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Rockfall on Mont Blanc

February 25, 2016

I’d been home for a couple months after Aconcagua, and already I was getting ready to head back to the high mountains. Long term memory loss, or an overload of type two fun I guess. I heard that Tony and our team had summited, and I knew that he would be keen to bag the remaining six. By September 2014 we had worked out a tentative plan to climb Elbrus in August 2015.

It’s a cheap time to travel to Russia with the sanctions cutting the weeklong trip cost in half to about $750. Elbrus has all of the issues going on in Russia, the problem of militarization on the nearby Ukranian border, and the ongoing regional struggle with separatist organizations that bombed the cable car on the mountain in 2011 and had just pledged allegiance to ISIS. With a few reservations, we wired a 5,000 ruble deposit per person to a Latvian bank. I got back from Romania in June and we ordered the letters of invitation. After a month, many pages of paperwork, and $350 we received our visas. We checked the news, saw that nothing unusual was happening in Russia, and wired the remaining money.

In July I left the US for Europe and managed to climb the highpoints of Liechtenstein (Grauspitz), Macedonia and Albania (Golem Korab), Bulgaria (Musala), Kosovo (Đeravica) and Germany (Zugspitze). But those are for a different post. This post begins at Platform 2 of the Bellegarde train station outside of Geneva, where I met Tony to get ready for Elbrus.

We planned to complete the Goûter route on Mont Blanc to acclimatize for Elbrus, and bag another country highpoint. We’d heard the Goûter had been closed in the second half of July because of rockfall in the Grand Couloir, so we were not sure whether the ascent would be possible. With our places at the Goûter hut booked and non-refundable, we decided to have a go anyway.

We arrived at St Gervais des Bains at 7 am to be ahead of the crowd on the first departure of the Tramway du Mont Blanc. At the station we learned that due to line maintenance the train would only run to Mont Lachat and we would have to hike to Nid d’Aigle. Also, on the way up a young ranger told us all that climbing Mont Blanc was not a good idea.

Another hour of sunlight on the Grand Couloir and another hour for the rockfall to get worse. I hadn’t done much time in mountain huts in Western Europe and Tony had not been to Europe much at all, so we ended up with heavier packs than we would have liked, and were dragging ass. It didn’t end up mattering much because suddenly we started hearing multiple helicopters overhead. “Looks like somebody’s having a bad day…” and the reply “Yeah, right, ya know…”. A half hour later a ton of climbers were descending the mountain past us.

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Dolomites 2014

September 13, 2015

After a couple days relaxing Germany, my dad and I flew to Milan. I spent a few days going to Venice and Milan. Venice was interesting but crowded, the kind of place that would be best seen in early morning before the buses (boats in this case) bring in the sheeple who are herded around the town by guides with wands and umbrellas trying to keep everyone together. Modern tourism is pretty close to a cattle drive, and it’s a drag for the rest of us.

After those few days my dad and I took the rental car north to the Dolomites for a week of hiking. Our first stop was a warmup hike on Lago Di Garda. We drove up to the town of Malcesine and took a cable car to Monte Baldo, and hiked along a ridge to Cima delle Pozzette. Roundtrip distance- 9.5 km, 417 m gain. GPS track here. Cima delle Pozzette was a great warmup for some of the longer hikes we would be doing in the next week. After a birra at the mountain hut we drove to Trento and stayed the night.

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The next morning we went to the nearby massif of Monte Bondone and hiked three peaks, the aptly named Giro delle Tre Cime del Bondone. The views were excellent, and the rock in the Dolomites continued to remind me of the Balkan karst across the Adriatic.

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The first peak, and the tallest is Cornetto (2180 m). Excellent weather and great views all around. We descended from Cornetto’s summit and passed WWI fortifications, a reminder of the heavy fighting that has scarred most peaks in this range. We continued East along the ridge to the summit of Dos d’Abramo (2140 m). There was a large cross on the summit which was stable enough for me to climb up.

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We descended from Dos d’Abramo on a short via ferrata and then hiked to the summit of Cima Verde. On the way down we got off the trail but made it back to the car after walking through a meadow and a swamp, in time for a panini and birra. 11.6 km total distance, with 778 m gain. GPS track here.

