“As it’s the last day of your holiday, we will be celebrating tonight with a special barbeque. Consequently, dinner will be a little earlier so I need you all to be downstairs for 6.45pm”.
Our Chalet host was most insistent as he addressed us at breakfast. I turned to Marie, “it should be a short day today so we’ll be back early”.
We were staying in La Villa in the Badia valley, this September week had started in blazing sunshine but like so often in the Dolomites, it had become cloudy midweek, rained then snowed all in 24 hours. Thursday had been like Winter, so we had planned an easy day on Friday. However, the weather had turned back again, the grey clouds had been replaced by blue skies and the snow covered slopes were already starting to clear.
All week we had wanted to get the chairlift from Pedraces up to the Santa Croce sanctuary and try the easy Via Ferrata across the Sass dla Crusc and up into the Fanes. The snow had consigned that plan until another trip (or so we thought) but we could still visit the church and walk down the gentle path No 15 back to La Villa in the sunshine.
After a leisurely start, we boarded the bus at about 10.00 am from La Villa down to Pedraces and got the chairlift up to the top station.
The morning was beautiful, glistening grass and meadow flowers showing through the melting snow and fantastic views across the valley to the Puez- Geisler group.
In front of us on the chairlift were 4 Germans with large rucksacks topped with climbing helmets. “Do you think they are going to do the ferrata? Marie said.
"Maybe, although I would have thought there would be too much snow, it’s all still in the shade” I replied.
We explored the Church, admired the views of the huge cliffs towering above us and looked for the start of our route back to La Villa.
We could see the 4 Germans heading up the path No 7 towards the start of the cables, “We could just have a look at the start of the route for next time”, Marie suggested. A good idea, so instead of turning right to head down, we turned left to go up.
The route is described as a “protected scramble” in some guides with only sections of cable for safety on the more exposed parts.
The path quickly rises into the open scree fields above the trees. From lower down, the whole face looks really steep but as you gradually ascend, it’s clear that the view is compressed and the angle isn’t as steep.
The snow here wasn’t as deep as I had thought either and was melting as the sun moved higher in the sky. The views of the Badia valley are open and improve almost with every step. The going was quite straightforward and the route was easy to follow across the slopes.
We came to the start of the cables. A short gulley, choked with ice in the shade but easy to scramble. “Maybe we should turn back now”? I suggested.
“I just want to get up this bit and see what it’s like above” was the reply. “Come on, it’s easy”, she continued as she disappeared from view.
I followed and the route continued on, mostly as a rocky, narrow path with the odd scramble. The cables were spaced out along the route and useful as a hand rail on the more exposed parts. We didn't have our ferrata gear with us but it didn't seem to be too much of a problem.
We were starting to catch up to the Germans who were clipping into every stretch of cable and we were now being caught by another couple of guys, one of whom had a large rucksack stuffed with gear. The going was easy but I wondered if it got harder higher up.
The snow was clearing as the sun came on it and we congratulated ourselves on our timing. Every now and then, a piece of ice or a small rock came bouncing down from the steep cliffs above. I realised that the sun was making it easier for us underfoot but was melting the ice above us at the same time… I hoped this wouldn’t become a problem.
Up until this point, the route had been traversing the slope at a reasonable upward angle but now turned upwards more steeply and towards the cliffs. We decided to stop for a bite to eat as we would soon be beneath the Germans. We moved off the path and into the sun to admire the view
over La Villa and towards the Sassongher and the Sella massif.
The first of the guys behind us passed by, he avoided eye contact and said nothing. He looked like he was carrying enough gear for any eventuality. His companion caught up, he was dressed in trainers, jeans, a hoodie and baseball cap with no rucksack but was much friendlier.
An Italian, he was here for the day and wanted to do a route, we chatted for a while and then he hurried off to catch up with the first guy. Looking at the map we decided we must be near the end of the cables and maybe would be there soon. The Germans seemed to be making slow progress so we whiled away a few more minutes.
“Achtung!” A shout from above followed by a clatter of falling rock and ice. We weren’t directly underneath them so it wasn’t really a problem for us but the sun was moving further around and obviously loosening any frozen material on the steep face and sending it crashing down. Everyone had helmets except for us as we had started out to do an easy walk. The going wasn’t too difficult so we didn’t miss our lanyards to clip into the cables but being hit by a rock was another matter.
Suddenly, the guy we had christened “The Guide”, re-appeared and passed us on the way down. Again, no eye contact and not a word. He was shortly followed by his friendlier companion.
“What’s happening”? I asked.
“There’s rocks falling everywhere, it’s too dangerous and we’re going down”. He replied and hurried on.
