ALTA VIA 2 DOLOMITES, DAY 5

(part 1.)


Lessons learned and summary:
  1. Don’t make the same stupid mistakes like we did, plan carefully so that you know what’s ahead. Minimize the chances of getting yourself into trouble
  2. Two alternative routes of Alta Via 2 from Lago di Fedaia onwards – 1) longer detour around Marmolada mountain through Malga Ciapella village 2) shorter direct travel across the mountain ridge – this path involves snowfield crossing!(only for those equipped with crumples and ice-axe!)

We will be crossing a snowfiled tomorrow“, says Thomas scanning through the map while lying squashed in our tiny little tent (Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2) . Oficially it’s a two-persons tent. Realistically…I would say it’s pretty cozy, perhaps a bit claustrophobic in two.”Hmm…something to look forward to, I guess“, I answer ironically and unconcernedly. Thomas continues his investigation and begins to read a blog post “Quick and Dirty Guide to Alta Via 2” which we’ve read several times over the last few weeks while preparing for this trek. “Well, the guy (i.e. author of the artical) did take a detour here“, says Thomas as he inspects the itinerary. “That’s like 20 km extra….Why would he do that? That seems totally unnecessary“. In this connection we find out that Alta Via 2 splits into two possible routes at the Lago di Fedaia. One can either take a shorter direct path across Marmolada ridge which involves snowfield crossing (that’s where we’re heading to) or a longer detour around the mountain arriving to Malga Ciapella village.Perhaps he needed to re-supply, that’s why he chose to take the detour throught the village“, Thomas concludes. “Ah, yeah, could be“, I nodd my head.

Interestingly enough, it didn’t occur to either of us at this very moment that maybe…just maybe….the guy took the detour becuase the alternative is not so easily passable…

There were no more storms and so we enjoyed a peaceful night in our poky tent. In the morning we pack our things and launch forth fairly quickly. Since the very morning, the path is rough and poorly marked. While scrambling on the rocks we find ourselves doubting whether we are even on the right path.

If only we got discouraged by this craggy path

When after several hours of scrambling up the hill, the famous “snowfield” appears in front of us, we still think it’s gonna be alright. “Yeah, it’s not that bad, just a bit of snow“, I affirm myself. As we get closer and closer, I feel an uneasiness creeping in. My stomach is in knots. We see a group of 5 people at the side of the field. They have been standing there for a while hesitant to begin the crossing. “What are they waiting for?”, I think to myself. As we get nearer we can see that they are putting on crampons, pulling out ice axes and discussing the strategy.

View of the snow (ice)-field….

Ah, damn!“. We have neither crampons nor ice axes. “Listen, Tom, I don’t think we can make it“, I slowly begin to realize…The strange nervous feeling in my stomach is getting worse. Red warning light in my head is blinking. “There’s no way I’m going back!“, Thomas states resolutely. “But I have a bad feeling about this“, I try it one more time. “Let’s try at least, shall we? I really don’t want to come back now when we got all the way here“. “OK, let’s try (FIRST MISTAKE), hopefully it won’t be that bad.

It was bad….

Really really bad….

Sliding down the steep slope uncontrollably I find out quickly that the white cover is not snow but ice. After few exploratory steps, my feet slip and I glide down unable to hold back. I try to brake with the rubber sole of my boots and catch hold of any bigger stone. There are no big stones though, only small ones which I keep pulling down with me. After few meters I finally manage to stop myself. My trousers are ripped and my leg slightly abraded but other than that, I’m fine….at least physically.

Meanwhile (even before my tumble), Thomas decided to explore an alternative route. We splitted apart (SECOND MISTAKE) and he began to climb a rock (THIRD MISTAKE) standing on the side of the field. He wanted to find out whether there’s any chance to bypass the field from above. He’s not aware of my struggles and I’m not aware of his. I don’t see him. When I recoved my wits, I only have one ambition – get back to the safe spot, fetch Thomas and GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE. It’s more than clear that we stand no chance here without proper gear.

Sight down from the side of the field, “Thomas’s rock” on the right

Tom?“…..Silence. “Toooom?“, I try again, louder. Silence. Goddamnit! A disturbing image of Thomas lying somewhere on a rock with a split head enters my mind. “Thooomas?!” I shout again a bit more hysterically now. “Yes?“, his voice echoes eventually. Dear God…I feel a wave of relief sweeping over me. I want to laugh and weep at the same time.

But the shitty situation we got ourselves into is not over yet. Climbing up the rock turns out to be a very very bad idea. Thomas suddenly finds himself in a position where he can’t go any further. Going back the same way is not an option either. The climb was reportedly pretty though and Thomas doesn’t venture on it again. In addition, climbing down is always more difficult than climbing up, isn’t it? He must attempt to come down the rock from his current position. There’s a relatively steep ice-covered slope right underneath the rock and a crevasse next to it. It doesn’t seem very deep but who knows….In any case, one wouldn’t want to thud down there.

While Thomas sits down on a rock, I’m doing my best to hold myself in place in the slope below the rock. We stare at each other bluntly. We don’t know what to do. How easy it is to get into trouble….just a couple of stupid decisions and suddenly there’s no way back.

After 15 minutes filled with doubt and helplessness, Thomas finally decides to slide down the rock. His loaded backpack rubs against the rock and slows his motion. He moves slowly and cautiously, weighting each and every move. When he has only the last 1.5 m in front of him left before reaching the ground, he gets stuck. There’s nothing much to prop himself up with anymore. Jumping down is not an option. He would probably slide down the slope even more fiercely than myself before. There’s only a narrow piece of icy ground beneath and a yawning crevasse on the side.

I desperately want to help him somehow but there seems to be nothing I can do. I have my own difficulties holding myself in place. And so I keep standing there, trembling with stress and cold, watching his every move in horror. I’m also fighting off all the catastrophic scenarios arising in my head.

He slides his left leg down and attempts to lean on it. “Almost there, just a bit more. You’re doing great“, I try to provide some mental support at least. When he begins to slide the right leg down, I suddently hear a sound of falling rocks. Then I realize that his left leg slipped. I see falling rocks and afterwards – falling Thomas…all happens so fast and so slowly at the same time….like slow-motion scene in a movie. “No!” I cry out. I see him landing on the ground, slidding down the slope. As he manages to stop himself after a meter or two, I burst into tears…

Well done! We’re just a bit shaken. Just a few scratches, ripped trousers and big lesson learned. Do not underestimate the risks and overestimate your abilities. Trust your gut and do not let the ego take over. And mainly – plan ahead carefully! I really do like the spontaineity of our journeys but as we have just seen such attitude could cost us dear, especially in the mountains.

Adrenalin, fear and helplessness are quickly replaced by euphoria of survival. I think it will take us some time to fully digest this experience. And one day, we will laugh at it, I’m sure….Laugh at our own idiocy.

We descend a bit, away from this fatal place, sit down on a big boulder rock kissed by the sun and melt into the ground. We sit there for a while, enjoying the view….which is stunning by the way. Suddenly we do not mind the fact that we have 20 additional km to go. We do not mind that we wasted the whole morning. Actually we do not mind anything at all. Life is good….

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