|Page Type:||Trip Report|
|Lat/Lon:||46.22368°N / 10.89729°E|
|Date Climbed/Hiked:||Aug 27, 2019|
|Activities:||Hiking, Scrambling, Via Ferrata|
The bus slowed to a stop outside the Groste 1 express cable car ticket office at around 8.45am. There were long queues of people to buy tickets and queues to get on to the cable cars, these were the crowds I had read about and the Brenta is famous for. Marie and I got through and jumped onto a cable car along with 4 other men.
As soon as the door closed, the men started to introduce themselves to each other and us, when they realised we were English speaking, they spoke in English. We all gave our names and where we came from. I was puzzled, this has never happened to me before?
English, Irish, Italian, Colombian, Taiwanese, a real international mix!
“So, do you know each other?” Marie asked.
“We don’t know each other but we are all from the same group.” Leonardo replied.
“We are all part of a religious group meeting here,” he continued. “There are 250 of us.”
“You’re not all on the mountain today are you?” Marie asked laughing and expecting him to say no.
“Yes, all here. It’s our last day”. He replied.
“You’re not doing the same route as us are you?” Marie said it while laughing and they all got the joke.
“Don’t worry, we are very quiet!” Leonardo said.
The thought of 250 people queued in front of us on a ferrata was a bit horrifying but I had already glanced at their attire and decided they weren’t going to be on our route. We chatted some more as we drifted upwards, the guys from Colombia and Taiwan had long journeys the following day to return home but they were all happy and they had all enjoyed their time in the mountains.
At the Boch station half way up, a man was waving. They recognised him and jumped up. With a chorus of “Goodbyes”, they were gone.
Marie and I stayed on until the top station, then followed the signpost up to the Passo Groste and towards the start of the route. It was the fourth day of our trip and the first day of clear blue skies. We set off at a gentle pace but at an altitude of 2400m, I was soon breathing heavily.
We paused to enjoy our first view of the eastern side of the Brenta mountains and looked north towards higher, snow-capped mountains that I proclaimed as “Austria”. The sun was pleasantly warm without being too hot and we set off along the footpath rising up the eastern slopes of Pietra Grande on our own.
I paused to photograph the view so Marie pulled ahead of me and by the time I had caught her up, she had stopped at an outcrop of rock with a sign announcing the start of the ferrata. A man and woman were already there and had their gear on, apparently ready to go.
Then, a strange sequence of events occurred.
Firstly, I seemed to have “forgotten” how to attach the lanyard to my harness! I’ve done it many times in the past but felt like I was seeing it for the first time. Marie had already attached hers but even though I looked at it and tried to copy her, I couldn’t work it out! Suddenly, my brain clicked into gear and I did it. I don’t know if it was the altitude that effected me or just absent mindedness.
Then, 3 men arrived in full ferrata kit. They passed us, scrambled up the outcrop to the other side. Next, an older couple arrived with no ferrata gear on, they also passed us.
By now, I was ready to go but we realised the original couple who were there before us were descending along the footpath, having decided to abandon the route. Almost immediately, the 3 men returned and passed us heading down.
“Why is everyone going down?” Marie asked.
I shook my head and shrugged but then I had a thought.
I had read that the area had been hit by storms in 2018 and some of the routes had been damaged. Maybe there was a sign telling us the route was closed further up?
We scrambled up the rocks to the other side and found we were back on a footpath. There was no sign ahead of us and only the older couple further along the path, so we never found out why so many people were descending.
We slogged our way up the loose path and slowed behind the old couple. I stopped to admire the view and realised there was now a group of 9 + guide right behind me. We passed the couple and tried to get further ahead of the guided group as they negotiated a route around the senior citizens.
Marie reached the real start of the route, a narrow path cutting into the side of the mountain.
“This is the classic view of the route you see in all the books,” she said.
She was right. I snapped a few quick photos as she walked along the balcony path towards a prominent nose. I caught her up and looked behind me. The group had stopped while the guide roped them all together.
“Glad we decided to bring the gear,” Marie commented after seeing the group roped together. Seeing this had made us feel the route was more serious than perhaps it was.
Marie had her phone out and was trying to take a shot of me.
“Just move back a step”, she directed.
“No, come on. Let’s get moving. We don’t want to get stuck behind the group,” I said crossly.
This was how I remembered ferratas in the Fassa valley. Lots of people edging along the cliffs, all trying to keep ahead of each other.
In truth, there was no need for me to be so cross. We got further ahead of the group and they didn’t come any closer than about 100m all day. The guide spent time explaining to his clients how to use their gear and paused the group while they all took photos of themselves on the exposed passages. In front of us were a couple with another guide. However, they were so far in front that we didn’t get near to them until the end of the route. Apart from 3 lads who seemed to be jogging the whole route and passed us about halfway along, we saw no one else until we descended at the end so we had the whole mountain to ourselves for most of the day.
