer hutte at 2,720m.

Easy life

I don’t think we have ever hiked to a hut without huge rucksacks.

Lots of stunning flowers…

A flower. Latin name; Plantius blueius
Another flower. Latin name: Flowaria Pinkium

There is a chance I got the flower names wrong.

Lunch by the hutte and then a bimble up to 2,820m. If you live at a lower altitude, and trust me, Berkshire is a lower altitude, you can start to feel the height at around 2,600m. Just slightly difficult breathing while walking. Not too bad. This little jaunt will help to kid our lungs that we are mountain goats next time we head up high.

At the end of our walk we encountered this little lot…

The goats whisperer strikes again.

I think I must’ve looked like someone they knew because they all came careening towards us as soon as I appeared. Bleating and clanging their bells. Surrounded, we were worried they would follow us down and we would have to pay for the lot of them on the chairlift and find space for them to sleep in Gandalf (though they would probably have been happy on the roof).

To shake them off we walked slowly away carefully avoiding eye contact and saying things like, “Looks like mutton for tea.” and, “Which way to the abattoir?” They seemed to take the hint and wandered off to bother some daisies.

The weather drew in as we walked down. A portent of the huge storms that would hit the valley later that evening.

Mrs P stares the incoming storm in the eye (doesn’t look that bad)

Spent the night in a car park at the bottom of the chairlift. No facilities but our favourite price i.e. free.

The following morning (today, Friday 16th Aug) we headed straight for a coffee shop. Coffee was however only secondary on my agenda with our real reason for visiting being to check out their porcelain facilities and the quality of their paper (excellent, since you ask).

Today is a rest day. We spent a lazy morning followed by an afternoon of packing for tomorrow’s big adventure. We are off to climb a local mountain, Monte Cevedale (pronounced… erm… dunno. C-v-daul. Seems unlikely). 3,757m.

Gondola up to 2,581m then wander up the moraine for an hour or so to about 2,700m before getting on the glacier and climbing another 1,000m to the summit remembering not to fall down any pesky crevasses on the way. Estimated time to the summit 4.5 hours. Gonna be a long day.

Spent the afternoon packing…

A minor Gandalf explosion

…and practicing the techniques for rescues on glaciers, in case we fail in our main objective of not falling down any crevasses.

Mr P pretends he knows what he is doing while Gandalf looks on

There may not be a post tomorrow. Either too tired or stuck in a crevasse. Will try to catch up the next day. Will definitely big up our mountain exploits soon so stay tuned.

Who invented the boiled egg?

Another (and final, I promise) culinary tale… I assume that way back, shortly after the saucepan was invented, some hapless cave dweller accidentally dropped his very last egg in the pan of water he was boiling up to make tea (tea, as you know, has been around FOREVER).

“Darn!” he said. Or some other prehistoric expletive. Some minutes later, when he was able to retrieve his only meal and was forced to eat it, he discovered he had inadvertently, and fortuitously invented the boiled egg. (Definitely a man by the way. A woman would NEVER be so careless.)

Other happy ‘mistakes’ over the millennia have probably been the cause of such tasties as; cooked meat, toast and cheese etc.

Well, I had just such an incident happen to me (though probably less likely to catch on) the other evening in Gandalf. Happily drinking my mug of chamomile tea I reached over to pluck a tasty looking cornichon (pickled gherkin to the less posh) from a bowl. Oops! Butterfingers, into my tea it goes. Tea too hot to remove said pickled comestible straight away it languished at the bottom of my cup for a few minutes before being removed. The cornichon was no worse for wear neither improvement or otherwise. The tea on the other hand was, well… let’s say that it is unlikely there will be a brand of chamomile and gherkin tea bags sold in the shops any time soon.

I shall not mention food again. Promise (fingers crossed firmly behind back).

Back to the trip.

This lovely shot before the sun came out to play

The weather yesterday was perfect for climbing so, we did just that.

