ITALY Dolomites AV2 (alta via duo) 2013 A broken sternum

Italy, hiking, AV2, Dolomites: a sad case of a broken sternum
I was most surprised when tidying up my blog – now that I can at last see things alphabetically due to changing to wordpress – to notice that there were a few omissions in my posts, such as the AV2 trek of 2013. Perhaps the fact that I struggled to do it with a broken sternum, and, in the end, retreated home in a great deal of pain, has something to do with forgetting to write it up at the time. Don’t worry. I remember it well.

Day 1. I began this trek rather suddenly, and unintentionally. I knew I had hurt myself badly in a fall at the end of AV1, and wanted a rest, but at the YHA Bressanone, I met a nice girl who was about to start her AV2 that day, and she urged me to start with her. I could find no compelling reason not to. I had some tasks to do first, so we agreed to meet at the top, at the place whose view is pictured above. Despite my pain and worry, I was thrilled to be high in the sky once more (at the Plosenhuette).

Sunrise the next morning, as seen above and below, only served to further excite me, and make me happy that I had begun on this route.

Day 2 was a short one, which left us room for doing a spot of climbing not too far from the hut. There were two mountains we could choose from, both of which had via ferrata as part of the climb. We were both feeling a bit nervous about these, so chose the easier: Francis had had a frightening experience on one without a harness in Slovenia, and my ribs were aching badly enough so that I could not trust my arms for anything. We both decided to leave tricky climbing for sections where it was compulsory rather than optional, as here.

Hut porn along the way, Day 2.
That night, we sat next to an unusual pair, a German-speaking man and a very old English speaker.  I wondered how a man his age (Ray, aged 80) had got to the hut, which did not appear to have road or Seilbahn access. He’d walked there, he said (like us). We talked of climbing our mountain that afternoon. Yes, he’d climbed too, he said. Which one? The hard one. At this stage, I roared with laughter, that two supposedly fit younger things had not dared to go up this mountain (Francis was 23), but this octogenarian had done it with ease. He had my immediate and undying respect, and was to be a role model and inspiration to me, not only for the rest of that trip, but at later times of my life when I have felt wussish. I also learned that the duo was related: Ray was Herwart’s father in law; this trip was his birthday present. Wow. I would love to think that I could still climb mountains at 80. Ray gives me hope. What a fantastic birthday present!!

Day 3. After another glorious sunrise, we set out for the next, rather frightening phase of the journey. Why frightening? More via ferrata? No. The fear was in a section that had no help at all. I learned that I loved the via ferrata, as there was something to hold onto. The section that unnerved me was about 15 cms wide, on loose shale, with no handholds at all, and about 400ms drop off to the side. I trod tentatively, yet caught up first to a Swiss couple, and then a gang of Italians. They all moved to the side to let me through on a hairpin bend. But with a 15 cm path, there is NO room for passing, and I was jelly with terror and didn’t want to pass anybody anyway. Please, please just let me stay here in the middle of you all, I pleaded. On we trudged. I did not look left or right, but concentrated on treading exactly where the girl in front of me had trodden, figuring that if she stayed alive, maybe I could too. I wanted to vomit I was so petrified.
Eventually we got to the pass. They wanted to be photographed with me, because I was “so brave”. This is the biggest joke ever. How deceptive appearances can be. Apparently I am brave because I “dare” to travel alone. It’s hard to smile when you want to vomit, but I managed somehow.
That night I talked with Ray about his route. He did not only what I have described, but then climbed a steep mountain in the snow afterwards, as he hadn’t done enough. I had had more than a lifetime’s terror in a single hour. I explored flatter lands in the afternoon.

Piz de Puez, above Rifugio Puez. Nightfall, day 3.
I climbed to this spot to photograph sunset, and sat up there chatting to Herwart. In 2015 I would climb the mountains you see, but this year I was too insecure with my unreliable torso muscles. I hadn’t really been using my upper body yet, so all was going OK.

Day 4. The following morning, I farewelled Ray and Herwart: our paths were sadly diverging. Off I set alone into the mist that had now formed to wend my way along and then down to the beautiful Passo Gardena, and later to try my hand at the first proper via ferrata on our track, that en route to Rifugio Pisciadu.

This path upwards was very steep, and challenged my ribs (assuming that was my problem. I had not been to a doctor), but tugging on the ferrata did not take them into catastrophic dimensions, so I was OK.

Passo Gardena, living up to the garden of flowers connoted by its name. My route lies up one of those chutes ahead, to the rocks on top.

Passo Gardena is the bit of green way down there. This funnel is my route up.

Rifugio Pisciardu is a very beautiful place, which is why I returned to re-see it (and the AV2) in 2015, and I will return again, soon I hope.
The next day, day 5, I went to the next hut, staring all the while at Piz Boe, which I was feeling too scared to climb in case it tugged on my ribs. Just as I was procrastinating by climbing something different, two stick figures appeared on the icy snow way below me (I was climbing on the rocks beside the snow, as I didn’t dare use the snow). As they got closer, I heard someone call my name. These brave and daring sticks were none other than Ray and Herwart, on their way to climb Piz Boe.
All of a sudden I had the courage to climb it too. I said I’d climb the one I had now set out for, but would give chase and hopefully see them by the summit. Just knowing that Ray was doing it, that somewhere on the mountain was a man aged 80, who was going to the summit with more assurance than I had, meant that I could do it. We met on the summit, and there had our final farewell. I have not seen them since, but have sure not forgotten them.

Can you see that bit of rope lying on the snow? That scrap to hang on to while you lower yourself over the precipice? That there was my undoing. Down I went, even feeling quite confident now, but my feet slipped on the ice, and I came thumping down on my derrière, still clinging to the rope for dear life. I yelped with pain. The rocks heard my call. In a single moment I went from maybe 40% usage of my arms to zero. Oh howl. I had worsened my injury big time. Nonetheless I managed to get down to the valley (Passo Pordoi), and to the friendly, fabulous hotel there, with a big bed and fluffy towels and the most sumptuous food imaginable. These should cure me, yes? Unfortunately, no.

Day 6. Not quite undeterred, but not yet completely beaten, I set out for the next refuge. However, when walking along this path, I knew I was in monster pain. After less than two hours’ walking, I came to a refuge that had fantastic smells coming out of the kitchen. I thought if I stayed here, with that food and this view of the Marmalada, maybe I would be better the next day. Did they have a bed? One, if I was prepared to go cramped in a full dorm of males. Sure.
The rest of that morning, and then all afternoon, I explored tiny hills instead of mountains, and watched flowers and marmots. The simplest of climbing tasks was dangerous and beyond me as I had no upper body at all. All of a sudden, these previously simple mountains became hideously challenging.

Day 7. The following day, I tried to put on my pack, but even that simple act killed me. I had to admit defeat. I turned around and headed for the valley from which I’d come. I phoned my husband who phoned our travel agent to arrange my early return home. The insurance company insisted on an x-ray. A guest at the hotel offered to take me to hospital. Oh dear, I have broken my sternum, but not punctured my lungs, so I may fly home. No wonder carrying a pack hurt so much. The doctor said I must have had an almighty crash, as sternums are rather hard to break, being rather resilient and important bones. Ah, I have a very strong camera that was strapped to my chest, and fell at speed, I informed him.

Here is sunrise on my final morning of the AV2. How I love the Dolomiti. My memories are of glorious mountains, of magic sunrises and sunsets, of friends made and a feeling of wonder and well-being. I know as a fact that I was in pain, but that fact is entirely academic and has no effect on the positive emotions I feel if anyone so much as mentions the word “Dolomites”.

