I travelled with my two sons, John (20) and Frankie (17), and met my friend Jamie at Milan Malpensa airport for the 4hr drive to Madonna di Campiglio. After visiting Paul B at his hotel, we stayed at the excellent Rifugio Vallesinella, and then in the morning met the rest of the team at the cable car at Campo Carlo Magno, just North of Madonna. Mark, Hayley and Stewie were kitted up and ready to go, although it appeared Stew was going for the light and fast approach when comparing his tiny sack with ours! Always belt and braces me, and especially with my lads on board.
The weather was kind as we ascended in the cable car to 2505m to begin the first route, the 2C Sentiero Alberto Benini, the first on the Boccette Way. It takes around 4hrs climbing time, plus the descent to the Tuckett hut, and is a good ease-in for what is to follow. The exposure isn't too great, but the ever-present gravely paths without protection still focus your mind on the huge drops characteristic of the Dolomitic routes. We had planned to finish by descending the vedretta (glacier) to the hut, but on seeing it from above, it was clear it would be better in ascent with limited snow gear, so took the improved and cabled path, pausing to bask in the sun and snack away in a most relaxed manner.
That evening we had simply excellent food for a hut, with a great choice, impressive quality, impeccable service and copious wine and beer. A great start....there were even showers!
The next day's forecast was much cooler, single digit, with cloud and rain first thing, forecast to dry a little. We waited until the rain cleared, and made a late start up the vedretta. It isn't very steep, but steep enough to get the heart racing along with the effort, especially when you have two offspring to worry about, (something I am still having to work on as a leader - Clients no problem. Family I struggle with!). We made the climb in the dry, but the rain started as we commenced the main course of the trip, the 4C Boccette Alte, waymarked 'solo per experte'. Is that us? ;)
The first section is excellent, steep and well protected, and we soon learned that the limestone is actually surprisingly grippy despite the dreich conditions. The next section is typical exposed, unprotected paths, that I particularly find unnerving. Odd really, as once on even more exposed terrain I am fine, even if unprotected, as long as the rock is sound. Then comes the 'sectione difficile', my previous 'high point' as it were. Previously Jamie and I had found the cables snow covered, and had wisely turned back. I am very glad we did. It is long, crazily exposed and absolutely absorbing VF, highly enjoyable but very committing. A proper high mountain route to quote the guidebook.
Airy ledge, and vertical ladders came and went, and the rain persisted. By the time we got to the first 'junction', we had become disoriented in the mist, and mistakenly thought we were much farther along the route. In fact, we arrogantly decided we had done the next route, the Centrale too! We rang the Tosa hut to arrange beds for the night, rested, ate, and pressed on in the mist and rain. If we had properly assessed the time against the guidebook, or took the time to read off the co-ordinates on my GPS against the map, (MUCH harder to do than on an OS map, I can tell you), we would have realised. The constant up, down and along makes timing and directions very difficult to estimate, and we were well out. The seriousness of the atmosphere was added to as we were making the very thin and exposed traverse to the Boccetta Basso dei Massodi at 2796m (the point where the Olivia Detassis route we were looking for joins the Alte). A stemple came out just as I leaned on it in a new section of cabling that appeared to be necessitated by rockfall, and I swung a little outwards. The rest of the cable held fine, but it got the heart racing!
Finally we spied a glaciated col (or bocca in Italian), and took it for the Bocca di Brenta, just before the Tosa hut. Stewie descended quickly, and confused me by heading further down. I shouted that the hut was over the bocca, but he pointed out what I couldn't yet see, the Alimonta hut, where we were supposed to be after all. It was a relieved and tired team that traipsed across the moraines in the torrential rain. What a day. Totally absorbing, serious feeling and exhilarating.
The Alimonta would have seemed a brilliant hut too, had it not been for the exemplary Tuckett hut the night before, and had some eccentric, domineering staff and management, who argued with each other in the animated way that Italians do. We were all ushered to bed at 22:00, but we were ready anyway, mentally and physically tired. Sunday's forecast was good, despite the torrential rain in the night. I slept poorly, and apparently snored, though I have never heard myself! ;)
Sunday dawned wet, but rapidly improved into a bright day, with high cloud building to give PM showers. The day was set for a busy crossing of the Boccette Centrale. This is an absolute classic, at 3C, with fabulous ledges, unprotected scrambling and utterly breathtaking rock architecture. The Campanile Basso rears into view and leaves one speechless as you rest at the many vantage points to just gawp. The many wee traffic jams gave time to do this, though did give folk the time to notice the sucking exposure. Wonderful in the clear morning air.
After 4 hours of clipping, climbing, descending and almost crawling on the ledges, the Bocca di Brenta really did appear, and suddenly it was all over. All we had to do now was a 3 hour descent down the 318 path that takes a splendid belvedere route via two more refuges to Vallesinella. We celebrated my finally getting the route in the bag with a few beers at them, and revelled in the smells and views of an Alpine path par excellence.
That evening was taken up with a slap-up meal and celebratory drink in Madonna, where Stewie entertained the bar with some ethnic Black Country folk dancing (!), and then we had a day's R&R in Riva del Garda before our respective flights.
So I finally managed the Boccette Way. It was everything I hoped for, plus some, and anyone who feels VF's are sanitised mountaineering should get on a high route such as these. They are a mountain journey, not a gymnastic course. They allow you to enjoy some incredible positions in relative safety, without compromising the very real feel of being in the high mountains. Sunday was busy, but the challenging weather and difficult nature of the Alte meant we did not see many folks on that. The huts are quite extraordinary, the food plentiful and high quality, and the people friendly. I feel my days in the Brenta are not over.
Thanks to John, Frankie, Stewie, Hayley, Mark, Paul and Jamie for being good company on a great trip.