At the start of our vacation to the Julian Alps I consulted Andrej’s guidebook “Alpi Giulie Occidentali” to pick out some destinations for the first week. The climbing should have been easy, elevation differences in the 1000m range and exposure moderate. Something to get used to the mountains after 12 months of abstinence. Among others I came across Cima di Terrarossa and marked it for later on. Then other mountains became more interesting, often because of more difficulties and more exposure and finally we didn’t care about elevation differences anymore. In short: Cima di Terrarossa was forgotten.
After Judith’s accident we had to go more slowly and our targets shifted. Suddenly we aimed again for the easy mountains but still didn’t think of La Terrarossa anymore. Andrej’s guidebook, being written in Italian, was somewhere at the bottom of the stack and we were busy perusing our German books. One of them also described the mountain but it was one of the first tours of the book and thus got easily ignored. Finally – with the easy targets getting rare I dug for the Italian book, Judith looked at the German one and simultaneously we decided – tomorrow we’ll climb Cima di Terrarossa. We already knew the trailhead – having started from it to climb Monte Cimone two weeks earlier and a bit less than 1000m of elevation gain sounded just about right. Both guidebooks described the route as astonishingly easy and there were other possibilities close by in case we reached the top too early.
Some words about the geography: the subgroup of the Julian Alps, in which you find Cima di Terrarossa, the Montasio - Fuart Group, is located in the northeasternmost corner of Italy, about 20km from the borders to Slovenia and Austria each. The highest mountains of the Group, Jôf di Montasio and Jôf Fuart are among the highest ones of the Julian Alps (#2 and #5) and both are very imposing. There are many ferrate - protected hiking trails (most of which were created during WW I) which run all through the group making all the summits accessible though not easily. The number of easy summits is very small.
Red Pants all over the place!
Tomorrow was a Saturday – we started out by car around seven, having stored the guidebooks somewhere in the backpack, crossed the Slovenian – Italian border – not without fumbling one of the passports (our usual feat to entertain the customs officers) – and headed for Tarvisio, Lago di Predil and Sella Nevea. There was more traffic than the time before but at first we didn’t care. We passed the trailhead for the normal route to Jôf Fuart and wondered about the many cars parked there, most of them with Austrian license plates. We were held up by more Austrian cars on the road but I quickly overtook them rushing up to the ski town of Sella Nevea.
It looked tranquil there – nobody was around and we relaxed again. On to the mountain road towards the Case di Pecol, a narrow and winding asphalt road which took us to the parking lot on the Altopiano di Montasio. Still nobody on the road…
… but the parking lot was a sea of Red!
As it turned out a local Austrian climbing club from Villach had fixed their club outing for that day on that place. The parking lot was full of cars and the guys were just about to head towards the mountains. We still hoped that they would be going to one of the other summits – Jôf di Montasio would be far more interesting – but little kids and an old dog told a different story. Then I overheard someone say that the climb would be astonishingly easy but that 900m were 900m and that they should finally start otherwise they’d never arrive with such a group. My heart fell. If only the summit was large enough to accommodate a busload!
We got ourselves ready and while we were busy the group started trooping towards the left – our own direction. If there had been questions about where they were heading, now those questions were answered. And a lesson learned already: never climb Cima di Terrarossa on a weekend!
NervesI’m not very good at dealing with situations like this – I had come here to climb a mountain and maybe share the summit with a pair or two but now it turned out to be something like a “Volkswandertag”. Ahead of the Austrians other smaller groups were also climbing to what we made out as our destination and behind us more cars kept rolling into the parking lot. I had already lost every bit of my patience as we left the lot. Though we are slow climbers we walk steadily, eventually passing everyone in front of us. Thus we soon realized that in no time we would be swallowed by the Austrian group and in my exasperated mood I was remembering Dimitrios, the Bergwachtmeister dude who had tested our nerves on Crete earlier this year. I decided to amuse myself with the thought that here we were in the middle of a race with teams from various countries competing. That thought saved my day.
Fortunately for us (Team Austria) reached Rifugio Brazza, a mountain hut 100m above the trailhead and there they did what every hiking group will do in such a situation: they stopped. And shifted the weights in their packs, some starting to breakfast, some to pull on new T-shirts and naturally the dog got into arguments with the local champion. In short: we passed. Quickly!
But not so quickly as not to hear that they would split in two groups – a slow and a quick one (Team Austria II and Team Austria I) – making us pick up our speed. From behind a group of five Italian Ferratisti (Team Italy) caught up with us, overtook us, then stopped, fiddled around with their packs waited for us to pass, caught up again, passed again, only to slow down with us at their heels. Always talking of course – the favourite national pastime. Beneath us Team Austria (I and II) was putting on packs again and started the pursuit. We were sandwiched! Together with us – between Team Italy and Team Austria were two climbers, father and son, also Austrians – very quiet people. I immediately started to like them.