ITALY Dolomites AV1 (alta via uno) 2015 (+Tre Cime)

Day 1. Pre-dawn tranquility, Lago di braies / Pragserwildsee.

The bus neared the grand old Hotel Lago di Braies, the start of the AV1, the place I had been looking forward to sharing with my husband since the first time I stayed there two years ago. That first time, I had been full of uncertainties. This time, I knew what lay ahead and was sharing it with Bruce, hoping he would enjoy it. It is sometimes scary returning to a place once loved: I get fearful that the present actuality won’t match my fond memories; that it will fail me the second time around and somehow, in that failure, mar the aura created by the initial memories as well. I thus had a mixture of apprehension and excitement as we grabbed our packs and headed for the entrance. If nothing else, here was the last time for a while that we would have a room for just the two of us, and the final decent shower for an unknown number of days to come.


In order to fully appreciate what the hotel had to offer, we chose a room with a balcony overlooking the lake with its reflecting waters of an entrancing colour – its quaint wooden boat shed protruding over the bobbing wooden dinghies to our left – the gardens in front, and the tiny chapel to our right. The scene needed some ladies and gents in Romantic Era clothing. We spent a long time both before and after nightfall just staring at this view.

Day 1. The next morning, it was time to test out this route, 2015 edition. It begins with a big climb, up into the mountains at the end of the lake. As with last time I did it, there were plenty of people on the track, all heading in the same direction (both day walkers and AV1ers), so I was free to go at my own “happy pace”, lost in my own little world of thought. Bruce and the girl who was with us were perfectly capable of finding the route without me, and I am used to climbing solo in the Alps. It’s our habit to reunite at the top. It was a hot day – a perfect day for using the climb as a good workout and climbing quickly to finish it before the day got any worse. I used my early arrival to debate our case for a bed in the full hut. We were given our own quarters in a little barn, removed a bit from the hut – perfect. There was no toilet or shower, but we’re used to tenting; this was luxury. I loved the view, and we kept the door open to maximise it.

(Day 1, close). Looking at the real hut from our little barn

The day was a hazy sort of day that wasn’t going to offer any fine vistas from the top of Seekofel, but I hadn’t done enough work for the day, so climbed it anyway just for the workout value. I didn’t take any photos, so could have saved myself the weight of my camera. Even in the haze, the view down to 1400 ms below, to the diminished lake and hotel where we had been that morning, was impressive.

Day 2. I had intended us to stay at Rifugio Fanes, but when a call was put through on our behalf, they said it was full, so we went to Lavarelle instead, and it turned out to be nicer anyway. The food was brilliant, there was a beautiful lake for Bruce to swim in once he’d arrived, and a plethora of wonderful streams to explore once the day had lost its sting.

Day 2, shortly after leaving Seekofelhuette / Rifugio Bielle. 

This day was another scorcher, so I’m afraid I belted it out like the previous day, getting my homework done before lunchtime so I could enjoy relaxing at the hut and dipping my legs in the lake. (The water was too cold for me to swim. Shrieks from a different beach indicated that others shared my opinion. Even Bruce didn’t last very long in the tempting waters). The odd combination of solo and company that resulted from our different speeds pleased me, as without the other two, I got to converse with new friends in German before I was required to use English once more. I also got some reading done, satisfying my love of reading in mountain locations.

(Day 2). Bruce having an enjoyable freeze down at the end of a scorching climb; Lavarelle.

One of the many streams to explore near Rifugio Lavarelle (end day 2).

Day 3 was a longer day, culminating in a protracted climb up to the highly perched Rifugio Lagazuoi, a fabulously situated refuge. The first section is benign enough, involving green vistas and flowers, followed by a medium-length climb to a different col, a short, very steep descent over the other side, a traverse along a scree slope with huge towering, shapely rocky hunks above, and finally, just when the day has reached its hottest, the long climb to the rifugio. Once more, with the day that hot and with there being too much glare for photos, I just knocked it off quickly so as to enjoy being there. For the third day in a row, no photos were taken after about 9 a.m.. I like walking quickly in the Alps anyway, and when it’s hot, I love relaxing at our destination and soaking in the view, waiting for day-trippers to disappear and for the sun to assume its more golden hues as the shadows lengthen. Sunset at this height is always an event to look forward to.

Trying to cool down at a stream early in the day on day 3.

Day 4 involved, of necessity when you’ve just spent the night very high indeed, a marked drop to the valley floor way, way below. There happens to be a téléphérique operating from near this hut, so I suggested that Bruce, who has never been a purist when doing these walks, take the easy way down, which would save his knees and give him a rest. He liked that idea, and went down with a family we had befriended. They would all walk up to the next hut where we would be together once more.

A scene taken during the drop to the valley floor after Rifugio Lagazuoi (Day 4)

Yet again, it was an extremely hot day, and one that didn’t offer much photographically due to the glare and slight heat haze. I repeated the no-fuss, no-delay approach of the other days. I also knew that our next rifugio, Avarau, had the best food of any mountain hut I know. I was keen to have both lunch and dinner there to maximise the quantity of food sampled from this great chef. His liqueur cakes are very special, but his pasta is out of this world. We had cakes, then lunch, then divine pannacottas and the best dinner of the holiday. In between all that eating, if I was still capable of getting up any slopes, I had planned to climb the mountain from which the refuge gets its name. However, at long last all these days of extreme heat produced a hefty storm, and no climbing could be done, so we ate some more. I didn’t even get to explore the interesting rocky formations below, of the cinque torri; the storm beat me to it.

Dawn, day 5. The cloud lingered, to float around the biggest of the Torri. I loved it.

Day 5. Time was running out on our Italian section of the trip and we would soon be flying to Manchester. The person with us really wanted to see the Drei Zinnen (tre cime), so we had agreed to terminate AV1 on this day and begin a different trek further east that would take us to these shapely and dramatic monsters. We dropped down from the refuge, exploring the five chimneys en passant, descending through a beautiful, shady forest replete with wildflowers, and dropping eventually to the road, where we caught a bus to Cortina and another further north to a point I had selected that would enable us to reach our new goal if we walked east and climbed a huge amount for a few hours.

Flowers on the descent from Avarau
After the cosy, friendly huts of the AV1, this one, on the AV6, felt very touristy and strange, but it satisfied a need for us (and the many others who want to see these rocks at sunset), and we were given a bed in another barn, which felt much nearer to our style than the main hut. Another storm was brewing. We could barely see our barn through the thick mist, which helped lend the place some of the atmosphere that it otherwise lacked for us. The paparazzi came out in force both nights we were there. It was almost comical.
Our barn (shared with many) and moody skies over the Paternkofel – far more atmospheric than the giant hut efficiently churning out meals for the hordes. (Day 5, close)
Dawn exploring, day 6

Day 6. This day, which we had left free for exploring, was brilliant. Whilst taking sunrise photos, Bruce and I happened on some tunnels that delighted us. We explored them, and decided we wanted to devote more time to this after breakfast. Off we set, not having a clue what lay ahead or how far we’d manage to get. Bruce got quite high, but called it a day when the drop-offs became a bit daring. I was a little unnerved, especially as everyone other than our party had the full via ferrata gear (helmets, karabiners, special rope) but D was also willing to keep going, so up we went. When we got to the final stage of the climb up Paternkofel we decided we needed to be clipped in, so climbed the neighbouring knob that was less dangerous instead. Even this was high, with an element of risk, so we were both elated as we stood on the summit. It was exhilarating.

