Today's the third day of of our three week vacation to the Dolomites. The first two days have been far from pefect: washed down by rain from Monte Mulaz with absolutely none of the storied views on day one and on day two a hike through the dense Karerforst below the Latemar North Face with rare glimpses towards the towers I am so eager to see. I already feel kinda hopeless; these three weeks are starting in a way I'd rather wish I could go back and return later in better weather. I don't have this option though so I need to decide what to do today.
Several things come to mind but with these unstable conditions we both prefer not to climb too high - another summit at 3000m in rain and clouds is just not on the menu. So we finally decide to take the short drive into Val di Gares and hike towards the Altipiano delle Pale di San Martino from its northern side. I hope to get a couple of glimpses of Monte Agner and its 1600m vertical north-west face and of Cima della Vezzana, a quick check if the ascent couloir is in a condition that we can try the climb towards the Pale's highest mountain. And maybe we can reach the Cima della Rosetta summit, which is reported to be a very easy destination.
With Gares at 1300m and Cima della Rosetta at 2743m this means a huge effort. Though Altipiano means "High Plain", it surely won't be plain at all. Experience from several other karst plateaus tells us that we are in for a lot of scrambling once we have reached the "plain". Setting out by car we reach Gares at 8:30 a.m. and are lucky not to have to pay the 3€ parking fee since the parking lot is watched from 9 a.m. through 5 p.m. only. With the long tour we are undertaking it is doubtfull we'll be back early enough.
Val di Gares is a narrow valley which at the starting point has an elevation of 1300m with encompassing mountains at up to 2500m. Only a short patch of sky can be seen and so far it looks promising. We head south-east and soon start hairpinning our way up the slopes through a dense forest. Views are scarce but there are a lot of orchids around. Judith taps her feet impatiently each time I get down to get a photo of one of them.
After a while there is a trail intersection and we decide to remain on our trail. If we are undertaking a long trip we sure can take the long way, can't we. The first part of this trip ends at Forca Cesurette o Campigat. The trees are left behind, weather is still quite acceptable and I get a few good shots of the Pale di San Lucano and Northern Chain Subgroups. It soon gets clear that our "long approach" was the better route since everywhere else walls are dropping down vertically into Val di Gares.
From the Forca we follow a "road", probably a mulatteria, into the inner reaches of the Pale di San Martino Group. We're at 1800m now and need to climb to 2200 before the Altipiano will open up before us. Hiking this mule trail is a bit boring but the sun comes out and it gets real hot.
On the eastern side of Sasso Negro the Altipiano starts. The sun is shining and the white limestone of this karst area gets absolutely blinding. We both don't have glacier glasses and tonight we will have bloodshot eyes because of that. As we assumed the going on the plain is much rougher than during the ascent before. Now we are quite happy that we are still following the mulatteria. Actually leaving the trail would probably not be a good idea evem in good conditions. There are lots of crevices and you lose sight of your surroundings frequently. I wouldn't want to be here in fog or rain.
To the right the northern chain of the Pale di San Martino Group rises and more and more great views develop. The summits, however, are surrounded by clouds - so far a bit higher than the mountains but getting darker by the hour. On the Altipiano we still have sun.
After about four hours we reach a pass from which we can see Cima della Rosetta. There is the cable-car station but - due to the weather - not too many people on the summit. We go for it. We reach Rifugio Pedrotti (Rosetta) and soon are standing on Rosetta's summit. But again there are now views - Cimon della Pala and Pala di San Martino are shrouded in clouds. Latemar, Lagorai and Rosengarten on the horizon are visible only in their lower two thirds. We decide to return to Gares.
But this time we will take the direct route. It goes through Val delle Comelle and though the maps indicate two climbing sections (ferrate) we don't care and go for the short route. Moreover the Cima della Vezzana ascent couloir will be right above us and I can have a view at its condition. Which is rather disappointing - there still is snow. Snow on scree - I know I won't be able to persuade Judith to go up there after an experience we have had four years before at Kesselkogel. Vezzana is out for this season and I brace for similar conditions on Agner and feel a bit depressed.
But the clouds are closing in on Val delle Comelle and there is no time to lose. In the north-east from where they come we can already see rain falling and I would prefer to get over the climbing sections in dry conditions. But we're not lucky! At the same moment we touch the first securing cable the rain starts to fall making the fist huge step down towards Pian delle Comelle (a real plain) very tricky.
And tell you what: once down on the plain the rain stops and the sun starts shining again. We struggle out of our rain gear and continue the trail. Going is easy on this plain part of the valley but orientation gets tricky. But the exit must be at the other end of it so we head on regardless.
Now comes the difficult part. At least the guidebooks say so. There is a waterfall, the Cascata di Gares, and above it there is a climbing section. On time the next shower reaches us - rain gear on - and we prepare climbing down. Luckily the trail is secured quite well so that this part turns out to be far less difficult than the upper section. There are ladders and bridges across the cascata and once we're down there - you guessed it - the shower's over.
There are some youths making a hell of a din around the cascata so that we head down the remaining 200m very quickly. Some improbable turns through a near vertical wall and we reach the valley floor to hike back to the car. It's way past 6 p.m. and we stay 3€ richer that day.