Shown up the mountain

I thought I'd share a few more photos from the Italian Job in May.  It's not everyday I get invited to visit Europe for work, and the location was ridiculously romantic,  high up near a chapel underneath the Rocca Calascio, a watch tower built to guard against Medieval Saracen hordes.  Sea mists smudged the edges of the mountains into ideas of themselves at dawn and dusk.  It was warm and dry in a way it rarely is anywhere in the UK.

Luckily it wasn't all romantic views from a distance.  We were also treated to a guided trip to the 2564m summit of Monte Camicia, led by local Abruzzian, one time Messner accomplice and Himalayan guide Giampiero di Federico.

Being the mountain snob I am, under normal circumstances I'd resent being shown the way by an expert and would prefer to go under my own steam.  It should go without saying that there's alot to be learnt by being out with the professionals.  In my case, unfortunately, it doesn't go without saying - I need to be reminded.  Ideally I prefer to go exploring with only a little beta - too much spoils the feeling of discovery (even if it is misplaced).  But my silly self made rules are worth suspending to spend a little time around this amount of experience.

14 in the group, we move relentlessly slowly all the way to the col.  After far too many breaks, Phil and I were getting bored.  But grinding away in first gear, our guide was metering the speed of the group as a whole.  After we left those without crampons and axe to descend safely, Giampiero slipped into third for the summit push.  You have been paced.

Crampons were donned, but only the English put their poles away and switched to axes.  The angle was steep and the runout long, but the snow was so soft that we couldn't fall that far, an axe would achieve only limited purchase, and it was better to be balanced with poles rather than wobble and skid with a sharp axe in our hands.  Clearly stiff and starchy Scottish winter rules could be bent, if not altogether broken.  And obviously, the Europeans knew their own mountains best.

Deep, mushy snow made a mockery of my bendy Kahtoola crampons not equipped with balling plates.  These work well much of the time in the UK where the snow is hardened by stiff winds, but out here in balmy Italy, in easier conditions, they met their limits.  On the first half of the walk, I impatiently led the group, on the last half, I bought up the rear with grapefruit sized clumps of wet snow under my boots and clumsy footwork.  It was quite a long way up, and no time for icy appendages.  Time for some of that tasty humble pie.

It's a magnificent summit and fairly easy, although that steeply angled snowy corrie we contoured up in single file did have me wondering.  Would I have done this at home, solo?  I'm not so sure - I would definitely have been concerned about avalanche, even this late in the season.  

Giampiero wasn't remotely bothered of course.  Here he is adjusting B rated crampons on canvas trail boots. It's a walk in the (National) Park for him.  But there are rules for bending, and rules for keeping:  He kept an eye on me all the way down, him steamrolling at the front, me at the back with my stupid snowball feet, all nonchalant mountain muscle to my bandy legged tourist. 

None of this was spoken about at the time.  Even mentioning it now seems overstated.  Then again, gentle lessons in inspiring, slightly dangerous places really stick.  It was good to be reminded to stay flexible, conserve energy and focus on the details, not sweat the rules.  And it was very good to be reminded in the mountains: because it stops me getting hurt, and gifts the ability to do and see more next time I'm on my own.  Salut, Giampiero - well taught.

More info at MontAbruzzo and Giovanni Nori