More dawn day 6 exploration
On our summit
In the afternoon we climbed a different tower of smaller dimensions, and Bruce was able to climb that one with us. We used our day well, and I also did a kind of circuit around some other mountains. We all explored the lake below us. There is plenty to do in this area, and I want to return with hired ferrata equipment and do a whole lot more next time. The Drei Zinnen used to be the Italian-Austrian border (it is still the linguistic border), and has a great deal of historical interest (as did the Cinque Torri and the area around Rifugio Lagazuoi). It is shocking and amazing to look at a scene so spectacularly beautiful and try to imagine soldiers fighting for their lives in the same spot. My daughter and I explored some of the soldiers’ tunnels when we were here in another life to race up the paths.
The Drei Zinnen (Tre Cime) – waiting for sunset.

Day 7. Exit. Always sad, but I like to leave an area wanting to do more. We had beautiful weather for our departure, and waved a reluctant goodbye to the three chimneys. For me, this was one of many goodbyes to these rocks, as I used to race in this area. They are old friends with many happy memories attached. I’ll be back.

The object of our quest: die drew Zinnen or Tre Cime.


Dawn from the hut
Paternkofel (we climbed the bump next to the summit) and our lodgings
Farewell Dolomites. Early light as we bid goodbye.

ITALY Dolomites AV2 (Alta Via duo) 2015

AV2 July 2015
AV2 is more demanding than its more easterly and popular sibling, the AV1. As my husband has had Parkinson’s disease since 2002 – an illness that robs its victim of full coordination and spatial awareness – I never originally intended bringing him on the AV2, but trying to please more people than just us, I agreed to do it with an acquaintance at the start of our European trip, which meant he would be there. As usual, I had masses of Plan Bs up my sleeve in case my husband should find it too hard.
Day 1. Excitedly we set out from Bressanone in the northern Dolomites, heading for the first hut on the route, the Plosenhütte (or Rifugio di Plosen in Italian, the second language for the region). I was on holidays, and for me, holidays mean freedom: freedom from set plans and bookings, and the release to walk at my own “happy pace”, which doesn’t seem to cooincide with anyone else’s happy pace, but I like climbing by myself and singing; it’s what I’m used to, and the way Bruce and I always operate in Europe. He knows I’ll wait for him at any significant spots. I felt so very happy to be here at last, walking in the mountains. Hopefully everything would turn out well. 

Afternoon Day 1. Staring across to the Afener Odel Gruppe that we were about to climb over 
By lunchtime at Plosenhütte, we’d done the first stage of AV2 and were about to do the second – not a bad effort for a man with indifferent health who had stepped off the plane from Tasmania the previous night. First, however, it was time to taste of the delicious wares the menu had to offer.

Evening Day 1. Nearing Schlütterhütte for our first night Day 1
It was grand to be there with vistas all around. The forest had smelled wonderful en route, and I was already enjoying the alpine flowers. I was totally in my groove climbing; the regularity of my steps clears my mind in an almost hypnotic way, just like the regular plash, plash of arms through the water used to do when I did swimming training. Exercise is one of the most peaceful and relaxing things I ever do. Meanwhile, Bruce and D had not been too far behind. The world was good. Way in the distance, our next pass was visible; I pointed out the afternoon’s goal to the other two, just so they didn’t relax into lethargy in the glorious sunshine and in the feeling of elation created by this lunch spot.

The scene along the tops was “sound of music” territory: open mountain slopes, easy walking until our compulsory descent, wonderful shapes and peaks and lighting all around. I had already done the official route and felt it could be improved by staying higher longer. The total loss and gain in altitude would even be reduced with this self-made variant. All three of us loved the route that resulted. Eventually, however, we had to do the necessary and drop down off our own mountain Gruppe, cross the stream in the valley below, and climb the pass that took us to the other side of the Afener Odel that we had been staring at since lunchtime.
Time was ticking by, and I was getting worried about our chances of securing lodging for the night (and, me being me, more importantly, of making sure we weren’t going to be too late for ordering dinner, normally 6pm). I wasn’t going to enjoy things any more until I knew for sure we’d get three places. The others agreed that I would climb speedily ahead, score the beds and food, and then come backwards. It was lucky I didn’t wait for them in the pass as I would normally do, as I had to do a fair bit of debating to convince the hut manager to take us in when they were already overflowing. Our beds were matresses on the floor in the corridor en route to the toilet, but that didn’t matter. Successful in my mission, I was then free to go back along the track, convey the good news and enjoy the now golden hues of the light as it gave definition to the peaks around and highlighted the colours in the grass and flowers. My husband had done two days of the AV2 straight off the plane. Everything was working out superbly.

Scene from the variant on day 2

Day 2 brought another variant to the main route, this one not invented by me. Having already done the official route, which I knew was too demanding for a man with coordination problems and vertigo, I opted for the longer, safer official variant that would add an extra day to our journey. It was beautiful, and enjoyable for me to see some new scenery.

Climbing a via ferrata, day 2

Even this route, however, was not without its challenges, and I feared even this would overtax my husband. However, slowly yet miraculously, he coped with drop-offs to the side way below ones that I expected greatly exceeded his tolerance levels. At one point we passed a school group all wearing helmets (I hoped he wasn’t noticing the helmets). This queue then followed us up the first of his via ferratas. I think it helped him to be thus sandwiched in. They sweetly congratulated him at the top and we left them behind as we eagerly forged ahead to a late lunch at Rifugio Troier that we could see below. D won on the menu here with the most delicious penne cacciatore, hot in its cooking pan. I had shocking food envy, although my own lunch was also very tasty.
It was only a very short stretch from here to Ravensburgerhütte (/ Rifugio Firenze) where we were greeted by cows, and where we had time to relax, wash clothes and eplore a bit before dinner. I had a superb plate of mixed forest fungi cooked in butter, followed by delicious apple strudel – a meal that turned out to be one of the best we’d have on the AV2.
Day 3 began with a glorious dawn, giving fire to the mountain, as below.

Glorious sunrise from the Regensburgerhütte (Rifugio Firenze). on Day 3.
After a fabulous breakfast (complete with real and multiple cappuccinos – rare for a hut), we set out up the beauiful valley, ever approaching the pass for today. Had I known in advance how difficult this was, I would never have brought Bruce, but sometimes ignorance is an advantage (in this case, for both of us).

Early morning light before we set out. Day 3
Once more, inching his way through the tricky bits, he made it to the pass itself, and then suggested a rest, possibly more from fear than physical exertion.

Climbing the via ferrata on the menu for day 3.

However, I didn’t want him to rest until the worst was behind him, so pointed to a high bit we had yet to reach, and said we’d rest there, not realising how exposed the next ten minutes would be for him on a via ferrata with narrow shelf and big drops, with maximum penalty for failure – but it was too late to back out now. He said he was OK, so I went a smidgeon ahead and talked him through the challenging parts, reminding him to only look at the next step ahead and the steel coil.
Relaxing on top with an Italian couple decked in helmets, karibiners and slings, I evaded Bruce’s questions about the following section.
“Where were we going next?”
“Oh, somewhere over there,” I swung my arm in a broad arc that happened to include the next part, but also encompassed many gentler possibilities. I could see the thin band on the steep scree slope that constituted our next move. No point in evoking panic ahead of time.
We left the Italians behind and forged on to the next hut, with Bruce once more mastering his justifiable fear. He was dropping badly behind at this stage, and as I walked and saw the distance between us increasing, I made the decision to call it quits at the hut we would arrive at before lunch. I booked us three beds on arrival.

After lunch, I climbed this while the others slept. There’s always plenty to do in the afternoons.

Bruce’s face at lunch was spent, but showed definite delight when I announced the new plan. After lunch, probably more emotionally than physically exhausted, he slept and I climbed some extra mountains. D did a combination. He was even relaxed enough next morning to come climbing with me for sunrise photos. I was stunned that he’d made it here to Rifugio Puez.

