Piz Da Lech Via Ferrata – Dolomites

Later in the year I want to attempt to climb the mighty Triglav, the highest mountain in Slovenia. To summit the mountain in style a series of Via Ferrata (VF) routes can be taken all the way to the summit.

However, before attempting such a trip I thought it would be a good idea to get some practice in and where better to do that than in the home of VF itself the Italian Dolomites!

Luckily for me I had a week booked in July to go to Italy where I’d be doing some hiking and mountain walking based in Corvara in the Sud Tyrol, so while I was out there I booked myself onto a VF day on a one-to-one basis with a local Mountain Guide.

The Alta Badia Guides Office suggested a route called the ‘Piz Da Lech’ rated at a VF3B. VF grading is easy to understand. Difficulty is rated on a 5 point scale (1 being easy and 5 being the most difficult). Exposure (as in how steep the drop offs are, or how catastrophic a tumble might be) is rated as an A, B or C, with C being the most exposed. So the route seemed pitched pretty perfectly for me, moderately hard but with a few serious moves and some exposure to get used to.

Some technical details of the route:
Via ferrata, completely secured with steel cables
Type of path: 95% steel cables, 5% steps.
Complete gradient of the climb: 380 m, 2-2:30 hours
Complete gradient until the beginning of the via ferrata: 30 m, 20 mins.
Gradient of the ferrata: 190 m, 1:00-1:30 hours.
Gradient to the summit: 160 m, 30 mins.
Descent: from the Piz da Lech summit, 2,910 m, descend along the normal route (with red signs). The last short steep stretch of the descent is secured with metal cables and fixed with steel; 1:30 hours.
Facing: South.

So I set off with my guide Michel up the Piz Boè Gondola from Covara in the early morning bound for the rocky slopes of the Sella Range above. I was ready for a bit of adventure and the day did not fail to deliver.

There was some excellent climbing to be had on the rock itself whilst the wire, ladders and stemples were all well-positioned for when it became too impractical to climb unaided. There were also the two famous ladders towards the end of the climb to negotiate, these ladders themselves were airy and fun but required a bit of force to pull through, especially on the top one.

The route finished with a nice mountain walk across a lunar landscape to the summit which had the ubiquitous cross upon it and far reaching views across the Dolomites.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first real taste of Via Ferrata and the surroundings couldn’t have been better for a climb with stunning mountain scenery. Hopefully my little adventure will have put me in good stead for the sterner test to come in September out in Slovenia.

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Stok Kangri Expedition – Leh

To climb a 6000m peak you need to acclimatise and to do this you need to spend a substantial amount of time at high altitude so another acclimatisation day was required to firstly get used to already being at 3,524m above sea-level and secondly to prepare us for the much harder task ahead. Today it had been scheduled that we were going to take a walking tour around the ancient city of Leh in which we were staying to help with this ongoing process.

Leh is the main town in the North West Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and sits at a high altitude along the Indus Valley. In years gone by it had been the old capital of the Himalayan Kingdom of Ladakh and we were here for the next three days.

Today we would start our acclimation process by walking up to the famous Shanti Stupa which sits upon a prominent hilltop in Chanspa overlooking Leh. At first glance the structure appears to be ancient but upon further inspection in fact it was built quite recently in 1991 and by a Japanese Buddhist named BhikshuGyomyo Nakamura as part of a peace mission to the country.

Rumour has it that the stupa holds the relics of the Buddha at its base! An intriguing thought, but our primary reason for visiting was far less cultural. We wanted to climb the 500 steep steps ascending the Stupa and gain the altitude of 3,609m at the top. We all huffed and puffed our way up the broken and rocky steps which were definitely not your standard western riser and tread dimensions.

Having eventually laboured our way to the top we were finally greeted by the milk-white structure of the stupa. Buddhist stupas serve as a marker for a sacred space and represent the great Buddha’s burial mound. At this moment I felt like I could have been buried alongside the Buddha’s himself totally exhausted from my exertions to reach the plateaux.

