Bochette Way by Nikki Wallis See Photos section.
We were nearly at the end of our fortnight adventuring in the Alps, now based in St. Antonio in the Brenta Dolomites. We had planned to go from the Groste cable way to the Pedrotti Hut via the Sentiero Orsi (group b).
Geoff, doing a fine job acting as campsite chauffeur, enabled us to catch the very first cable car up to the Groste Pass and we walked in very warm, early morning weather to the Tuckett Hut. From there we continued up the harmless Tuckett Glacier up to the Tuckett Col.
Our planned route was supposed to descend the either side of the Col down a "steep descent into the uppermost part of the Val Perse". After our experience of the Jaegigrats ‘unappealing Puiseauz couloir’ in Switzerland, we figured we were now somehat experts in steep couloirs! We hadn’t however, anticipated an incredibly steep snow couloir. This somewhat changed things.
We had ice axes and short length of emergency walking rope, harnesses etc, but my climbing partner was experiencing her first season in the Alps, and was not very keen on descending this long couloir without crampons or at least a back up climbing rope.
We were at our first decision time of the day.
Glancing through the guidebook, I read that the Via delle Bochette from the Tuckett to the Brentei option, (group d) should take about 3 hours, thus leaving us plenty of time to make it, although we knew then that we would not make it to the Pedrotti Hut.
The description said "Technically relatively free of difficulty and without problems, but airy in places". We hoped that one of the other huts would be sufficiently empty for us to stay overnight, and more importantly feed us! We had heard excellent accounts of three and four and even five course dinners in these huts, which made our efforts seem worthwhile.
Mention was made in the guidebook of airy ladders, and exposed climbing, which were quite prepared for. The only other route was a grade (e) "A high alpine traverse, very exposed in places, couloirs with danger of stone fall and icing, ice axe and 25m rope recommended. Weaker partners only accompanied by experienced Alpinists. 5-6 hours"
We carried on.
The iron ladders took some getting used to, whilst although not technically difficult, because the iron rungs were so close in to the rock, it made climbing up and down them very delicate, with only a few millimetres of our boots actually on the rungs. Similar to mixed climbing with crampons on.
The mist started to drift in around the immense Dolomitic spires, and although we were not initially alone on the route, we soon felt a sense of isolation.
Some of the positions we found ourselves in were very exhilarating, and I soon found myself descending a very old iron ladder which led onto what appeared to be quite an awkward looking snow couloir. We suddenly felt quite daunted, as a party of two coming the other direction started on this snow couloir, and then after much difficulty, turned round and returned the way they had come.
This did not bode well.
The difficulty was a very exposed section of snow, which had an initial difficult couple of steps to gain balanced access on the the traverse. I went first, after having dropped the lens cover from my camera down the couloir which only succeeded in accentuating its steepness and vast drop off, and gave Esther directions form the other side. The cable that was in place, actually made things more awkward, and apart from preventing a terminal slide, was held way out to one side, out of the way.
It was easier than we had expected, but by now we had been 4 hours on the route. Guidebooks translators started becoming our scapegoats, as we were not moving that slowly, and 2.5 hours was now well past. I was heard starting to repeat, very sarcastically "2.5 hours?!? There is no way... We can’t go any faster!?! Wait till I catch up with the guidebook writer 2.5hrs?!?!?"
We seemed to be slowly progressing on when we reached a very narrow section of ridges which had to be traversed, which was followed by a very long section of ladders ascending into the mist above. I then started questioning the guidebook, as we should have started dropping off to the Brentei Hut by now. We were now however on a summit crest of snow, which led to very steep zig zagging climbing down to a gloomy, bottomless col. This Col, was the very worst of our nightmares of the day, and according to the guidebook, our route was supposed to continue as follows "At the end of the ledge one goes down though a short chimney on a ladder. Now either down to the Brentei Hut which is already in sight, or keeping to the right, up again on a good path to a flat limestone pavement on which the Alimonti Hut stands."