Sunrise next day (Day 4)
Day 4. As I predicted, with the trickiest via ferratas of this section mastered with aplomb, the passes for the first half of this day presented no problems at all, and we could all relax and enjoy the drama of the rocky shapes that guard the entry to the wonderful Passo Gardena, full of flowers as its name suggests.
Off Bruce sets for a much easier day 4

On the way down to Val Gardena
However, as we neared the pass, I decided Bruce needed a break from extreme fear, and I knew the next section was very technical. I would have enormous fun, but I knew it would terrify him if he attempted it. Thus, while we ate apple strudel in the pass, I suggested he take a bus to Passo Pordoi and stay the night at the fabulous Hotel Col di Lana (where the staff took solicitous care of him and fed him like a prince), while we went up high. We would join him the next day.
We saw him off on the bus, and then began the hugely fun climb using the via ferrata, up to Rifugio Pisciadu, nice and high.  Scaling those cliffs was possibly my favourite part of the route.

Near Rifugio Pisciadu, afternoon of day 4.
I arrived at Rifugio Pisciadu at the top of the climb hungry and very ready for the delicious lunch I was served. I was surrounded by snow and ice and huge rocky pylons. I was in love, and had fun, as usual, exploring my surroundings as friends dribbled into the hut. My Norwegian friends even went swimming amongst the mini icebergs. It was too glary for photography, so I mostly chatted and read, waiting for the next instalment of delicious food, and for sunset. I had high hopes. The mood at dinner was one of elation. Everyone had climbed there, and all were excited.

Sunset, Rifugio Pisciadu
Day 5. At the start of the day, another via ferrata had to be negotiated to take us even higher on this Sella massif. I adore the slight risk and demanding nature of these sections, and once I’d made sure that friends old and new were past the hardest section, bounced along happily at my own pace, eager to see Bruce again at the far end of the rocky bulk where he would meet me at the next rifugio, having caught a téléphérique up. The only thing to stop me on my way was a nice mountain worth climbing shortly after the via ferrata (Cime Pisciadu), a fun little scamper. I’d save Piz Boé for later in the day when it wasn’t so glary, and after I’d connected with Bruce.

The hut itself, bathed in sunrise light

We climbed up that gulch to reach the refuge
Whilst the once more united husband and wife shared lunch, clouds rolled in, causing me to doubt whether we should bother staying up high. The pleasures of a shower and good food in the valley were calling fairly insistently at this stage. However, I decided I’d be disappointed later if it cleared and we’d gone down for mere bodily comforts. So we stayed where we were, at Rifugio Forcella di Pordoi.

Day 5 sunset

The resulting sunset and sunrise photos show that the call was a good one! We were very excited by the views after dinner. I am so very glad I experienced that sunset and later sunrise with Bruce!! Who knows how many such glorious moments we have left to share. You never know what the future holds, but especially so when your partner has Parkinson’s.

More day 5 sunset
 It is, after all, a degenerative disease, and you have to be fit and strong to climb this high. I cling to each special moment that comes our way. It was good to have to work for the sunset; we’d been fed to near bursting point at dinner time. I’m amazed we could get up the slope. It was so beautiful, I really didn’t want to come back down to sleep.
Day 5 sunset
Day 5 is drawing to a close. I don’t want to leave this place.
Day 6. Here we had a bit of a problem. I dearly wanted to stay at the Hotel Col di Lana in Passo Pordoi to taste its delicious wares (well known to me from last time), but it was only about fifty minutes away – less for the other two who took the téléphérique.

How can you call a halt after so little exercise? I devised a circular daywalk once we’d settled in to justify the location, and we were all happy. It was great to wash our hair and to eat such splendid food, and the daywalk was very beautiful.
Just before I left to climb a ridgeline after lunch, Bruce joked about my “consolidation of the rest day”.

Dinner and breakfast were as delicious as the food was plentiful, which was a good thing. Little did we know what lay in store for us the next day – events so dramatic they need their own separate story.

Dawn Day 6

Day 7. The Great Hail Storm. (My camera was tucked in my bag in a bag in a bag, where it could come to no harm. There are no photos from this day. I will thus include more photos from the wonderful dawn of Day 6).

The valley had been hot and oppressive. Now we were high again, breathing was easier, but it felt decidedly humid. I could see that my husband was starting to fade, so I called a quick chocolate stop so we could all refuel in case of rain. Eating in a downpour is not fun, and neither is running out of energy before the top. We were only about 15 minutes away from the pass at this stage – whichever pass it was. It was hard to tell from where we stood, greedily munching, but there were only two possibilities, and both were in our sights.

As the delicious choco-marzipan combo did its work, the rain began. Fast and heavy. We threw on our coats for a second time and shouldered our packs to be moving and keep warm. We assumed that, like the last downpour, this one would last maybe15 minutes. Loud thunder started rolling around us, and the rain was so heavy it was hard to see. Soon lightning began flashing at us, all too near. It was unnerving, and each time the thunder boomed, it made us jump with its ferocity. I looked for a friendly rock or anything that could serve as a shelter but there was nothing.
Soon we came to an expected fork in the path, with one narrow line of dirt heading up to the pass 100 vertical metres above to the right, the other contouring more before climbing to the pass slightly left of straight ahead. Flash, boom. The rain poured down on us. There were no signs at the fork, and I couldn’t get out the huge, unwieldy map. It would be papier mâché by the time I’d unfolded it and worked out our location. (We had just walked onto this map at the last town, so I hadn’t yet unfolded it or highlighted our route. These maps are bigger than ballgowns, and in this weather, it would take all three of us to hold it down. It had been so mild and peaceful in the valley I had never anticipated a need such as the one we were now in). Not wanting to destroy the map, I made a snap decision in favour of the lower of the two passes. None of us wanted to get nearer to the lightning by going any higher. It even looked as if we could walk out of the storm if we went to the pass on the left. 

Can you find my daring husband?
Boom, crash. Now lightning and thunder were worryingly close together as we hastened along the trail, which, like all high alpine passes, offered no hint of protection. Our heads were bent low to keep the weather off our faces, shoulders hunched in some kind of protective mechanism against the blast. We reached the pass to read its name. Damn. Wrong name. Our pass had been the first, higher one. We looked back to it with its even angrier clouds and nastier flashes of lightning and did not regret the decision to be in this pass at all. The problem now, however, was how to eventually link with the path we should be on. We agreed this was a problem for later, to be solved in a valley in shelter, and the important job for now was to get out of our current location and lose height. In a rare lull in the rain, I pulled out the map, unfolded the monstrosity and ascertained that if we kept forking right at all options, things would be for the best. As I refolded her up, the thunder, lightning and rain began again. 

For maybe two minutes, the path on the other side was a good and clear one, after which it disintegrated to become a vague, ten-centimetre wide, muddy line, only discernible if you were searching for it in the long grass. This obviously wasn’t a well-frequented route, although sheep used it. We were now heading for what was the top of a monstrous cliff where half the mountain had fallen away. It looked amazingly dramatic, especially as sheep were grazing precariously on little grassy islands that seemed to be balanced on thin air. Below was a drop to infinity off the other side, so, whatever this track was going to do, it was not going to continue in its present direction. How I wanted a photo of those sheep on their funny islands, oblivious to the fact that if they took one step more, they’d drop six or seven hundred metres to their deaths.

