Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Dolomites

For a week our bicycles got a vacation. Stored in the basement of my aunt's cellar, they waited patiently while we extended our mid-bike tour break. My second cousin Pia and her husband Joerg drove from Dresden with borrowed harnesses and backpacks to whisk us back to Italy for a week of climbing in the Rosengarten Group of the Dolimites in the Italian Alps. This was a long-planned trek, but neither John or I quite knew what to expect.

We rode a ski lift to get to get to the trail that would we follow three kilometers to the hut where we would sleep for the first night. Hiking in the Alps is not toally the wilderness experience we are accoustmed to. Our backpacks were the size used for day hiking, and we carried only minimal personal gear, a bedsheet, and snacks. No tent, no stove, no breakfast or dinner food. All those would be provided at the hut, enabling us to travel lightly as we climbed the routes that led us to a different hut each day.

The huts were located on some of the most scenic prepices in the range. Many were built over 100 years ago, but renovated with all the modern conveniences of modern life like hot water, flush toilets, and electricity. Most nights we had a room with four beds, but for a bit less money one can stay in a dormitory sleeping arrangement. Most of our time in the huts was spent in the dining area, where we ate dinner, drank wine, and played games in the evening on long wooden tables with cushioned benches. And on the nights where the wind blew and rain pelted the windows (which seemed like most nights), we were happy to have the comfort of the huts. The food was excellent, characteristic of the South Tiroli region, a blend of Italian and German fare. I could get used to this kind of wilderness.

Especially if it snows. Day two of our trip found us in a snowstorm that laid a couple of inches on the deck at the pass where we sought refuge.

But the real objective of the trip was to climb, Alps style. This means scrambling up exposed sections of rock, where handholds and footholds are obvious by the polished rock from the many climbers that have passed by over the last century. Permanent cables are provided on the difficult sections, and we could grasp them for balance and clip into them with ropes attached to our harness for safety. This setup allows reasonably fit but non-technical climbers (like me) to traverse the peaks in the Alps. Stretches of the routes are of moderate difficulty, but we found it challenging at times when it started raining and we had to maintain traction with the weak support of our bike touring shoes.

In the first two days we had experienced climbing in rain, hiking in snow, and scrambling down rain-slicked skree slopes. By then my quadricept muscles, well tuned for biking, were quite sore from the exertion of climbing and descending. But the bad weather clearled like a miracle, and we were able to attempt one of the more difficult routes in the range, the Via Ferrata Laurenzi.

Good thing I am not afraid of heights. And that Pia was ahead of me, giving me gentle instructions in German. And that everyone was patient with me, the least experienced in the group. I made did it by focusing just on the cable in front of me, one section at a time. It was one of the most physically challenging things I have done in my life.

The midpoint was the peak, and the stellar weather and views were our reward.

Joerg was like Spiderman, dropping down the last wall, slightly overhanging. The three of us that decsended before him were secured by an extra rope, belayed by Joerg from above.

The day after we went back up to the top of Kesselkogel, the highest point in the group. We were again so lucky to have clear weather for the ascent. We could see far to the southeast to the Antermoia Hut, where we had spent the previous night, situated just the other side of the lake in the photo above.

We were not alone --the clear weather attracted many climbers to the peak.

But clear weather does not last long in the Alps, and after two days of sun the clouds came in and brought rain. We hiked the standard trail while our "Crazy German" guides went over the Rotwand route. The threat of rain spooked us, and we wanted to stay in one piece for the two more months of biking ahead of us.

Almost as equally thrilling as the climbing was driving the five hours back to Nuremberg on the Autobahn. School was out over most of Europe and cars choked the major routes. And where there was no traffic Joerg could drive at unlimited speed, controlling his Volvo with the same coinfidence that guided us climbing through the Alps.

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Jörg said...

So the Spiderman says: What a wonderful trip – “sophisticated” – wrong word, but Doris and John know what I mean. Both did a perfect job in the new field of experience climbing in alpine style. Pia and me are happy to made this together in a american-german- expedition.
May be, it was the first conquest of the Laurenzi in those konstellation.

Anonymous said...

WOW! Thanks for sharing your trip....Wow, Wow, Wow Lynn

Jim Williams said...

What a great trip. When I read your comments about Rothenberg I went in the other room and put a CD on the player that we bought from a musician in the park overlooking the river in Rothenberg. Flute & guitar.
I remember my amazement at the civilization of the Alps with all the tourist houses and inns. I envy your experience.

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