The next hike we completed was the loop around Tre Cime di Lavaredo/ Drei Zinnen. We drove to Misurina and took the road up to the Cadore Rifugi. From there it was a nice but very busy hike around the historic area, here too there had been intense fighting in WWI.

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After passing the Locatelli Hut/ Dreizinnenhütte we made side trips to Frankfurter Würstl and Sasso di Sesto/ Sextner Stein that took a couple hours, then finished off the loop and headed back to Milan to catch a fight to Stuttgart. GPS track here.

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The Dolomites were a great area to visit, with the same kind of terrain as the Balkans that I enjoy, but none of the difficulties associated with travel there. Next, we went to Montenegro to give Kolata another go.

Tatras 2014

June 26, 2015

I flew to Prague from Brisbane via Bangkok and Frankfurt, and stayed in Prague for a night so I could catch a morning train to Poprad-Tatry, Slovakia. It’s always nice to come back to Prague, kind of like a second home to me in a way.

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Sigmund Freud hangs from a building, one of David Černý’s many works in the city.

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The next morning I took a direct train from Praha hl.n. to Poprad-Tatry. After about 8 hours I arrived, walked in the rain to a nearby hotel and checked in. I planned to do a shorter warmup hike the next morning to Predné Solisko, 2093 m, a subpeak from the town of Štrbské pleso. The Tatras are a really easy area to travel around without a car, getting to Poprad-Tatry is easy from Bratislava, Košice or Prague. From the train station in Poprad Tatry, an electric train runs that connects all of the Slovak towns along the southern edge of the Tatras. The Tatras are in a line as well, so access to nearly every peak is very easy.

With jetlag I was up early and decided to head to Štrbské pleso rather than sit around. After breakfast in the 24-hour bar in the train station I caught the electric train and was on my way.

From Štrbské pleso I walked around the lake (‘pleso’ means lake) and found a trail in the direction of Predné Solisko. I’ve mentioned before how great the Czech trail system is, and the Slovaks use the same one. For those who don’t want to walk so far, there is also a chairlift to a couple hundred meters below the summit. The trail was steep, and suprisingly hot and humid. I took it easy and made it to the summit by 10 or 11 am. The summit was packed with people who took the chairlift up, so I tagged it and made my way 20 minutes further up the ridge to Soliskový hrb, 2126 m. Total ascent of 812 m and roundtrip distance of 12.7 km. GPS track here. On the descent I stopped by the mountain hut Chata pod Soliskom (meaning ‘hut below Solisko’) for a guláš (goulash) and pivo. They sure know how to do hiking the right way out here!

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Summit cross on Predné Solisko

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Poprad is a pretty boring town, and I think that the next time I go to the Tatras I’ll stay in one of the mountain towns like Tatranská Lomnica or Starý Smokovec. I did spot a peculiar mosaic favorably depicting the Red Army liberation, not a common sight anymore…

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The next morning I still didn’t feel like a big day. The previous day I scouted Gerlachovský štít, but thought that there would be too much snow for me to feel comfortable on it solo. Sometimes I lose motivation for climbing, and want to take a bit of a break. Distance doesn’t usually bother me but when I see 1500 m of gain or something I think twice– particularly when the summit isn’t a highpoint.

Anyway, I did another easy hike. I took the electric train to Starý Smokovec, and then to Tatranská Lomnica. From the train station I walked up the hill a few hundred meters and got a cable car to Skalnaté pleso at 1803 m. From there I hiked to the east to the summit of Veľká Svišťovka at 2038 m. It was an easy ascent with great views of Lomnický štít and Dolina Bielej vody. 339 m gain for the day and 6.6 km roundtrip. GPS track here. Back at Skalnaté pleso, I had the traditional klobasa and pivo and then continued down the hill to Tatranská Lomnica.

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East face of Lomnický štít

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Dolina Bielej vody, summit of Veľká Svišťovka on the right.

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Skalnaté pleso and Lomnický štít

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Vysoké Tatry from Poprad

From the Tatras I returned to Prague, spent another day there, and then traveled to Baden-Württemberg, Germany to meet my dad. Up next, the Dolomites…

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A quick picture on my way through Schwäbisch Hall, Germany