Before we descended, day 6

Slowly I angled us along the slope which had a drop even on this side that I hoped my husband had been too busy following my steps to notice. D stayed with him, kindly encouraging him as he cautiously inched his way along, and I went on about twenty metres ahead of the train so I could suss out the best route, for now the tiny path had become a dangerous mud slide; we were on a dramatically steep slope, angling through the slippery grass, clutching more grass to stabilise ourselves. Had we tried the “path”, it would have been a record-breaking trip down the slope. Being ahead, I had time to peep over the precipice while I waited for him to get to the next move I’d made. Wow, what a drop, and what dramatic weathering in the rocks – almost vertical. Half the mountain had quite literally fallen away.
On a declivity between two grassy islands perched on the edge of this precipice, grew three little larches. I suggested we have other quck chocolate break to keep up our energy. The rain had abated a little, and the others seemed glad to have a short refuelling pause. As we chewed two minutes later, however, the hail began – huge, grape-sized bullets of ice, falling in sheets so vast that the landscape rapidly went white. Despite our little troika of trees, we felt very unprotected here, so as soon as the drop rate decreased (but didn’t cease) we set out again to lose height. Now there were giant ballbearings of white ice to negotiate as well as a muddy slope that made your average slippery dip seem to have a very gentle gradient.

The first half of day 7 was benign enough. It was only after lunch that the weather began turning.
The going was painfully slow, and then the hail gathered force again. Ouch, bang. Every time these projectiles landed on your body the pain was extreme. I began to fear that we would be knocked unconscious by their force. There was another larch ahead, bigger than the last babies, so I ran there to put my head under where the trunk bent a bit. The others followed, so we were soon in a tiny, shivering huddle, protecting our bodies against this onslaught. I was freezing, but opening my pack to get clothes was impossible. I couldn’t take off my pack or undo it, and the thought of taking off my anorak, even for a second, was unbearable. Fortunately, D took contol of me, and steered me into her spare jacket, tugging to get my wet, stiff arms into the sleeves. Sheets of ice continued to spear us.

Underway on day 7, with the famous Marmolada to delight us

As we waited for a decrease in fire, we noted that we were now nearing the tree line, which brought  some comfort. Surely there’d be shelter in the forest. When the ice barrage lessened its intensity, we made another downward dash. I tore down the slope to the next tree but looked back after less than a minute’s running to see Bruce way behind, gingerly feeling his way through the ice. I hadn’t anticipated his being quite that slow in this new obstacle. The ferocity picked up once more. I could see the other two choosing a tree pair with space in between. I had chosen a baby Christmas bush (no trees were available where I was waiting) and tried to cover my head with branches to stop being knocked out. By now the ground was 10-15 cms deep in iceballs, and any sign of a track had disappeared. I had to choose the most logical route down and hope that the track was underneath.
Once the fussilade had abated again, I once more went slightly ahead to concentrate on route finding, letting out whoops of joy if ever I spotted an indication that the route I was choosing for us converged with the official one. The slope was still perrilously steep and Bruce was having trouble enough on the “official path” without adding the complication of free-lancing into the wilds.
Eventually I let out another whoop. The line we were following widened ahead. We were going somewhere, but were too cold and wet to care where. “Somewhere” was going to have shelter. Now we were happy as we continued to lose height.

The last photo I took on the AV2, shortly before the rain began.

Just when we thought our trials were over and that dry, warm conditions were coming to greet us, our widened path – by this stage of four wheel drive dimensions (we really were getting near ‘civilisation’ now) – had to cross the stream. But the stream was now a raging brown torrent of unknown depth. I found a route across, but the other two were a lot more cautious, and baulked at following me. Eventually, however, we had all three on the other side of the latest obstacle. Unfortunately, we had to repeat this cute manoeuvre three times before we were finished.
We also had to deal with being given false directions to where accommodation lay, but ultimately we found what we needed, a town with a hotel (Felice – how appropriate was that name). Food, hot showers, fluffy towels, duvets. Bliss.

And I finish with a sunburst from night 5, a sign of bright things to come

The next morning I knew it was time to give up. I was stunned that Bruce had coped so well with so much danger and fear, but, well, I had never really thought AV2 was for him. We;d undertaken it under pressure because I hate saying “No” to people.  I had been proven right. It was time to switch to the much less threatening AV1, where Bruce could relax a bit more. Bravery has its sensible limits.

ITALY Dolomites – a life I used to have

My love affair with the Dolomites dates back several decades – to the late 1970s. BC (Before Children). We drove through – just for a day – but that was enough to baptise my imagination for ever. How could anyone forget those towering hulks of rocks once they’ve been experienced up close? There was something special about them – a quality that would never let me go.

My next interaction with them was in 1997. I had just come 5th in a World Cup race in Austria and was invited by a headhunter to participate at Sexton (ITA). Could my manager (daughter) come too, I asked? Yes. Could she be given an elite start and race juniors? Yes. This meant that all our transport, accommodation and food costs were covered, plus an appearance fee. We were on.

Not exactly resting before the race

Our accommodation, Kreuzbergpass Hotel, was absolutely brilliant, situated with shapely mountains all around, walking and running right from the door, and, almost as exciting, it boasted a famous chef whose meals were utterly memorable. By the time we’d arrived, we’d both just raced the IAAF World Championships, and this Sexton event was in my two-week “let my hair down” period after the Worlds. If you’re going to be a glutton, THIS is the place to do it.

So, here we were in the Dolomites; the pressure races for the year were behind us. Were we going to rest and save our energy at this time of the racing year? No. Every day we went out into the mountains as soon as we could after our sumptuous breakfast, and didn’t reappear until the last setting for dinner. The Italians became worried. They were paying good money to get a performance out of us, and we appeared to have a cavalier attitude to their race. Their concern was not unjustified.
“Australia. You-a no-a rest-a.”

“No worries. Australia very fit-a,” I rather cheekily replied, with a nonchalance that I didn’t quite feel, but it was simply too beautiful to do the right thing and laze by the pool, reclining supinely.

We were expected to rest instead of exploring THIS??
On race day, the foolhardiness of my attitudes sank in as SKY-TV approached me for an interview, and as I watched the normal set of fit mountain runners warming up, and, in this case worse – as they hadn’t just killed themselves racing the Worlds like we had – the Italian XC Ski team had also turned up, and if you know anything about sports’ science, you’ll know that XC skiers are amongst the fittest individuals on earth. Mountain running, more than anything else, is a test of fitness and determination. XC skiers medal in both categories. Help.

Happily, the story ends well. Australia produced what they wanted. Kirsten finished first junior, and in the overall money as well. I won the seniors. Italians love winners.

Tired, but very happy.

Winners are grinners.

We were given amazing treatment post race, including more free food and accommodation, this time up high in the Zsigmondyhuette (above).

Bruce enjoying running in the snow.

Sexton thus has a very special place in my heart, and in 2000, when I was at Klagenfurt University (AUT) for a semester, we returned there as a family to go running in the snow along the lower paths.

AV1 Day 2. 2013
And somewhere in all that, I heard of the Alta Via 1 and 2: walking trails going N to S through the Dolomites. I did some research, looked at David Noble’s superb pictures of AV2 for inspiration, ordered a book on the trail, and made my plans. This one would be solo. I’d test out how “Bruceable” the paths were (with his Parkinson’s, he can no longer do the kind of routes Kirsten and I had done), and design a route that would suit him for some time later. Dolomites, here I come.

ITALY Dolomites AV1 (Alta Via Uno) 2013.

AV1. Alta Via Uno. Magic.

Let the walk begin. Lago di Braies / Pragserwildsee. First morning.
I did this AV1 trail in July 2013. I have been somewhat reluctant to write it up, resisting the way words finitise the infinite, and, in so doing, reduce its grandeur to a degree. This walk will always have proportions in my heart that way transcend anything these words or photos can convey.
It is not just the story of scenic splendour, or of a walking track, but is also the tale of an ad hoc friendship that continues to resonate. This was one of the happiest walks of my life.