Ibexes!The Montasio area is known for its big Ibex herds – we had already seen them from up close on Monte Cimone but here we expected to draw blank. Which sane Ibex would stay among all those huffing and puffing humans? Maybe we would see one from afar and behind. But wrong! Next to the trail, a little above us, Mrs Ibex was amusedly looking down on us. The way we clumsily carry all our stuff up the mountain must appear ridiculous to these animals. With two or three quick and easy jumps she was out of reach, dealing with tasty green grass instead of sweating humans.
Team Italy came to the intersection with the first ferrata to Jôf di Montasio and discussions ensued. We passed – they decided and followed on our heels. Overtaking us they reached the next intersection, this time to the Ferrata Cerla-Merlone – a long ridge traverse of a big part of the Fuart – Montasio Group - and they vanished from our sight. Team Austria I was coming up the switchbacks like a train, Team Austria II was somewhere right at the base. They were busy taking their next break. Father and son followed us in our own speed, sometimes pausing for photos sometimes for a quiet discussion. Nice people, I’m sure.
Other groups appeared in our field of vision, a big one at the base of the mountain and smaller ones ahead of us. The ones ahead seemed to have problems with their footing. Rests of snow were still covering parts of the trail causing them to be very careful. We reached a hidden saddle – between Cima di Terrarossa and neighbouring Cima Gambon and BANG – we were in the presence of Jôf Fuart – the “Strong Mountain”. Still in the morning shadows it towered above the chaos of rocks beneath its north face, Monte Nabois Grande on its left had side, Dobratsch hovering above it in far away Austria.
Tranquillity And Solitude In The Mountains.
The remainder of the climb, though easy in principle turned out to be a bit tricky because of the snow. We headed onwards, finally reaching the west ridge and making it to the top. The summit already was crowded – Team Slovenia I (15 early risers obviously) had taken the best places. We wriggled through and found a good sitting rock a little to the east of the top and started to lunch. No matter that it was 11 a.m. only – we were hungry and everybody else was eating as well. There were small kids among the Slovenians and a young boy had an argument with his mother. Consequently he started to cry ever increasing his vocal output into an ear-splitting howl.
Team Austria I reached the summit and with many a “Berg frei!” clustered around us. I had never heard this greeting – but I’m always learning. Between bites I mumbled “Berg frei!” myself, then concentrated on my camera. A quick 360° panorama, shots of all surrounding summits, Fuart, Montasio, the Canin Group, Monte Cimone – then across the Carnic Alps to the Hohe Tauern, once more Montasio and I was done. I spotted Jalovec in the east and took one last shot looking over to Judith. She was still busy with lunch and now team Austria II arrived.
“Berg frei” – and we were finally surrounded from all sides. Judith hurried up and we tried to get ready for the descent. First we had to dig for our belongings and then the path was blocked. Everywhere someone was sitting, happily enjoying lunch. We fled having stayed on the summit not more than 15 minutes. Slightly beneath the summit father and son were also quietly preparing to leave. Very nice people – very nice!
On our descent we passed the saddle again – still people coming up and the settled down a bit to discuss what we would do. It was still before noon and we would reach the car in two hours if we went directly. We decided on the first part of Ferrata Cerla-Merlone – just to see how far we would get. From descriptions and maps it looked like we would easily reach the next saddle, Forca de lis Sieris and there we would see. Then Team Slovenia II arrived with another dozen more people, interrupting our decision making.
We were a bit discouraged by seeing Team Italy return from their quest on the ferrata – obviously snow and ice conditions hadn’t allowed the traverse. They headed for Sentiero Attrezzato Leva to Jôf di Montasio. Still we were curious and thus turned left onto the narrow ledge-like path heading east.
Solitude And Tranquillity – The Real ThingA few steps onto the path and my tension started to vanish. Some steps more and I was actually able to enjoy the views and the moderate exposure of the path. As if they had been waiting for this moment an Ibex mother with her kids appeared out of nowhere and all three looked at us with big dark eyes. The kids started a mock fight for us – it was perfect. We took our time, walking very slowly. Somehow it was obvious that we wouldn’t go farther then the Forca – time would be no problem anymore.
The path wound around the grassy south slopes of Cima Gambon, which we had seen from the top. From here the mountain looked much smaller – but here we were not exposed above the vertical north face. We slowly closed in on the saddle – it was still partly covered with snow and the path steeply zigzagged up towards it. Were the sun didn’t reach the snow was firm and slippery but fortunately the path was good enough and without falls we arrived in Forca de lis Sieris.
