Fifteen(ish) Star Lodgings

That’s about how many stars we saw last night….while sitting on the side of a mountain unable to find the way down in the dark. It’s September. Nights are relatively long at the moment. We had no bivouac gear. Get the idea?

We went up to the beautiful Toni Demetz Hütte. You don’t even have to walk up since there’s these old, quaint, two person gondalas that go straight to the hut. The hut itself is clean and the room we were in felt relatively new. You can even have hot showers up there, if you like.

Old, two person gondolas going up to the hut which you can see at the end of the cables.

There is also a ton of climbing nearby, in the Fünffingerspitze (to the left in the photo) and the Langkopfel group. We started with an almost perfectly protected route on East Wall of Gottesfinger called the Paravis Route. We climbed that one in the afternoon when we arrived and the sun had already passed behind the mountains. We were quite cold. I was also getting over my food poisoning episode and let my partner lead everything. Normally, it’s exactly the sort of route that I would love, but I was having vertigo. Every time I looked up at the cliff and back down at the rope, my head would swim.

Gottesfinger, with the seven pitch Via Paravis

We got pretty cold for that route so we picked out another for the next day that would be in the sun. We’ve just had a lovely weather period of about four days and I was sick with food poisoning for two of them. I wanted my partner to have fun and take advantage of what might be the last good weather period this fall. So I agreed to the route without really looking at it, although that wouldn’t have changed a whole lot. It was the Rosemarie Spitze south ridge climb.

We start out and the first thing that happens was a big rock bunch of rocks blasted off the cliff and hit my leg, arm and helmet. I didn’t get so very much hurt, and the previous paragraph still held; I wanted my partner to be happy with the great weather we were having.

Before the rock slide. This is the worst of the rotten rock on the climb, but it’s not surprising that it came off here.
The worst of the results of the rockfall on the first pitch (a day later)

We did the climb but I didn’t lead anything, and there wasn’t a lot of gear in the route. Even though it was a ridge climb, it was still possible to get off route. My partner didn’t find a couple of belays right away, and kept missing pitons the would indicate where he was supposed to be going. I started to wonder if there was a patron saint for finding belays stands in the Dolomites, Saint Dibona or something, who I could pray to so that we didn’t lose time looking all over the cliff. We were slow. In addition to not finding the route right away, I wasn’t super fast either since my leg and arm hurt from the rock fall, and I was getting over food poisoning.

About half the pitches had excellent Dolomite rock, but the other half was semi-rotten which didn’t encourage speed climbing, even if I’d been capable.

Maybe about pitch 8 or 9, where the rock was quite good.

We finally reached the summit at 6pm.

The summit, Punta Rosemarie, via Spigolo Sud

I called the hut to say that we weren’t going to make it for dinner and we started down. The climb’s descent is a labyrinth in a massive arena of not wonderful rock. We had only a summary description and were already getting lost when three strange Austrian men appear from nowhere and climb like ants up and around and above us looking for the descent as well. They wouldn’t talk to us. My partner asked them direct questions in German, and they just didn’t answer. It was so strange. Then they talked a bit, asking us if we had bivvy gear. We said we didn’t, they said they did, and they left us there to go bivouac together.

The night was long, the night was cold, but there was almost no wind, just some bursts from time to time and sometimes we could hear it howling further up, but it mostly didn’t get to us. It was only going to be about 7°C/44°F, but not freezing. The night was going to be long and uncomfortable, but not dangerous. We found a place maybe a bit less in the wind where we could sit on our rope and climbing shoes. It was about a meter wide and slightly sloping and we had rocks around us on three sides and under us. The fourth side bent steeply off into the valley below. It was wide enough where we were that I felt okay to take off the climbing harness for the night. We huddled together.