Alta Via Uno.
Day One.
I stared around the dining room of the Hotel Lago di Braies, overlooking the magical lake of its name (also known as the Pragserwildsee – everything in this area has dual naming), wondering which of the other munchers was doing my walk. Any? I tried to judge from the clothing: Who was dressed for such a venture?  They all were, so that was no help. Time would tell.

First little taste of a via ferrata to warm us up.
I had landed in Venice the afternoon before from Tassie and caught the bus straight there (well, via Dobbiaco / Toblach), arriving just in time for the evening meal. I hadn’t made a booking, but it all worked out. Next morning, that of the day in question, I was up with the dawn to circumambulate the lake, just quietly absorbing everything before I set out. Now, with excitement tinged with apprehension – one reads rather scary stuff about via ferrata – I was paying my bill and about to set out.

Summit of Seekofel
I had gone about a hundred metres when I made my first friends: a group of four Israeli mums undertaking the trek in a child-free spree. They were busy photographing the lake using DSLR cameras like mine, so I’d already found some photo freaks to share my journey. We chatted and I left them to it, keen to be off. There’d be plenty of time to talk later. Right now, I was a girl on a mission, as I always am once my pack is on my back. I’m so excited to be underway I just have to keep moving. I’m not one of those nice restful types. Sorry.

The clouds part, giving us a view down to the lake where I began 1400 ms directly below. My new friends took this for me.
Half way up the mountain I met more people – some from Holland, and a Welsh girl – and a bit later, a couple from Ireland. We had conferences about which was the correct way to go, as the map and the terrain had decided to differ, which was rather confusing if you like reading maps as we all did. Way forward determined, we were off again, but aware now of each other on the journey, and happy about future chances to get to know each other more. We were all excited about the adventure we’d just begun, and the air of happy expectation was infectious.

Seekofel itself. A magic mountain.
On I continued, climbing with glee until I reached the saddle overlooking my hut for the night. Some people I’d met had opted for a hut further on, but it was lower than this one, and the huts I’d decided on when I made my copious plans were all the ones that were as high as possible. So, some of us stayed in the pass, which I reached by lunchtime (in less than two hours’ walking); others continued to a hut I’d pass the next morning. I used the afternoon to climb the mountain behind the hut, whose German name is Seekofel.

Alpenglow: dawn on day 2.

Unfortunately, as I climbed the clouds began to roll in, and there was even a spot of very local sleet, but despite the near white-out conditions, I kept going, and soon met two people who’d turned back because of the weather, but who then turned around once more since I offered them quasi company (they found it comforting to know that I was up there on the same mountain ahead of them; it’s nice to know you’re not entirely alone in weather like that. I liked knowing they were somewhere behind me, too). I stayed on top long enough to wait for them to share the summit and exchange photos and a chat. The completely sheer drop of 1400 metres, straight down to our lake of this morning, was pretty awesome – almost vertiginous. Exhilarated, I danced through the snow along the tops before descending using the via ferrata, which was quite unnecessary, but a great confidence booster for later.

Day 2: Monte Pelmo comes alive as the sun illuminates her upper zones

Day Two.
The clouds had cleared for dawn, and I climbed enthusiastically up a different (smaller) mountain to get a good view of the impending sunrise. Grand Monte Pelmo in the distance, covered in snow, floated atop a bedding of cloud and dominated my attention. She was utterly magnificent, and grew even more so as the sun tipped and illuminated her upper storeys. Sunrise and sunset are two of the moments when I at last find it easy just to sit and stare and wordlessly appreciate my surroundings. I often think at such times of the injunction: “Be still and know that I am God”. Whether or not you hold to the tenets of the Bible, that notion of sitting and pondering infinity, of reaching out to something much huger and more important than you are – whatever words you might call that by – is very important. It’s part of why we need to fight for our wilderness areas. Even at this distance in time, I can feel goosebumps when I look at my photos of that morning, and remember the wonder of that gaze.

Day 2: the scene outside our rifugio. Eisengabel.
I descended, ate my breakfast, and departed on my way while the day was still fresh, but even so, there were many out ahead of me, which I like: I love to know that others appreciate these golden hours too. After about ten or ten thirty, the day gets too glary for my liking. I was enjoying myself, and sang while I first mildly descended for ten minutes, and then climbed about one contour over a small ridge that then dropped to the valley that contained the hut that I’d chosen not to stay at. It had already emptied. Again, I met happy people on the track and had fun times as we enjoyed that bit of scenery together before I moved on. I didn’t enjoy the final climb up to Rifugio Fannes, as by then the sun was too strong, and that part was on a dirt road not a path. In addition, there were lots of day trippers. I felt the odd one out amongst them, and settled down for lunch, eagerly scanning the horizon for the others who were doing AV1. I had now met everyone who was walking on my schedule. I missed them because of the “crowds” also there for lunch; I would have been much less lonely had I been alone. My spinach dumplings, hot chocolate and apple strudel with cream were delicious!!

The stream outside our back door.
That afternoon was gloriously relaxing, an admixture of reading out on the verandah, listening to the stream trickling past our lodgings, gazing up at the spectacular mountains surrounding us or across at the contented cows, a-chewing, a-mooing, to pass the time of day. Being a somewhat restless person, I punctuated reading with strolls through the pastures full of alpine flowers, and wandered around photographing cascading water. I love arriving early and then having the afternoon to explore or soak in the local environment before being required to move on the next day. By this stage of the journey, I had become part of a group of four, a subsection consisting of the Welsh girl, the Irish couple and me. We ate together that night, enjoying the fact that you could have food of such wonderful quality there in the middle of nowhere.

Day 3: dawn. 

Day Three.
As usual, I was up for sunrise, and, like the first day, I had to do some climbing first so as to get the best spot. It was well worth the effort. I took my shots, and then walked along the path for a while, as there was still plenty of time before breakfast. On the rebound, I befriended another eager photographer from the rifugio. We enjoyed having the world and that magic to ourselves.

Day 3. Dawn.
This day posed a bit of a problem for me, as when the others phoned our intended rifugio for the night to come, it said it was full. Libby (Wales) opted for the security of a bed, and hived off at some stage to sleep in the valley. She’d meet up with us the night after. Steph and Austen (IRE) were already booked in. I decided to take a gamble and see if my actual presence achieved anything. I’d need to get there early if I wanted this miracle, so opted for a pretty no-nonsense day that would optimise my chances. Anyway, it is my delight to travel quickly. I still stopped for photos and food breaks, or to meet new friends. This was the day I met Marian and Dani from Spain. Dani liked my style as I scooted up the pass singing, and photographed this strange apparition. We made friends later, as the incline changed at the top, and where I had caught Steph and Austen and was having a small break with them while I took in the view. We all descended at approximately the same speed, so kept together until it flattened out again. A snack together at the end of a flat section, and then it was time for me to go up the next pass, through the soft snow with small icy patches alone and try to ensure a sleeping space.

I had no problems at all securing a bed. In fact, I even had a bedroom to myself for a while, which is a bit of a luxury in these huts. The kind manager had put me in a room with my new friends. Steph had found  the possibilities for falling long distances on the snowy slopes to cause some disquiet; Marian felt happy at having overcome some obstacles; and I was elated at getting a bed, so the five of us, as we now were, had a kind of party to celebrate our various causes of joy – a second lunch or whatever, in which we bought food and put it in the centre of the table and enjoyed food and company and toasting the success of our mission thus far. It was a fabulous group of fun and interesting people, adventitiously formed, but gelling together very happily.

