Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Saturday, 10 July 2010

A Stroll from Furkelhütte

Trafoi, this morning, was humming with activity as the throaty purring engines of vintage cars participating in the Sud-Tirol Rally brought various admirers to the roadside as the old vehicles embarked on the classic ascent of the Stelvio Pass. Strange to see so many British sports cars with left hand drive and German plates.

For us, after admiring the machinery on display, a long 650 metre ascent on a chairlift (on which Sue blagged a ride as an OAP!) to sunny Furkelhütte for lattemacchiato (pictured). It was a temperate 25C in the shade at 2159 metres. What it was like lower down I hate to think (forecast 38C).

The sky was a hazy blue, with thin streaks of cloud and a stunning view of Ortler, and its crumbling glaciers.

We left the hut at 11.30 to ascend through a forest of black vanilla orchids in a luxuriant meadow, past a wartime 'pill box', before eschewing a broad path (#24) to a minor peak, in favour of the little used #25 to Passo di Vallazza, at 2742 metres.

At 2500 metres, an exciting moment. Our first sighting of Dark Stonecrop this trip!

We continued in silence, apart from the distant tinkle of cowbells and the caw of a raven, and our own voices, past innumerable marmot holes.

On reaching the pass just after 1pm we were greeted by a big view, with high cloud over Austria, whilst a thin sun beamed down on us.

It was a fine spot for an extended lunch, during which we spent a happy hour trying to identify lots of miniature alpine plants. With limited success.

A few drops of rain signaled the need to descend, past whistling marmots (at last we have seen some), bundles of caterpillars in the grass, and through verdant Alpine meadows on the anti-clockwise continuation of #25.

Back at the hut at 15.30 after a 7 km, 4 hour walk with 600 metres ascent, beers were most welcome.

Then it was back down the chairlift, a visit to the Stelvio National Park Visitor Centre, with its fine exhibition of owls, before returning to camp to battle with increasing dampness of the air and two recalcitrant gas stoves from which we are trying to drain the last dregs of fuel, for our final alfresco camping meal of the trip.

Not that we are coming home just yet...

Since we've been at Trafoi (1550 metres), six days now, the barometer has risen steadily from 849 to 854Mb. Stable weather, or what?! (Despite tonight's rain, which we are actually quite enjoying.)

[Shame on you, Alan! Blogging is never a 'pain', but sometimes Old Man Time sets up a bit of a 'challenge'. And we quite like those! Don't we? Even if it does finish up a bit garbled...?]

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Friday, 9 July 2010

The Upper Zaytal Lakes

I won't mention the weather, except that it's proving therapeutic for Sue, but it doesn't really facilitate a rest day. Some cloud suddenly appeared just now - it looked like a storm was coming.

The cloud has gone - just like that...

This morning we drove to Solda and enjoyed Walk 10 in Gillian's (previously described) book. Her description remains sound apart from - for your benefit, Gillian:

• At the start, after crossing the torrent in Solda, turn R down the tarmac road, then immediately L up a path; when you reach the main road, cross straight over, pass the Car Park for the hut, and join #5. (All the way to the Upper Zaytal Lakes.)

• The wooden bench at the first of the upper lakes was not evident to us, but there was an improvised stone bench. And, sadly, an empty bottle of wine which, to my eternal shame, I failed to remove.

• Paths 12 and 12A are permanently closed due to rock fall, so to reach Kanzel it's necessary to descend down #5 to its junction with #14, which is clearly signed to Kanzel along a broad path with fairly minimal ascent.

• Note that the Kanzel chairlift stops running at 16.50 hrs and costs €8 per person, one way. (It was worth it!)

Gillian reckons 6.5 hours for the whole walk, plus stops. We took just over that to reach Kanzel, our route being about 10km with around 1100 metres ascent. So Gillian's timings are fairly generous as we stopped a lot - flower IDs are getting harder and more time consuming - we seem to have 'bagged' the easy ones.

The views back to the Ortler summits were superb all day. The excursion to the Upper Zaytal Lakes (so eloquently described in the guide book that we couldn't miss it) was stunning. The above picture shows Sue here, at 2885 metres, about to dive in, with (I think) Vertainspitze behind.

Redstarts, Choughs and Sticky Primroses featured today, and Sue very much enjoyed her encounter with a German speaking artist at
Rifugio Serristori (aka Düsseldorfer Hütte) on the way down. Their Italian was of about the same standard; his watercolour was coming along nicely; the Schiewasser was downed in one.

