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Mountains, Mongrels and Motorhomes Part Three: Hilda

Update 3: Getting Going

UNITED KINGDOM | Monday, 29 August 2016 | Views [585]

13.   Molveno, Italy (28th June – 30th June):

We left the lovely Lake Idro and headed for Molveno which is another Italian lake but this time in the Dolomites. The town of Molveno was nice enough but, it now being high season, the campsite was expensive so after a mooch around we found a large lay-by on the road leading to the town and decided to base ourselves there. This turned out to be a smart move, not just because it was free and the view over the lake and on to the mountains was stunning, but at night the air was filled with fire flies doing their glowing thing – I have never seen this spectacle before but it was a genuine treat and something that I will remember forever.

The following day we walked the sixteen kilometres around the lake and had a picnic by a smaller lake nearby and the day after we took the gondola and then chair lift up into the Brenta Dolomites and did a circular walk taking in two mountain huts before returning back to the town. It was a great walk with beautiful wild flowers in a hidden valley and an interesting descent path though an ancient forest which had the added benefit of being cool in the afternoon heat.

It was also a day of firsts for Hilda. She had been on her first gondola and her first chair lift, she had been to her first mountain hut and she did, by accident, her first via ferrata. In fairness we had spotted a short cabled section of the path on the map but checked at the hut and they said that it would be fine. We took the section in descent and it didn’t seem to be too bad but we passed two Germans mid-way who were clinging to the cable and looking at us with complete disbelief. We had assumed that they were just inexperienced walkers but, when we got to the end of the cabled section and looked back, we could see what we couldn’t see coming down but they could see going up – the drop from the three foot wide path was four hundred metres directly into the valley below and looked the most unlikely place to be walking your dog (before anyone reports us to the RSPCA, Hilda was wearing a full harness and was roped to me so, had she taken a dive off the edge, she wouldn’t have gone far).


14.   Lago di Tovel, Italy (1st July):

Although Molveno was nice, access to the mountains was limited so we decided to head towards Madonna di Campiglio, a town in the valley on the other side of the range. It is always remarkable how far you have to drive in the mountains to get somewhere that is only a few miles away as the crow flies and en route Rachel spotted a white road on the map leading up into the mountains so we decided to follow it. To our surprise it ended in a toll but for €9 we were told we could stay the night. We parked in a small clearing and then walked a few hundred metres where the path led up to a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains on all sides. It was indeed a lovely spot and we spent the afternoon walking around the lake and throwing sticks into it for Hilda.


15.   Madonna di Campiglio, Italy (2nd – 12th July):

After a run around the lake in the morning we continued our journey to Madonna di Campiglio. We had been there on a previous trip but it was late November then and, although the mountains were spectacular to look at with their early snow covering and crystal clear blue sky behind them, the lifts and huts were closed so there was no practical way to get into them. We found a campsite down the valley and spent a few days doing some life admin. and some walking (the highlight being the very impressive waterfalls along the sides of Val Genova) and we even spent an afternoon rock climbing at a nearby crag which was the first climbing of the trip. But I was keen to get into the big mountains that I had wanted to be in since I saw them ten years ago and with Rachel not being keen on via ferrata and the need for someone to look after the dog, I either went on my own or hired a guide. Ten years ago I would never have even considered a guide especially for a via ferrata but these were big hills and going alone can be a very bad idea so I walked in the Guide Office at 6.00pm on 5th and by 6.30pm I walked out having booked a two-day, thirty kilometre, four thousand metre climb taking in four of the most famous routes in the region.

That evening I didn’t sleep too well. It was only a via ferrata but the middle-aged demons were taunting. The routes were towards the hardest grading in the guidebook. Was I fit enough? What if I couldn’t handle the exposure? What if I slipped on the unprotected sections? What if the weather changed – being strapped to metal cables on a committing route high up in an environment prone to storms is never good? Why was it that I now thought about these things when not long ago (in my mind) the only emotion would have been excitement?

