256 (City of London) Field Hospital (Volunteers) deployed a group of 14 officers, SNCOs and JNCOs on its annual summer mountaineering expedition. The aim was to develop leadership skills, foster teamwork and gain experience in long distance trekking especially as the trek was to be completed in 9 days instead of the usual 11. The trek took place in Italian Dolomites, along the Alta Via Route 1, set in some of the most stunning and spectacular scenery in the world. A linear and challenging 150km high level footpath as it is largely above 2000m.
On arrival at Innsbruck International, we took a coach to our first nights’ accommodation at Rifugio Vallandro, on the site of a WW1 Austrian fort. All were surprised by the affect of altitude from being almost sea level that morning to 2040m in the evening, which had everyone puffing after a little physical exertion.
Day two and the first days walking was long and tough in hot weather but this was a beautiful introduction to the Dolomites and the scenery was incredible. Towards the end of the day a breakaway group tackled the peak of Croda del Becco (2810m), that had the best views of the trip.
Day three was a short walking day that allowed the ML’s give some lessons on rope work, mountain medicine and rescue. During the evening from our rifugio, Italian heliborne troops deploying from Huey’s and taking up positions on a neighboring rifugio.
The next day was a fabulous trek, with amazing scenery, through the high narrow pass at Forcella del Lago at 2486m, followed by a steep descent. At the bottom were Italian soldiers who pointed out the remains of an Italian logistics base from WW1. Approaching Rif Lagazuoi, on a steady climb were a number of WW1 fortifications built by the Austrians. From the Rifugio, the group walked up to the highest official point on AV1, to the cross at Piccolo Lagazuoi at 2778m, to take in the stunning views.
So far we had walked in sunshine but now the weather turned and on the next day we were deluged by heavy rain on our ascent to Rif Averau but were greeted with five star food and accommodation; but don’t ask for the polenta!
The sun returned on day six but the temperature was -4°C at the start of the walk, which began with a nerve jangling decent down ridge to a gully aided by fixed cables. It was too tricky for some who took a less vertiginous route to Monte Pelmo.
The group split into two on the next day with one taking an easier route. However, the trickier Monte Pelmo circuit was a stunning walk with difficult and thrilling sections of ascent and descent and was the best walking day of the trip. The highlight for the other group was when the Ex OC nearly stepped on a black adder!
Day 8 was a long walking day of 20km that presented some steep climbs, over scree, along very narrow paths and across two cols. Day 9 was also a long walking day over some challenging terrain, with some scrambling and knee shattering descents. A much larger and more colourful viper was also encountered who slithered away hissing loudly. A final climb on this day involved some scrambling up a narrow ridge at Forcella de Zita Sud similar to a mini Crib Goch. A steep descent then zigzagged to the rifugio and to a much welcomed rest for the knees. The last walking day was through a humid and damp cloud layer towards civilization then onto Venice, for some much earned RnR.
Thanks must be given to the Ulysses Trust for all their financial support in making this expedition a resounding success for all involved. Paul Green