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Mt. Pelmo: an epic day hike
By:  Lee Hawkings   (2009/07/24)

†††††††††††On June 30 I left home and travelled to northern Italy for the Junior World Orienteering Championships along with Colin Abbott. I was very sick the week before the races and still sick for the first three races. The last two races went fairly well and I did well compared to my Canadian and American counterparts (the sport is on a whole different level in Europe so it is hard for us to compete with the big boys like Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark).


 After the week and a half of racing I headed out with my cousin Graham Ereaux, who is also on the orienteering team, to do a backpacking trip in the famous Dolomites mountain range. We had 10 days before we flew home so we through-hiked the Alta Via 3 (about 100km). On the fourth day of our hike we had a short day finishing at a Rifugio (small hotels owned by the Italian Alpine club) which was located at the base of the massive Mt. Pelmo, which at 3169m (10,397 feet) is one of the highest peaks in the region. We had plenty of time left in the day and thought it might be a nice day hike.


 We dropped our big packs off at the Rifugio and headed up to hike the mountain. According to the legend on the map, the route was for experienced hikers, a category which my cousin and I both definitely fall into. On the map it also appeared that the first past of the hike traversed an almost sheer cliff so we were a little scared that the trail could be sketchy and very exposed.

 We started our way up and soon the trail began to go across the big cliff we had been looking up at all morning. The trail quickly became very exposed and intimidating especially if you didnít have much experience in scrambling mountains. There was a big cliff that dropped off to our left, a small path to walk on and an overhanging cliff above us. At points you had to hold on with your hands and shuffle your feet along below you. My cousin, who is not experienced with big mountains (he lives in New Brunswick and hikes in Fundy all the time), was getting freaked out and didnít feel comfortable on a trail that exposed. I tried to coax him along but soon realized it was probably more dangerous to do this type of trail if you arenít confident in your abilities.


 We sat down for a bit on the trail and ate some lunch while we weighed our options. We both saw that he wouldnít be able to do it, but I couldnít imagine missing a chance like this to climb an amazing mountain. We ended up deciding to split up - I would finish the mountain alone and he would go for a hike on a different nearby trail. He wished me luck and we headed off on our separate journeys.

 The first parts after I left him were the sketchiest, and even though I had no trouble and felt very confident in my abilities, I still couldnít help thinking I was being a little reckless heading up a huge mountain by myself. From then on though I just put those thoughts out of my head and focused on getting up and down safely.

After the cliff traverse the ďtrailĒ (more like scattered markers that you found your own way between) headed up a gully and then on to a fairly steep scree slope where it switchbacked up a long ways. After the scree slope the trail came to a section that was almost like steps, except they were cliffs, about head-height. You had to go back and forth and pick your own way up but it was pretty cool. I came over the top of this and headed into the bowl which I was a little surprised to see covered in snow.

 I hiked across and traversed the soft snow patches and eventually made it up onto the summit ridge which I followed all the way up to the top. I got extremely lucky with the weather on the summit. The whole way up the summit had been in the clouds and I was worried I wouldnít get any views. In the end the clouds cleared for a few minutes while I was standing on top which gave me some awesome panoramic views of the whole valley!


I had a quick snack on the top and took some pictures, then headed back down quickly as I didnít want more clouds to blow in as I descended. I got back to the bottom of the summit ridge and then ran and glissaded down the snow patches for a while (if you havenít skied down snow patches in hiking boots, you should, itís so much fun). On the rest of the descent I was very careful with my footing as I read in a book that most mountain accidents happen on the way down because people relax after summiting.

 Right before I started on the sketchy cliff traverse I decided to have a snack to help me focus and stay safe. I whipped out my last trusty CLIF Shot and downed it, then began my slow traverse. I arrived safely back at the Rifugio sometime later and, though tired, I very happy and proud of my accomplishment. The next day as we hiked away, every time I looked back at the mountain I still couldnít believe I had climbed it... by myself!

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