What a view! I generally love framed views and this was one of the best. Jôf Fuart and the Cime Castrein dominated the scenery with Monte Nabois Grande and Monte Nabois Piccolo concluding the ridge to the north. Across Val di Dogna Jôf de Miezegnot, Monte Piper and the Due Pizzi were visible and right around the corner of Cima Gambon we could see the huge bulk of Jôf di Montasio. Underneath us we saw an amazing chaos of rocks and towers, impossible to capture on a photo.
On the other side the Altopiano di Montasio was stretch out far below us with the Canin Group on the far side of the valley. We stood there open jawed. After a while the camera started clicking – but then it was quiet again. Two more refugees from the team madness arrived in the Forca, obviously very happy with what they saw.
The Race BackApart from the tranquillity of the place and the path to it – the best thing about our detour to Forca de lis Sieris was that Team Slovenia I and both Team Austria I & II had passed us on their way down without us noticing them. Slovenia I was already heading in direction of Rifugio Brazza while Austria II had just passed the intersection of the trails when we drew near. We goofed around taking photos of our little Ibex family waiting for Austria II to advance. Slovenia II already made themselves heard from above and we waited a bit more and let them pass. A pair of Italians stepped on our path and asked us why we were returning from the ferrata. I explained that there was snow and ice, that we hadn’t been on Cerla-Merlone but that we had seen Team Italy return because of the conditions. “Oioioi” was all the girl could say disappointedly.
From above Judith spotted a trail which crossed the Altopiano towards Forca del Disteis, actually the start of the normal route to Montasio, and suggested that we take it and see how far we would come. Anything to get away from the crowds! More likely we would fool around on the meadows, searching for a good place out of reach to take a rest – but that was completely ok with me.
We took a deep breath, stepping in the ring to take part in the downhill race. In front of us everybody was jogging down the mountain, taking shortcuts wherever they could. There seemed to be price money for the first to reach Rifugio Brazza or the parking lot. It became real scary. I can understand if you race up a mountain – to ensure good places in the summit theatre or to have the place to yourself – but what sense does it make to jog down? It was still early; the sun was far from setting, plenty of the day was still left. Why? Every now and them someone would zoom by from behind but as we stayed on the trail, doing the long switchbacks we left sight of them very quickly. Only Team Slovenia II remained in our field of vision. They were obviously enjoying themselves very much, considering the laughter that reached us every now and then. Eventually we passed them right before the track which cut over to the Forca del Disteis route and we again left the main highway. After a few steps it became evident that we would have to descend quite low before we reached the real path and that climbing to the Forca would mean another ascent of about 300m. Looking at each other we decided to search for a place to sit down and enjoy what was left of the day.
The Beginnings Of Autumn
Team Austria had already vanished somewhere around Rifugio Brazza, Slovenia I was somewhere near the parking lot and Slovenia II was closing in on the hut. There were smaller groups all around the Altopiano but from our vantage point we could see but not hear them. I spotted a little tree already clad in autumn colours – a little green and yellow but mostly orange. It contrasted beautifully with the dark blue sky and the remainder of the green pastures around it together with the brightly shining Montasio south face in the background. Unfortunately the tree was already “taken” by a pair of lovers who appeared to be doing what lovers like to do in public. We moved over to a place close by.
Watching the rifugio was our pastime for the next 30 minutes. It was at a safe distance of about 500m. We could watch people come and go and each time a new team approached there was a lot of brouhaha around the hut. Finally Team Austria – now reunited – made ready for the remaining descent and left. Team Slovenia had passed by the hut and suddenly there was quite a run for the finish line. Team Italy appeared out of the hut – those guys had been out of luck also on their second ferrata and had spent most of the afternoon in the rifugio. The lovers under the tree were packing too and finally everything seemed to be put back in order. Some last stray hikers came down from Cima di Terrarossa and from Forca del Disteis, disappearing in the sunset behind the parking lot. I grabbed my camera and made for the colourful little tree and tried to position myself in a way to get the most picturesque shot of it. With the sky turning dark in the beginning dusk it really shone “out loud”.
Returning to Judith I – for the first time – during the whole day – realized which of the mountains was Cima di Terrarossa but somehow couldn’t figure out where the pass went. It was lost between the grassy ledges, which run through the south face and though we could still hear people descending they appeared to be invisible. We packed our things and strolled back to the parking lot. Team Italy had just arrived and were changing clothes but all the other teams had already disappeared. Tranquillity and Solitude was about to settle over the Altopiano di Montasio.