Having gained some composure we wandered around the structure with our guide for the day a local known only as ‘LT’ and enjoyed the painted walls around the stupa with their colourful reliefs that depict the milestones in the life of the Buddha – his birth, his fight against various devils, his victories over injustice and his eventual death etc, etc.

Below us the whole of Ladakh appeared to be sprawled out as far as the eye could see and it would have been great to have lingered for longer, but there was no time to rest and relax because we were now deeply into our acclimatisation routine and we needed to trek over to our next destination, the Tisserru Stupa.

Tisserru Stupa - LehThe Tisserru Stupa is a strange structure to visit! Ladakh’s largest stupa is unique in the region – a giant, mud brick structure that looks like a half-built ziggurat. This 15th-century monument could be one of Leh’s largest attractions but for the fact that you can’t actually get into it, so other than walking around its perimeter and snapping of the obligatory photos there’s not a lot to do and see once you get there.

Disappointed with the underwhelming mud brick stupa we instead began to climb up to Tsemo Fort which sits in a commanding position above the town. The fort had once served as the royal residence of the Namgyal dynasty (Royal Family). There’s little to see inside apart from a tiny Buddhist shrine. Today it is basically a ruin but the views from the wooden machicolations were sublime.

After the fort I decided to go AWOL from the group as I wanted to investigate Leh Palace. The palace resembles the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. It is nine storeys high and I’m sure I climbed up every single step and then down again through every single floor to push my lungs in the thin air.

The roof of this 16th century structure provides panoramic views of Leh and the surrounding area, including  Stok Kangri itself, so I just had to get up as high as I could to glimpse the peak one last time before we would be leaving the city.

All in all a pretty tiring day by the end of it but this was all good preparation that we badly needed to prep us for our climb which was now edging nearer and nearer.

Follow along with the expedition updates being posted over the coming weeks.

Stok Kangri Expedition – Arrival in Ladakh

We flew into Leh on the first day of our adventure aboard a very early morning flight out of Delhi. The approach to Leh airport is what could be termed interesting. 360 degrees of surrounding mountain ranges, a narrow valley and a dusty ex military airstrip to try to land on. It was a sick bags out and hold onto the seat of your pants kind of a landing!

Prayer Flags - LehAfter eventually clearing the never ending bureaucracy of the airport (which is in more or less lock-down mode due to volatile political tensions in the region) we finally emerged to grab lifts in a convoy of small taxi vans waiting outside which whisked us at speed through the labyrinth of dusty and bumpy roads to our local hotel.

View from my room - LehAfter a nail biting cab ride that only third world countries can deliver we arrived at our hotel/hostel where we were cordially greeted with traditional prayer scarves by the genial hotel staff.

Meet and GreetFollowing on from being fed and watered the rest of the day was spent just sleeping and gaining some much needed R&R. Later after awaking from barely enough sleep I had a quick walk into town.

Very dusty and muddy with potholes everywhere is the best way to describe the streets of Leh. The town is a strange fusion of Indian and Tibetan influenced cultures. Many Tibetan refugees have made the town their new home and Buddhist influence abounds through prayer flags, stupas and the Tibetan markets.

Ladakh House - LehI ended up wandering around one of the many Tibetan Bazaars that litter the town and made a timely investment in some prayer flags, (always good to have as much spiritual support as can be mustered when attempting to climb a 6000m peak).

Street Stalls - LehNothing else of much note happened for the rest of the day as this was just one of what would come to be all too familiar acclimatisation days.

Day two of the trip though would hold the hope of some much needed physical exertion by means of a trip to the very old and famous Alchi Monastery some distance away up the Indus Valley. Catch the next post to read all about our trip to the monastery.

Follow along with the expedition updates being posted over the coming weeks.

Jebel Toubkal Challenge – Day 1

I found myself sitting at a table overlooking the famous square of Djemaa El-Fna in Marrakech chatting to four people that I had just met a few seconds earlier while at the same time trying to wolf down a tasty chicken tagine that had promptly arrived in front of me! Continue reading “Jebel Toubkal Challenge – Day 1”