We couldn’t see a hut,...but it was misty..., we had also down climbed lot of short chimneys. Had we missed one of the obvious waymarking paint blobs?
This couloir was even steeper than the first couloir that we had decided not to do.
It had a massive wide crevasse on its right hand bank. It was littered with stone fall. And we were getting tired. We did not have sufficient rope, and we were now faced with a seemingly deathly descent down this ice couloir. Where was the short chimney and descent? We could see a party of 5 Italians who were obviously doing the continuation route, complete with ropes and crampons and loud voices, and we were then left alone.
Options were spinning in our heads.
Back track the route? and down the glacier to the Tuckett Hut? Follow the Italians who seemed to be finding the terrain very easy? How much daylight have we got left? Its not that cold, perhaps if necessary we could bivvy out and retreat tomorrow? ? There was no way we were going to safely get down this couloir. We didn’t even want to try.
We suddenly heard voices echoing from the depths of the couloir below, and yet could not see where exactly they were coming from. Perhaps they were the echoes of the Italians voices above? Descending a bit further, feeling a little more optimistic, we were elated at finding another traverse line, leading away from the couloir, which seemed to have innumerable overhanging ladders descending into the abyss above the lower glacier.
I was still murmuring criticism at the apparent error of the guidebook writer to have written that this route should take about 2.5 hours, but all talk and whispers soon subsided as we were concentrating on the repetitive motion down climbing the out in space ladder descent. Clip - clip... Climb down.. stop.. unclip.. clip - clip... 300 steps later, we were onto the glacier.
Looking at the time, we had worked out that the party in front of us, were the pair who had retreated on the snow couloir earlier on. It was unlikely that they had booked in to the hut, so we rapidly decided to overtake them, basing our hopefully good nights sleep on a first come first served basis.
The sight of the hut was more than welcoming. Booking in, and giving a quick briefing on hut etiquette, we spent our spare money on a couple of well earned beers, which were consumed on the hut balcony, whilst the sun slowly sank into the distance.
We glanced over the guidebook trying to fit our route into what we had actually experienced. Our previous criticism of the guidebook writer, soon paled as we realised that we had not followed the route we had thought we were on, but had actually followed the route which the previous night had decided against due to the described difficulties, which weren’t as bad as expected.
The rewarding "boldy improbable ladder system" we had descended was "the very daring, Scala degli Dei - The Ladder of the Gods". Its name fitted perfectly.
We chuckled, at our elementary miscalculation, that never happens to us (!) and retreated inside for dinner and bed.
Tomorrow we would return to the campsite, and prepare for our transit trip home.
Rock Climbing in the Brenta Dolomites - Mike Pinney.
I had every intention of supplementing the route information I had from the AC and Kohler/Memmel with the local guide, until I discovered it was the reprint of a 20 year old guide and new needed a magnifying glass.
The Kohler/Memmel guide has only 9 routes in the Brenta ranging in grade from V to VI+ and they tend to be very popular.
The Campanile Basso was climbed by the Ampferer/Berger and the Fehrmann routes. The first takes a spiralling line to the top the second follows the sustained SW corner. Unfortunately our team got held up by other parties, which gave them a rather long day!
The Castelletto Inferiore was climbed by the South Face. In order to get ahead of other parties, our team started the route in the afternoon before abseiling off and leaving their ropes in place. The route is only 15 minutes from the Tuckett Hut so they were back on the route by 0720 the following morning.
Brenta Alta was climbed by its south face and Cima Margherita by its SSW face. This has become somewhat harder since a large section in the middle of the route has fallen down. The lack of a tie up with the route description caused others to retreat.
In order to encourage climbing the guardian of the 12 Apostoli Hut has developed a number of sport climbs (topos available from the hut). A route on the Cima XII Apostoli was done from the valley. The descent to the valley after the cable car has finished running cannot be recommended. Some sports climbs were also found in Val Brenti details obtained from a local mountain bike hire shop.
