I have this habit of always saying “That’s on my list!” when the conversation boils down to travel. Which it does very often. But not as often as I would like. I then find myself questioning just how big my list is – how many places would I like to visit? What number of exciting things would I like to try? I’ve quickly concluded that it is infinite. I can’t imagine ever saying no to a new opportunity and I’d be stupid to find a reason NOT to venture to somewhere unknown… (with Las Vegas being a small exception).
Trekking a Glacier has always been high up on that list of mine, so to finally step out onto the ice with my crampons had me scream inside with excitement, just a little.
The Marmolada stands at a great 3,343m above sea level and is officially the highest peak in the Dolomite Mountain range. It can’t be missed during the summer months as it is the only mountain to retain a serious amount of snow – due to the whopping great glacier on its North side! Just to top it off, there is a pretty spectacular Via Ferrata which climbs the west ridge straight to the top. When I first arrived in the mountains I wasn’t much of a climber, but after 4 months of testing my nerve, I couldn’t bring myself to leave the Dolomites without attempting what the Grade 4B had to offer.
We couldn’t have chosen a more perfect day to summit – the sky was a perfect blue, the horizon was haze free, a cold crisp feeling was in the air and the mountain was practically empty. Crampons at the ready (an alien experience thus far), rope wrapped around my waist and a slight shake to my hand, I stepped onto the sloping ice to begin the climb. This section was only short and climbers could be seen ahead, but it was a nice introduction that had me feeling like a true mountaineer. Soon enough we reached the Via Ferrata which could be seen winding its way round the rocks high above. It was now approaching October and the recent cold weather had the mountain already preparing itself for winter – this was particularly noticeable with the amount of ice we came across creeping along the iron stemples. I was thankful for the iron wire to hang on to!
The stemples continued on and on and on. If only I had started counting them from the beginning but I guessed there were at least 250 on route. The views opened up as we climbed higher and I felt a sense of inferiority as I stood in the wind, snow below my feet and a 400m drop to the side of me – this was a serious playground that even I have learnt to respect. It is crazy though how a harness and two carabiner clips can make you feel invincible.
After a short distance of crampon work, we reached the little wooden hut at the summit. There was not a breath of wind as the seasonal lodger packed his things in preparation for descent. He had been living here every day for the 5 months of summer; watching over the hut, feeding and watering daily tourists, and freezing his balls off during the weekly storms. I had to hand it to him, even I couldn’t hack such a job for that length of time, no matter how stunning the surrounding area is.
And stunning it was. I could have sat there all day. But I was also keen to start descending over the Glacier field where I’d heard a small Crevasse needed crossing. This time I led the way (I’d like to say because I knew what I was doing, but it was in fact because I’ve never used an ice axe before and wouldn’t fall to a cold, painful yet quite fun death this way round).
Either the small stretch of downhill Via Ferrata wasn’t mentioned or I chose to ignore it, but soon we were upon it and I decided to descend the rock with my crampons still intact. Now I really was a true mountaineer! Aside from the pain in my ears caused by the screech of the metal on rock, I had a lot of fun abseiling my way down the face and soon regretted putting on my jacket as the sun had become very hot.
“Don’t stop, just get across nice and quickly”
were my instructions when we got the the Crevasse. Part of me wanted to stop and gaze over into the dark hole, but I decided against it. Passing two guys with a tour guide, I felt for them having ascended all of that way in the heat; climbing carefully across ice on the Via Ferrata was definitely the best way to go.
Riiiiiip. I didn’t escape ruining my trousers with the crampons this time and it typically happened just before we stepped off of the ice. Oh well, I was now looking forward to someone looking down at the gaping hole in the fabric and asking,
“What did you do today?”