The Pisciadu Climbing Path
Disseminating info to Bob
The next day the ante is upped. We are going to climb a famous ferrata climbing path in the Sella Group (as you may recall, this was the mountain massif visible across the valley from our first outings). The Sella group was made famous by the movie 'cliffhanger', where you see good 'ol Sly Stallone performing heroic climbing feats in a blinding snowstorm. The route that we were going to climb, a class "D" route, is known as the Pisciadu climbing path, and has been around for many decades. This is a steep route essentially up the near vertical wall of the sella massif itself, and has over 1,400 metres of continues climbing protection. At the time, little did we know that we'd be re-creating the 'cliffhanger' experience more than we would care to!
The pisciadu climbing path
So, what's the weather like? you guessed it - drab and grey. It isn't raining, so I am somewhat hopeful, but nevertheless I am starting to get a bit tired of not seeing all of the great scenery around here. At the least the rock is dry today!
The trio is ready to go.
Today Annette and Bob are planning on joining us for the very first little bit of the climb. Annette is feeling a bit tired from yesterday, but still wants to experience some of this climb.
Bob and Annette
Heading off on the path at around 9:30am, we very quickly reach the first bit of ferrata, which consists of a whole set of metal rungs drilled into the rock, leading directly upslope. After an interminably long time futzing with Markus' harness, off we go. The exposure is much greater than before, and we truly enter a world of vertical. Annette hasn't climbed in a while, and so finds the exposure a bit unnerving, and lets us climb by. At the top of this section, we wait for Bob and Annette to reach us, all the while enjoying some excellent german ginger-cookie-thingies that Markus brought along.
Annette and Bob reach us, and we have a quick discussion. Annette would prefer to take the shortcut back to the car that bypasses the majority of the climb, and Bob is immediately prepared to go with her, but we can all tell from his eyes that he'd love a shot at this adventure. So, after a bit of humming and hawing, it is agreed that Bob will come along with us, and Annette will take the 1km alternate path back to the car. We give her one of our FRS communicators so we can keep in touch the whole time.
Now down to 5 intrepid adventurers, we set of for the piece de resistance : the fifteen hundred to two thousand foot climb, almost straight up, to the Pisciadu alpine hut, almost entirely on via ferrata. Then, gently at first, and then more insistently, it starts to drizzle - and flurry. Great - here we are about to attempt something tricky, long, exposed and hard, and its starting to snow? This is looking more like cliffhanger all the time! I'm half imagining that John Lithgow will pop out from behind a rock, say "yew bah-stahds", and start shooting at us!
Although there are a few 'retreat' type thoughts in my mind, I am mostly intent on continuing. The precipitation is very light, and it isn't cold. Up ahead we can see the end of the trail and the start of the ferrata, and there are a group from a course on the route, which adds perspective. They look like little ants in the middle of a big blank wall of rock. And we're going there!!!
Being already harnessed, we all wait 'till we are together, and then start up. The protection is faultless, and the rock is superb: hand and footholds are excellent. In fact, Darryl, Andree and I climb all of the first half of the climb free (that means that while we do clip into the protection, we don't use the rope or bars to assist our actual climbing). Along the way, we pass the high thin pisciadu waterfall. Whew, this is a long route.
And then back to snow.
As can probably be guessed from how our luck has gone thus far, the weather turns from mediocre to bad. It is now snowing more than anything, and hard enough that it is building up on our clothes, packs, and a bit on the rock itself. So, here we are - thousands of feet up the middle of a massive towering cliff, in a snowstorm - and it is always harder to climb down than up. so, thinking that at the very least we are building character, onwards we climb.
Weather continues to deteriorate.
At about the 8000-foot level the route gets distinctly harder, even more vertical and with more tricky footholds and handholds. I forego the free climbing and start using the protection as aid - I've lost my sense of climbing style, but on the other hand I don't particularly feel like slipping, falling, and bashing something. Waay up we can see the hut, which looks more like a modern inn, with warm looking lights and a wisp of smoke from its chimney.... It'd be nice to be there right now....
Soon we round a corner and a surprise greets us (well, not me, 'cause I'd read the guidebook): it is a narrow suspension bridge, spanning a deeeeep defile. We are nearing the end of the route! Carefully carefully, because the bridge is covered with a layer of slippery snow, we make our way across and up the final bit of ferrata. And then the world changes again, from vertical back to horizontal. We are on the middle tier or plateau that runs all the way around the Sella group. Here the trail is a gentle up and down to the hut. So far, so good.....
Bob Gibson, climber extraordinaire.
The Pisciadu Alpine hut is like many of the huts scattered through the alps. Large, clean, inviting, and fully equipped. Stepping from a harsh alpine environment into the warm cozy interior of what seems almost like a rustic restaurant is a shock I am not used to, being from wilderness-oriented north america. MMmmmm, boy would a plate of pasta go down well right now: I order some spaghetti carbonara and my European drink of choice: a big glass of orange Fanta. Heaven! All the while the snow swirls around outside.
I can see outside, through the mist, the lower half of one of the nearby summits in the Sella group, the Pisciadu summit, thrusting up another thousand+ feet into the murk. We had half planned to see if we could make that summit, but the weather had clearly nixed the idea.
Climbing away from the bridge
A view of our route, part I
After satiating ourselves and resting for a bit, we started out, heading for the less technical down-route that would get us back to the car. The heavy snow had started accumulating in earnest, and when we got to the descent (again, less technical, but still had ferrata sections), we were glad for the wire protection.
Everything was covered in at least 10 centimetres of slippery snow. It would have been very easy to put a foot wrong and slip and twist something, or worse tumble off the trail near a steep dropoff. Finally after losing a few thousand feet of elevation, the snow lessened and changed back to drizzle. We could see that down at the car it had been all rain, and we were glad for that, because the steep, twisty road would have been quite a challenge if it had been snow. All along, we were in radio contact with Annette back at the car, and it was not long before she could see us far above her, snaking downwards. By 5:15pm, we'd made it back, all in one piece.