Ex Northern Dolomites – Leeds University Officers’ Training Corps

Leeds University Officers’ Training Corps conducted an adventurous training expedition consisting of rock climbing and trekking in the Dolomites in Northern Italy. OCdt Victoria Carbutt takes up the story…

Our first full day in Cortina d’Ampezzo consisted of an acclimatisation trek to Tonde de Cianderou from Camping Olympia (SH 1711m), which was to be our base for the next 2 weeks. Due to expected bad weather conditions we had to keep a close eye on approaching low pressure to ensure we didn’t get caught up in a thunderstorm. At 2265m we decided to have lunch whilst Heather (Capt Lawrie, trekking instructor) gave a lesson on emergency procedures and how to use a Bothy Bag. After a little exploration of caves and a few fortifications we began our descent back to camp clocking up a total 14km on the first day. The acclimatisation trek enabled Heather to assess the ability of the group; with the original route being extended after making good time in the initial ascent.

Day 2 started off with a little treat as we got the chairlift up to Refugio Scoiattoli, we then trekked towards Refugio Nuvolau via paths 443 and 438. Along the way we came across a section of protected path, which was a very low grade Via Ferrata. This was an interesting obstacle to overcome with the odd ladder and scramble to reach Nuvolau. We took plenty of pictures and ordered hot chocolates all round at the top, then headed back towards Scoiattoli to have a lecture on safety and possible hazards in the mountains. The group then sampled some of the local beverages on offer before heading back down on the chair lift for a lift back to camp in the combi vans.

After a lovely breakfast we set off in the combi vans to our drop off point at Rifugio Dibona, having waved goodbye to the climbers we began our trek along the windy paths towards Rifugio Giussani where we would be having our first night in an Alpine hut. Having reached the hut relatively early we had hoped to go on to the peak of Toffana de Rozes (3225m) however poor weather conditions meant it was too dangerous to do so that afternoon. Instead Heather delivered the remaining SMF lectures in the hut and then took the group outside to practice movement on snow and ice. This included cutting steps into the snow, walking in all directions and stopping ourselves from sliding too far if we fell, all in preparation for our attempt of the peak the next day. After a delicious three course meal we all headed to bed, enjoying the luxury that was a mattress after several days in tents.

The next morning we had breakfast at 7am, it wasn’t quite the hearty breakfast we were used to but wasn’t bad considering we were 2580m up a mountain. Knowing the path was likely to be covered in snow, we set off to attempt the peak and get as close as possible. After 2 hours walking and several lengthy stretches of snow, we reached 2980m, but at this point it became clear we wouldn’t be able to reach the peak without crampons, due to the snow depth being too great, so instead we set out to reach 3000m. Heather went ahead and set up a rope to help us scramble up a small rocky section to 3002m. Obviously this was the perfect picture opportunity and gave the boys plenty of reason to take an abundance of selfies, despite the incoming fog that seemed to destroy any hope of a good view. We made our way carefully down the mountain back towards Rifugio Giussani and along path 404 towards Rifugio Lagazuoi. We happened to stumble upon the set of Point Break 2 but unfortunately didn’t get to act as extras. We then descended via the galleria Lagazuoi; a series of tunnels and trenches built by the Austrians during World War 1. By late afternoon and having walked 15km hunger was definitely starting to set in and morale was at an all-time low. Eventually we reached the pickup point at which we were greeted with cake and the prospect of pizza for dinner; exactly the news we had been hoping for.

Unfortunately the next day there was far too much rain forecasted for it to be feasible to walk anywhere so we explored the local town and sampled a glass of their best €1.50 wine and ice cream. Later in the afternoon we headed to an indoor climbing wall, learning the ins and outs of belaying and climbing before competing against each other on the bouldering walls. Despite the grazed knees and palms it was a nice change from the walking and a great way to spend time together as a whole expedition group.

The next morning we set off in the combi van to Mestre where we then got the train to Venice for a day of R&R. After a whistle stop tour of the Piazza San Marco and Rialto bridge, we headed on a mission to search for Venice’s cheapest pizzeria. Amazingly, the weather was beautifully sunny and ice cream seemed in order. Once back in Cortina we headed for dinner at Hotel Victoria and then back to camp to be briefed on plans for the next day, and plan our 3 day trek.

In the morning we got the cable car from Cortina up to Rif Tondi, from there we then walked along paths 223 and 216 towards Rif Vandelli. As we progressed along the path it became more and more like a set from Jurassic park, with us having to fight off branches and jump over roots to get to the alpine hut. Once at Rif Vandelli we settled ourselves into our room before enjoying the usual three course meal and glass of wine. Breakfast was at 0630 the next day, enabling us to get an early start, we headed towards Tre Croci along path 215, unfortunately the weather took a turn for the worst, somewhat drenching us along the way however we were rewarded with hot chocolates at the pick-up point and headed back to camp early to dry off. In the afternoon we visited the Great War Museum and walked through the trenches and tunnels which were built by the Italians during WW1. We then headed back to camp and cooked a lovely tuna pasta for dinner.

Once again the weather predictions for the next day weren’t particularly good, instead as a group we had decided to go white water rafting. This was a good laugh, giving everyone the chance to tease each other about their unflattering wet suits and brought out our competitive sides when racing against each other in the rafts. Having dried off and filled up on lunch, we headed to Alleghe where we were dropped off to begin our 3 day trek. Having set off at 1640 this was our most challenging trek yet as we had to gain 1000m in height and reach refugio Vazzoler in a very short space of time in order to get to the hut for dinner. With tiredness and hunger setting in, and the aches and pains of the past weeks trekking, we made it to the hut with 10 minutes to spare and enjoyed a wonderful meal before heading to bed ready for the next day.

Next morning we set off towards Force dele Sasse at 2476m, from here we then had a steep descent to rifugio Coldai, this was one of our longest days of walking, challenging towards the end as water supplies began to run low and thirst became evermore present. Once at the hut we had a wonderful lecturette on local wines from OCdt Bywater and OCdt Young, proving to be highly entertaining and greatly informative. With this being our last evening in an Alpine hut, we sat down after dinner to reflect on our experiences throughout the trip. We woke up the next day to birthday cake for OCdt Sinclair who was celebrating his 21st birthday, this put us all in high spirits for our final day of walking as we headed down Forci Coldai along a steep descent back towards Alleghe. With our trekking phase of the trip over it was time to head to Germany for a final stop over before our ferry home, making a great end to what was a brilliant trip!

OCdt Victoria Carbutt

With thanks to:

Ulysses Trust

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