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The time had come for us to hit the mountains in a more major way. Up until now, we had been mostly exploring cities and towns, with only the occasional mountain thrown in. But, we were now near the Dolomites, and our plan was to spend the remainder of our time there (which amounted to about 10 days). As some of you may know, I've become quite attached to the Dolomites, with its striking milky white towers, and grassy, manicured valleys.

It was only a short 1 and a half-hour drive from Venice, and we were in the Dolomites. The first sight of these mountains always invokes awe; their ruggedness surpasses that of most other mountains, including the ones we had just climbed a few days earlier. Since I had been climbing in the dolomites twice already, I wanted to try and go up peaks that I had not yet previously done.

We located a quaint campground in a little hamlet called Falcade. This area was "ladin" country, which is a local culture that speaks their own unique language (also called ladin).

When we go climbing in the dolomites, we usually do fixed-protection climbing routes called "via ferrata"s (or vie ferrate in proper italian). I've written a fair bit about my previous via ferrata experiences, which you can read here. Via Ferrata routes consisted of fixed wire ropes with periodic protection. One wears a climbing harness and helmet, and a special dynamic belay device that you connect between yourself and the wire rope. Via Ferrata routes are graded, both in terms of the technical difficulty of the climbing and by the strenuousness and remoteness of the route. Having done many ferratas already, I was looking forward to trying some of the more difficult routes. Jenn, however, had never done this sort of thing, and so I had to temper my wishes for a harder route with the fact that she needed to start off on something easier (I'm sure Jennifer will question my definition of the word "easier").
Cima Auta
Our first ferrata, then, was to the top of a peak called cima auta. Cima Auta is an 8500-ish foot mountain that has a precipitous south face and a more gentle north aspect. There is a Grade "3" ferrata, called the via ferrata paolin-piccolin, which ascends a steep gully on the steep south side. Once at the top, there is an easier (really just a walk-down) descent route. Having done ferratas before, my assessment that was that Jenn could relatively easily manage this medium-length Grade 3 ferrrata. If you'd asked Jenn at the time, she would have said that she was a bit nervous about the whole thing.
Winding ever up
The next morning we started off from the little mountain hamlet of Colmean (up the hillside from the town of Falcade), and took a well-marked trail leading up, and up and up (this route started relatively low and had a lot of elevation gain). The day was simply beautiful - clear, cool, free of haze. The trail was deserted (except for us) - so far, it was turning out to be a good intro to the dolomites for Jenn.