Steph and Austen begin the steep descent.

The view was absolutely magnificent, perched high as we were (Rifugio Lagazuoi, 2757 ms asl) like eagles in an eyrie. Dinner was delicious, and so was dessert quite possibly, but everyone ignored it, as sunset arrived just as the food did, and we all had our priorities on the outer environment. The hut emptied to the possible insult of the cook (but surely he’s used to it) and off we raced to get a good spot for the fiery red as it lit the snow and the majestic peaks that were our special demesne this night.

Day 3: Traversing AFTER the steep decent down the rockfasce.

Day 3. The sun begins to set at rifugio Lagazuoi.
One more sunset shot to finish the day.

Day Four.
Despite the brilliant location of this rifugio, I did not have a great deal of company early next morning for sunrise. All the others beat me away after breakfast, which I think they usually did. I get pretty early starts, as soon as breakfast is finished, but they were all a bit more organised than I was. It worked out well, as I’d catch them a bit later, and then we’d walk for a while together, and then separate later still. On this day, we ate lunch together, and a good one it was too, had at a rifugio down in the valley in the heat of the day, before we started the next climb.

Dawn Day 4

Descending from the hut
My afternoon tea that day was outstanding (had near the Cinque Torri at Rifugio Averau): truly delicious cake whose memory haunts me still (pastry, with layers of cointreau mousse alternating with almond creme patisserie). I need to return to that hut and experience dinner, sunset and sunrise from there. It had a great location, right next to some fabulous hunks of rock (the torri). However, as usual I wanted the very highest hut in the region, and that meant that I needed to proceed, stomach singing with delight in response to its contents, and do the final very quick haul to Rifugio Nuvolau, the least friendly hut on the route, with the least enjoyable food, and yet, if my memory serves me correctly, it was the most expensive. I hardly ate anything, despite having worked hard, as the prices were high, but my interest in what was offered was low. Luckily I’d had a great lunch and a delicious afternoon tea. I’d even had hot chocolate with a cream mountain on top, which felt rather indulgent at the time, but stood me in good stead when dinner was so meagre.

Me, courtesy Dani.

Towering rocks above our traverse. If you look carefully, you’ll see a climber.
Nuvolau has, however, what few can offer in terms of spectacular location, and despite how things may appear from this account, I think I was here to see the scenery rather than to eat. Sunset was predictably wonderful (you didn’t have to climb to see it, as you were perched at the very top of that subsection of the environment). Austen very kindly went out and took photos of the via ferrata for the next day. Libby had rejoined us by now, and she, Steph and Marian were all feeling a bit nervous about what the morrow would bring. This was to be our first bit of challenging via.

Day begins to close at Nouvolau. Tomorrow we’d descend by a via ferrata to the pass that can be seen below.

Day Five.
Here it was was: our first real via ferrata – but first, of course, there was yet another fabulous sunrise. I really was scoring well this trip. Breakfast was not worth writing about – except to say the calories were needed.

Rifugio Nuvolau in dawn light
I must admit that I looked over the edge – which presented itself as pure abyss – with a certain lack of courage, although I wouldn’t call it fear exactly. I was definitely NOT going to be dancing over that edge, that was for certain. I was subdued enough by its challenges to do the first bit without a pack in order to reassure myself, but, having done that, I’d tamed the lion and bounced back up to collect not only my own pack, but also those of Steph and Libby so they could do the hard part unhindered by a weight. Austen and Dani were both utterly accomplished climbers with an amazing list of interesting peaks that they’d conquered, so they were, of course, totally nonplussed. The photos Austen took in advance, showing the more anxious ones how it looked from below, had been of great help. We had slept well.

The via ferrata descends to the snow.

Dani and Marian were doing something else before the via ferrata, so that left four of us who opted to travel together for this bit. Austen was brilliant, guiding Libby and Steph down patiently, giving them information about where to place their feet, and generally encouraging them. I think they also appreciated my part in relieving them of packs, although that was a tiny gesture. Libby in particular was just thrilled when she’d accomplished the two sections we had to do. She was so excited she shouted the four of us to lunch at a cafe down in the valley – yet another celebration party that we all enjoyed. We had become a team, not just a random group of friends. Team we were, but we still had the freedom of the independent walkers that we also were, and after lunch, we separated again to each go at the pace that suited our styles.

View looking across towards cinque torri. Finished the first of the via ferrata at this stage.

And now we’ve accomplished the second. The happy faces of Austen, Steph and Libby as they rest.
My memories for the rest of this day include crossing snow drifts, walking through a fascinating valley with mesolithic remnants (and lots of wonderful flowers), more fun climbing, having my pack eaten by a donkey and being told by a man who didn’t know a thing about who I was or where I’d come from or what I was doing that my pack was too big. I didn’t do him the courtesy of explaining that I was there from Tasmania for a month and that I actually needed every single item I’d brought. Perhaps I could have left the iPad behind, but it kept me in contact with my family, and meant that I could download my photos each night and do some preliminary deleting of shots that I didn’t like as much as other ones. That not only lessened my workload at the end of the trip, but also cleared room on my memory card, and gave me pleasure. Our little group was also greatly enjoying the nightly slideshow. I could have also theoretically had a smaller camera, but then my pleasure would not have been so great. I am intrigued by people who want to dictate to us how we should be human without knowing any of the reasons behind our actions.

Route for part of the afternoon
That night we celebrated again – getting there, and all getting a bed. Libby and I slept in the laundry, as technically, there was no more room at the inn. The owner was as hospitable as could be, and did all that he could to make the room warm and comfortable for us (rifugio citta di fiume).

We knew how to celebrate.
Day Six.
Comically my diary records this day that I was sick of apple strudel. I ate it every single time we hit an eating place down in a valley. I liked the fact that it was a little sweet (but not too much), filling, came with custard and had heaps of fruit. However, on this day it was a case of enough is enough. The others laughed at me, having already wondered how anyone could eat so very much of the stuff.

Gentiana punctata

The view at lunchtime (Rif Coldai)
This day we played our normal game of split and join, most of us meeting up for lunch at a wonderful rifugio almost at the top of an interesting climb. Libby was doing her own thing and going more slowly, taking lots of photos of wildflowers, which were numerous and interesting in this area.

Me in the pass after lunch (thanks Dani)

Looking down at the lake from the pass (Lago Coldai)
After photographing the lake the other side of the pass with its magic, teal waters, and negotiating more snow we all did the final climb to Rifugio Tissi and settled in to our room. The sky grew dark and threatening. Still no Libby. We became anxious on her behalf, and especially so when it began to hail. Every few moments we went to the window to see if there was any sign of her. The hail was monumental, hurling itself down furiously. And at last Libby appeared, legs red and dotted from the ice fusillade, clothes drenched, with a huge smile on her face. Once more celebration was in order, and we were getting very good at that.

Marian negotiates the next bit of snow
Any other person seeing that night’s post-storm sunset would have marvelled at its colour and magnificence. Being shockingly spoiled now, we only graded it as mediocre, but I photographed it nonetheless. It was fun to stand around and watch what we could see and talk anyway.

Sunset at Rifugio Tissi

Day Seven.

The next day begins, Rif. Tissi

This was a very sad day, as it marked the probable disbandment of our little group. Steph’s knee was hurting, and she was unsure about whether she could continue much further. She’d set out, but may not get far. We had a “one in all in” attitude by now, so when she announced at Rifugio Vazzoler, a mere one and a half hours down the track, that she needed to stop, we all did. Besides: the most delicious smells imaginable were issuing out of the kitchen. Time to hang around and do some more serious eating.

