Dolomite Via Ferrata trip 2011
In July a group of eight, based round the caving section, ventured off to the Italian Dolomites for a weeks Via Ferrataing. We based ourselves at the excellent Collets mountain holiday centre in Corvara who organise a range of guided activities ranging from wild flower walks through to Via Ferrata trips. Three in our group had previous Via Ferrata experience, so we mainly did our own thing each day, but for anyone with less experience, or on their own the Collets set up is superb.
For those unfamiliar with the term Via Ferrata, they are routes over and through the mountains where the sections of climbing are protected with a fixed wire cable, with aids such as ladders, stemples and wire bridges fitted as appropriate. Many of the routes were originally set up in the First World War to allow troop movement along the mountain border, some routes include sections of tunnels and trenches that were created during this period and the history is very much in evidence on some of the routes. The Via Ferratas allow some truly spectacular and exposed situations to be reached, and allow non climbers to reach places that would otherwise be confined to the expert climber. All that’s needed is good head for heights, a reasonable fitness level and some basic gear, a helmet, harness and a purpose designed fall arrester device, and clothing suitable for long days in whatever weather the mountains throw at you.
Over the week we tackled grades of Via Ferrata from medium difficulty up to the hardest in the region. Each route had its own character, ranging from huge vertical faces to exposed ridges, from limestone to volcanic rock, some were right next to the road others were part of a full days trekking and felt a long way from home. Also, some of the group enjoyed a days guided trip focusing on the history of the Via Ferrata in the first world war and Nick James undertook a guided glacier trek complete with ice axe and crampons.
We had a fantastic time, the weather was very kind to us, we drank lots of the Collets house wine, (some more so than others!) ate some good food and enjoyed some of the most amazing views and situations, We hope to return!
Some pictures from the trip can be found here
Members of the group have written up Individual days below.
Mon 4th VF Vallon & Lichtenfelser Steig
Is it Monday? Well we arrived Sunday evening, and we had a fantastic welcome with all that wine! Didn’t we Chris? Chris? Chris? Why are you inspecting the ground? We’re off up the friendly side of Piz Boe. We are Chris, Dan, Dave, 2xNick, Bob and Gaynor. On the first day we thought we’d start on an easy 2A graded Ferrata Vallon having established that bridge was intact…well it wasn’t , at this point we also met German couple descending saying that the summit was too icy…well it wasn’t. We all safely ascended Vallon and descended Lichtenfelser Steig (graded 1B) – we had all master the clip on – clip off- and not suffered vertigo. We had then planned, having done our warm-up, to attempt Piz de Lech (3B) however it was late and we were all weary so we descended by foot, and back to chalet.
Tue 5th VF Michielli Strobel – Punta Fiames
Tuesday we decided to venture to Cortina – it was an eventful drive involving some distracting up hill road skiers and a “short cut” to avoid the centre of Cortina which turned into rutted single track. Today we (same team as yesterday) were attempting VF Michielli Strobel – Punta Fiames graded 3B. It was a warm 45 minute climb to the start of the ferrata and we were all looking forward to 600m of VF. It had all we could wish for ladder, stemples and more wires. A fabulous climb, fantastic views. We descended on foot to celebrate with a beer at the Hotel Fiames before taking the “direct” and uneventful route home to Corvara.
Weds 6th VF Giovanni Lipella on Tofana de Rozes
For the first time the group split up and the 'A' Team went in search of a harder and longer route. Bob, Chris and Nick P went off to do a route on Tofana de Rozes, a massive lump of rock above the Falzerago Pass. On arrival the mountain certainly looked impressive, but the peak was hidden in cloud. Another steady, well sign-posted walk through scree slopes took us to the base of the rock walls. Passing a couple of sports climbers on the way we wound our way along the path for a while to get to the start of the via ferrata. Fittingly for an SOC caving trip this involved a tunnel, complete with rotting wooden pillars and a ladder. However there was a modern metal stair case to start, then the bare rock of the tunnel which led steeply upwards. Chris discovered the flaw in his cunning wind up torch plan - do you use two hands and wind up the torch, or do you hold on and not be able to see? Fortunately Bob and Nick had real torches, so Chris could opt for the latter and still see a bit.
The tunnel ended too soon and was followed by a bit of via ferrata which traversed, then dropped down to a col and stopped. The way on was a path which led down the side of a stunning valley. Two snow slopes had to crossed, one of which was a bit too steep and on the frozen side for comfort. A long, long slide beckoned. Being stick-less, Chris and Bob reverted to the stone age (not too large a transition some may say) and picked likely looking rocks to act as psychological brakes in the event of a slip. Fortunately they were not required.
Soon the cable started again and the route continued in spectacular scenery with some airy traverses interspersed with some steep climbing. All under blue skies. After a couple of hours a large ledge offers a choice of routes. Left is the tourist route to a refugio, right leads to a lot more cable. So of course we went right and started traversing again on a ledge. Having gone round the back of one snow slope, we very nearly gave up and joined the tourists when we spied a large, steep snow slope above a huge drop, with a solitary set of tracks across it. Fortunately we 'went and had a look' and discovered that the route went straight up the wall rather than crossing the snow. Hurrah! On the route went, diagonally scaling the wall of a huge rock amphitheatre. By now we were all cable hauling as it was much faster than trying to climb the rock. We eventually popped out onto the ridge. The summit was another 200m vertically above us and mostly covered in soft snow, so we gave it a miss. Even without the summit, the views were fantastic.