Anyway, at 5.30am I met my guide who was a nice chap with good English and conversation flowed easily and by 6.00am we were walking into the hills. It turned out that my fitness was actually good and we made good time to the first hut. The next section was a glacier crossing and by now the sun had come around so the views were spectacular and it felt good to be back in crampons with their reassuring bite into the hard snow. We reached the col where I could see all the way into the valley we had been walking in from Molveno a week or so earlier and clipped into the first cables. The route and views were superb – ladders, narrow ledges (often no more than a few feet wide with six hundred metres of vertical drop off the side) and paths with every corner giving a new view of the dramatic Dolomitic rock pillars. It was all so comfortable that I was just wondering whether I should have tried to have done it alone when we turned a corner to find the route completely covered in snow from a storm the previous evening. I have had some unpleasant experiences in snow gullies and I know for sure that walking across them is an extremely dangerous proposition as the consequence of one slip (very easy on steep fresh snow) is an unstoppable slide to oblivion. Had I been on my own, I would have had no option but to turn around, but with two people and a rope you can cross safely. Interestingly, as the rules say that the guide has to be behind the client, I was the one who had to cross the gully first! Anyway, the gully was crossed and the route continued. We were making good time so we decided to take in a summit and then resumed the route which led past several more snow filled gullies back onto a glacier and then onto the hut where we would stay the night. We were two hours early and I had enjoyed every minute. I was fit enough and I was fine with the exposure which was a huge boost to my confidence and a real knock to the middle-age demons from the previous night.

Now, if you ever see mountain huts they always look idyllic. They are set in dramatic environments yet appear cosy and friendly. Staying in them is a completely different story. They generally have two temperature settings; arctic and tropical and you sleep (although sleep is a little too optimistic) in dormitories with bunks crammed in, often three deep and end to end. The rooms vibrate to the sound of snoring, farting and people getting up for a piss and, to top it all, the usual ratio is one toilet per fifty people. Fortunately, our hut was a remarkably civilised affair and we were in a room of just four people and, despite a party of fifty or so Italian school kids staying in the floor above and making the kind of noise that only a party of fifty Italian school kids can make, I slept well.

In the morning, I woke early for a strategic shit (i.e. the time before folk start queuing outside the door and knocking if you’re taking too long) and we were out onto another glacier by 7.00am. The second day was also perfect weather and went as well as the first. There were some great views of the Campanile Basso and again we were moving quickly so we took in an extra col with some more great views, had lunch at another hut and took a beautiful path through waterfalls back to the car. To top off the day, a couple that I had met in the hut also did the same route as us and were staying in the same campsite so they popped round in the evening. They were a very interesting pair with some great stories and the evening was really enjoyable.

It had been an expensive trip and, in hindsight, I would have been fine to have done it with anyone competent but I didn’t have a partner and, looking back, I don’t regret the hiring the guide at all. There were no dramas, no ‘moments’ and no “Oh fuck!” situations that seemed to occur far too frequently whilst climbing on the last trip and my confidence had grown as a result. I had had a great time and the cost will be forgotten but the memories will stay forever.

The following days were spent doing more walks in the area with Rachel and Hilda. On one walk we stopped at hut for a drink when one of the young cows coming down the hill managed to get onto the terrace. The hut owner was struggling to persuade the beast to leave the premises so Rachel (with her more direct approach to animal management) helped out and the young cow realised that she had met her match. On another day we took Hilda on her first official via ferrata; it was called the VF Attrezzato Umberto Bozzetto and was listed in the guidebook. She managed it very well and her tendency to relax when hanging in her harness made it easy for us to manager her when she had to be lowered or lifted.

That evening, admittedly after the odd glass of wine too many, we went to bed with the van windows open. There was the usual storm in the night and we awoke to find standing water in the locker beneath the window so the day was spent drying the kit that was in it. We must have looked like we had come back from a monster expedition because tents, sleeping bags, axes and climbing gear were strewn all around our plot on the campsite. Unfortunately when we checked the following day, the gear was wet again and we realised that our locker was leaking from the outside. Fucking van!