We took stock of the situation. The sun had moved around and the rock fall seemed like it was increasing. We could see the Germans clipped into the cables and edging along what seemed to be a path at the foot of the steep cliffs.
“They are moving slowly” Marie pointed out, “do you think it’s hard”?
“I don’t know”, I replied, “it doesn’t look that hard”. A few seconds passed and I continued, “Maybe we should turn back too? If he was a guide then he must know it’s harder higher up”.
“We’re nearly there now though” Marie said “That must be the top”.
She pointed to where the cliffs dropped and to where the Germans were now headed, the Forcella dla Crusc. We decided to go a bit higher.
The route now went up steeper and towards the face. The cable looked new and was more useful as the path turned to a scramble up the steepening rock. As we moved closer to the cliffs, the rock fall increased too. Every few seconds a piece of ice or a rock struck the ground on or around the path just up ahead of us, underneath the towering cliffs.
“Ok”, I said “either we go down or, if we are going on we have to move fast!”
I was really concerned now. What had started as an easy walk had turned into a really serious situation. To continue on, we had to pass underneath two cliffs separated by a rib of rock, it still didn’t look difficult but the paths under the cliffs were at risk from Golf ball sized rock and ice fragments that exploded on contact with anything solid. I didn’t want one of those solid objects to be one of our heads!
“No, let’s continue” Marie replied.
“OK, let’s run!”
I scrambled up the last bit of rock and set off across the path under the first cliff as fast as I could. On my right I was aware of the huge amphitheatre of scree beneath me as I was peppered by the falling debris landing nearby but thankfully not hitting me.
In a few seconds I had reached the rib and was out of the line of fire. I turned, expecting to see Marie right behind me but she was moving much slower and was still some way off.
“You need to move faster” I shouted then, held my breath as she continued at the same pace while rocks and ice fell at random intervals around her. At last, she reached me.
“I’m not running over that, one trip and I’d be off” she exclaimed.
Now we had to do it again! However, this cliff was not as high, not as wide and didn’t seem to have so much rockfall.
“Try and be quick” I said and set off again.
I traversed this quicker than the first one and Marie soon joined me. A few more steps and we had reached the snowslope leading to the top.
We had caught the Germans up who were clipped into the cable in a line and looked at us with a horrified look on their faces…
obviously they had been watching our antics!
We all ascended the last part together and then chatted (in English, of course) at the top and took photos for each other.
“We are not returning that way” one of the Germans told us pointing to where we had just ascended and the four of them headed off for the Forcella de Mesdesc.
“Shall we follow them” Marie asked.
“What about the summit?” I asked in reply.
“We’re not going up now, are we”?
“Why not, the weather is perfect. It’s only 1.30pm and who knows when we might get as good a chance?”
“How far is it to the Forcella de Mesdesc?” Marie asked.
“I don’t know, can’t be too far… it looks close on the map!”
And so we set off for the summit of the Piz dla Ciaval (Monte Cavallo)
The going was easy and we moved to the cliff edge to enjoy the views over the valley as we ascended. We reached the summit at 2.30pm and sat in the sun to eat a late lunch. At this time of the day, we had the mountain to ourselves and took in the perfect views from the nearby Lavarella, past the Marmolada, the Sella, further away the Sassolongo, La Villa and the Sassongher (looking small now), the Puez and in the distance the snowy peaks of Austria. Directly beneath us was the Santa Croce church and chairlift.
“I don’t fancy descending the way we came up!” I said “and we will miss the last chairlift now anyway. So, we may as well follow the Germans.”
We set off on the descent at 3.00 pm.
The Fanes looked spectacular in the afternoon sun. Any un-melted snow picked out each ridge of rock and distant peak and I kept stopping to take photos. The nearby Piz de Lavarella was particularly attractive.
We returned to the Forcella dla Crusc and continued on towards the Forcella de Mesdesc on path No 12b. This path turned out to be more difficult that I had thought as it kept disappearing in muddy runnels as we tried to traverse around the mountainside.
Finally, at about 4.45pm we reached the Forcella de Mesdesc. We had our last food and plunged down the rocky track towards La Villa. The path continued on… into the forest, around the farms. Occasionally, we would get views looking back towards the cliffs, the evening light, turning the rock to gold and orange… a view of the “Enrosadira”.
We crossed the road towards the chalet. Our fellow guests were on the terrace, glasses of Prosecco in their hands and waiting to choose their own sizzling sausage… it was 6.50 pm!
Everyone was staring as us as we climbed up to the terrace… including our Chalet host.
Marie avoided looking at him….
“Don’t worry” I said “we’ll be quick!”