The night passed like this: I had my partner’s back to me and I held onto it. He kept my hands warm in his, I kept his back warm by pressing against it, and my legs wrapped around the outside of his. Around midnight he asked me if my first aid kit had an emergency blanket in it. It did! We pulled it out and from then on, we almost were able to sleep. Or to put it this way, hours seemed to pass and I wasn’t always aware of them.

Our positions were such that when my partner slept, he would fall forward and I was afraid of him falling over (and maybe fall off the mountain) so I would wake and pull him back up. Repeat this a few hundred times.

The blanket started to fall apart after a while, and we wrapped the bits of it around our legs and torso. I watched the stars. We couldn’t see a lot of them from where we were, since we were in a steep valley between the cliffs. It had been a full moon two days before, and I waited for the moon to come out. Clouds came, clouds left. Lights turned off in the valley down below. I felt like I was being abandoned every time a light went out. I think we must have been able to see the farms above the village of Compatsch, maybe. Fog built up in the valley, then disappeared, then built up again. Wind came and went, thankfully went.

I tried not to look at my watch too often. I had my IPhone but not so much battery life, and I put it on flight mode and just used the lamp a few times when we rearranged things. The moon must have finally came out because it became quite bright, but then clouds covered it. I was happy for the clouds, because usually fully clear nights are much colder. Sometimes I sang some songs, sometimes my partner did. I sang “59th Street Bridge Song” and “Three Little Birds”. I told him my favorite Grimm story “The Goose Girl”. Falada the talking horse’s head was cut off and hung over a bridge, where the princess/goose girl passed every day. It’s a creepy story, with the talking horse’s dead head speaking to the princess as she went past. We discussed over and over again where the path down was likely to be.

Finally I could start to see colors in my clothes, around 6am. In fifteen minutes we were moving again, bouncing around to bring some blood back into our feet. We put the harnesses on and just then, I was able to see a cairn just below us. The path!

The rest was long and laborious, but there were cairns and sometimes little red paint marks. We did maybe five 25 meter belays from time to time, and there was even a bit on a cable like a via ferrata. At the first belay, the Austrians caught up with us, but after that we were much, much faster. I could see them in the second to last belay when we finally arrived at the hut at around ten am.

A little word about the Toni Demetz Hütte: the brother of Toni Demetz still helps out there with his wife. (Toni was apparently a young guide who died on Sassolungo in 1952, and the hut was named after him). They speak Italian, German and the local dialect of Ladin. The daughter is there, during our visit she was two weeks away from giving birth to a second child. I never got the name of Toni’s brother, but he is amazing. I’d guess he’s around eighty years old. I sent them a message just before turning off the phone, to ask if they had a description of the descent somewhere. He texted it to me, but it was only what we already had. I sent them a message when we were awake and moving in the morning, and he sent back a thumbs up. When we arrived, he had not been worried for us, but had looked at the weather report all the same. When I arrived at the hut, I gave the son-in-law a look and said, “I feel like I slept in my clothes” to which he laughed. Toni’s brother, the older man, was so very reasonable. We talked about the fact that it was uncomfortable but, like, hey, whatever. No one was going to die from spending a few hours in the cold on the side of a mountain; as long as we didn’t do something stupid, we were going to be just fine. The descent was so fractured, so difficult to see in the fading light that I was really pleased that we had stopped when we did, and where we did, because there were not a lot of places further along where we could have avoided the wind and been able to take off the harnesses and rest.

Now we’re in a youth hostel in the beautiful town of Brixen/Bressanone, which is apparently where Reinhold Messner was born. We have a big, inexpensive room. We did laundry. We had a beer. We ate lovely Italian food. Everything is brighter and shinier, warmer and more comfortable, than it was before we spent the night outside in the cold. I’ve already bought a replacement for the emergency blanket in my first aid kit.

The best thing is, we are tired, we don’t want to do anything, and it’s supposed to be rainy for a couple of days. There is nothing more wonderful than a rainy day when you’re in a comfortable place and tired from the days before.

Foro, the comfort cow

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