Scaling the Marmolada by Via Ferrata, Italy, 9-2014

Once a year I get together with three of my cousins and a couple of friends and scale a mountain, preferably one with a glacier where we also have to climb a bit. This year’s choice was the Marmolada, the queen of the Dolomiti mountains in Northern Italy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marmolada). We chose the highest of the five summits on the ridge, the Punta Penia. We drove to our starting point near the town of Canazei. The area is called South Tyrol, it was the site of heavy mountain combat in World War I (http://www.worldwar1.com/itafront/marmolada.htm). After hiking for an hour and a half we reached our beautiful hut for the night, the Rifugio Contrin (http://www.rifugiocontrin.it). After a good night’s sleep we started our tour and reached the “Forcella Marmolada” in a couple of hours.

Marmolada1

That was where the real fun began. A “via ferrata” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Via_ferrata) is an “iron path” that leads up the steep rock face. We all brought a via ferrata kit which served to attach the climber to the metal cable. Every few yards one has to disconnect the carabiners one at a time to continue to the next rock joint. This enabled us to scale the steep rock face that would otherwise have been impossible to climb. Below you can see the entire course starting at the bottom right.

Marmolada Westgrat Klettersteig

 

Two hours later we reached the end of the via ferrata and the beginning of the glacier. Here we took out our crampons, attached three people to one climbing rope for protection against falling into a crevasse, and marched to the peak.

Marmolada

We then descended along the glacier, on the diagram above on the bottom left. An antique single person lift then took us to the bottom of the valley. It was a fantastic two day tour!

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Mountain Biking in the Bregenzerwald, Austria, 6-2014

On a very hot June morning my friend Alejandro and I set out to explore the local mountains by mountain bike. We went from Bregenz to Dornbirn and then started scaling the “hinterland”. At Kehlegg we reached a point high above the Rhine valley. Continuing on through the woods on dirt roads we climbed higher and higher until we reached our destination, the Weissenfluhalpe. Sharing the view from this lovely spot were numerous mountain bikers and countless cows that are spending the entire summer in lofty heights on fat meadows.

Weissenfluhalpe

Alex arrived with a bang, his rear tire exploded exactly as we pulled up to the hut. We decided to have a “Radler” first, a refreshing drink mixed from beer and lemonade, it translates to “biker”. After a short break we proceeded to fix Alex’ bike. Since we didn’t have a spare tire we cut up the old inner tube and created a few layers of protection under the gash, and then put about half of the normal pressure in the tire. We were wondering how long this temporary fix was going to last. But alas, we made it down the other side of the mountain to Bezau, the main town in the Bregenzerwald. After a wonderful raspberry cake at the Café Natter we decided to continue our quest. We jumped on the main bike path through the valley and cruised (I cruised and Alex hobbled) to Andelsbuch. From there the bike path is the old railroad track of the narrow gauge Bregenzerwald train (lovingly called the “Wälderbähnle”), http://www.waelderbaehnle.at. The train now runs only from Andelsbuch to Bezau because there were several land slides in the gorge of the Bregenzer Ache, along which the train used to run. After Egg the track dives down into the gorge and stays next to the river all the way to Kennelbach, close to Bregenz. Currently the track is only maintained until the campground in Doren, http://www.camping-bregenzerache.at. After that it becomes very difficult to navigate, there is a half collapsed bridge and two tunnels to cross, and countless small land slides cover the track and make you carry the bike for up to several hundred meters. We had planned to do it, but progress was seriously slowed by the continuous flattening of Alex’ tire. He had to work at least twice as hard as me during the whole ordeal. We were considering what to do next at the campground when a very nice man overheard us and offered us to drive us to our car. We had been on the road for around 5 hours by then and gratefully accepted this amazing offer.

biking the Bregenzerwald

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Sailing on Lake Constance, Austria, 9-13

 Lake Constance is as close to my heart as the sea is to the fisherman whose livelihood depends on it. I grew up a few hundred meters from its shores, and it seems like I lived in the water during the summer months during my childhood. The lake is shared by Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, and the Rhine has its first river delta, a bird sanctuary, on the Austrian shoreline. Besides its natural beauty the lake is home to all kinds of water sports. Fortunately the amount of power boats is strictly limited so that sailing enthusiasts make up the majority of boaters.

In Bregenz it is possible to have a small sailboat without being a member of a yacht club, the city owns a meadow on the lake, and anybody can apply for a spot there. I received mine after waiting for a year, and then looked for a sailboat that would suit my needs. I found it in an older but sturdy Laser II that can be sailed singlehandedly or with two people, if there’s enough wind. With a sailing area of under 12 square meters it keeps below the legal requirement for having a sailing license. So now I can take my bicycle and ride down to the boat for an enjoyable cruise on my favorite lake. Come with me!

Bodensee

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