16.   Trento, Italy (13th – 14th July):

A leak in a motorhome is not good so we decided to head to the nearest Burstner service partner which was in the town of Trento. It turned out to be a rather hectic day. Trento was further away than we had anticipated and we spent ages finding the dealership. When we got there they hit the locker with a hammer, had several internal arguments but the net output was that the leak was worse and they had broken the alarm sensor on the locker. This in turn screwed up the whole alarm system which led to a two-hour conversation with the makers of the alarm in the UK just to stop the damn thing from constantly going off. In the process we discovered that Hilda had picked up a tick on her face which had swollen up to the extent that she needed to see a vet. We left the dealership at 7.00pm and stayed the night in a car park.

The following day we returned to the dealership. I phoned an ex-work colleague in Italy and she was able to translate so we left the van and went in search for a vet. We eventually found one using a combination of Google Maps and following a man with a cat in a cage. Luck was on our side as the vet saw us without the required appointment and the man with the cat spoke English so could translate. The swelling had gone down a lot and the vet said that we were best to leave things. We went back to the dealership to find that somehow they had actually fixed the leak (albeit they said that it was temporary). Things were looking up so we headed into Trento and had a nice afternoon mooching round the town and then sat in a bar in the main square watching chaos unfold as a group of folk attempted to set up for some sort of cycling event in the middle of rush hour. We resolved that I would do a local via ferrata the next day then we would come into Trento again to enjoy an evening meal in the relaxed atmosphere.

The following day we drove to the via ferrata and parked in the car park nearby. It was slightly windy and Rachel was setting up the van whilst I packed my kit. The next thing we heard was a very loud bang and we both looked up to see the sky roof (a two foot by four foot window in the roof of the van) sail a few yards in front of the van then smash on the tarmac. We now had a two foot by four foot hole in the roof and the biggest problem of the trip so far. Fucking van!

We drove (very carefully) to the dealer in Trento that we had been to previously but, unfortunately, we were not welcome. The owner simply said “Nicht Italian” (I am not sure to this day whether this referred to us, the van or the sky roof) and told us to go to another dealer. The owner was the person who had argued with the person who fixed the leaking locker previously and we deduced that he was not happy with his staff doing unscheduled work on our van in preference to addressing the needs of the regular customers. One thing is for certain, he was certainly not going to help us out this time.

We drove to the place that we were sent to. They were helpful but they were not Burstner dealers and could do nothing to order new parts. They did give us a ladder, some gaffer tape and some heavy duty bubble wrap and Rachel and I spent the next two hours trying to cover the hole. Of course it was a Friday afternoon (it always is when these things happen) and when we phoned the UK dealer (from whence we bought the van) we were told that Burstner close on Friday afternoon so we would just have to wait until Monday for any news. We phoned the insurers and they said that they could do nothing other than pay for one night in a hotel! We crossed our fingers that the gaffer tape and bubble wrap would hold and limped to the nearest campsite.


17.   Camping Largo di Lamar, Italy (15th – 18th July):

The nearest campsite was not good. It was expensive, the internet didn’t work, the showers were cold and it was rammed with kids and there are few sounds more grating than the laughter of children playing on a hot summer afternoon. The temporary fix had started to come apart and we knew it would not be watertight so the following day we took the bus back to Trento, walked to an OBI (a sort of European B & Q) and bought lots and lots of gaffer tape. Temperatures were in the late thirties and the whole trip took most of the day. The following day we parked the van near a high wall (so that I could reach the sky roof) by the toilet block in the centre of the campsite and set about making a more permanent fix. Two hours, one hundred and thirty metres of gaffer tape and two internal cupboard shelves later we had the best fix that I could manage in what was now getting on for forty degrees of heat (the gaffer tape got so hot that you couldn’t touch it after putting it on). That afternoon we walked to the lake which was a hot and crowded affair and that evening I went to a mountain festival which ended pretty much when I got there.

The following day was Monday and, when the news eventually came from the UK dealership, they told us that there were no replacement parts in stock at Burstner and it would be six weeks until we would be able to get a part. They also told us that they had the right contacts in Burstner and that there would be no point in us calling Burstner directly and they said that it would not be a warranty claim and that it was going to be a very costly to repair. I was somewhat despondent. There was no guarantee that the gaffer tape would even keep out the rain and it certainly would not hold up to lots of driving. However, Rachel took to the internet and after some digging discovered that someone else had suffered the same problem and had taken their van to the Burstner head office near Strasbourg who had sorted it. She found a number for Burstner customer services and I gave them a call. After a couple of conversations, it turned out that they had four replacement parts in stock and, if we drove there, we could have one. OK, Strasbourg was six hundred kilometres away but this was fantastic news. We resolved to leave when the prison gates were opened at 6.30am the following morning.