Alan - Italians like to talk! There is rarely any problem with a phone signal! The problem is with finding the time to blog, especially with friendly Dutch and German neighbours on the campsite. (Hence tonight's rather garbled effort.)

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The Swifts of Trafoi

In many places on this trip we have noticed squealing swifts, especially around dusk, just as in our suburban street in Timperley.

The Swifts of Trafoi live in the eaves of the church, pictured here on this evening's 'constitutional'. (The sky is blue, BTW.)

Why would any swift in its right mind want to come to Timperley?

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A Sunny Day in the Alps

We have a fine view from a flowery meadow across to Ortler - 3905 metres.

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Thursday, 8 July 2010

Peter and Vanessa's Day Out?

Ho hum, John, we have had to dodge the spraying hose pipes as we stroll into Trafoi for our evening constitutional! As you say, rain in Timperley will do no harm; you'll appreciate we did our best to encourage good weather by failing to arrange for our grass to be mown and employing Andrea and Thomas (bless them!) to keep our plants watered.

Today's postcard, Louise, places Sue above a 1000 metre precipice at Gaflaunboden, restrained by just a thin piece of Photoshop, looking up Val Venosta towards Passo di Resia and Austria, with the high summits of the Ötztal Alps in view. It was a breathtaking view. As usual, I was clutching a branch of the nearest tree, breathing deeply.

Peter and Vanessa (P+V) had described a five hour walk organised by their hotel in Solda. It sounded just the job for today, designated by Sue to be 'easier'.

We'd considered moving round to B&B accommodation in Solda, but this campsite is one of the best we've found, high and cool in the heatwave; Sue's neck is coping with the camping; and it's only a 15 minute drive to Solda.

So we tootled round to Rumwaldhof, where we thought P+V had said they started their walk, parking by an ex refreshment stall next to the burnt out ruin of said Rumwaldhof. We just needed to find a link to get us 100 metres up the hill and on to #6. After bumbling around for 30 minutes or so we gave up and headed off towards Solda.

After a few metres 'Waldruhe' was signposted up a road that we thought our map indicated wasn't open to cars. It was. We went up, rounded a few hairpins, and parked in a layby near the left turn down a lane to Gasthof Waldruhe, which must be where P+V started from. It was 11.15. Time for coffee. Luckily Gasthof Waldruhe was open, and the Grumpiness of its owner (Very) was matched by the excellence of his coffee (Very)!

And the lupins.

We were off to a good start on yet another warm, cloudless day.

#6 was a delight - through shady woods with occasional open views. 'Riposa nel Bosco' said the sign. We did just that - 'relax in the woods' - admiring the hundreds of One-flowered Wintergreen that flanked the path.

#6 led all the way to Vellnairalm, by way of woodland paths lined with Twin Flower and May Lilies, with larks flitting in the tree tops practicing their command performances. 1pm - time for lunch in the shade by this unmanned cabin with its cheeky black squirrel. Fine views across to the Ortler summits.

Just ten people had been seen thus far, and that would be about the tally for the day.

After a good break we headed up #3 (marked on our Kompass 1:50000 map no 72 as #3A), towards Gaflaunboden. I don't think we made it. We reached the fabulous viewpoint from where today's picture was taken, shortly after which the path doubled back uphill before descending into woods. I reckoned we were still about 150 metres below Gaflaunboden, so we retraced our steps and headed directly up from some cairns, towards a substantial avalanche fence. There was little sign of any path, but by contouring at the designated height (2330 metres) we reached an obvious but unmarked path leading in the right direction. So we followed it. Very successfully. No waymarks, just a mainly grassy path which occasionally dissolved into lawns of Forget-me-nots or other flowers before being regained at the end of the flower bed. Nor is the path numbered on our map - perhaps that means it's not waymarked.

A trough and spring in a remote spot at 2345 metres, reached at 3pm, made me think that the path was used by more shepherds than tourists.

The undulating belvedere took us all the way, with just a few metres of exposure that led me to conclude that this was not P+V's route, to the shepherd's cabin at Stieralm. On the way we'd seen two fine specimens of Red Deer (Cervo), a stag and a doe - careering down the mountainside.

Here at Stieralm we regained P+V's route, which I reckon probably took a lower traverse, possibly via the woodland path we had rejected.

