Saturday – Multipitch adventure day – Porte Neigre
When I planned this trip (and for planned read ‘dreamt up’), I did look at a very easy (technically) multipitch Trad route up the Vajolet towers. On asking some advice (never ignored!) we decided on our shorter day at Cinque Torri as a sort of ‘test route’. One of the biggest deciding factors in regards not climbing on the towers (alongside our pace (it was a 7 pitch route) / knowledge of escape routes etc) was our knowledge of the rock.
Limestone is limestone is limestone – the geological effects on what is (should be?) essentially the same band of rock, in addition to the weathering etc. can make the protection/climbing in one location a completely different prospect to a nearby crag. I don’t think we’ve climbed anywhere were I felt I could say, yes, this is exactly what I was expecting.
There was however a 3/4 pitch sport route at a crag called Porte Neigre, just below the towers. I was a little worried that it wouldn’t be that interesting for Gemma, who has a lot of experience in Sport, has climbed a lot of sport multipitch and is at a much higher grade than I am. However there was the temptation of a Tyrolean traverse and there was a slightly harder route to the left we could try if it all felt a bit too easy (ha ha).
This was our longest walk in and started with catching a bus from Pera, which would take us 5km and 600m up the mountain to Rifugio Gardeccia. Without knowing how the traverse was set up we decided to take two ropes, all our sport kit but left our Trad gear at the flat (we already had 3 bags!), we left the car at Pera and bought our tickets for the surprisingly snazzy taxi bus. First error – no coffee!
As usual we had very friendly greetings and a lovely chat with the local school minibus driver who also drove one of the taxis – this doesn’t seem to be an area much visitied by Londoners as everyone seems surprised/impressed (they then move on to laughing at what I consider to be a healthy tan..)
This bus ride was fun (if you held on) and relatively quick. I’d woken up wierdly nervous and waffling about hauling bags, being worried about making it up the harder pitches whilst carrying a rope. Gemma had been brilliant at reassuring me and my nerves had moved over for childish excitement, insisting on a bus seat with a decent view.
The Catinaccio group (the mountains edging the river valley we were walking up) are spectacular and the climbing/walking routes scramble all over this fabulous area. Our route from the rifugio was around 30mins uphill. We were walking up with a large group of hikers who looked a little askance when we cut off sideways to scramble up the dry riverbed following a small stream. The group were taking a long z shaped path 150m up to Rifugio Vajolet, whereas we were taking a more direct route!
After finding our start we looked for places to stash Gemmas bag, there were a couple but it was quite a walk back to the base of the crag (if we topped out, rather than abseiling back down). We decided we actually had a small anough amount of kit to climb with a bag each, Gemma was happy to lead with a bag and we would be able to do some hauling for the other. We climbed the first pitch quickly and easily, the climbing was straightfoward but enjoyable. I set off, leading the 2nd pitch, leaving my bag with Gemma. Now I am still a very nervous lead climber – I dealt with this in two ways; persuading myself that it was the easier pitch (it wasn’t) and focusing only on my climbing and rope work and nothing else. I was really pleased with the climb, it wasn’t particularly simple, graded a 4c but both Gemma and I agreed it was nearer a 5.
Then we had to deal with the bags. My original plans involved bringing the bag up between us, this was obviously not going to work as the rope was clipped in all the way up, or to take the spare rope up with me and pull the bag up on that. The second option was the best, however not possible as a) I was already at the top of my pitch and b) the spare rope was stuffed at the bottom of my bag under lunch and our phones.
Lesson five – if you bring an emergency spare rope, do not stuff it at the bottom of your kit bag, you will not be able to use it, and in a real emergency may find yourself discarding other belongings in order to get to it
What actually happened was that Gemma had to climb the 2nd and 3rd pitches twice! I had spent so long setting up the belay anchor we actually had lunch on the cliff beofre setting off again. We did manage to set up a hauling system on the 3rd pitch, which was actually fun and fortunately the climbing was delightful.
At the top of the 3rd pitch was the Tyrolean traverse – Gemma had spent quite a while double checking techniques so we were well prepared and the Traverse was surprisingly short but a ridiculous amount of fun! We had our rope work down now and moving anchors / getting across / bag hauling/ setting up for the next belay was very smooth.
A scrambling section and we had made it up to the top and a much deserved snack (note – the Vajolet biscuit is about the size of my hand, we weren’t stinting!)
At this point I would normally wrap up with a ‘then we set off back down, more planning’ etc. In fact we jad just double dosed on suncream as it was so hot, and were just discussing the exact position of the Vajolet towers (just peeking over the valley edge in the picture) when I wondered if, having discussed cloud formations earlier in the week, the clouds coming over looked rainy? We weren’t certain, but had finished our coffee and started taking a lesuirely route back down the mountain, with me stopping to play photos.
About two thirds down the route we got hit by a couple of icy raindrops. Then we got hit by this bastard
Then all hell broke loose. The reason you can see the rain in the picture is it’s mostly hail. I was in walking sandals and I’m afraid that I did the last 500m at pace abandoning Gemma, who only made it to the sparse shelter of a doorway, I made it into a tiny souvenir shop, swiftly followed by others who had suddenly developed unexpected skills of downhill running.
We did make it safely to the bus in the end, although it was a good 30minutes before we came out of hiding, and the bus driver let me on even though my ticket had been lost as sacrifice to the storm.. In addition the dry river bed we had walked up had turned to a raging torrent. All our bag hauling had been worth it as we would have struggled to get our bags back from the base of the cliff.
Lesson six – never forget the weather and never underestimate the mountains. We were lucky we weren’t on a multipitch route at the time, we saw some people going up an hour before we came down and hopefully they had back up / escape or shelter plans and are now safely home
All three of us were exhausted by the time we got back (Bash has been killing himself on some epic cycling adventures of his own), but Gemma and Bash mustered up the strength to make a hot chicken rissotto. That plus red wine and we were planning for the final climbing adventure…. Lady Marmolada
To be continued…