Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Dolomites - Day 4: Via Ferrata Punta Anna

Day 4 was to be a spectacular day in the mountains.  We awoke early and enjoyed a simple breakfast of bread, cheese and prosciutto at the refugio Dibona.  Then we headed out for our next adventure climbing the via ferrata Punta Anna.

The view at breakfast time

The approach to the route

The via ferrata follows a long ridge and there were some breathtaking views along the way.  This route is graded as "5C" which is the maximum technical difficulty and the maximum degree of exposure for any via ferrata in this region.  Thankfully the holds were all very solid and the weather stayed perfect for the entire day.

The route follows the ridge in this picture (from L to R)

Once we reached the end of the via ferrata we traversed off the ridge to explore some ruins from the first world war and to visit another refugio (the Refugio Giussani) for a well deserved cappuccino and a sandwich. 

At the end of the VF

Buildings from the war

Refugio Giussani

Refugio Giussani

The walk back to our starting point was down a steep scree slope and then through beautiful alpine meadows.  We spotted a few Edelweiss growing in the wild on the way.

Our final activity for the day was to transfer to the refugio Lagazuoi for that evening's accommodation and dining.   This was achieved with the help of a cable car, so it didn't take too long.  Once we were there we enjoyed a hot shower, a nice sunset, and some more fresh pasta for dinner.

 The view from refugio as the sun set

Inside the regfugio Lagazuoi

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Owl's Head - A Long Hike

Last weekend we joined several friends for a hike to the top of Owls Head in the White Mountains.  At 4025' this peak is only just on the list of New Hampshire 4000' mountains, and it has a very long approach to get there.  The shortest round trip hike is over 18 miles.  Oh, and there are no views from the summit either.  This is why this is a hike that you do with friends.

We set off a little later than we intended (at about 9am) and we made rapid progress on the first eight miles which are mostly flat.  The path followed an old railway for much of the way, and then it followed a brook to the bottom of the unmarked and unmaintained Owl's Head trail.  The final mile and a half ascends steeply up a rocky scree slope, and then turns into almost vertical dirt and trees.  There are at least some good views of the famous Franconia ridge on this section!  Finally the last half mile runs along a wooded ridge to the summit where there is a simple cairn. 

By the time we had descended to the main path it was 3pm.  We put our heads down and walked out as fast as we could and we were back at the car as night fell at 7.15pm.  It was a long but enjoyable day and our feet and our legs were very sore the next day.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Dolomites - Day 3: Via Ferrata Col dei Bos

After our first day on the trail we experienced some overnight rain, so for our second day we decided to tackle a newer and quite easily accessed via ferrata on the Col dei Bos.  We first drove to the Passo Falzarego and then hiked a short distance to the foot of the route.  On the way we passed the remains of a World War I military hospital and saw lots of evidence that this area was on the front lines of the battlefield.  


The via ferrata followed an obvious ridge line and ascended on very good holds,  It was rated as a 3B grade and it felt well within our capabilities.  Upon reaching the top of the via ferrata it was short hike to the summit and to some magnificent views of the higher peaks. 

From the summit we hiked down into a green valley with herds of sheep and numerous wild flowers, and then gradually back to the pass where we had parked,

That night we stayed at the nearby Rifugio Dibona.  We enjoyed fantastic views from the porch of the refugio and sampled home cooked pasta and desserts made on the premises.  Feeling pleasantly full we retired to bed early so we could be ready for a longer outing the next day.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Dolomites - Day 2: Our First Via Ferrata

After spending a day exploring Cortina, finding our bearings and resting from our travels, we woke early the next day for our introduction to via ferrata.  We met Michele, our guide for the next five days, at 8am our hotel Beppe Selle. Soon we would learn that an early start was important to getting onto the routes ahead of the crowds.  

For our first outing MIchele took us to Via Ferrata Michielli Strobel-Puta Fiames which was only a short drive from Cortina.  There we met Monika who works for Dolomite Mountains. She helped us to arrange our trip including the 5 days of via ferrata with Michele.  Monika joined us for the day which would enable us to drop a car and add a scenic and pleasant walk down from the end of the via ferrata.  

Michele equipped us with a harness specifically designed for via ferrata.  Attached to the harness were two shock-absorbing cords with carabiners that would allow us to clip into the wire cables, steps and ladders along the routes.  We also were given very light-weight orange (Dolomite orange!) helmets to protect us from loose stones that might be dislodged by those climbing above us.

This via ferrata was a Grade 3, Seriousness B which meant is was essentially a "medium" in terms of technical difficulty and exposure.  This was a great choice for us as starting place as we have had some experience rock climbing and being "out there" in terms of exposure.  We found the climb straightforward and it required only a moderate level of attention to placing of hands and feet. This gave us the chance to understand how to clip into the fixed protection and still enjoy the climbing and beautiful surroundings.

Within minutes of being on the route we knew we had found a good match in Michele as a guide . He was clearly very experienced as a guide.  He put us at ease and encouraged us at every point.  We also discovered, as he whistled his way along the route, that he was a fan of music, particularly of rock-n-roll.  His top three: Little Richard, Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis.  This gave us common ground for a continued dialogue about music during the time we spent together.  We would learn much from MIchele about history, music, food and culture in the next few days.  We were off to a great start!

At the summit of Punta Fiama we found the views in all directions stunning.  It was all that we imagined in anticipation of this trip.  We enjoyed a quick break at the summit, took in the views and spotted some mountain goats high on the ridge above us. We then wound our way back to the car through a beautiful valley.

At the completion of Day 1, Michele and Monika took us to a local rifugio for the first of many amazing dining experiences to come.  Nestled at the base of craggy cliffs we sat on the veranda of a restaurant where we enjoyed beer, pasta, bread and coffee.  Here we tried Casunziei all’ampezzana, beet ravioli with poppy seed sauce, a local speciality of the Dolomite region.   There would be more rifugios, more local treats, and very welcome glasses of beer to come!