The Roaches

Memories from a walking holiday in the Italian Dolomites - 2010

Nick, Sean, Ann, Ken, Jane, Mike, Karen, Gordon, Sue and Alison on the lawn of the hotel.

This was to be the year we broke away from our usual long distance walk format and decided to see what the peaks of the Dolomites had to offer. The destination was Selva Val Gardena in the Italian Dolomites where HF Holidays provide a week long walking itinerary based at the Hotel Malleier.

Dave and Macca were replaced by Karen and Sue but this year, the 'usual' 10 were accompanied by at least 16 other folk who'd also decided that a week in the Dolomites would be a good idea. Another big change was that we were on a guided walking holiday so the adventurous 'find your own way' format of previous years was no more.

We landed in Verona in temperatures tipping 30 degrees which, although we'd experienced searing heat in previous walks, was greeted with nervousness by certain team members. We met up with our guides for the week, and the rest of the party, and set off on the coach to Selva.

Alison had informed the ladeez of a friend's recent HF holiday to Mont Blanc where the guide was a 25 year old muscle-bound chisel-featured hunk. Ann, Karen, Sue and Jane were slobbering like diabetic bloodhounds at the prospect of similar luck on our holiday but Terry, bless his cotton socks, turned out to be a scouser in his fifties. The disappointment was clear to see but the girls dug in and found the enthusiasm to carry on.

DAY 1: The base of the Sassolungo.

To the south-west of Selva is the massive Sassolungo group which reaches 3181m in height and for the final 1000m is pretty much vertical and completely out of bounds for fat English northerners. There were 2 walks on offer, easy or hard - we all plumped for the hard walk based on the fact that the distance and ascent were well within our range.

The challenge of reaching the summit of the Sassolungo was nothing compared to the terrors of the cable car which ferried us from Selva (1660m) to Ciampinoi (2256m). Sue wasn't overly happy with Ken's childish 'in-flight' jumping so he sheepishly retired to the side of the car and awaited our arrival.

Ken sits down and behaves after annoying Sue. The tense atmosphere didn't last too long as only seconds later Karen let rip thanks to a double helping of pig's cheeks the night before.

The weather was stunning so a 15 minute photo stop was enjoyed at Ciampinoi where at least 250 camera shots of the same view were captured:

The Sassolungo from Ciampinoi (1 of a limited edition of 28738239).

Terry, the leader for the day, (not that Terry, another one), counted us for the 8th time before we set off on our 8 miler. The views were stunning, the walking easy but the paths were rather busy which slowed the pace somewhat.

After reaching the Comici hut, named after a cameraman who died whilst filming the Sylvester Stallone 'classic' Cliffhanger, we skirted the base of the massive cliffs of the Sassolungo before climbing to the Vicenza hut at 2253m. This was the first climb of the week so, due to the heat, was enjoyed by all.

Approaching the Vicenza hut with the Sasso Piatto (2958m) to the right.

Lunch was enjoyed at the hut, along with 2389 other walkers, before descending to the Mont de Pana and then onwards along easy paths back to Selva.

It was decided that a drink was in order so after managing to find outside table space ordered a few 'cheekies' whilst my watch recorded a peak temperature of 44 degrees in the sun! Crikey!

Jane, suffering from heat exhaustion and the disappointment of not having a hunky guide, began to wolf whistle at passing local talent.

We decided to walk into town after our evening meal and see what the town had to offer. Ken and Al decided to try their hand at dancing in the square and managed to win f**k all!

DAY 2: The Puflatsch from Passo Pinei.

Another hot day awaited our sweat. A coach trip to the Passo Pinei was required in order for us to begin our ascent of the Fillner Kreuz on the Puflatsch Bulacia. We'd all decided to take the hard walk again after a pain-free first day - what could possibly go wrong?