We left the eastern balcony path and scrambled up the ridge to look down to where we had started at the top of Passo Groste. Great views southwards in the sunshine of Cima Groste and the rest of the central Brenta mountains behind it. Westwards we could see across the Campiglio valley to the Presanella mountains and what I took to be the Ortler group further to the north.
The ridge overlooking the Passo Groste view is easy scrambling from a technical point of view but is very exposed. It was enjoyable in the perfect conditions we experienced but on a day of poor weather it could be very different. We gradually rose higher, sticking to the ridge although, I slowed us down by stopping to take photos on numerous occasions.
We squeezed in between a rock pinnacle and the main wall, continued on a little further and crossed over to the west side of the ridge, almost without realising that was what we were doing.
At 2670m we had passed the highest point of the day and now started to drop gently down onto the western side of the Pietra Grande. The path here was easy to see stretching out in front of us and as we continued, we found ourselves passing between sun and shade caused by the fluted pillars of limestone above us.
On the western side, the route is mainly a descending traverse and although we did clip into the cables at several points, it would have been ok to not do that.
Looking back, we could see the group following quite a way behind us on the path through the loose rock.
We ascended and later descended some easy angled ladders and wandered in and out of gullies beneath huge limestone towers.
“I’d hate to be here in the rain.” I said. “It would all come down those walls and wash us away and over the cliff!” We looked up at the sunny, orange tinted rock. Glad it was such a beautiful day.
Small alpine plants with bright, colourful flowers lived in between the shattered rocks adding softness to the predominantly harsh scene.
We passed a wooden bench, sheltered under an overhang and realised we could see the end of the route, still a way off but proof that we were well past the halfway mark.
“This is a great route.” Marie said. “I think it’s one of the best we’ve done.”
“It’s not the hardest or the longest and maybe not the most spectacular position we’ve been in but definitely one of the most enjoyable.” I agreed.
Isn’t that often the way? The best days are the ones that are memorable for their overall feeling rather than a specific aspect.
We reached the end of the ferrata and sat on the end of a wide, open grassy ridge to eat some lunch. In front of us we admired the view to the Pressanella mountains.
“Much better than being at work!” I said.
After lunch, we descended to where we could join the footpath No 336 to descend.
“Rifugio Graffer – 50 mins” the sign said.
“We’ll probably do it quicker than that.” I said. Not for the last time on this trip, I was wrong.
The path descends steadily and is not difficult to follow but it is very rough. Strewn with rocks of all sizes and loose gravel, we had to concentrate all the time. The guided group had stopped for lunch as well and of course, they left at the same time as us. It wasn’t long before we decided to stop to let them pass so we could descend at a more leisurely pace.
Clouds had started to form over the Pietra Grande although, they didn’t look to be threatening rain. The views towards the Rif. Grappa and the Boch cable car station are pretty spectacular and it’s difficult to believe the there is a footpath down these crags.
There was a gentle, swirling breeze coming up from the valley. I thought I heard a familiar but unusual sound.
“Can you hear singing?” I said to Marie.
“No, of course not… oh, hang on….yes I can.”
The breeze blew again and I realised it was the unmistakeable sound of a choir in the distance singing. A heavenly sound in the mountains.
“Sounds like a hymn”, I said.
“It’s that religious group,” Marie said “they must be holding a service!”
I looked across the mountain side, past the Rifugio Graffer to a small hill beyond. There, I realised, I was looking at a large group of people, congregated on the slopes of the hill with a lone figure on the top, presumably conducting.
I am not really a religious person but I can understand why people who are would come to the mountains to celebrate their beliefs. The singing didn’t sound out of place which surprised me, I have never heard it like that before.
We continued on our way down, our spirts lifted back up to the heights.
“Ooh, look at this.” Marie called.
I caught up to see what she was looking at.
Nestled in amongst the gravel and rocks was an Edelweiss plant, perched precariously on a steep slope just above the path. I wrote on SP in “A golden day on the Lavarela” that I saw my second wild Edelweiss there. So, this was my third. The fourth, fifth and sixth soon followed in this most unusual of places,
“This must be the “Queens garden”, I said. “I read about it in one of the guides”.
This area is named after Queen Sissi – wife of King Franz Josef of the Hapsburg empire – who visited here in the 19th Century. It’s said that she and her attendants would walk this path and plant all manner of beautiful flowers. I think that may be just a legend but the beautiful flowers certainly exist to this day.
Down we went, passing the group who were now practising a scree run. We continued past a dripping “waterfall” - another haven for wild plants and around eventually to where the path passes under the cable cars, just beneath the Rifugio Graffer.
I looked at my watch, 50 mins had passed since we had left our lunch spot!
We descended down the grassy slope towards the Boch cable car station. I wondered if we would see anyone we recognised from the religious group so we could compliment them on their singing.
However, when we got there, it wasn’t crowded and we recognised no one and this time, we had a car to ourselves to enjoy the descent back to the valley at the end of a great day.