Kälberhütte was our next target, via a 50 metre ascent and a pleasant grassy lane on #18 or #19 depending on where you look (fab views south and west to the Ortler summits), with a final 400 metre descent through woods on #24 to join a track just above Gasthof Waldruhe.

So much for our 5 hour stroll. It was 5.30, some 7.5 hours since we'd started walking at Rumwaldhof, and our walk from Waldruhe - 13km with 800 metres ascent - had taken a good 6 hours.

But we still had plenty of time to acquire, cook and consume another lovely alfresco meal (it's simply not the weather for eating indoors), whilst watching bits of glacier fall off the mountains that loom high above us, before the remainder turned pink under another lovely sunset.

Our Dutch neighbours are to attempt P+V's walk tomorrow, based on our description. I wonder how they'll get on?

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Wednesday, 7 July 2010

A Perfect Day in the Alps

After yesterday's chatty 13km excursion in good company, with only about 100 metres ascent, taking around 4.5 hours, today we woke to 12C coolness under a clear blue sky, in the knowledge that today's less frequented route would probably neither have been 'cleared' by the two men with rakes we had seen on #20, nor adorned with the sort of information boards that have sprung up at frequent intervals on that fine belvedere route.

Those brand new information boards are in fact the main change from Gillian's description of her walk number 9. They cover a range of topics, from the construction of the Stelvio Pass in 1820 to its wartime use, and the flora and flora of the area, even extending to an explanation about how the expulsion of the contents of rabbits' intestines serves to fertilise the land and benefits the flora. All very 'German'? though the information boards were in both German and Italian, with English only appearing at the Furkelhütte. Perhaps English speakers are expected just to get the chair lift up there and walk down #17?

Anyway, today we set off on a perfectly clear, warm morning, down a lane to the south, to Drei Brunnen. Path 15 took us past an ornate chapel then up through shady pine woods to Rifugio Borletti, at 2188 metres, some 600 odd metres above camp.

We took our time. A few old dears passed us. The distant roar of cars as they grunted their way up the Stelvio Pass slowly diminished. The flower book was out. Wintergreens, Garland Flower and Cowberry were highlights. Common Spotted Orchid was lush and abundant. We stopped frequently and relished new 'spots'.

Yes, we seem to be bagging flowers!

As we emerged from the woods and approached the hut, Spring Gentians dominated the path's verges.

Schiewasser, Fanta and an unpronounceable soup were most welcome after our leisurely two and a half hour ascent. Most people turn round here, but we continued on up #18 towards Tabaretta. Only two people followed us - by coincidence the Slovenian couple in the next tent. A second lunch occupied a delightful half hour with stunning views and Shrubby Milkwort and Rock Speedwell in attendance. Sue is pictured near here, with Rif Borletti in the background. You may also make out the zigzags of the Stelvio Pass behind. The route of the Meranoweg path can also be seen.

A final ascent brought us to the flat summit of Pic Tabaretta - at 2538 metres, our high point of the day. It was a lovely flat meadowy summit with stunning views; an idyllic camping spot in good weather like this.

We reluctantly moved on. Whilst the Slovenians headed up to Rifugio Payer, we contoured along #18A towards the derelict remains of the Alpenrosehütte. This was the trickiest path of the day, featuring a short traverse behind a steep bergschrund towards a flock of sheep seeking shade from the relentless sunshine.

The temperature in the open rose to a hot 27C as we descended, as if into a cauldron, to 2000 metres; but then #18 entered the tree line. It was cooler under the canopy, with a lovely aroma of fresh pine. The afternoon was beautiful, with a cloudless sky and no sign of haze despite the continuing hot weather.

On the approach to Trafoi a forest path (#3) led left to cross the river by a footbridge before rising to deliver us efficiently at the campsite.

Today's route is mentioned in Gillian Price's book as the descent to Trafoi in Route 11, with our ascent being mentioned by Gillian as an alternative descent. The paths were well maintained and are probably more heavily used than when Gillian wrote her guide.

The campsite shop saw to all our needs - brew, beer, alfresco supper - before we ambled down to the village, which seems to be a refuge for Opel vehicles on test, and admired the Alpenglow as the sun lingered late on the Ortler peaks. Those staying in high mountain huts will have had an evening to remember.

But we are also content. A fine walk (10km, 1100 metres ascent, 7.5 hours) with stunning views in perfect weather with the one you love. Who could ask for more?