Our guide for the day was Ann (not that Ann, another one) who decided that as a couple of the kids in the party were working towards their DoE award they would be the day's map readers with the services of an accompanying adult. We set off with the kids leading the way. This was an enjoyable section on a gentle rising path with the occasional views down the valley towards Ortisei and Selva.

Ann's plan was to switch the kid's guide at regular intervals so, thanks to our Ann, I was given the task of supporting the kids on stage two of the walk which involved a 550m climb to the plateau.

The Pied Piper leads the kids to the summit (for 30 yards). Mike's got that 'can't wait' look of agony.

Well, fuck me, the kids had not yet grasped the concept of 'age' and proceeded, despite my best efforts, to ascend the steep hill in record time. My warning that some of the older members of the group could die at any moment were greeted with a cheeky laugh and a cloud of dust as the whippet-limbed juveniles sprinted uphill. My initial 'keep up pace' was beginning to wane so I began to spot snakes in the undergrowth in a sad attempt to grab the kid's attention and slow them down. At one point, as my face was beginning to match the colour of Mars, I shouted the kids back as I'm sure I'd spotted a small tiger.

A quick 3 hours at climb stop number 1 and Nick's fifth bottle of water. The smell was unbearable. Mike had been beaten up the hill by an 89 year old.

I was relieved of my duties at camp 2 due to medical concerns and could enjoy the rest of my walk at what I considered normal pace. My plan was to force anyone under the age of 16 to drink 2 bottles of red wine and 5 pints of beer later that night - just to see what sort of pace they could keep up after that!

On reaching the summit, after a short guided rope section, the views were incredible - or so I was told. My body was producing 7 litres of sweat a minute which resulted in me having to look at everything through a small waterfall.

Lunch was enjoyed with sweeping views over the Val Gardena valley. A short section over the plateau to the Amikahutte was followed by a sharpish descent down to the Schafstall hut. A pleasant few minutes was enjoyed before the final march over to the Marinzenhutte where we had a difficult choice to make - chairlift to Kastelruth or walk. The majority of walkers chose the latter which was a good choice.

Near the top - Ann the guide, Sue and Alison enjoying every step. Go go lady glow.

Gordon and Jane enjoying a romantic ride into Kastelruth.

On reaching Kastelruth all we had to do was catch the bus to Selva. This wasn't quite as easy as expected but we eventually reached our hotel after changing buses at Ortisei.

Time for beer and wine!

DAY 3: Rest Day.

DAY 4: Sean and Ken - hard walk. The rest - custom walk.

The experiences of Day 2's walk had resulted in a change of plan and the team went their separate ways. Sean and Ken joined the hard lot whilst the others took the bus down to Ortisei to take the cable car southwards to the Alpe de Suisi.

The hard route started with a cable car from Selva to Dantercepies (2298m) where it descended to the Jimmy hut before climbing to the Forc Cier Danter les Pizes (2469m). The route continued to the Forc de Crespina (2528m) before ascending the first real peak of the week - Sas Ciampac (2672m).

Sas Ciampac (2672m) from Forc de Crespina.

This was the first time we'd felt 'in the mountains'. It was slightly cooler than the previous days and the day began with more cloud cover than expected.

The cooler weather wasn't too cool so we were able to enjoy lunch on the summit whilst watching the clouds clear and the views open up.

The group enjoying lunch on the summit. Ken's laughing before a fall.

We headed north from the summit to the Forc de Ciampei Somafurcia and then walked around the rim of the Vallunga to the Puez hutte (2475m). At one point, just before we reached a sheer drop into a gully, Ken slipped on the rock but managed to avert disaster by jamming his wallet into a 3 foot wide crack.

Ken bought the teas at the Puez hutte to celebrate being alive and we surveyed the wonderful panorama aroundabouts.

Looking back towards Sas Ciampac from the Puez hutte with the cliffs of the Vallunga in the foreground.

A steep descent into the Vallunga followed but the views were terrific as the valley resembled a miniature Grand Canyon.