We had morning tea and lunch and I started to feel both full and restless. While the others enjoyed the feeling of these temporary quarters and read and chatted outside, I went for a run in the surrounding mountains to quieten the little beastie within. Up the path and over the fields I gambolled, wild and free, until halted by an almighty thunderstorm, in which the rain was so thick and strong that you couldn’t see or hear. I ran to the nearest farmhouse and sheltered under an awning.

Rifugio Tissi
An ancient, traditionally dressed Oma came out and asked me what I was doing. Luckily I speak German, so we could communicate. I explained, and her response was to bring me inside, show me how to make cheese, indicating to me all the various stages as she had them in her outbuilding. There followed a cup of tea with some cheese tasting, by which time the rain had eased and I could continue. I was really glad we’d stopped at Vazzoler to enable this little sample of local life.

Austen in action. He was a fabulous climber.

Day Eight.

Steph knew by now she was “doomed”. We rather sombrely walked down the path through the forest, rocky slabs towering above, out of our rifugio, knowing that this small stretch before the next track fork was our last together. Perhaps we would never meet again. It had been so grand, and we did not want this abrupt change to plans, but you can’t proceed through terrain like that with an injured knee, so they were doing what was necessary.

Last walk down the path together (thanks Dani)

Byee. (Thanks Steph)
After our fond farewells, we went up, they down, and on we went, up, down, up, down and along to a rifugio that I really liked the look of – Rifugio Carestiato – but unfortunately it was fully booked for that night, so we had to descend to the valley, to Passo Duran: first time this trip. There were two possibilities down there. We chose the one that looked most likely to give us a good breakfast and to have just the right kind of shower. All of a sudden, we developed a taste for fluffy towels. It all worked out well.

Passo Duran. Our stopping point for the night.

Dani and Marian (I never said it was an alcohol-free trip).

Day Nine.

Now we were hiving off in force. Today we would lose Libby at lunchtime, as she did not like the sound of what lay ahead after the lunchtime rifugio (Pramperet). Wise move. It was not for her. I was not too sure it was for me. Someone had recently died on the section we were about to do in almost exactly our conditions – cloudy, soft, unstable snow.

paradisea liliastrum

We arrived at this rifugio too early for lunch, but we didn’t let a little thing like that stop us eating. We had morning cake whilst waiting for midday so we could order something savoury. YUM. It was the best lunch of the whole AV1. Libby would stay there that night to further sample their wares, but the day was not looking good by this stage, so we quickly parted and off our little reduced group of three went, into the mist and snow to see what we could see.

Horrors. The first bit was fine, and we climbed with no problems. I started to be very glad of company. The grey all around us suited my mood but did not suit my need for confidence. The book had given too many dire warnings. I met some Germans who seemed to want to latch on to me. They appeared uncertain about navigation. Meanwhile, I was low in confidence about the execution of what I knew to be the route, so appreciated having the extra human contact. The drop off to the side became perilous, but there was nothing at all to hold on to, and the snow did not seem worth trusting. I lost it when I came to a spot where it was obvious the snow had caved in at that point. I did not dare put my foot in it lest I then fell a few hundred metres (I was leading). However, above the snow was wet, slimy grass and again, not a thing to hold on to for security. I chose the grass but was (sorry) at tear point at this stage. The others didn’t know that, as they were behind, so I could present a confident enough pose for Marian who did not need someone panicking ahead of her. She was at the limits of her own freakout borders  without my making anything worse. At last we hit an officially exposed bit. I found it fine – there was rock to cling to, so up I went happily, but I was really, really hoping this was the top and that we could now descend. It wasn’t.

The two black dots nearly at the top of the snow to the right of centre are Marian and Dani
I was absolutely fine on the rock, trusting it, but not at all fine with being required to traverse narrow ledges of soft snow with a monster drop off to the side. At one stage I just sat on the ground. I needed to collect myself before daring the next bit. Dani looked shocked. I think he was disappointed in me, some role model of female audacity, but I am just me, very normal, with a crack point like anyone else. Anyway, I got over it. I just needed 20 seconds or so time out to gather myself before continuing. This next part was indeed the last of the climb, and we were soon enough descending into possibly the most wonderful valley of the whole AV1, utterly larded with flowers of every form and colour: a wonderful feast of form and hue, and especially wonderful given the angst that preceded it. Dani, like me, loved photography and flowers. We both descended in pure heaven, clicking away. Later that night over dinner we’d compare our catches as usual.

Pulsatilla alpina
Day Ten.
What a sad day this one was. Our dwindling group was to officially dissipate, the six of us cast out into the big wide world and separated perhaps forever. However, the day brought so much beauty that that dismal fact did not hit home until much later.

Sunrise was beautifully ethereal rather than spectacular; it bespoke the fragile sublimity of our planet earth in misty scenes that were bucolic as well as mountainous. The obelisk rocky shapes of what I think of as Dolomite country had now been left behind. Fields of verdant green with sheep and goats whose coats shone like lanterns in the sun dotted the hillsides that plunged away below into infinity.

Just over the first pass

Dani and Marian were heavily engaged in conversation with another Spaniard, who had a job in this rifugio over the summer break, but they said they’d be setting out soon, so we only had a perfunctory farewell. A nod and a hug until later. Later never happened. But I was not to know that as I set out happily down and then up to a mini pass, the other side of which was absolutely littered in myriad flowers. Heaven. The instructions didn’t match my book, but the contours made sense, so on I went, negotiating a narrow path that demanded every ounce of my attention. If I rolled my ankle here and fell, it would be goodbye world. My guidebook had said there would be stairs, so I was more than nonplussed when none appeared, but I did eventually emerge out of the fragrant laburnum forest to see Rifugio Bianchet (more cappuccino and strudel) at the end of the clearing.

I never tire of scenes like this
I drank and ate and wrote my diary. Forty minutes went by and, given the number of alternative paths in the area and the possibility of bypassing this rigugio, I gave up on my friends and proceeded, hoping they’d still be in time to catch the bus at the end. (They missed it).

The next section was sad. The forest was no doubt pretty, but it marked the end of the walk and I was not in a mood for finding it wonderful. Nonetheless I sang as I went, going quite quickly to recover lost time, and gazing at the mountains above rather than at the ground. Thump. I rolled my ankle a beauty and went sprawling across the ground, grazing my left hand and landing directly with the corner of my camera pushing hard and sharp straight into the centre of my chest. I got up with no problems and went on my way, but had enormous trouble putting any weight at all on my arms, and as I was now dropping very steeply on a narrow path where I normally use an orangutang style to descend, this was problematic. Had I busted some ribs? Injured my pectoral muscles? I was in pain, but kept pushing on, eventually emerging onto the road, where I saw Holly and Chris whom I’d met at the last hut, waiting for the bus that was due any minute.

The way forward (and along, just under the cliff line). Luckily I took my topple on a wider path where I didn’t think I needed to concentrate.
We travelled together, first on that bus, and then on a train until our routes diverged. They were off to Rome, I was headed for Bressanone (Brixen) to begin the AV2. I presumed these silly little injuries I’d given myself would heal as I travelled. We chatted and laughed and I felt more relaxed about the pain. Let the healing begin. What a great couple they were: they were on their honeymoon. Who would choose to do AV1 for their honeymoon? Well actually, Steph and Austen were going to be married in about five days’ time (the trek was an early honeymoon) and now these two had “just married” stickers. Great stuff. These two couples are the sensible ones. The crazies are the ones sitting by the telly.
And thus ends AV1. The saga continues on the AV2, but I’ll give  myself a break before I write it up.