18.   Kehl, Germany (19th – 20th July):

We left bang on 6.30am and made good progress initially but then got stuck behind lorries on the single carriageway mountain section between Innsbruck and Garmisch. It looked like we would still make it but the motorway to Strasbourg was blocked due to crash and the alternative route took us four hours. In the end, we didn’t make it on time but our Burstner contact told us the head office had its’ own campsite and we were welcome to stay. The temperatures had gone above forty degrees, we had eaten our first MacDonald’s since we went away and had driven for twelve hours so we were not in the best of moods when we arrived (although, miraculously, the gaffer tape held up to the drive). However, the camping place turned out to be just in front of the main head office and had electricity and good showers. We got talking to a French couple who were parked next to us and ended up spending a pleasant evening with them sharing beer, wine and salami. The also gave us some good advice, not the least of which was to get to the service centre early.

The following day we were waiting outside of the doors of the service centre for them to open at 8.00am and when they did they confirmed that the parts were in stock, it was indeed a warranty issue and they would have the van sorted by 4.00pm. This was fantastic news, not only was the problem covered under warranty but they would actually fix it - we would have been happy just to have been given the replacement part. Moreover, there was a free breakfast provided for people who were having repairs made. It seemed too good to be true. We had the breakfast with our French friends and had a laugh about a couple who were also staying in the Burstner camping car park the previous evening. I did wonder why they were not in a Burstner motorhome and it turned out that they were just there to use the free facilities and were somewhat aggrieved not to get the free breakfast - apparently people from Marseille “have no shame”. After breakfast we walked into the next village and back again and had a three course lunch at a nice hotel for €8 per head then returned to the head office and waited in the reception. All the time we were waiting for the call to tell us that there was a problem but the phone didn’t ring. In the reception we met two very friendly Norwegian and Danish families who were also having problems (interestingly one was leaking lockers). At 4.00pm we went back to the service centre and the doors opened to reveal a van looking exactly as it had before the sky roof blew off. We simply couldn’t believe it. At the very least I had expected the gaffer tape which had melted onto the roof to have permanently damaged the paintwork but somehow they had managed to get the glue off. No stock of parts, a six week wait and the prospect of paying over a thousand pounds for a replacement was in reality four replacement parts in stock, a four day wait and a warranty job. We couldn’t have asked for more. We tipped the mechanic, bought four boxes of chocolates for the head office staff and wrote a thank you e-mail to our contact in customer services. The van might not be great but the customer service at the head office cannot be faulted, without them we would still have a hole in the roof today.

That afternoon we headed for a nearby campsite on the banks of the Rhine. It was forty five degrees and the mosquitoes were ferocious as the evening came but we could not have been happier.


19.   Montafon Valley, Austria (21st July – 11th August):

In the morning we had a long walk with Hilda along the Rhine. We had wanted to walk to Strasbourg but it was simply too hot to do anything and we were both covered in mosquito bites so we decided to head back to the Alps rather than suffer another night of being eaten alive. We resolved to head for Ischgl as it is a popular ski area and we thought that it would have some good summer walking and climbing but by now it was full-on high season and the roads were busy. It took us two hours to drive along Lake Konstanz (we even tried a few campsites by the lakeside as we were pretty tired but everywhere was rammed) so we pushed on towards Ischgl but stopped at the first campsite we could find. It turned out to be in the small town of Tschagguns and we told the manager that we would stay one or two nights but we ended up staying on and off for nearly three weeks. To date, the Montafon valley is my favourite place on earth and we loved our time there...