I may look the part but Mrs P did all he work

Nassereith, Austria is such a great spot. An area of nice easy climbs where we always seem to meet English groups. This time a group from Birmingham University. So, a little translation was required for Mrs P from Brummie to posh Southern.

Another section of harder climbs was rather busy so we only did one there. I say ‘we.’ I mean Mrs P who led a very steady grade 5 called Inspiration. I just held the rope.

Look what I did!

Later we moved over to Italy a few days sooner than planned and spent a fruitless time casting around for some guide books/maps as we plan to head into the snowy mountains soon.

The Ortler (3,905m) from our campsite

Beautiful drive over the Reschenpass. If we can avoid the Italian drivers we may even survive long enough to do some climbing.

Whatever happened to zig zags!?

Today we went for a walk up a local mountain. Simmering, 2096m (6876 ft). Only 8 miles but 4,100 feet (1250m) of ascent and subsequent descent.

Are we there yet?

Normally we moan about the zigs and the consequent zags on such a climb but we won’t be doing that again I can assure you. Why? Because this jolly jaunt demonstrated all too clearly what a plumb line ascent is like. Hard is what it’s like.

Anyway, walk schmalk (??) What I really wanted to discuss today was my reinvention of that old Italian classic; spaghetti bolognese (Shocking. 55 years old and I only just learned how to spell bolognaise, bolonayse, bolloc tomato sauce).

It all started with the realisation that we were hungry. Very hungry. And we needed to eat, now! However, we had a limited larder. This led to Mrs P, perhaps foolishly, handing all responsibility to Mr P.

Anyway, long and short of it. I reinvented spaghetti bolognese. I shall share this recipe with you but take no responsibility should you be foolish enough to actually try it.

Recipe:

Serves 2 (very hungry and non too picky people with iron constitutions)

Total cooking time: About 3 minutes

Instructions: Take 1 pack (or tin) of lentils in a tomato sauce and heat over a medium flame for about as long as it takes to add 2 packs of straight to wok noodles. Continue to heat while you open and add a small tin of mackerel in tomato sauce. Stir until it looks like something your dog would turn it’s nose up at.

Serve.

It looks a bit like spaghetti bolognese in the same way that a fish looks like a cow. It has a similar consistency and texture to said bolognese in the same way that mashed potato is like ice cube. And the taste? Well, what can I say… my mother would be proud. Colour? The usual; grey.

in my defence, we were hungry. Oddly, in some weird kind of praise of this recipe we did eat exactly the same thing 2 days in a row and on neither occasion were we drunk. Just VERY hungry.

I tried to take a photo but, in the same way that Count Dracula is just too evil to allow his image to be chemically recorded by means of light sensitive material so this meal refused all attempts at digital reproduction.

Gratuitous shot of Gandalf with his rain hat on

Tomorrow the weather may improve as may my cooking skills.

Gandalf; Return of the van.

It’s been… how long!? January was my last post I think. Gandalf didn’t even feature in that one. Good heavens. Such a sorry state of affairs. No writing, no pictures, no… excuses really.

I could tell tales of adventures in a world with no internet access (that’ll be Wales then) or recount stories of months spent fighting dark forces for control of some kingdom deep underground and far from the dark lord Vode-a-phone’s reach or, I could tell the truth. I’ve been working. Oh, it’s even hard to say the word but, sometimes you just have to put in the effort to pay for the next trip.

And, here it is, drum roll please, trumpets sound, the crowd is hushed with expectation… the herald is about to speak. To impart the secret of the adventure that Gandalf is about to go on, that you, his adoring (ahem) audience, are just begging to learn of. Pray silence for the herald’s announcement…

“3.5 weeks in the Austrian Alps and the Italian Dolomites.”

There will be campsites;

Gandalf poses seductively next to the toilet block

… Culinary adventures…

It’s grey. It must be dinner

…and dinosaurs…

Mrs P, Dinosaur whisperer

Yes folks, hold onto your hats. It’s about to get weird.