Looking down into the Vallunga. Selva is at the end of the valley.

On reaching Selva we met up with the others who'd revisited the Vicenza hut via Mont de Seura.

Nick managed to capture Ann with and old friend....

Wooden it be lovely. Ann looks for the battery compartment whilst trying to dislocate her pelvis.

Sean and Ken had decided that this was the 'walk of the week' so far and looked forward to the following day's excursion to the northern side of Val Gardena. What did the following day have in store?

DAY 5: Seceda, La Piza and Passo Gardena.

It was just Sean and Ken again on today's hard walk. The others, apart from Mike and Nick, were to take on the easy walk. Mike and Nick headed off towards Jimmy's hut and a custom walk around the Passo Gardena and the southern side of the Sella group. Both the hard and easy walks began at the Seceda cable car station so we all, apart from Mike n Nick set off together.

The weather, once again, was perfect. The bus was taken to Ortisei where we took the impressive cable car to Seceda (2456m). The views from the top were incredible.

The Pitla Fermeda (2640m), Gran Odla (2832m) and Sas Rigais (3025m) from the Seceda cable car station.

We split into the two teams and set off downhill over smooth grassy meadows. The 'hard' team set off first and were able to capture the following shot of the 'easy' team:

The 'easy' team in action - shortly before their second picnic of the day.

Gordon captures Karen in this candid shot. Words for this image kindly provided by Nick Barber - thanks Nick!

Here's another of Gordon's shots of a sultry Karen whilst Ann stares longingly over the valley looking for her wooden friend.

Sue had bought a new camera in readiness for our Dolomites trip and judging by the shot below was money well spent:

Edelweiss captured using settings ISO 320\F5\1\100 by Susan Lewis. Shots like this can be found in Sue's new book 'A view from Sue' which is the follow-up to the hugely successful 'Through the lens of Dave'.

Anyway, back to the walking...

After following the same route for a few miles the two groups split. The hard team, after stopping for a drink at the Firenze hut, headed uphill in rather steep fashion to the Furc dla Piza (so named because it was furcing hot). The easy team continued from the Firenze hut to the Col Raiser hut before taking the cable car down to St Cristina and walking back up the valley to Selva.

The climb to the Furcing dla Piza from near the Firenze hut. Note the limestone pillar just below the col in the centre.

Members of the 'easy' team took great delight in capturing the sweaty ascent being enjoyed by the 'hard' team:

The start of the climb - 'hard' team members can be seen centre right.

Nearing the limestone pillar as described earlier. Once out of the shade the going was pretty hot. Young Matt had climbed the pillar twice before the rest of the party had caught up.

Meanwhile, Nick and Mike were busy investigating spooky hotels over on the eastern side of the valley:

It'll be those pesky kids.

This was either a very scary chairlift or the chair had just been lowered over Gorse bushes.

The 'hard' team ascent was an interesting affair which was similar to Wednesday's hard walk over the Sas Ciampac. At times the path was very narrow with the odd bottomless drop on the left hand side - no place for a trip.

Looking over to the Odle group from La Piza (2555m).

Dave, Matt and Ken check the view from the summit of La Piza (2555m). This was about as close to the edge as anyone was prepared to go as the drops were sheer.

Ken did get too close to the edge on one occasion and just look what happened! The Firenze hut can be seen in the valley.

We enjoyed our penultimate night in a local music bar where, as is usually the case, Gordon got shedded on cocktails - disgraceful!

Liam Darlington hits Selva - 'I'm fuckin havin it large I am, wherez the fuckin bogs, I'm fucked me, fuckin hell - more U2, hic'

Disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful.

DAY 6: Ken - hard, Sean and Al - custom, Gordon and Jane - custom, Mike and Nick - custom, Ann, Sue and Karen - easy.

