Ferrata Intro for Luke
(or, Luke's trial by fire) - Sunday, June 30
Yesterday had been Sophie's turn; Today was Luke's turn to experience a ferrata. I picked out something else relatively close to Riva - a higher-altitude and somewhat harder route up on Monte Baldo - the long mountain bordering Lake Garda's east shore. According to my guidebook, it was a "4". Although a "4" is significantly stiffer than a "2" (which we'd brought Sophie on the day before), the actual ferrata length was quite short - and I'd done several "4" routes that had turned out to be quite reasonable climbs. All that to say: it seemed reasonable for us to attempt, even with Luke along as a first-time ferrata-er.
Heading to Monte Baldo Ferrata
Our time was quite constrained for this outing: This was the second-last day of our trip, and we had to be back in southern Germany today, in preparation for our flight the next day. That meant that we had to vacate our apartment in Riva and start driving north by early afternoon. We told Miriam and the others that we'd be back from our climb between noon and 1pm. I felt this would give us enough time to complete the 11-ish kilometre hike/climb of the ferrata.
Working backwards from that time limitation, 5am saw us picking up Luke from the front of his apartment. We drove through nicely deserted streets and roads, quickly reaching the winding mountain road that would bring us up onto the eastern flank of Monte Baldo. It was a beautiful morning, calm and completely clear.
High Valleys of Monte Baldo
It took us about 1 hour of driving to get to the trailhead. This was a there-and-back sort of route, meaning that we'd (more or less) come back down the way we ascended. Wasting no time after parking the car, we marched uphill, following trail number 652.
Luke in the morning sunshine
The trail was in great shape: after crossing through a short area of forest, the trail broke out onto beautiful grassy slopes. Off to the south, the mountains soon flattened out to merge with the broad plain of the Po. Back behind us, we could see in the far distance hints of the higher and more jagged crags of the main mass of the Dolomites. Combined with clear skies and slanting morning light, it was near-perfect - nay, completely perfect - hiking.
Beautiful grassy slopes
The trail didn't stay perfect for the entire climb up, though: eventually it turned steeper and much rockier, and in one section it abandoned its relatively gentle diagonal ascent and shot straight up the slope. Fortunately, this section wasn't all that long, and soon the trail resumed its relatively gentle grade, although still with a rough tread. We encountered patches of - surprise, surprise - fresh snow up here. This was almost assuredly the product of that thunder-storm we had experienced while we had been eating down below at the Belvedere restaurant two days before. Up here at nearly 2,000 metres of elevation, it had been a thunder-snow.
We made quite good time, soon reaching the main path running along Monte Baldo's north-south ridgecrest. This path was quite wide and gravelly; it was, in fact, a relic of World War I: the General Graziani Path.
After a hasty break to eat some apple strudel and milk we had hastily bought the day before, we continued on, mindful of the strict timetable we were on. Now mostly on the level, we hiked south along the Graziani path, through several sections of foot-deep snow, until we reached a point along the ridgecrest above a steep and shady bowl of alpine scree: this was where we would drop off the easy path and scramble down to the start of our ferrata for the day. The name of our climbing route for the day? the Via Ferrata delle Taccole.
There was but only a very faint path leading down into the scree bowl. According to my guidebook, this was indeed the way to go, but the path didn't seem to lead anywhere conclusive. That's often the way it is with approaches to climbing routes: they can sometimes be hard to follow.
Steep scree descent
A thin, discontinuous layer of snow covered the scree, making it a bit harder to see what the footing was. We carefully picked our way downwards on shifting rocks, keeping an alert eye for anything that looked like a route start.
Perhaps half-way down the scree bowl, I noticed a rock ledge emerging out of the scree, against the left hand wall. This seemed to match up with the description in my guidebook, and as we got closer, I noticed a dark square on the wall adjacent to it. Squinting hard in the vicinity of the square, I finally spotted the line of wire heading upward.
Nearing ferrata start
Barely two more minutes and we were at the end of the ledge, standing below the start wires of the Via Ferrata delle Taccole. They led pretty much straight up alongside a wide cleft in the rock before curving out of sight.
This certainly had a much more serious feel than yesterday's ferrata outing with Sophie. For one, we were in a much more alpine setting: Even though it was the day before July, there was a thin layer of snow only a few metres away. The bowl we were in was entirely barren rock - no trees; in fact, barely any vegetation at all. And the route looked distinctly harder than yesterday's Ferrata Susatti. Bolder and steeper.
Start of VF delle Taccole
Ready for his first ferrata
I wondered a little about whether or not we'd chosen something a little too stiff for Luke's first outing. This route seemed to throw you immediately into the fire, so to speak - but I could also see that it had a generous number of metal stemples and pegs. Hopefully this would reduce the difficulty enough to make this a fun but not overly-challenging climb.
Climbing first pitch of VF Taccole
After getting Luke properly suited-up and going over a few basic ferrata rules, I started up. Luke followed in the middle, and Jenn took up the rear.
The first pitch proved to be reasonably strenuous, but quite manageable - and, it was over fairly quickly. It wasn't long before the grade lessened and a sunny ledge was reached. I looked back down and helped coach Luke through his first pitch of via ferrata climbing. If he was afraid of this first bit of climbing, he wasn't showing it - and soon he was up on the ledge behind me.
Down to Luke
Ok. so, the first pitch was done. We had a sunny little traverse (still protected) to an as-yet unseen next pitch (the wires traversed along a wall and then disappeared around a buttress of rock).
I made my way along until I could see around said buttress, to where the "main course" of this ferrata awaited.
I rounded the buttress and was presented with an open-book corner: two walls, largely blank and devoid of holds, stood in front of me. On the wall directly facing me was a large crack, perhaps two hand-widths wide, running from the wall's base to it's top. The ferrata wire wound its way from me to the base of this wall, and then sharply turned and paralleled the crack all the way to the top. It looked bold. Thankfully, I noticed, there were numerous stemples all the way up alongside the wire.
Even with the stemples, it looked a little tough.
I waited for the others to catch up. Luke once again presented a stoic face.
I started up the second pitch. It was... hard. Even with the stemples. There were very few natural places where one could place a mountaineering boot. Climbing the route without touching the wire or using an artificial foothold was out of the question - at least for me. I held on to the wire generously. Even so, I was finding it rather strenuous.
Making his way to the start
Slowly and with difficulty, we made our way up the pitch. Although we were following a prominent crack, the spacing and nature of the positions meant that I found I was able to use it less than I would have expected. I was glad when I reached the short ledge area at the top of the pitch. I could only imagine what Luke - having never been on a ferrata before - was thinking (probably something along the lines of "what the $%#@ have you gotten me into, Lavigne!)