Currently in Nassareith, Austria waiting for the storms to pass. Tomorrow we are going for an acclimatisation walk. Maybe we will take the dinosaur with us.

It will take me a few days to get my writing head back on. Please stay tuned as I grapple with the following; English language, English grammar; stringing more than a few coherent sentences together in less time than it takes a glacier to crush a small rock and how WordPress works.

If you like this, hit like. If you really like it, share. If you really, really like it, send money.

See you tomorrow.

An Early Bath

I miss my own musings on the blog site so have decided to write something about 2 interesting days in January (in 2 parts) even though it does not include Gandalf. Gandalf being currently parked up on the drive having a well earned rest.

So, cast your mind back. It’s Thursday January 17th and myself and two friends have decided to ride to Bath along the Kennet & Avon canal from Twyford, near Reading.

82 miles along a tow path. How hard can it be?

We set out at 05.45 with train tickets pre-purchased for our return.

Oh my word it’s early.

All went smoothly if rather muddily.

The tow path was pretty user friendly and we made it to Newbury in good time for a well earned cup of coffee.

The only coffee shop before Devises

The trusty steeds of our merry band of 3 comprised 1 Mountain and 2 cyclo cross bikes. Our problem would be our choices of tyres. Mr MTB had tubeless, self sealing, knoblies (good choice), yours truly had cyclo cross knoblies with all the puncture resistant qualities of a peeled and silk wrapped soft boiled egg (bloody awful choice). Mr blue cyclo cross had puncture resistant road/trail tyres (a better but far from perfect choice).

All smiles on a beautiful day

For a while things went our way…

…we even found a sunny spot for lunch..

But soon things started to go awry with the first puncture of the day…

It wasn’t to be the last. 11 punctures over about a 20 mile stretch! Some tyke (stronger words are available) had been cutting the hawthorn bushes that run alongside the canal towpath for the whole of the 20 mile stretch. I did get rather cross at about puncture number 8.

At about the 50 mile mark we had only 2 puncture stickers left, zero spare tubes, zero air cylinders and only one rather poor pump.

Something had to be done…

Our plan was to ride to Devises. Find a bike shop, buy lots of tubes and look to arrive in Bath at about midnight.

Mr MTB and fate however had other ideas…

…at 52 miles Mr MTB was negotiating a narrow section under a bridge when he caught his handlebars on the bridge allowing him to create the kind of almighty splash that only a a 6 foot 95 man mountain can create as momentum and gravity sent him headfirst into the canal closely followed by his bike.

Mr MTB takes an early Bath

I was following him at the time so saw what happened. Cognisant of the danger I sprang into action. As follows:

  • Check he has surfaced in a conscious non panicky, floaty not sinky kind of way
  • Grab bike and hoik it out before it does a Titanic
  • Say to our other friend; “You haul him out. I’m taking a photo.”

When he looked at me in an accusatory kind of way I (rightly I feel) said, “One day you will thank me for this. Smile for the camera!”

We couldn’t continue. Hypothermia would have done for the poor boy. So, we headed 1 mile into Pewsey where fortuitously there is a main line train station.

There was an hour before the next train so we shivered our way to a marvellous little cafe where MTB boy was able to replace much of his wet clothing with dry stuff.

My how we laughed

Now MTB boy did us a favour. We would never have made it. Our 2nd attempt the following week revealed that the hawthorn detritus continued for at least another 20 miles.

Turns out if you smell of wet canal you get the whole carriage to yourself

Lessons learned?

  • If anyone has to fall in make it the biggest one
  • If you are likely to have/get hypothermia and you have access to a bath or a shower the shower is NOT the right choice (muppet!)
  • Always fall into canals near main line railway stations
  • Some cafe owners are ridiculously understanding
  • Ignore all of above and don’t fall in in the first place.

Tune in soon for the second attempt the following week. Find out if anyone goes swimming, count the punctures and see if we ever get to Bath.