On our first morning we awoke to the sound of ski jumping which is not your average start to the day and far louder than you might think. Opposite the campsite were four dry-slope ski jumps ranging from relatively small to full size and they were being used by a French team - the oldest member of which looked to be in his early teens at the most. What strikes you is that, when you see a ski jumper from a front-on perspective, you realise that they are simply in freefall which is not at all how it looks on the TV. We watched them for a while and then headed into the centre of the adjacent town of Schruns and went into Tourist Information to ask about walking and climbing in the area. The response was amazing, we were handed a full OS map, a booklet of all of the via ferrata in the area (there being eighteen of them in total), a booklet on the rock climbing crags and some suggested walks. On previous trips, such information has been closely guarded by the Guide Office in an attempt to force you to use their services but here we had everything we could ask for in a few handouts. That evening we went for a run by the river up the valley which was ideal for Hilda and, the following day, given the very favourable weather forecast we bought a pair of very reasonably priced lift passes and did our first walk in idyllic Heidi-esque scenery. It was a beautiful walk and all was good with the world until we got back to the motorhome to find an engine warning light had decided to spoil the day. A quick check with the manual told us that we needed to get to a Fiat garage as soon as possible. Fucking van!

The following day, the manager of the campsite drove us to the nearest Fiat garage and we were also accompanied by the son of the owner of the campsite who could speak English. It turned out that the campsite owner also owned the best hotel in the area, a five hundred year old restaurant and private mountain hut and was clearly a senior figure in the community. During the day we got the news that the van could not be fixed so the campsite owner himself drove us to the dealership to apply a little pressure. It turned out that either the UK dealership or Burstner (it depends on who you ask) had not registered the vehicle with Fiat so there was no warranty cover but at least the van was deemed OK to drive so we could get back to walking and climbing.

And that is exactly what we did. We spent some nights on the campsite and others free camping in different valleys. We spend a few days in Lunersee where we walked around the large reservoir on one day and then did the very exposed Saulakopf (2,517m) the next with Hilda being somewhat the centre of attention as one of the few dogs to venture into such terrain. From Vandans we did the Kreuzjock (2,398m) and from Gargellen we did the Riedkoph (2,552m). The weather was generally lovely and, on the days when we weren’t doing the big walks, we spent our time running by the river, rock climbing (usually at the very sunny crag by the reservoir at Latschau) and I did eight of the via ferrata in the area (all of which were of excellent quality) when Rachel was resting - on one occasion, I was even privileged to meet one of the two guides who had constructed them whilst climbing his route. In the evenings we sometimes treated ourselves to meals out (including one at the restaurant owned by the campsite owner) and even went to a mountain bike festival where we discovered that Hilda is also afraid of live music. Aside from the fantastic scenery, the atmosphere of the place was friendly and welcoming, people left their keys in their cars when they were going on long walks as it was safer than to risk loosing them on the walk itself and expensive mountain bikes were left unlocked all around the town. Even stranger was that groups of teenage boys would always say "hello" when they passed you in the street. I know that this is not the real world but it is a bubble that I would be very happy to live in for as long as it lasts.

On one occasion I met a very friendly and charismatic guide called Martin who was working with a group of kids whilst we were climbing at the crag in Latschau. We got chatting and somehow we ended up agreeing to climb a mountain called Zimba (2,643m) together. I think that he was keen on the prospect as he offered his services for less than half the normal price and I am not sure why I was so keen on that particular mountain but the fact that it was known as the Matterhorn of Montafon may have had something to do with it. I met Martin at 7.00am a few days hence and three hundred metres of ascent, six hundred meters of easy via ferrata and three hundred meters of rock climbing later we were on the summit. Martin turned out to be excellent company, he spoke five languages fluently and would best be described as an eccentric genius. He was very encouraging of my “climbing revival” as he called it and chose a ‘classic route’ which meant that the type of rock climbing was a strenuous combination of thrutching and squirming not favoured by modern climbers and never favoured by me but he let me lead a pitch and the whole route was climbed well and, overall, it added to my growing confidence - the only exception being a mistake I made on the descent from the summit...

