When life slows you down, for whatever reason, and the journey focuses more on the minutiae of every step than on the summit in the distance, the focus of your eye readjusts and is drawn to such things as the beauty in a leaf.
The delicacy of a butterfly (or maybe a moth? Who can tell?)
The myriad, and potentially poisonous, mushrooms.
Even the insects at work…
…and other things for which I have run out of adjectives…
The walk on which we found all this carefully annotated and taxonomically accurate (yeah, right!) flora started and finished at this place…
I think you will agree that that is an insanely long way for pizza.
It does of course beg the question; ‘Why?’
Well, are you sitting comfortably? I shall take you back to my last post when I said…
“…We are off back into the mountains tomorrow. Going to climb the Ortler…”
Now you may remember that Mrs P has been a bit under the weather. The Ortler is graded PD+ (for a idea of a PD+ grade climb see our Allalinhorn trip last year). We decided that, discretion being the better part of valour, we would leave the Ortler for another day. We will definitely be back as it looks stunning.
Anyway, we are sat in our campsite wondering what to do instead…
…and we decide to go and climb the Monte Zebru (3,703m) from the Rifugio V. Alpini-Bertarelli. The guide book says; “… park in the big car park, (the other side of the Umbrial Pass), take a Jeep to the road head and then walk for a few hours to the hut.”
…over the Pass we go. Get to the big car park and…
…big!? Define ‘Big.’ There are already about 12 cars parked up. Practically on top of each other in true Italian style and literally (and I do mean ‘literally’) nowhere else to park within 10 km. Even then only about 5 of the spots were long enough to cater for the not very long Gandalf. We investigate alternatives but, sadly, it looks like a wasted journey. Only one thing to do (well, 3 actually):
So, that’s the story of Gandalf’s long quest over the misty mountains to do battle with Smaug get pizza. Tolkien would definitely have written a better story.
The following day we went all the way back over the pass (another 90+ hairpins). Don’t consider doing this in your white behemoth Campervan by the way. There is a 10m length restriction and in places the road is barely wide enough for a car.
How it was all meant to be…
So, back in the Val Venosta, as a consolation prize, we decide to go climb possibly the easiest glaciated peak in Italy, Piz Sesvenna, 3204m. What can go wrong? Well…
…It turns out that Mrs P may be a bit more ‘under the weather‘ than she has been admitting.
We set out from the van for our 2 hour, 600m climb to the Sesvenna Hütte. It’s a lovely day…
But, Mrs P is struggling.
We stop for a rest…
…and a contemplate…
…we head back to the van
Poor Mrs P.
Will she pull through? Will our normally athletic, dynamo of a heroine return to her peak of fitness in time to partake of more daring adventures before we must begin the long journey back to Blighty?
Tune in next time to find out.
Possible spoiler alert. Should Mrs P fail to rally, I can assure you that she, and in fact I, will bravely undertake gentle scenic bimbles, heroically visit restaurants and cafés and, casting caution to the wind, finish of the day with schnitzel, chips and wine (distant relatives of Crystal, Tipps and Alistair).
We have taken a couple of days out of the mountains while Mrs P recovers from the lurgy and while the weather up high sorts itself out (bit damp). There’s not much rock climbing in this area so we have spent a day and a half at a medieval festival in Schluderns, Italy.
The festival went on for 3 days though we only spent a day and a half wandering around.
The premise of these events is that hundreds of people who are fascinated with a particular medieval period in history live their lives as medieval characters every weekend throughout the summer with like minded people and all their best mates. It sounds really nerdy and, in some respects it may be but, that doesn’t stop it being great fun. I mean, who doesn’t want to dress up like a warrior and hang round the tavern with their mates?
The only issue is that it provides a stark illustration as to why wars will never stop…
…the thing is that some people (men. Ok, me) just want to feel tough. I can’t explain just how much I wanted to buy a sword.. and a helmet. Oh, and one of those spikey things on a stick and, and… a bow and arrow… and…
Last time I wrote anything I fell asleep mid sentence so, I must confess to slipping standards and the need to catch up. We have been in Arco for 3 days now and would love to stay longer. For this post I am going to throw caution (read: data) to the wind (read: Vodaphone) and try to recount 3 days in pictures. Wish me luck…
Arrived late Monday 19th August all campsites full so hung around down by the river with all the other cheapskates.
My guidebook for this area is sitting at home in Berkshire so borrowed a book from the neighbouring van and took some photos.
For those interested in how such diagrams help it goes something like this;
Find crag (Climbing area) A dark art all of its ownTry to make real rocks look like diagram – this is akin to a vet using a Walt Disney drawing of Pluto or Goofy to operate on a real life dogSelect climb from diagram – use same analogy as above but now we have to find the dogs appendixClimb 30 metres of rock using a description of a mere 5 words e.g. follow crack to tricky overhang. (Thanks for nothing description!)
