The expedition to the Dolomite range of mountains in Northern Italy was a huge success. The combination of physical and mental challenges was a first time experience for many of the group. This provided an opportunity of discovery; not just of the stunning scenery, but also of the individuals themselves. Happily, every member of the team faced those challenges with the vigour and determination expected of a Marlburian, and those schools associated with us.
The team consisted of four Marlburians, Jeremy Fisher (BH L6), James Lam (CO L6), Charley Thorneycroft (PR L6) and Lucie Atkinson (CO L6). Issey Crossley joined us from St Johns and Anthony Whitefield from Swindon Academy.
The expedition was led by Russ Tong, joined by Duncan Curry and Martina Zandonella.
The area of the Dolomite’s we visited was host to some of the worst fighting during the First World War. The Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Italians battled for a strategic frontline that cut through the Dolomitic Mountain range. This impressive area still shows many signs of the horrendous battlefields high up in the mountains. During the first three days the team had a fantastic opportunity to explore these as we travelled through much of the frontline. A three day hut to hut expedition took the team through incredibly isolated and beautiful terrain. We journeyed behind powerful waterfalls, through hidden valleys and over majestic mountain passes of the Fanes Massif. Exploring the trenches and buildings of the Austro-Hungarian line high up on the Lagazuoi Mountain. Eventually descending through a complex system of WW1 tunnels created by the Italians in an attempt to clear the enemy from their dominant position.
The fourth day of the trip found the team experiencing the local ‘Via Ferrata.’ An Italian term meaning ‘Iron Road’ or ‘Way.’ They are mountain routes equipped with cables, stemples, ladders and occasionally bridges. The use of these allows otherwise isolated mountain routes and peaks to become quite accessible to a wider audience. We followed a route climbing a mountain by the name of Cirspitze. Arriving on a summit just big enough for the team certainly provided the exposure and excitement usually found on these high mountain routes. While this peak may have been testing for some of the group it was just a warm-up for the adventures that the next day had in store. The Marmolada, standing at 3343 metres, is the highest mountain in the Dolomites. With a fantastic glacier the mountain is in snow year-round, requiring a more careful approach than most peaks in the area. The fifth day, and a major highlight of the trip, was to cross the glacier, climb the West Ridge, and summit as a team on this mighty peak. Following a local guide, the team put all their skills from the previous days to use, and more. Using crampons and ice axes, for some for the first time, we battled our way through strong winds, cold temperatures and challenging climbing. However strong the challenge, to the team’s credit, every member made it to the summit. For a day that certainly pushed many into new realms and unknowns it was a pleasure to see such good spirit amongst the group, a willingness to fight the nerves and battle the physicality of such a large mountain.
The last day in the mountains was an opportunity to recover from the previous days exploits, or to once again face the challenge head on. James and Charley chose the latter, accompanying Mr Curry on a long mountain day out; summitting the peaks of Sas Ciampac (2672m), Sas Ciampi (2654m) and Sassongher (2665m) on what was a challenging route through the Puez Odle Massif. While the rest of the team had expected a more leisurely day they had obviously underestimated Mr Tong’s and Miss Zandonella’s desire to explore another mountain range. They too travelled through the isolated Puez Odle Massif, sharing in the delights of the Dolomite range once you step off the beaten track. Certainly a day enjoyed by all, it was a fantastic way to finish our time in the mountains.
Finally a quick foray into the heart of Venice City, certainly a culture shock from the small mountain villages we had become used to. Although the hot temperatures and large crowds made the day uncomfortable it was a beautiful city to explore and its unique setting was an interest to all.
A pleasure to be part of, and an adventure for all, the Expedition to the Dolomites was most definitely a success. Stretching Marlborough’s horizons that bit further each year is a challenge we are all excited to be undertaking in the Outdoor Activities Department.