Descent was difficult, across sloping ledges covered with scree and melting snow slopes, down towards the refugio. Once there, we passed through ruins of old refugios and war time buildings (complete with rusty tin can 'relics') before joining the main track that supplies the refugio. The track zig-zagged down through the scree, so fairly soon Chris and Nick got bored and decided to cut some corners off by scree running (mainly because the pretty Italian lass in front had done the same...). Bob followed and had a 'nearly' moment with THE shoulder. Fortunately no epic points were gained, the track was rejoined and we returned to the car in a more sedate fashion. A great day, but the guide book is right – this ferrata does go on for a long time on a serious mountain!
Wednesday the cultural and tired crew aka Gaynor, Danny and Dave decided to have a day off the serious feratta and go for a guide “Great War” walk from Rifugio Valparola near the Falzarego Pass. The Austrians and Italians spent most of the war digging phenomenal tunnels and trenches at ridiculous altitudes to defend the most barren sections of snow covered mountain. I won’t quote the statistics of the number of porters required to keep a garrison of men supplied and who died supplying them.
Thurs 7th Piz Da Lech
This was a fine route for a rest day, offering the chance for Gaynor, Danny, Dave and Nick P to escape the car. A gondola from Corvara followed by the Vallon chair lift deposits you within 10 minutes walk of the route, allowing you to polish it off before lunch and spend the afternoon shopping, which was the plan. Such an easy to reach route is always going to be crowded, unless you decide to do it in low cloud and zero visibility. Then you have it to yourselves.
The route is short, but fun. The lower part is a bit broken, but has a couple of good slabs to climb and some interesting traverses. Then comes the best bit – two ladders up a near vertical wall, with a slightly overhanging top that you have to climb on stemples and pegs. Its good value, made better if the clouds clear a bit as you are climbing so you can appreciate the drop on your left hand side. The best is saved until the top, when the peg you want to grab to heave yourself over the overhang comes out in your hand! Dave was good and put it back in (and there are several other solid pegs you can use)
Emerging onto the ridge, there is a walk up to the Piz Da Lech summit. As we came onto the ridge the clouds were changing from grey to black and looking more ominous, so we hastened off to the lightning conductor at the top of the mountain. The rain came, but only briefly and the clouds turned benign. The descent is a pleasant walk initially until a gulley is reached which leads to a nice stemple pitch on a small vertical face. This seems to be the place to practice putting stemples in as there are far more than you actually need. A bit more scrambling takes you back to the chairlift. A nice ride down to Corvara for lunch (very nice apple strudel) and then some shopping. Very pleasant.
Friday 8th July 4pm Corvara 2 Piz da Cir V (2A)
After a good morning’s exercise, followed by a sandwich, a stroll back down, and a beer/ice cream/whatever (according to taste), I felt it was really a little early to be sitting back and waiting for dinner. I suggested a trip up Piz da Cir (and Gran Cir), but the rest of the intrepid crew didn’t seem too enthused. I thought perhaps a little leadership was what they needed – so I led.
That’s how I came to find myself embarking on another walk in at 4pm, leading my party of one, while the rest went back to the chalet to shower and loaf around until 7.30. The walk in was a typically steep pull, and my legs were definitely ready for a shower and dinner. I was passed on the way up by a German going about twice my speed, so I decided a sandwich break was in order.
Suitably fuelled, I went much better, and was soon on the wire. I climbed a pleasant little route up to a cross at the top, followed by a bit of a hunt for the way on up the ridge to Gran Cir. There seemed to be an impassable cliff in the way, and a wire leading down a gully. After a look at the book, I discovered that down was the only way, so down I went. I abandoned the idea of including Gran Cir, and headed back to the car for around 6pm, then back to the chalet for a leisurely shower before dinner.
Saturday 9th July Arabba 1 Cesare Piazzetta – Piz Boe (5C)
It was the last day, so Nick P. and I just had to check out one of the harder routes. We got off to a slightly late start, and so had to contend with the hordes of mad cyclists infesting the roads.
We had a quick look at the mausoleum, a memorial to the German soldiers who died in the mountains in the wars. From there an hour or so’s hard going saw us to the beginning of the rock face, which had an interesting vertical/slightly overhanging start. This was a fairly sustained cable hauling upper body workout for a while, and then, just as we were starting to wonder how long it continued, it eased to proper climbing.
This was followed by a ledge, and then a short chimney – the guidebook mentions that a big rucksack is a disadvantage – after a short struggle in the chimney I found my banana had turned into soup inside my rucksack.
A little further up was a wire ladder bridge, and apparently an unprotected airy traverse. I’m not sure whether we were getting a bit blasé, but we didn’t see the airy traverse. The climbing was all good stuff, and all too soon we were at the top of the Via Ferrata, with just the half hour walk to the summit of Piz Boe (3152m) to do.
We arrived there to find a café, lots of walkers, families sun-bathing, etc (reminiscent of Snowdon).
We had a well earned leisurely beer before starting the descent via Rif. Forcella Pordoi and down the scree, running past lots of people trying to find a secure footing. Back at the car after about 5 hours.
Saturday – final day – and we (Danny, Bob, Dave and Gaynor) tackled a very popular route VF Brigata Tridentina (graded 3B). It’s popular because it is minutes walk from a car park. We were quite lucky until Danny had his arse felt by a German – it’s a busy feratta and we were pressed from behind. But the 400 m of VF was a brilliant end to the week. Plenty of climbing and very little cable hauling. Bob’s shoulder support prevented any incidents – and I’ve avoided any jokes about rubber and strap-ons!