The Adamello - Mike Pinney
One can drive up the spectacular Val Genova with its many spectacular waterfalls to Rifugio Bedole. From there it is a 4 hr walk up bare rock, exposed by glacial recession, to the Lobbia Hut. Alternatively, one can approach via the remote Val Folgorida.
Mike Goodyer, barely recovered from his epic crossing of the Gavio pass (land slips meant the road was marked as closed to vehicles!), Susanne Muhlen and myself left the car in late morning. Initially the path zigzags steeply upwards for 400 metres out of Val Genova through dense forest along the side of a waterfall. The angle eased as we entered Val Folgorida, the vegetation becoming less dense until we got above the tree line. Route finding was not easy, but just in time we found a way mark. The path led out of the valley to the ridge, then a rising traverse across snow and large boulders to a the col. Progress had not been aided by a heavy thunderstorm and it was 3 drowned rats that surveyed the Lobbia Glacier and what looked like a hut. Would we be too late for dinner? We finally made it to the hut and a welcome gluwein.
The next morning was bright and we headed for the Paso d Italiano, traversing Corno Bianco to the Paso d Inglesi, then along the snow and rock ridge to the Adamello summit. We were rewarded by good views of Presanella to the north and Caro Alto. We returned across the glacier spending the afternoon lounging in the sun at the hut.
Another early start, across to the Biv. Monticelli,where there was much evidence of the First World War with bullets, clothing, webbing straps and heaps of rusty barbed wire.
We then continued up the glacier towards Caro Alto, taking the SE ridge to the summit. There was a cloud inversion with just a few of the Brenta tops showing, so we were reluctant to start our descent.
We passed the way marks for the path down Val Seniciaga, our plan was to descend Val Lares which would bring as out nearer the car. The guardian had confirmed our choice of route so in spite of a lack of way markings we descended the couloir into the valley. I can confirm the merits of crampon anti-balling pads!
The angle started to ease as the snow gave way to a block filled stream. The chamois on the hill side watched our progress as we reached the top of a waterfall. The map suggested a line down the left bank and we fought our way through the bushes past buttresses until we came to an impasse. Fortunately 2 abseils though the trees and over the odd buttress brought us to level with the bottom of the waterfall.
We thought our difficulties were over as we removed harnesses, but we soon had a rude awakening as we reached a raging torrent descending the boulder strewn mountain side. Crossing the main river looked more attractive which tied up with the map. However a couple of 100 metres further on, the grassy bank was replaced by a blocks and we had to cross the swollen stream. Harnesses back on and Susanne, the lightest set off wading through the cold water with the 2 Mikes paying out the climbing rope. The rucksacks were then floated across hoping that the contents would stay dry followed by the remainder of the team.
After emptying of boots of water and coiling the wet rope, we headed down the bank, finally coming on to a path and the start of way marks. It is not a short valley and it was after nearly midnight when we completed the descent into Val Genova. Who needs to go to Nepal for lush mountain approaches?
Pictures of these climbs, by Mike Goodyer are in the Photos section.
Cima Presanella - Mike Goodyer
A couple of days of resting my knee after twisting it on the long descent to the valley off Care Alto I felt I should try another hut approach and climb. Cima Presanella (3558m), the highest peak in the area, was our objective.
Mike Pinney and Susanne Muhlen were rested and had enjoyed some rock climbing in the 12 Apostles area and were keen to go. We managed to convince Chris Raves that he would enjoy the walk up to the hut and he would then see how good he felt for the ascent of the peak. Hut reservations were made and we four had a lazy lunch in the sun at the campsite. Rucksacks were thrown into the boot and I drove up the pretty Valle di Nambrone until the main path to the hut started.
The approach was immediately uphill and we all set our own pace, arriving at the Rifugio G. Segantini in plenty of time for dinner. We were housed in the annexe across the way from the main hut as a large party (20+) was arriving later.
