dimanche 2 août 2015

Up and down and round and round in the Dolomites

Funny how the choices we make affect our lives so much. Take this example from the awesome summer of 1976.

One of my regular climbing partners way back then was Pete White. He was so much older and much more grown up than me, or so I thought at the time! He was 23, whilst I was a mere 18. He had a serious job as a maths teacher, whilst I was working on a building site. However, Pete had a car, whilst I hadn't even had a driving lesson, let alone passed my driving test. That summer we were on fire, working our way through the routes in The Pass and Cloggy and we were keen to try anything. We set our sights on going to The Dolomites, in Italy, where we intended to climb on the famous Tre Cima di Lavaredo. I even bought the Dolomites East guide book to get us really psyched. Then for some reason that I can no longer remember, we decided to go to ...... The Lake District instead! OK, don't get me wrong, there are some lovely climbs in The Lakes but the place doesn't compare with The Dollies.
Pete White at Gimmer Crag, July 1976, where we did Kipling Groove (so called because it used to be ruddy'ard)

Could you imagine this bloke teaching your children Mathematics?

Anyway, we bimbled around carrying my copy of "Hard Rock" as our guide book and ticked off some of the classics. We had a right jolly time camping in Langdale and drinking beer in the famous "Old Dungeon Ghyll" after cragging. One particular day (after we'd just ticked off North Crag Eliminate) we discovered the Scout Crag boulders and set about working our way through the many problems. Being as it was summer (and 1976 was an amazing one) we were topless and strutting our stuff. (Is that a resounding "Yuk" I can hear someone say?) I was 110% focused on climbing and didn't notice, but Pete had a 6th sense when it came to the opposite sex. Low and behold, we were being watched by two pretty young ladies (though they later claimed they were watching a "fit looking" instructor teaching some kids how to abseil). It didn't take Pete long to get into his chat up lines and we found out that they were called Elaine and Suzanne. They had just done their first climbs that day and just so happened to be at the crag after their climbing partners had left. We got chatting and they asked us all sorts of questions about climbing. We drove off in Pete's Triumph Spitfire, feeling very chuffed with ourselves, as we'd sort of made arrangements to meet up for a drink later on. Meanwhile, Elaine and Suzanne reported back to the two blokes that they'd climbed with that day that they'd met a couple of blokes who climb "extreme". These two other blokes were obviously very unimpressed and said "No way! They don't climb extreme".

Anyway, Pete and I didn't make it to The Dolomites, but I did meet my future wife. Elaine made steady progress and we have been climbing together non stop since then. (I hardly ever climbed with Pete as a result, sorry mate.) Also, that was the first time I met Mickey J (legendary Lancs climber and one of the other blokes along with his brother Ian!).

Now, fast forward 39 years. Elaine and I have just been to The Dolomites armed with our copy of the excellent new Dolomites Rockfax by James Rushforth. We didn't do any of the famous multi pitch routes that Pete and I had intended on doing so long ago (having a dog is such a good excuse to get out of that mullarky). We visited some of the best sport climbing crags and we were amazed by the stunning scenery. We also got to meet up with Dave and Rhian Cross and her parents, both of whom are still enjoying travelling and climbing in their seventies. (Rhian's father, Barry Webb, is famous for his climb called "Gael" on Cloggy, which he climbed in the sixties, and his appearance in Crew and Soper's compelling read "The Black Cliff".) However, we weren't impressed with how expensive everything is there (eg. the access road for the Tre Cima is a toll road, you have to pay 36 euros in a camper van and a brown loaf costs around 3.5 euros!!). It's so hard to find anywhere decent to buy food, plus you have to pay to park when you do find a shop! The campsites are mega expensive but we were able to camp wild in some beautiful places, no problem. The cheapest campsite we found was at Malga Ciapela, where we paid 32 euros just for one night. It rained or stormed heavily everyday at some point and we had to have the roof down on the Cali every night. Also, we've had enough of negotiating so many hair pin bends and slogging the Cali in 2nd and 3rd gear, as we drove up to high cols and down into deep valleys to get to different crags. On the plus side however, the crags are quiet (apart from Eiszeit), the routes are not polished, the crags dry quickly and the temperature was perfect for summer (between 15 and 20 degrees C). Whilst the climbing is generally very enjoyable, the crags are not very impressive and the style is always fingery and technical. It was great fun doing lots of on sighting but I have to say,  I didn't see anything that I wanted to project (apart from Fottiti at Eiszeit, which was always occupied).
Ruff training Uncle Dave and Auntie Rhian again!

Barry Webb in "The Black Cliff" (Crew and Soper's compelling book about Cloggy, published in 1971).

Right then, we've been there, ticked that box and had a good time but we're glad to be back home for a couple of days. We still have a month of our sabbatical left and there's still lots of fun to come! Bring it on.
A rare sunny breakfast near Saas Dlacia.

Come on, hurry up I'm ready!

Dave Cross climbing Mittersteiner, 7b+, at Eiszeit.

Climbers on Paprika (7c+) and Fottiti (8a) at Eiszeit, the day before a mega storm caused a huge waterfall over the top of the crag!

Unusual cairn at Saleras, girls looking super cool.

Dave Cross climbing Zinnentraining (7b) at Salares.

The view driving down from Passo Pordoi, so many chuffing bends!

The closest we got to the Tre Cima due to unreliable weather and too many people. Seen from the Val di Landro.

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