...We were able to walk from the top but had to abseil down the rock pitches and, as I waited for Martin to free the rope, a shout from above was swiftly followed by the sound of a large rock whistling past my ear. The party above had dislodged it with their rope which is normal but I had just unclipped from the anchor before clipping into the abseil ropes so was not attached to the mountain at all when it happened. A chap who was in my college at University was killed in our first year in exactly this type of accident and my error in unclipping before being set up for the abseil ranks as the most stupid thing that I have done on the trip so far.

Needless to say the only obstacle to our enjoyment of the Montafon valley was the van. Aside from our engine warning light issue, as we sat in the van on a rainy evening on the campsite the alarm went off. We recognised the problem very quickly from our experience in Trento – water had clearly got into the van and into the alarm sensor. Sure enough, the ski locker door was so warped that you could see daylight coming through from the inside. We disconnected the alarm sensor and added it to the collection of broken bits and, after e-mailing our contact at Burstner head office, realised that our next stop would have to be another Burstner service centre just as soon as one opened after their summer holidays. Fucking van!

By 7th August, our lift passes had expired so we drove to the town of Feldkirch where the campsite owner had arranged for us to go a Fiat dealership owned by his friend. The following day we were indeed expected and the engine issue was fixed within a few hours, thus proving that knowing the right people can make life much simpler. From Feldkirch we drove on to the town of Zizers in Switzerland where the nearest Burstner service centre was due to re-open the following day. When we arrived we were surprised to find someone working there who told us that we could stay on the site and we soon found ourselves parked directly in front of a brothel which was next door to the dealership. We were a little nervous as we didn’t quite know what to expect but the night passed without incident and the following day the owner of the dealership and his English speaking daughter viewed our leaking locker. They had clearly seen the issue before but not on this type of van so it was agreed that they would speak to Burstner when they returned from their summer break to agree what needed to be done and then they would contact us to agree a date for the repair. They were friendly and helpful but as it stands today we still have a five millimetre gap in the locker and we cannot go too far away from Zizers as we will need to go back there to get it fixed. Fucking van!

Anyway, that day we drove on to famed ski resort of Klosters but really couldn’t see the appeal that Royal Family see in it so we drove back to Montafon (interestingly we could have walked there in five hours and the drive took two). The following day was wet so I decided to do a via ferrata which, due to its altitude, turned out to be a very snowy experience. Unsurprisingly, I was the only one on the route and it did feel rather strange climbing in August in the snow but, what did surprise me given the weather, was a call from Martin saying that I was welcome to join a party that he was guiding to climb Piz Buin (the highest mountain in the region at 3,312m) the following day.

I met Martin at 5.00am the following morning and we drove to the col at the top of the valley. He was meeting his two clients in the hut six kilometres and four hundred meters of ascent away so I set off walking and he set off by bicycle. I was completely alone in the mountains and the place looked and felt like Scotland in the winter. It had just stopped snowing and in the very early dawn the white mountains looked sinister but beautiful in equal measure. An hour and a quarter later, I met martin and his clients at the hut and by 7.15am we were the last of the parties to depart. The route involved a few miles of walking ascent followed by a few miles of glacier ascent to the west ridge. The ridge itself would have been straightforward in usual summer conditions but, in the snow, it was a little more interesting. It was exposed and there were two rock pitches but it was nice to be climbing in crampons for the first time in a long time and, despite starting late, we were the second party to get to the top. From the summit the views weren’t great due to the cloud but it was certainly atmospheric. I was asked to lead the descent (reversing the rock pitches, the ridge and the glacier) and I was rather glad of the responsibility and fortunately didn’t make too bad a job of it. We were back to the hut by 3.30pm and I headed off down the valley again to catch the bus home (it always strikes me as bizarre that you can climb a big Alpine mountain in the snow and ice and still get the bus home). Overall, it was a super day, I had been on the move for twelve hours, covered over twenty kilometres and just under fourteen hundred metres of ascent so I was pleased at my fitness but overall there were no dramas and my mountain confidence took another step in the right direction (that said, one slight thing did go wrong; the weather improved towards the end of the day and I managed to get sunburnt on a mountain that gave it’s name to the most famous sun cream in the world - that’s irony for you). The only thing that slightly spoiled the day were Martin’s two clients – they barely said hello, didn’t thank me for stopping one of them falling backwards, ate my Haribos without even a grunt of gratitude and the one in front of me farted regularly which is just not cricket when you are tied together on a rope for hours on end.


