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The Italian Job

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An invitation to a wedding in Tuscany turned into a month long tour of Italy over September. For once, no hard routes on soaring challenging faces were planned, a gentle trip visiting new places, exploring, taking it easy, a holiday. Our nomadic wanderings took us north for a planned week in Cortina, situated at the very heart of the Dolomites.

We were unprepared for the shock of the wild difference in climate, from 35 degrees on the streets of Verona to just above freezing and snowing at 2752m on the summit of Lagazuoi Piccolo high above one of the most strategically situated road passes in the Dolomites, the Passo Falzarego. We explored the First World War trenches and passages blasted into the mountain top, every ten metres or so a slit cut through the rock onto the open face to allow machine guns and rifle’s to discharge their lethal fire on the poor devils below. We then became entombed for one and a half hours whilst descending the Lagazuoi Tunnels, cut by the Italians from the bottom up at an angle of forty five degrees in parts, to allow an ambush of the enemy from behind. The huts built into side chambers to house the men are perfectly preserved and eerily silent. Thousands of men died here and you can feel their presence.

Because I was undertaking my mountaineering alone, I opted for using one of the many Via Ferrata in the area, the highlight was undoubtedly my complete traverse of the Sorapiss Group, a horseshoe of steep rock walls accessed from the north via the beautiful Lago di Sorapiss, a striking lake of an amazing turquois colour, a reflection of the sunlight on the minerals leached out from the glacier.

The excursion took me two days which included an overnight bivouac in the tiny shelter of Bivacco Slataper, the highest point on the route. After leaving the lake I never saw a soul, complete silence and solitude. However venturing outside at dusk for a pee before finally settling down for the night, I was confronted by two very large Ibex, I don’t know who was the more surprised they or I? I attempted to move them on by approaching but they had no intention of moving and began snorting and pawing at the rock with their front foot, I considered it prudent to back off, a charge and potential serious injury seemed a distinct possibility which, would have proved a bit awkward for a sole traveller! This was a truly magnificent excursion.

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