Do you know what it feels like to be like a rolling stone? I'm not talking about Mick, Keith, Ron and Charlie, I rather mean the real thing, tumbling down a mountain slope without the means to stop yourself, going on and just hoping that something will stop your roll, hoping also that this something is not too massive or spiky so that it won't break anything valuable in your body.
I experienced the literal application of the above German proverb when doing the Giro del Pelmo roundtrip around Monte Pelmo. I can tell you, you would think twice about wishing to be rolling stone. But let's turn back the hands of time and start where we ought to....
Half the First
Circling Pelmo has been on our wish list ever since my girlfriend Judith's sister did the roundtrip two years ago. Judith is a great circler of mountains, always on the lookout for a possibility while checking the maps. Pelmo itself is quite above our league of climbing but the round trip is possible, a one day affair. I was not too keen on it since the main attraction would be Pelmo and the map told me that we would be up real close, too close for a good overview (or photo) of the mountain. Our trip planning however is a game of give and take and in order to be allowed to do some ferrate I knew I had to give in on this one, which I did early on. You want to have some advance on your adversary....
So July 15th 2005 saw us heading out early from Falcade where we had an apartment and do the 90 min trip to Forca Staulanza, where we (and just about everybody else) wanted to start the trip. We arrived quite late (around 10 a.m.) and as we were preparing to get going a troupe of French hikers left the Forca in the same direction. Bummer! Large groups travel slowly, we caught up with them in no time but passing them took us 10 minutes. With many a "Laissez passer!" we finally passed them and trudged on through the forest.
Yes, forest it was, no views so far but a glimpse at the surroundings had told us before that this was not a day for perfect views. You had to look for other excitement, which I finally managed to do but I'll come to that later. Nature called and after having completed our little businesses the French guys had caught up again. We just made it and hurried onwards to get rid of the yak-yakking behind us. The average German likes to enjoy nature in silence.
Next stop - it was getting warm and we needed to zip off the legs of our pants. The brabbling drew nearer again but this time it was in Italian. Two guys caught up with us but stayed behind us for quite a while before we gave up and headed for the bushes to let them pass. Italians seem to be on automatic when it comes to talking. No idea how they do it but I tend to have to catch my breath every now and again.
Having by now done about half of the circle we still hadn't caught any presentable view. Pelmo, Pelmetto, Civetta and Tamer: all were shrouded in clouds. But now, as we reached Passo di Rutorto and Rifugio Venezia the southern Dolomiti d'Ampezzo came into view. A bit hidden in the haze but still - I had never seen Antelao or the Marmarole up close and this side of Sorapiss was new to me too. I certainly would have enjoyed the view hadn’t there been a busload of kids in the Rifugio - screaming and shouting at the tops of their little voices. Aaarghh! Brats!
The "Difficult Part"
We trudged on now heading for the highest point of the circle: Forcella Val d'Arcia. At first you traverse the eastern slopes of Pelmo but then you head up a steep scree covered couloir to the Forcella. The most "difficult" part of the trip. Our two Italian friends had not been able to take in the kids too and here they were again brabbling their way up to the Forcella. We let them pass...
But then there seemed to be a problem. The two split one making for the entry point of the Ball Ledge, the famous first part of the Pelmo ascent while the other was trundling along before us taking many a rest. They rejoined and as we caught up we saw that the trundling one was clearly at the end of his forces - panting, sweating, but still incessantly talking. Every 500m he had to take a break but the other insisted on going on. We passed and headed for the scree.
The couloir looked harder than it was. We had done worse a couple of days before on Vallaccia so it didn't really pose a problem. Even when people started to descend towards us from the Forcella it didn't become dangerous. The couloir is wide enough and they treaded carefully enough not to dislocate any of the pebbles.
Up in the Forcella it was lunchtime and we took in the views towards the Marmolada and Ampezzo Groups. Many of the who is who mountains of the Dolomites were visible - but barely in the mist. Our further trail would lead us along Sentiero Flaibiani towards Rifugio Cittá di Fiume. And here it happened.
Still in Val d'Arcia we descend towards Cima Forada which we will pass on its southern side. Some good views of the Pelmo and Pelmetto north faces make me stop and take shots. Most of the time I'm hurring after Judith. Then I catch up with her. We are on a shoulder above Val d'Arcia which here is some sort of steep gully. There is a polished piece of rock across which we have to down climb. There is a cable for protection but it is loose, dangling about half a meter (2 - 3 feet). Judith negotiates it very carefully and takes forever to get down there. I have enough time to assess the situation and as it is my turn I know the perfect way and am down beside her in no time.
I start invisibly patting myself on my shoulder - who would be able to climb this section in the way I just did? This was masterful. Proud of my achievement I let Judith go on into the gully and wait for her to get some 15m down before I start. I don't want to bombard her with pebbles. Yes - there are a lot of pebbles on the rock - I need to tread carefully - but after the achievement of the polished rock, that is one of the easiest tasks...
I start to descend still in wonder about myself when my right (size infinity) boot treads on a pebble, my leg gets kicked away and off I go. Head first into the gully, landing on my left side, turning over, walking poles still attached to my wrists, not able to use my hands, turning over again landing on the right side and again. Finally a large rock stops me (left hip) and the fall is over. I'm on my back, listening to various pieces of my equipment going further down.
That didn't look good!
Yes she is right, neither did it feel good. Judith is quite shocked - she had heard me slip and thought "Uh oh, here come the rocks!" when a full volley of Gangolf comes down at her. We do an assessment: left leg - black and blue, right leg bruised all over, also the right arm. I can't move my left ring finger. GPS receiver somewhere 2m to the left of me, Sigg aluminum bottle 30m further down but close to the trail. I have been lucky!
A Sombre Way Back
The further way down my legs hurt like hell, and I was covered in dust, there was no water with which I could wash myself but the movement was actually good. I was extra careful until we reached the /closed) Rifugio Città di Fiume, where I could wash my wounds in a little creek. We made a short break, eating an apple but I could easily sit on the hard rocks. So we moved on along Alta Via delle Dolomiti No 1, back to Forca Staulanza.
And what shall I tell you? Our two Italian friends reached the Forca just before us - they had taken the shorter but harder southern route. But now they were too tired to talk anymore.
Conclusion (by Wilhelm Busch (1894))
Wenn einer, der mit Mühe kaum
gekrochen ist auf einen Baum
schon denkt, dass er ein Vogel wär,
wie irrt sich der.
(If someone, who with much ado
has crept up on some shrub,
already thinks he is a bird,
how does he err.
Silly translation, I can't rhyme in English - but the picts are good)