After some final kit-sorting, we abandoned the car and set off in the late afternoon for a 700m ascent to the Graffer hut. It is a lovely walk up a typical wooded Alpine valley, getting ever more rocky as we passed the 2000m tree line. I had only ever taken the cable car to the Passo di Groste en route to harder Via Ferrata routes, so this was a treat. The Graffer hut didn't disappoint, with excellent food and wine and a private room, albeit one with a leaky roof and noisy plumbing which kept the birthday girl awake :(
In the morning it was get walking in earnest. The plan had been to climb over the Groste pass, on to the Malga Spora bivouac, a descent of around 700m, then and up to the Passo di Clamer and down to the Rifugio del Croz D'Altissimo, a longish day of probably 8hrs. Unfortunately we realised that the challenging path 344 would be too much for Tracey, who did not want any exposure or via ferrata, so we had to take an even longer path over the Passo di Lasteri. This was steep and loose, with only a little exposure, but it is fair to say it spooked her. After the pass, Frankie and I took a short scramble to the summit of the Cima Croz d'Altissimo 2338m whilst Tracey waited, luckily shrouded in mist so she couldn't see the exposed ground we ascended! There was then a really interesting descent through giant boulders and dwarf pines that felt very atmospheric in the encroaching grey skies. The rain and hail forecasted finally came on as we negotiated the narrow ridge down the senterio 344B, and being tired and fraught with the added serious feel, she finally cracked as she negotiated the steep slippery tree roots and wet limestone. Frank had to carry her bag, and there were a few tears.
Eventually, soaking wet, we got to the new option of the Rifugio Montanara, which was being renovated and looked closed. With trepidation I went in, praying we didn't have to walk down another 1000m to Molveno. It was open, and we were the only clients apart from another couple. It was hotel quality, the room being brand new pine-clad and luxurious, the food excellent, but of course with prices to match. Worth it after our challenging day of 9.5hrs though.
Next day started wet as forecast, and after me descending and re-ascending by chairlift and cable car to Molveno to get cash, (as someone had left it in the car, doh), we set off over the Bocchettina del Piz Galin. Tracey was concerned about her strength and courage, but we assessed the route, and I promised a less-challenging itinerary. It was. It was a treat, chamois everywhere, and once the weather dried up, a joy, with fabulous views of our previous route to spur us on. The planned stop was the Malga Spora, which is listed as a bivouac, but think posh bothy like the Alltbeithe in Scotland. It is very basic and rustic, and again, apart from two Canadians who arrived late, we had the place to ourselves. The food was all fresh, home-churned butter and cheese, home-brew beer, fresh eggs from their chickens etc. Excellent, and welcome in the torrential rain that arrived overnight.
Next day dawned fresh and sunny, and was set for the rest of the trip. We rose early and we set off for the Rifugio Tuckett, back over the Groste pass. The problem was, so did 700 fell runners in the Dolomiti di Brenta Trail Race. It was a nightmare of tailgating and stepping aside, with not a lot of good manners in my opinion. Frankie had had enough, and strode off, keeping up with them on the ascent whilst Tracey and I continually had to stop/start. It probably took a couple of hours before we made the pass and they went off in a different direction thankfully. At the Rifugio Stoppani we had a nice radler (cloudy lemonade shandy, a treat when thirsty walking), and Tracey started worrying about the path again. Although I had walked it before 7yrs previously, I couldn't remember it in detail, so I was relieved when it was a wonderful ramble through a quarry of gigantic limestone boulders, like an enormous prehistoric giant's quarry. It looked impossible, but meandered delightfully down initially, and then climbed gently to the hut.
The Tuckett was rammed full, and I was glad I had reserved beds as people were turned away. The good weather, weekend and proximity to all the famous via ferratae routes meant it was a very popular place to be. Also, the race passed through as a checkpoint, so it had a real manic atmosphere. Indeed dinner time was a case of squeeze in and hope you got served. It was a shame, as my memory of that hut had been fabulous food and great service, but I fear it is a victim of its own success. Still, we did get a good dinner, and as we were only descending the next day, we had a nice drink and a late night (in hut terms, 9pm). The walk down to Vallesinella via the Rifugio Casinei was lovely, albeit against the heavy traffic of climbers, ferrataerists and walkers, it being such a lovely Sunday morning. Italian walkers are even more friendly than in the UK though, so all morning was a stream of smiles, 'Salve's, 'Buongiorno' and the like.
We had then booked a flat in Riva del Garda for some even better food (if possible) and some of the dolce vita, where Tracey could relax, read, sunbathe and paddle in the lake. Frankie and me however also did the VF della Amicizia, 1200m 3C, which we could walk to from the room, and is right above the town, offering incredible views of the lake and town, a ladder-fest of a climb linking exposed loose paths and wooded terraces. A great end to the trip - Tracey and Frankie really enjoyed it, and Tracey explored her boundaries, only struggling on that one day, getting fitter and stronger by the day. My 6th time to the Brenta, and unlikely to be my last.