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Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Walk Number 9, with Vanessa and Peter

Hanging high above our campsite at Trafoi are numerous glaciers cascading from the high summits above the Trafoier Tal. The most familiar name to most readers may be 'Ortler' a peak of 3905 metres that tops this particular range, but that is out of our view from the campsite.

This is definitely nothing like North Yorkshire!

Gillian Price, in her Cicerone guide 'Walking in the Central Italian Alps', reckons 'Walk 9' in her book is 'a brilliant way to start a walking holiday in the area'. It involves getting a bus up the 48 hairpins of the Stelvio Pass (Stilfser Joch), then walking back to Trafoi, initially along #20 to Furkelhütte, then down #17 to complete the 1300 metre descent.

We knew the bus times. We thought we could catch the 9.12 at the road junction leading to the campsite.

"The bus stop is in the village" said the campsite man, so we rushed to the village. Five minutes to spare, but where was the bus stop? Sue enquired as to the location of the stop, in her best Italian, of a couple lurking as if in a bus catching stance.

"Inglese!" they responded, not understanding a word. That was how we met Peter and Vanessa, who assured us that Gillian's walk number 9 was excellent, and that when they last did it two years ago the bus stopped here. It didn't. The driver, obviously not an Italian (who would surely have stopped), drove past the large stopping area, pointing back down the street to where the bus stop must be.

After much cursing, a plan was hatched. Instead of waiting for the 11.12 bus, the four of us would go to the top of the pass in Vanessa and Peter's car, walk down the planned route, then return in our car later.

It worked. Peter donned his Stirling Moss helmet and we beat the bus to the 2757 metre pass, with only an occasional whimper from Vanessa. Nice driving, Peter, I think you always wanted to do that!

Gillian will be pleased to know that her route description has stood the test of time pretty well.

After passing Rifugio Garibaldi, shortly after starting the walk, there was a tempting path up to the 3026 metre summit of Rötlspitze, but the consensus was to give that a miss, despite the good weather, though it was a bit cloudy and cool at the time, with rain visible to the north.

So we continued on amiably, in the company of 'heard but not seen' marmots and a sprinkling of tourists, along #20. There was just a little snow to contend with - probably a lot less than a week ago! Vanessa was not impressed, but in the event she skipped happily across the soggy obstacles in her brand new PINK Karrimor boots. What would Mike P think of that, I wondered?

Some fine views back to the pass (pictured) were marred only by a little cloud on the tops and overhead.

Furklehütte was reached, conveniently, at about 1pm, after three hours of gentle downhill traversing past a wide range of high mountain flora, dominated in the upper reaches by Glacier Crowfoot and descending past a range of Gentians, Orchids and Houseleeks, to name but a few.

After lunch at the hütte we entered woodland and ski pistes for the final steep descent to Trafoi and a welcome brew at the campsite, before returning up 46 'tournantes' from the campsite to rescue Vanessa's car.

Our new friends then deserted us in favour of their sumptuous hotel in Solda with never ending supplies of food, leaving us to purchase supper from the campsite store. We spent €6; it was delicious.

It's cooler and clearer tonight after another fine, warm day. 'Warm' rather than 'Hot' up here at 1500 metres. We are being entertained by Nutcrackers in the fir trees.

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Monday, 5 July 2010

A Trip to Parco dello Stelvio

We slept well again at the Azzurro campsite, which considering its lakeside location was surprisingly free from insects of either the flying or the crawling variety. The weekenders having returned home - this morning many pitches were occupied by caravans and tents (usually both) with shutters and awnings drawn until next Friday, when their owners will no doubt return from the city - the place was quiet. Just a few retired folk remain, and a few Dutch and German tourists - the poor minority who can't afford to rent villas!.

Another storm, around midnight, lit the sky and cleared the air, forcing us to close our doors and encouraging a slow start after allowing the sun to dry off the tent - we never know when next it'll be used.

The short drive to Riva, a pretty town at the head of Lago di Garda, saw us back in sticky 35C heat. That didn't really spoil our visit, as we gently wandered around, in the knowledge that we would be returning here on a less sultry occasion, if not on this trip.

Today's picture was taken from the top of Riva's Torre Apponale, a C13 tower with fine views over the hazy lake, and across colourful rooftops to enticing mountains.