Those of you who visited the area in the summer will understand the pleasure of the evening meal - the food at all the Italian Rifugios visited was delightful. From our dining table we looked across the valley at the Brenta Dolomites and watched the rock turn orange in the setting sun - a truly memorable view. The large party had arrived and the hut was full and noisy, so we were pleased to retire to the silence of the annexe.
The next day came and the cloud was swirling around the hut. After a hut breakfast supplemented with cheese ( I still can’t get myself sorted with a satisfactory breakfast) we contrived to set out after the large party, who were also ascending Cima Presanella. The route behind the hut was well marked and climbed up over smooth rocks and grassy flat areas to reach the moraine. We managed to overhaul the party and plod up the ridge of the moraine.
By the time we had reached the upper glacier the four of us were out in front. The day was still cloudy and dull, but we could see the next objective - the niche on the ridge: the Bocch. di Monte Nero.
We were now following old tracks up the ever steepening glacier until we reached the ridge. The route descended to the glacier on the other side of the ridge via a 30 metre ladder. The ladder was old, but sturdy looking and, unlike the ladders on the via ferratta, had no safety wire to clip onto. At the bottom of the ladder there was a slight drop where the snow had melted away. We dropped down to an area of flat ground and boulders for a second breakfast.
I had loosened up by now and my knee was holding up; Chris was also enjoying himself despite his reservations the day before.
We set off to the head of the glacier and donned crampons to get us quickly and safely back onto the ridge. The large party had caught us up(no second breakfast stop) and we travelled along the ridge with them. The cloud had come in now and we could not see down the valley or to the summit. The bivvy hut on the ridge loomed out of the cloud, only 200 metres to go.
Suddenly we arrived at the large cross on the summit. We felt cheated that the great view from the summit was denied. We quickly dropped back down to the bivvy hut to recharge ourselves for the descent to the hut.
The way back to the ladders was slowed by the thick cloud making route finding awkward. After ascending the ladders we were met with a wall of dense cloud.
We were confident that the track down the glacier would be straightforward to follow; and so it was on the steep upper slopes. As we descended the glacier we ran out of tracks and it started to rain, slowly at first and then heavier and heavier. The tracks seemed to vanish at a rocky area and much searching failed to reveal any tracks going off the rocky area! After many false starts we eventually found the moraine and tired and wet we all plodded back to the hut.
Stripping off wet clothes and stepping into the hut was a delight especially after bowls of soup, large slabs of cake and large coffees were consumed. The rain started to lessen and we set off down the valley, the rain soon stopped, the cloud lifted and the sun came out.
I arrived back at the car dry and in the full afternoon sun. We had missed the views from the summit this time - still my knee had held up. Thats the snowy side of the valley done, so off to the limestone next week.
Dolomite High Tour 7 - 14 July 2001 - Ed Bramley
A superb week! An adjective that applied to the scenery, the food and the Company. If we could have written our own script, it wouldn’t have been better.
After an overnight stay at Seiseralm on the Friday night, the walking began bright and early on the Saturday. Over the next week, we were to walk through some of the most splendid scenery in the Dolomites. Evening and lunchtime stops were at mountain Rifugio, where simple but tasty pasta meals fuelled the body, washed down with a variety of tasty beverages.
Early starts meant that a good part of the days walking could be accomplished before the heat of the day. It also meant that the possibility of afternoon rain could also be avoided.
As we progressed into the Rosengarten, the scenery became even more rugged and wall to wall, with towering spires everywhere.
As part of the week, we even managed to reach nearby peaks with the aid of via ferrata, easy ground, but great views.
As we journeyed through the week, the scenery changed from the scree and spires of the high mountains to the lush green of the valleys. All around were flowers in abundance, whether they were edelweiss, orchids or gentians.
To old acquaintances renewed, and new friendships started.
Some pictures received from Ed Bramley are in the Photos section.