From the Cairn Ban Archives...
30th Anniversary Trip to the Italian Dolomites
Stuart McKie, 30 June 2010
After the wait the trip was on. Twelve hardy souls met up at Edinburgh International Airport geared up and ready to go. Right on time our flight took off and landed in what seemed a very short time at Marco Polo Airport in Italy in glorious sunshine.
First job of the trip, make sure our three cars were available. After the usual car hire procedures we were told our cars had been upgraded to three brand new Seat Exeo estate cars (pretty much an Audi A4) Great start as the cars proved to be excellent.
Anyway off to the car park to load up. As usual the cars were packed in like sardines. Stas managed to squeeze skillfully between two cars and delicately continued to limbo under the door to gain entry into his chariot... Great job. However once inside he realised that the steering wheel in European cars was on the other side... Doh!
The drive to the Dolomites takes about 2½ hours. En route we stopped in Belluno to pick up supplies and stretch our legs. With a full trolley at the checkout we make sure we have everything but in true Cairnban style we realise that we don't have enough wine and a quick scurry back down the aisle remedies this near fatal mistake.
Our arrival in Arraba, our base for the week, comes at the end of a glorious drive along wonderful roads and tunnels. Once in the Dolomites the roads become a succession of hairpin bends with huge drops. Our very own Emerson Burek puts more than a few grey hairs on Alex Meikle's head with a truly breathtaking display of cavalier driving. Stuart and Alan in the following car can only watch and wonder... wonder how they are still on the road!!
We soon arrived at our chalet, which was superb and conveniently positioned directly above the pub, more of that later.
Today we decide to break ourselves in gently with a ridge walk recommended by Stuart and Sheena (we've had our kids along there honest).
Leaving the chalet we cross the road and take the cable car up to Porto Vescova, 2,510m. We than decided to walk the ridge along to the Passo Pordoi then eventually up the scree slopes to climb Piz Boe, 3,152m.
As the walk progresses we move from pasture land to mountain track and soon towards the ridge. The views are getting better all the time and the giant massif of the Marmolada is behind us albeit in some cloud. As we progress along the ridge, which is getting narrower and narrower, we come up to a section of scrambling which gets the heart pumping even more.
First point of concern as the Mckie's are overheard to say 'did we really bring our kids along this' Lorimer Nish looks up at an nearby buttress and see's the remains of an old via ferrata and asks 'do we go up that! After some reassurance and some nervous tittering we head off again around the buttress. If this ridge was in Scotland it would be a classic but over here it is just one of hundreds and is being enjoyed by all.
Eventually we begin to lose height when Sheena recognises the terrain 'Ah, THIS is the bit we had our kids along'.
As with all mountain ranges the weather closes in very quickly and we make it to a nearby rifugio just as the heavens opened. Warm soup and coffee all round. How civilised is this place!
After a break the weather clears and we are off to the scree slopes of Piz Boe. This is a relentless grind in an eerie landscape. Some off the girls agree to forego the pain of another climb and decide to cable car up and meet the rest of us at the top.
Yet again the weather closes in and we are met at the col with freezing conditions, zero viz and snow! We decide to call it a day and leave Piz Boe for another day. Another handy rifugio beckons and we break for coffee before our descent. How civilised is this place!
At the bottom the sun is out. A perfect end to a perfect first day. Time to sample the 3 euro a litre red wine.
Incidentally throughout the trip the food and wine available every night was fantastic.
Today is our first attempt at a Via Ferrata and today we are taking on the Brigitta Tridentina, 750m of ascent, 450m of Via Ferrata.
It is a beautiful day as we arrive at the Passo Gardena car park. At this point Bob delivers a pep talk of Churchillian proportions viz: 'Remember to make sure your harness is on properly, remember your karabiner technique, three points of contact, don't bunch up, etc. etc. etc.’ Then the bombshell. A sheepish El Presidente reveales that he has forgotten his harness! In true Heath Robertson style we fashion a harness, of sorts, from some spare slings and screwgates the gang have.
Now we arrive at the vertical start to the VF and with credibility restored Bob's Gettysburg address continues viz: ‘I have done this one before, its a very steep start, make sure you are clipped on at all times, keep an eye on the ones who have done it before etc. etc. etc.’ You get the drift.
With nothing but admiration for our inspirational leader he ends by saying 'Right, up you go first Stuart' What a laugh and we hadn't even started yet.
What a day! Climbing a VF is the most fun you could have on a mountain without falling off! The exposure is incredible and you are in positions on rock that you would never in a million years try at home. Amazingly after a while you forget the exposure and just get on with the climbing but it never stops being exhilarating.
This Ferrata is pretty much vertical for the most part and culminates with a thrilling wire bridge crossing over a gaping chasm. The route around the last outcrop of rock is very exposed, in fact whilst asking Elaine Wade to smile for the camera lip readers among us would clearly have made out the phrase ‘... off’. It’s an altitude thing!