After about an hour or so of hiking, we reached a very quaint little mountain bivacco named after pope john paul (the first, not the second). Unlike the space-age bivacco at the top of monte amaro a few days before, this bivacco was rustic, hewn out of logs, very well-kept, and with no graffiti. There was a cute little sign on the walls telling visitors to "treat this space as if it was your own home".
Bivacco Giovanni Paolo I
Trail 689 above the trees
Beautiful open grassy slope
We had a nice rest and food break at the bivacco, and then made our way further up along the trail. We soon broke out above treeline and we were treated to excellent mountain views back down into the valley and up at the high rock walls above us. I could see the steep gully that led up to the left of the summit - this was our route. After some tiring scree climbing, we reached the base of the gully and the start of the ferrata, which was easy to spot since there was a short ladder that started things off. At this point, Jenn thought that it looked pretty reasonable. We both suited up into our harness and other climbing stuff, and off we went.
Ferrata Start Gully
Jenn starts first ferrata
Jenn climbing Cima Auta
The route was a bit steep in spots, but had lots of lower-angled terrain. Jenn found the going a little bit more difficult and scary than she had anticipated, especially due to the fact that there were a few moves where one has to strain to safely connect from one wire rope to another. That, and the fact that you had to do this with a reasonable amount of "exposure" below you.
Ibex and curiosity
Still, Jenn did quite well, especially considering she was starting off on what is considered a mid-grade route, and we slowly but surely made upwards progress. At one point, we heard the crack of falling stones - first a few, and then a torrent. I didn't know what to make of it at first - an incredibly thoughtless and clumsy climber, perhaps? then we started to see dark shapes bounding down the steep gully - a herd of ibex / chamois! It was fascinating and humbling to watch how effortlessly they were downclimbing the steep slope that we were climbing. Very interesting creatures! We respectfully and safely waited for all of them to come down the slope before continuing.
Andrew climbs chimney
We soon surmounted the steep gully and reached a gap along the ridge leading to the summit. From here, we could see steep and airy "slabs" leading up to the summit, and we could see the wire of the route, too, which was interspersed with a few short ladders. Jenn was still doing well - a bit nervious still, and a bit unsure about ever doing a harder route, but still, doing very well for her first time. I assured her that (a) we were almost there and that (b) we wouldn't have to climb down the way we came up.
The remainder of the route up passed by uneventfully, and soon we were standing on the small and airy summit. As usual, a beautiful panorama presented itself to us, including a good view of the very steep south wall of the Marmolada, the highest mountain in the dolomites, just a few kilometres away. Jenn whipped out her picture of Gottfried and all three of us enjoyed the excellent summit.
Jenn makes the summit
Jenn on descent
Slightly protected
The way down (called the 'via normale'), involved a few protected bits and then a very nice scenic trail that traversed along steep dropoffs and through steep, grassy meadows. It took no time at all to walk around and back down to our ascent trail not far about the bivacco that we rested at earlier in the day. From there, it was a simple walk down the trail to the trailhead. Good job, Jenn, on your first ferrata!
Pale di San Martino
Brian Connell was flying in from Canada the next day - he was joining us for the remainder of our climbing in the dolomites. We had to pick him up later in the day at the train station in nearby Bolzano. We decided to try and fit in a short ferrata before picking Brian up. I settled upon a very short Grade "4" (the next hardest grade) - it happened to be on the way and it would be, I thought, a good safe way to sample what the harder grades were like (I had never really tried this grade before either). Jenn was unsure about it, but eventually agreed. The route was called the "via ferrata canalone", and was situated in a sub-group of the dolomites called the "pale di san martino". It was very short - the hike in was barely 1 hour, and the ferrata itself was very short - perhaps only 150 feet high. But it was apparently steep and airy, and so, made a good test.
For experts only!
We had the fortune of another beautiful day (actually, most of the days of our trip were beautiful days). I took us only one hour to get to the start of the ferrata, which consisted of a basically vertical prow of rock up which a wire rope snaked. Jenn looked at it with mixture of apprehension and doubt. I thought it looked challenging as well, but I knew from the book that the placements of the anchors and the wire were quite solid on this route - the challenges were more of a mental nature than of safety.
Start of Ferrata Canalone
After several minutes of debate and doubt, Jenn decided to go for it - but only a little way. Good plan - divide and conquer. Up we went. The route was indeed very steep, and a few anchor placements were further apart than I found comfortable. But all went well, with me staying not too far ahead of Jenn so that I could talk down and tell her what the next little bit of the climb was like. She found this reassuring. About half-way up, Jenn made the mental transition from "only going a little way" to "well, I'm almost halfway, I might as well continue rather than downclimb this scary climb". And so in this manner, Jenn and I completed our first Grade 4 ferrata. The way down was also a climb, although very much easier than the ascent.

Jenn up steeply!
Andrew on Descent
Dolomites - twisty heaven?
We made it back to the car before noon, giving us lots of time to drive to Bolzano to pick Brian up at the train station (his train arrived at 3pm). Bolzano is a pretty large northern Italian city, one that has a definite german/austrain influence. A nice place.

Brian was indeed on the 3pm train, but apparently only barely. His plane into Munich was late, and he made the train to Bolzano by the skin of his teeth. We drove back into the dolomites shortly afterwards, camping at the now famous (to us, anyway) Camping Vidor in the val di fassa area. This was my first time here in the summer, though, and um... let's just say it is a lot busier in July than it is in September and October. We got one of the last camping spots - the place was packed. And noisy, too. I think I'll avoid this place in the summer from now on.
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[ Italy 2005 trip home page | The main trip report | Family | Monte Cervialto | Herculaneum & Vesuvius | Palace of Caserta | Amalfi & Capri | Abruzzo & Monte Amaro | Rome | Tuscany | Venice | The Biennale | Via Ferrata-ing in the dolomites | Climbing in the Ortles | Gottfried's Adventures | Maps, Graphs & GPS Data ]

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