Alps 4000ers - weeks 1 and 2
It feels like we have done so much that it's hard to believe we have only been away for two weeks. Currently we are enjoying the sunshine of Lago di Garda; it's not quite the Alps, but we are going to head back in a couple of days with the hope that there will be a bit less snow than there was before! Here's how we ended up in Arco climbing long rock routes in the sun and eating ice-cream:
After two long days of driving, we arrived at "Campo Moro" around 11pm, which was to be our starting point for the walk in to Piz Bernina. We had decided to approach from the South because the guidebook suggested it was a shorter walk in and the maps suggested it was mostly on rocky terrain. But this was not so! We set off in high spirits under a hot sun, and after only an hour we hit the snowline!
We fought our way through wet knee deep snow, breaking trail and sweating off all our suncream. It looked like no one else had been here recently. It took us six gruelling hours to reach the Marinelli hut, which was only supposed to take three hours and decided to stop there for the night. The hut was not yet open for summer, so after digging the door out from a metre of snow, we took advantage of the winter room. It was quite a treat - a lot of food had been left from last year, and in the knowledge that they would re-open in just a couple of weeks we didnt feel too guilty helping ourselves to a tin of minestrone soup - our trip was already going to take at least a night longer than we had expected. We spent the afternoon sitting out enjoying the sun, sat on top of the picnic tablessince the benches were buried beneath snow.
The next morning we continued up towards the Marco e Rosa hut. Again, we were fighting our way through knee deep snow and it was completely energy zapping! There was a crust on top of the snow just firm enough to hold your weight so that you had to step up from the previous foot-hole, and just as you committed your weight to it, it would give way and you sank down into the next hole. Exhausting!
The last part of the route up to the hut involved a Via Ferrata, but from afar it looked as if it was largely buried in snow and the sight of melted ice/rock hurtling down the face it was on confirmed our decision to avoid it. Instead we went up a steep colouir, then traversed round to the top section of the via ferrata. We roped up and moved together on the last secton, clipping into the wire that was visible above the snow. The wire finished right at the entrance to the front door of the winter hut. At 3609m, the hut is only 440m from the summit of Piz Bernina.
However, from the hut we could see most of the summit ridge, and it looked heavily laden with snow. It was a very difficult decision to make, considering the massive effort we had made to get this far, but we decided that so much snow on the ridge meant that this would be a very different experience to the PD+ it gets as a rock ridge in summer. The next morning we made an early start, and descended the via ferrata using a mixture of methods including pitching and abseiling. We enjoyed about an hour of walking on firm early morning snow, before it turned back into the slush we were familiar with!
Throughout the three days we had seen and heard quite a lot of small avalanches from high up peaks but they always seemed to be very far away. However, it was with concern that we discovered several runs of avalanched snow breaking the path of our footsteps from when we had walked in three days ago. Arriving back at the car after a ten hour day, we decided that we should go somewhere else for a couple of weeks. We were wanting to link together a lot of the 4000er peaks, and it seemed a little pointless to go and pick off a few of the peaks that would be do-able with this amount of snow, when we would end up very close to them again before long. So after much contemplation, we decided to drive to Cortina and have some fun in the Dolomites.
Read the full account of the first two weeks on Tim and Anna's blog