After a delightful alfresco lunch in an arboretum in nearby Arco, we commenced phase three of this holiday (phase 1 = cities, phase 2 = Lago di Garda area) and headed through those mountains, up to the Stelvio National Park, where we are camped (yes, we decided to use the tent) in a delightful spot just outside the village of Trafoi. We are up at about 1550 metres where the air is cooler. Long trousers and fleeces may come out later, and sleeping bags will be used in anger for the first time this trip.

The campsite is far enough from the main road for the bird song to happily drown out any roaring of combustion engines as cars and bikes start their 1200 metre ascent to the top of the Stelvio Pass, which, if my memory serves me, featured in a 'Top Gear' escapade.

There are lots of nutcrackers, but I can't work out what is singing so tunefully - larks or maybe just blackbirds. It's lovely.

We are pleased to hear that Dot is enjoying our broadcasts and that they are bringing back happy memories to that particular well travelled member of our audience.

However, we know most readers won't have visited this part of the world. It's a fine area, even in a heat wave.

Jamie - you should come if you haven't been before! You could get someone to deputise for you at the Altrincham Festival, just like we did. Thanks for that go to 'Stay At Home Hazel With The Huge Wallet' - we are sure she did us proud at the Festival whilst her crazy husband was bagging 11 Munros in a weekend. So that's the South Glen Shiel Ridge done then?

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Sunday, 4 July 2010

A Walk in the Woods

The noise from last night's Saturday night disco at Pieve di Ledro was most effectively drowned (if you'll excuse the pun) by the torrential rain that arrived shortly after we had enjoyed our picnic by Lago di Ledro under darkening skies. The rain followed a fine display of sheet lightning, and 'around sound' thunder that would have done Ginger Baker proud.

Suffice to say - we slept well in the TN Hyperspace, which is without doubt the smallest tent on the site.

Our day started as always on this trip. Slowly. This is a leisurely break, with the health of Sue's neck a primary concern. The neck has been a bit better of late, and setbacks aren't welcome, hence the short walks and frequent B&B accommodation.

We finally set off at 10.30, flower guide in hand, under another clear blue sky, up the steep surfaced track to San Martino chapel. It was hot again. Some mountain bikers ground slowly past, traveling only marginally faster than us. A few other hikers passed by as we sat in the roadway feverishly trying to identify different Broomrapes and Orchids. Succulent strawberries (Sue says ours are nicer than yours, Mark!) lined our route, giving rise to further delay.

Eventually, long after joining a delightful woodland path (#456), the chapel appeared, on a small promontory. Unusually, it was a bit unkempt and decrepit - hopefully a bit of TLC will soon sort it out though.

The following wooded belvedere along #456 at around 1300 metres was an absolute delight. Reasonably not too hot (cool it was not) above steep drops through the woods, with occasional views to Lago di Ledro and Lago di Garda in the distance. Still hazy, but last night's rain had certainly cleared the air a little.

The path was being used by brave mountain bikers. We stepped aside and were always thanked for our trouble. Cyclists and walkers coexist quite happily on these paths.

Sue saw a large adder - it probably wouldn't appreciate being run over by a mountain bike.

An eagle soared high (very high) above us.

We enjoyed the welcome shade afforded by the trees.

By and by we reached Malga Giu, a junction from where we could have continued to Tremalzo in a couple of hours. But we headed down #419 and then took a side track to the Santa Anna chapel, which has recently been lovingly restored as a shrine to Paolo Arnoldi (5 June 1990 - 26 September 2009). Very sad.

After that we thought it would be downhill all the way. It was down Val Scaglia. Landslides appear to have terrorized this valley since the 1930s, and much pride has been taken in recent, not inconsiderable, efforts to stabilize the area. They seem to be working.

After the steep, gravelly descent of Val Scaglia, during which we met a man hiking in just swimming trunks and trail shoes (we are in a heat wave, after all) the gentle tarmac of Pian di Pur was most welcome. Sunday afternoon picnics and barbecues were in full swing.

The 100 metre ascent up what we expected to be a lakeside road was less welcome, and by the time we reached camp at 6pm we'd clocked up 14km and about 900 metres ascent in around 7.5 hours, including many 'flower stops'.

We carry no food stocks - subject to one notable exception our itinerary and catering is never planned more than a couple of hours ahead. So whilst I brewed up, Sue went off to buy dinner. She soon returned. The supermarket that had been open last night and this morning was shut. It's Sunday.

The pizzas at Pizzeria Al Lago were excellent...

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