The Italian Job
September 2019 and a trusty band of brothers (and sister), set out to the land of Pizza and Valpolicella to tackle the Bocchette Way, (aka the Bruschetta Way) in the Brenta region of the Dolomites, Italy. They say of the spot, that it`s one of the mightiest mountain areas in the whole of the Dollies with magnificently structured summits, bold rock towers and spires, splendid cliffs, wonderfully soaring arêtes and ridges characterising the mountain scene. The trusty team comprised Mr Paul Hudson gentleman artist climber of the club, always fitted out for the mountains in tie and shirt, and plum ready for adventure. Mr Andy May, wood turner, gate maker and latterly French polisher (there are websites for that kind of thing); Mr Steve Kirman driver, Reinhold Messner lookalike and professional drinker, and of course my sweet self, charming and erudite.
We flew to Venice from the People ’s Republic (Otley) international airport, hired a car, spent a 4 hour journey to Madonna di Campiglio, hit the aperol spritz, scoffed pizza and joined in a karaoke session (just us 4) with the hotel bar tender. Exhausted, giddy and hoarse we hit the sack.
To start our first proper mountain day, we clambered aboard the Groste cable car to the top station, and entered the hill via the door marked Narnia. Mid September and the snow was pretty deep, unusually so, but lovely and sunny! The Benini VF was about 3.5 hours to the hut, but made a tad longer due to the amount of snow. Although route finding wasn’t a problem as apparently there is a metal wire to clip onto, there is an alternative high level walk to the refugio Tuckett should the VF not be in pristine condition!
Next day we had earmarked doing the Bocchette Alte, which was described as a high alpine traverse, very exposed in place, couloirs with danger of stone fall and icing, (ice axe and ropes recommended!). However, due to the amount of snow and seeking counsel from the hut warden we opted for the SOSAT (2B)VF. A high level walk was followed by an interesting traverse with ladders, brackets and ropes. A 51 rung vertical ladder surmounting a deep rock ravine was handsomely negotiated, and bingo, there we were high above the Val Brenta.
So after a bit of scrambling on hands and knees (ensuring clearance from my walking poles shoved in my rucksack), we hit a good limestone path to the Alimonta refugio, beautifully situated at the foot of the two Gemelli Towers, our gaff for the evening! A fabulous and isolated location, for us to enjoy our biere de jour, or rather la birra del giorno (or bucket of fruity tea, if so inclined!).
The next day was the Bocchette Centrale (3C), apparently of the whole route this is section is described as `the absolute climax`. We weren’t disappointed…..it was, well, quite frankly, splendid! Lots of snow, (crampons on) exposure, rock towers, tiddly ledges, sunshine, shadow, chuffs, ladders, ravines, drops, giggles and whoops of delight around every exposed ledge! And just when we thought it was over, we were met by a set of overhanging stemples (just to keep us on our toes, literally). We saw refugio Pedrotti, the hut, from the col we moseyed up, glistening in the sunshine. Our bed for the evening was assured.
The following day, was a treat, planning to take in 2 VFs, the Brentari and Ideale. A long deserted snow and ice walk to our first VF, we even donned our mini crampons. At the start of it we chatted with a local guide and his clients who suggested we didn’t do the Ideale VF as the snow in some parts was thigh (if not waist) deep, and as a result might pinch into our day light hours! So we opted for an alternative, the Castiglioni which was a little further down the valley. The Brentiari is one of the oldest sections of the route, a high alpine glaciated traverse passing through its very heart. Scenically magnificent,and if so inclined, one may say a superfluity of impressions of various kinds in rock and snow! The Brentari was interesting and quite airy and hairy with a lovely drop onto a snow covered glacier from the rock. We decided to have a brew and strudel at a hut (Agostini) we could see almost at the bottom of the valley. Following calorific intake, with no time for indigestion, we had to slog our way right back up to regain the height we had lost. What we saw next invoked gasps of `you`ve got to be kidding!` 200m of rock with vertical ladders plastered on it. Someone mentioned 300 rungs. Hey ho….. just get on with it! What a hoot. Once over the top of the summit (2859m) and crossing the Bochette dei Due Denti (tooth gap), we could see the 12 Apostles refugio our evenings resting place. So a lickerty split across the Pratofiorito glacier and we`d be downing our first beer of the evening in the fading sunlight, in great style. Around the corner from the refugio (10 mins walk) is a memorial cave to a number of famous Italian (and others climbers), an interesting yet sobering visit.
So, that was the end of the VFs, the next morning, we left the high huts and headed down to Pinzola, a 5 hour walk. Steve then drove us straight to Venice for a freshen up and a hearty tea, decent wine for the gentleman and half a litre of prosecco for the lady (at 3.5E for half a litre- good value in my book!).
A fantastic trip, fantastic scenery, and the company wasn’t too shabby either!