This is day one of climbing near Arco. South facing slab and super hot so, I’m wearing a buff under my helmet to keep the sun off my neck. Lunchtime, I take helmet off. Mrs P takes photo, I assume because I look cool but no, it is because I look like a pillock.
I have included a definition of the word ‘pillock’ for my non-English readers but I think the picture says it all
Met up with some old friends back at the campsite. Mr & Mrs McD. We first met this splendid pair last year in Switzerland. We all went off to do a via Ferrata above the village.
The return trip passes through Arco and its assorted bars and pizza restaurants. We succumbed to temptation and stayed for both.
The following day, 21st August (Aside: Happy Birthday Mrs P’s brother) we set off to higher climes (and climbs) to a crag 550 metres up. A lot cooler and both lovely and quiet.
Did a climb called Winnie the Pooh (5a+) which I’m not entirely convinced the bear after which it was named would have been able to scale. Fun but no honey.
Mr & Mrs McD joined us and had a great time. Both nearly 10 years older than us Mr McD only took up Climbing a week ago!
I also climbed a 6a+ without crying (well, not while anyone was watching anyway). Mr McD took a couple of nice shots of me on the way down after the falling off bit.
That brings us to today. Thursday 22nd August. Just a few climbs on a crag local to Arco followed by a visit to Arco itself.
When we were last here in 2006 it was a pretty quiet place with lots of climbers but only 2 climbing shops and not much else. It’s changed though…
Every other shop seems to be a climbing shop.
I was very good, I only spent €3 on a pair of laces and I bought Mrs P a small gift for being the best belayer ever.
Our favourite pizza restaurant however has not changed. Still perfect pizzas at reasonable prices in delightful surroundings.
We must leave Arco in the morning but have vowed to return for longer next time. So much to climb. So much to see. (So much pizza to eat!)
Tune in tomorrow as we head back to the South Tyrol…
We first met Otzi back in 2006. We were hanging out in the Otztal valley hoping to climb but the weather had taken a serious turn for the worse.
Trawling through tourist info leaflets we found that behind our campsite was Otzidorf.
Travel Back in time to an era where Ötzi ‘the man in ice’ lived. Said the flyers.
So, off we pottered for a very informativeif rather damp few hours finding outabout Otzi the iceman.
It turns out that Ötzi, also called the Iceman, is the well-preserved natural mummy of a man who lived between 3400 and 3100 BCE. When he was discovered, by 2 climbers in 1999, poking out of a glacierthey thought he might be from the war, just 70 years ago but, it turns out that he is about 5,300 years old. I’m usually happy if someone thinks I look a few years younger than my current 55. Ötzi was mistaken for a man 5,130 years younger! That’s either one serious skin care regime or some blooming awful guess work from the experts on the spot.
Anyway, we’ve been to the outdoor museum, we’ve been within a few miles of the spot he was actually found. Time to visit the museum in Bolzano, Italy dedicated to and housing the man himself.
Click on the image for more info…
The museum is excellent and I thoroughly recommend both it and the city of Bolzano should you find yourself in that part of Italy.
The museum tells the story of the find and the research undertaken in the decades up to now. Strangely they only got forensic scientists involved relatively recently to reveal the possible scenarios around Ötzi’s ‘murder‘. Pause for dramatic effect…
… [pause ends].
You can’t take photos of his body so, no pictures here. (The National geographic have a good site where it can be seen) His body is kept in a frozen state and is visible via a viewing area with the exhibition culminating in a full size recreation of him.
Looking good for a 5,300 year old murder victim
After a very educational visit we headed off for lunch. This turned out to be very expensive because it also involved a couple of visits to shops as follows:
Book shop: €36 – Climbing Guide book to replace ancient one.
outdoor shop: €60 – lightweight trousers for Mr P for next years trip!Outdoor shop No. 2: €240!!!!! Mountain trousers and top for Mr P who has lost so much weight over the last few years that everything is falling off him (and other such vague excuses)
We can no longer afford to eat. Ever!
Those concerned that this spending spree is somewhat Mr P centric may be heartened by the fact that some years ago a similar shopping spree took place that just involved Mrs P.
Moving on, which is exactly what we did, we then drove south for a couple of hours to Arco. We were here in 2006 also. Sleepy little town at the northern most tip of Lake Garda. I’m sure nothing has changed…
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.
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 thatcomes frominside your nose. (Noun. British; informal). Too much information? I think so.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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?
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.
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.
Stunning views from the summit and a strange reminder of the futility of war.
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.
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.
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.
I don’t think we have ever hiked to a hut without huge rucksacks.
Lots of stunning flowers…
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…
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.
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…
…and practicing the techniques for rescues on glaciers, in case we fail in our main objective of not falling down any crevasses.
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.
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.
The weather yesterday was perfect for climbing so, we did just that.
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.
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.
Beautiful drive over the Reschenpass. If we can avoid the Italian drivers we may even survive long enough to do some climbing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tomorrow the weather may improve as may my cooking skills.