20.   Silvretta Pass, Austria (12th – 15th August):

After treating ourselves to a pizza that night, the following day we said our goodbyes and left the campsite for good. We headed up the valley to where Martin had parked the car on the previous day and had a walk around the reservoir. We stayed on the col that night and watched a round Austria cycle race pass though. One guy could hardly stand when he reached the top and we were both amazed to see that, fifteen minutes later, his team put him back on his bike to cycle down the other side – I hope he made it.

The following day was Rachel’s birthday. A man in a green mankini ran past for some completely unknown reason and we did a great walk to Radsattal (2,652m) which offered superb views of Piz Buin and involved a steep snow gully and a huge boulder field crossing on the return leg which Hilda loved. The next day involved a walk to the Bielerkoph (2,389m) and the discovery that the fridge was at fourteen degrees. After throwing away a lot of food, we tracked the problem down to the angle at which the van was parked. This was an issue that used to affect old motorhomes but we had no such dramas with the old van so had assumed the issue to have been sorted. Apparently not. Fucking van!

On the 15th August, we drove down the other side of the pass and I did the Silvapark via ferrata to the handsom looking summit of the Ballunspitze (2,671m) which was probably one of the best via ferratas that I have ever done and, in the early evening, the three of us took a walk around the Silvrettastausee reservoir with its’ abundance of wild flowers and then spent the night free camping and were treated to a dusk visit from a fox and a dear – I really don’t mind that sort of uninvited guest.


21.   Paznaun Valley, Austria (16th August – 21st August):

The following day we headed to the well known ski resort of Ischgl. We had mooch around the town and following a visit to Tourist Information we discovered that there was a campsite for €10/night just up the road and that staying in the area entitled you to a Silvretta Card that gave you free use of all public transport, all lifts and a host of other things. They also gave us a free OS map of the region and a book of walks! We found the campsite and it all seemed to be too good to be true but it turned out that there was no catch. In fairness, the area was not that pretty as the landscape did not have the natural beauty of the Montafon valley and the terrain was badly scarred by lifts and pistes. Moreover, there was only one local lift open and it was clear that the area was predominantly winter focussed. However, we did some running, a walk from the lift and I did a via ferrata and also joined a walk organised by Tourist Information to climb three, three thousand metre peaks in a day. It was led by a guide and there were only four other people aside from me which was fantastic value for €15!

As a footnote, it is interesting that all of the European ski areas are developing their summer season, not least because the snow in the winter season is becoming increasingly unreliable. Aside from opening lifts, building via ferratae and opening mountain bike and walking trails, the Austrians in particular are targeting the less obvious holiday makers. A few years ago, Rachel and I had a weeks’ summer holiday in Zell am See and were surprised to see many Arabs doing the same thing and we were told that the area had decided to cater for the Muslim market to boost summer trade (as there is a glacier there, you can ski in the morning and I have a clear memory of a lady in a burka photographing me skiing in mid-summer using a pink IPhone). In the Paznaun valley, they have aimed their marketing at the other end of the religious divide and, apparently, there are over four thousand Hasidic Jews in the area which, just as with the Muslims in Zell am See, does seem slightly incongruous as the mountain communities are not usually known for their cosmopolitan demographic. Interestingly, my experience in Zell am See was that the locals were less than friendly towards their guests but in Ischgl the guests seemed to be less than friendly toward the locals and, for a bunch of people on holiday, they seemed a very miserable crowd and I have to say that I didn't get one reciprocal ‘hello’ (or even a smile) at the bus stop nor an apology for being pushed out of the way at the supermarket. Anyway, it will be interesting to see how it all evolves but, one thing is for certain; the Austrians are very aware of the imminent end to skiing in Europe which really makes you realise that the climate is changing - and changing very quickly.

Somewhere else en route during my via ferrata

Somewhere else en route during my via ferrata

Tags: alps, climbing, dogs, hilda, motorhomes, mountaineering, mountains, rachel, simon, walking

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