Friday morning. The fifth day since the damn key was locked in the car. And still, it has not arrived. I vow to get nuclear on those Avis guys if the key does not arrive as planned today. The weather has now turned consistently beautiful, and we are chafing at the bit to do some more ferrate. We can see much more clearly into the car now, and a bit of examination reveals the key - we can see it, half-tucked under my green therma-rest. So close, but yet so very far....
Thanks to Signore and Signora Albani
So, back down to the now-familiar continental breakfast. We all have our routines now: the table for 6 near the window; Markus doesn't have to say anything and he gets his 'latte al cacao' and hard-boiled egg. Andree gets her two cappucinos, the music gets turned down. And we now know Giuseppe by his first name. We're practically family. In fact, although he does not know it, we have gone down to the grocery store and bought he and his family some fine chocolate and beer. To thank them for their generosity, understanding and hospitality. He even helped Markus try to jimmy the lock on the Audi by lending him some tools.
Avis did not send us the tracking number by fax as they promised, so we have to call them again and wring it out of them. We've nothing to do but twiddle our thumbs till the key arrives, so everyone else heads downtown to do a little shopping and cyber-surfing, and I wait back at the hotel, outside in the parking lot, waiting. With my camera. I'm going to capture this historic moment - assuming it ever comes. They said by noon.
9:45 am. It is a pleasant warm day outside. The mountains are out. The birds are singing. And no delivery truck. T-minus 2:15. I browse through my ferrata guidebook, looking for a challenging outing that we can hopefully fit into the afternoon hours.
10:15 am. Still no truck. Not wanting to waste time, I get out all of my GPS and camera gear and spend some time downloading data into my laptop. T-minus 1:45.
11:00 am. Still no truck. Well, I'm done my downloading and organizing. and 1 hour to go. Markus and co. are still in town.
Finally, the courier
11:23 am. T-minus 37 minutes. A white panel van pulls up (no sign of any sniper, though...) with no markings on it. Could it be... no...not possible. A lady jumps out of the truck and heads for the hotel door, carrying a white envelope.... a white UPS envelope. I simply cannot believe it. Fumbling for my camera, I take a few covert snaps, then rush inside. I want to make sure NOTHING goes wrong.
For a few moments she seems confused, as I try to tell her that this package is for me - even flashing my passport - and my blood pressure starts to rise a little. The key - freedom - is only inches away underneath a thin layer of cardboard and these stupid formalities are preventing it! However, it appears only that the parcel is addressed to the hotel owner, and he being well-appraised of the situation assures the lady that I am indeed the intended recipient.
A quick signing and the precious package is in my hands. I calmly proceed to take a picture of the package and the key inside. Then a terrible though strikes me: what if they screwed up? what if this isn't the right key? what if we have to go through all of this again for another 5 days??? Shaking slightly, I press the unlock button on the key, and with much relief I hear the lock mechanisms in the car immediately respond. Finally. Finally. And with only 37 minutes to spare. I am still not impressed [with Avis], but am now happy.
The precious key
I get in the car and move into position and start to haul my stuff from the hotel room and to re-organize the contents of the car. Soon everyone arrives, approving looks on their faces as well (because they also now know the key epic is over). We've still got an afternoon left, and so after a bit of quick packing we head 5 kilometres up the road to the campsite we should have been camped at days before. At this time of year it is nearly empty and we get a nice spot all to ourselves way in the back corner.
Being the astute reader that you are, you may have noticed that Brian is still not with us. All this time we have been periodically calling him, but due to work commitments he simply can't get away. He tells us he will be able to join us for the weekend, and so we expect him late tonight after we return from our outing.
Our chosen route for the afternoon is a modest peak called 'Col Rosa'. It appeals to us for a number of reasons: the trail leading to it starts right from the corner of our campground; It is an 'E'-grade route, so it will be challenging, and it has some more WWI war artifacts on the summit. And short enough that we can get it done with only an afternoon's worth of sunlight. So, with a purpose in mind we quickly get ready and zoom off by 2pm or so. From just beyond our campsite there is a very impressive view of the steep aspect of Col Rosa (see picture). I tell everyone "we're going up that-a-way".
Soon we are switchbacking endlessly up a forest trail to reach the base of the vertical rock. The ferrata starts higher than we thought, and, I guess because this is an 'E'-route, there is much more exposed unprotected scrambling before we get to the start of the actual ferrata portion. The route is good: steep, exposed, scenic, but ultimately I find it to be no more difficult technically then the 'D'-grade pisciadu ferrata we did back in the Sella Group. In general, I find the ratings from my guidebook to vary a bit: A 'B' can be as hard as another 'C', and some 'C's seem more like 'B's. This 'E' definitely feels 'D'-like. If you catch my drift.
Andrew, Darryl and Andree climbing
Vertical section on climb
At the top we find more WWI mountain-war relics. A tunnelled-out summit, gun ports, that kind of thing. The weather continues to be beautiful and in the late-day sun, the recently snow covered peaks around us are simply spectacular.
View of Cortina from near summit
Summit, Markus, Cortina Valley
Signing the summit register.
Markus and observation hole
We arrive back at the campground shortly after dark and I start making contact with Brian on the phone, who is already en-route (and using his cellphone). Later on he arrives as scheduled.
The next day we do another ferrata right across the highway from the previous one. This ferrata goes up to another good high point near Cortina. In difficulty it is similar to the previous day; lots of short sections of ferrata mixed in with a bit of hiking and scrambling.
Along the way (i.e. during the climb) we see real rock climbers doing a big wall climb, and at the top we are pestered by pushy alpine choughs (pr. chuffs). These are birds common to these part of the alps. Darryl and others are throwing crumbs of bread and what-not to the birds, which they eagerly peck up. Soon the crumbs of bread are thrown far out from the summit we are standing on, and in response many of these birds swoop in, dive bomb style, to pick the falling food out of the air.
Looking back towards Cortina.
See the video below for an impressive demonstration of the airborne food-snatching skills of the Alpine Choughs:
Video: Alpine Choughs perform acrobatics for airborne food...
After the summit it is a snowy walk to the easy downhike on the other side of the peak. It isn't long before we are back down below snow and into a quite warm afternoon. And soon after we've completed our circuit.
Amazingly enough, the weather continues to hold good. No clouds and lots of sun, and we are definitely appreciating it. We decide the next day should be a bit of a rest day, and so we pick a very simple outing to a neat waterfall on the nearby Fanes river. It is a pseudo-ferrata that winds around the cliffs of the falls and at one point even goes behind part of the falls. A pleasant change of pace.... afterwards we do a bit more poking around in the area, exploring the ruins (really ruins, almost nothing left) of a many centuries old castle.
Brian, only having been with us for two days, now has to return to Germany. It is really too bad that after all of this planning he is forced to spend such a short amount of time with us. Hopefully work turmoil won't affect the next outing he is on.