Having seen the route for the day Sean decided that it was too similar to Wednesday's route and decided to tackle the highest peak of the Sella group - Piz Boe (3152m). Al decided to join him but Gordon's excesses during the previous evening rendered him useless. There had been further interest in the 'Piz Boe challenge' but on the day it was just the two.

Mike and Nick liked what they heard about the Seceda cable car and surrounding area so set their sights on exploring that region. Ken decided to see what the hard walk was all about whilst Ann, Sue and Karen joined the 'easy' group in the eastern end of the valley.

Sean and Al caught the bus to the Passo Sordoi where their adventure would begin. The cable car to the Sas de Pordoi would then see them within spitting distance of the Piz Boe. The weather was stunning yet again and, as we were in a different valley, enjoyed superb views of the highest of the Dolomites, the Marmolada.

The Marmolada (3343m) and its glacier from the Sas de Pordoi.

Sean and Al's destination, Piz Boe (3152m).

We didn't know what to expect but knew from the map that the route to Piz Boe was 'walkable' and we were pleased by the fact that many other walkers were setting off to conquer the summit.

The route skirts the side of the hill after reaching the Pordoi hut.

From a distance a number of small rock bands could be seen on the final steep slope to the summit which gave Al some cause for concern but masterful words of encouragement from yours truly did the trick (climb it or you can fuck that new kitchen off!). After the first short level section a series of sharp zig-zags led up to the next plateau where a large group of English climbers could be seen ahead:

Nice and quiet up here...

We eventually reached the plateau and could now see the final summit pull at close quarters. It wasn't looking any easier and Al was still unsure about walking any further. She was told that a small puppy would die if she didn't complete the walk - this seemed to do the trick.

'Dunna worry Al, it's just steep and rocky. Oh, there are fixed ropes as well'.

The rock, although bone dry, was very loose and like glass due to the heavy footfall that the route experiences. At one point, thanks to my camera dangling from my neck, I tried to prevent damage to my camera by moving my body away from the rock only to slip but luckily my foot was safely caught by a guy immediately below me. Al scampered up knowing that a new kitchen and a puppy were safe.

Looking down one of the 'smoother' areas of rock on the climb. A fall would have probably hurt.

We continued up on the loose path which we expected to be a real pain on the descent and then, suddenly, I walked over a helipad!

We reached the large summit hut, ate our sarnies, took in the view and then readied Al's poles for the descent.

Al approaches the helipad and the summit.

The descent was fine. The tricky roped sections were easily bypassed with numerous preferable routes available. In fact, the roped routes were probably more dangerous due to the worn polished rock so before we knew it we were back on the plateau with the cable car station within our sights.

We descended to the pass and then waited for the bus (after a couple of pints in one of the local hotels). The wind was beginning to grow in strength until it reached the point where I was being sandblasted. It then began to rain, heavily, and thanks to the growing bus queue we decided to stand in the rain in order to guarantee a seat. The bus eventually turned up and, as expected, hundreds of people ran from hotels and shops to hijack a place. Al and I got our seats and waited for 20 minutes whilst people a) tried to pay using soaking wet bus passes b) stored bikes and rucsacs in the luggage compartment or c) pissed about trying to find out where the bus was actually going to.

Meanwhile, the ladeez on the easy walk managed to get another sultry shot of themselves:

One of many great shots from the raunchy new book 'Knees that please'. Available from all good top shelves.

Meanwhile Ken took this excellent shot of a Marmot on his walk:

They aren't as furry as I thought they'd be.

We all met up at the hotel for the final night and, as usual, ate and drank. We said our farewells and awaited our early start for breakfast and the coach trip back to Verona and the flight home.

A great week had been enjoyed by all but it was noticeably different from our usual long distance walk format. Having a choice of walks resulted in less of a team spirit and, more importantly, the single centre format meant that we experienced fewer types of ale than normal.

So next year looks like a return to the long distance walk format where blisters, back aches, knackeredness, gut rot and gout are the order of the day.

What can possibly go wrong?


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