All too soon it was over. All that was left was lunch at another idyllic rifugio. How civilised is this place! and an interesting descent.
What a great day.
I should mention at this time that the Cafe Peter below our chalet became our unofficial H.Q. It was here that Alan Wade would work out his infamous forfeits for the day. An easy task you would think. However our waitress made concentration difficult for a man his age. One day it was micro leather shorts then spray on leather trousers then low cut tops (sorry am I rambling. Ah memories!)
Back to the trip.
Today saw a pretty filthy day and we decide to cable car up to the top of Mt Lagazuoi. 2,800m, in three minutes wow! Although very cold on top it soon becomes clear and we have fantastic views of the Sella Massif and most of the Dolomite range.
Our plan is to climb down the inside of the mountain using tunnels carved out of the rock by soldiers during the First World War. The tunnels are pretty much as were and you can only marvel at the effort that must have been put into their construction and the difficulties in living in such conditions. There is no artificial lighting in the tunnels and head torches are a must. All in all it made for a great interesting day when the weather was not good enough to climb and everyone again had a great time.
We rounded off the day with a drive to Corvara for a coffee then back to Cafe Peter for a beer.
Best laid plans !
We had intended to climb Piz Boe today but fresh snowfall and cloud made that a bit of a no-no and we instead opted for a days trek around Set Sasse near to the Falzarego pass.
This is a long day with spectacular views all around. It included some easy walking which led onto mountain paths. Glorious, and an ideal way to chill out for the day.
That night we found a fantastic steakhouse for dinner where Alan and Lorimer proved that a man really can eat a whole cow!!
Great effort boys !
It should be noted that although we were burning the calories big time during the day not one of us lost weight during the week. Food and wine, enough said!
This was the culmination of our week, an ascent of the Marmolada at 3,443m, highest in Northern Italy.
Three of the girls, Elaine, Sue and Margaret had decided against coming and doing the Marmolada. Instead they decided to climb to the pinnacles at the back of Arabba. At the top they found a lovely rifugio complete with sun deck and loungers and a fantastic view of the snow covered Marmolada. Time for a bit of R&R methinks.
Whilst ordering their umpteenth refreshment it is rumoured that in true cavewoman style, whilst reclining on their loungers, they tried to explain to the bewildered waitress that their 'men' were across the valley climbing the mighty Marmolada. Talk about trying to impress the locals!
The guides set a pretty healthy pace but seem more than happy with the group’s ability. After a while we reach the VF section of the climb. After our previous days exertions we find this no bother although one of the guides insists on his group keeping crampons on which made climbing a bit more difficult.
The final pull to the summit is very exciting and the panoramic view is unbelievable. As the two groups converge on the summit cross we all reflect on what a perfect way this has been to help celebrate the club’s anniversary.
After lunch at the summit rifugio (did I tell you how civilised this place was) we began our descent and it was wonderful. When we approached the VF section Handsome Harry the guide insisted again that his group, whilst keeping their crampons on again, should climb down facing out the way. Is he having a laugh!
All too soon we are down. We take the guides for a beer and the sun is so strong Harry decides to really rub it in and takes off his shirt to top up his tan. Not to be undone our very own (fair skinned... well peely wally) Stas decides to do likewise. Well I won't try to describe the scene as children may read this but fair to say according to the girls it was no contest... git!
Through all this hilarity we forgot the dreaded mounting of the moving cage to go down. Mary made a brave stab at this however she lost her balance and got caught in the cage as she fell backwards. No sign of Handsome Harry this time. A saviour appeared in the form of a real sleazy looking lift worker who caught Mary by her... assets... both of them, and pushed her back onto the moving cage. Disaster averted.
Another memorable day.
Today was a do what you want day.
We split into three groups some, climbing Piz Boe at last, two other groups doing Via Ferratas. Another stunning day with wonderful memories.
In the evening we had our last meal together which was again really good and all too soon it was over. The drive back to Venice was uneventful and our plane took off on time again.
The whole trip had gone like clockwork.
On reflection this was a great way to celebrate the club’s 30th Anniversary. The entire group got on superbly well and we have never laughed so much for so long.
The venue was fantastic with enough variety to keep everyone happy. Food and accommodation were superb.
Personally, it was a joy for me to be in the company of like mind`ed people who all have a passion for the hills. I know that we all enjoyed the trip immensely and I hope this account gives you a flavour of a truly wonderful experience.
After yet another stunning drive we arrive at the base of the Marmolada. Our two guides for the day are, according to Sheena, Christine and Mary a couple of crackers. Rest of us thought they were, well... professional.
First hazard of the day, getting onto the moving two man chairlift basket. Easier said than done as you must jump on with your kit whilst it keeps moving. If you miss your dignity is in tatters !
Our guides split us into two groups to be roped up for crossing the glacier. The conditions are absolutely fantastic and soon we are off.