Late in 1999, after going on a number of adventures up and down the East Coast, the Amazon from Ozegna, Indy's molto bella girlfriend, she who can find more 4-leaf clovers than any 37 people Indy knows, one day said to Indy, "Indy, I have come to learn about your quest of The Ark. You do know you will not find it in America, don't you? You will have to come to Europe and seek the object there."
Indy replied, "Lemme think about this for a while.....okay, when do we go?"
Bri pondered this a while. A couple months went by. Then she said, "The week of Easter."
Indy said, "OK!" and packed.
As the weeks went on the two began planning what they would do when they got to Italy. Skiing around the Matterhorn was one thing on their list. Climbing Mont Avic was the second. General rock climbing was third (assuming they could find information as to where the climbing spots were located). Eating food was the fourth.
April 18, 2000 - Day of Departure:
The days preceeding the trip were fraught with chaos and preparations as Indy and Bri struggled to get ready. The night before they were to leave neither had yet packed. But somehow, amazingly, this was accomplished (Indy left his ski equipment behind after Bri said she thought it would cost no more than $12 American to rent boots and skis in Italia - this saved room for him to bring Other Stuff in a Slightly Smaller Bag). And after a stressing day at work where Bri had to make sure the Guide Stars Group would not go to pieces without her ("Bri! You can't leave us! What if something goes wrong with the programs??") and Indy making sure that the Hubble would remain functioning ("No, I am not going to take this Global Positioning System Beeper!"), Mosca Man whisked the two adventurers off with the Indymobile, leaving them to their fate at the hands of the Airport People.
Who, amazingly, were way friendly for the most part (except for the SkyCap luggage guy, who did not help Indy or Bri with their luggage, forcing Indy to use a cart he found to haul their gear into the airport, and then insisted that Indy and Bri give him a dollar tip for using the cart; Bri was spitting nails all the way across the Atlantic over this, not that Indy blamed her any - hey, BWI SkyCap Guy, if you just SO happen to be reading this, note that that was a pretty damned shady stunt you pulled and really puts a damper on Indy's ever wanting to use the SkyCap people again!)
Through the chaos and confusion of the airport Bri and Indy worked their way to the plane. They had many hours of flight ahead of them, the most Indy's ever flown before. They had one stop-over in England at the Gatwick airport, then straight from there to Milano, Italia. At Bri's earlier suggestion they had booked a night flight so they could try(!) to sleep during the flight over (note: England is a good 5 hours ahead of the East Coast of the US, and Italy another hour ahead of England; Indy and Bri were to take off at 6pm local US time, ultimately arriving Milano 12:15-ish local Italy time). Indy, when he does fly, really really prefers having the window seat (and is totally steamed at all the selfish people who take the window seat then close the blinds and sleep or read or something - why the hell aren't they a little considerate of their fellow passengers who WANT to look out of the window?!? - oh, Indy forgot, for the most part people are only out for themselves, not to give two hoots about anyone else - sad). Bri holds the same sentiments, which caused the two of them to flip coins repeatedly to see who would get the window seats. Unfortunately this was not going to be an issue for the flight to Gatwick as they were assigned seats in the middle of the plane. <sigh>. Well, they were supposed to be trying to sleep, anyhow, not watching stars.
It was cool, though, that the big ol' plane they took to England had individual tv monitors and earphones for each seat, so the passengers could watch a variety of movies, general tv programming, news, or listen to a wide range of audio broadcasts, during the trip. Between bouts of sleep Indy mostly watched the flight information channel, which displayed the current location of the aircraft, the altitude, air temperature, and air speed in both English and metric units, and the estimated time of arrival (Indy first encountered this on a Big Screen the last time he was on an airplane; yes, Indy is a nerd). Though Indy also caught bits of other programming and movies, as did Bri.
Finally they landed at Gatwick. It was now the next day (ack!). They had a nearly 3 hour layover, in which Bri snoozed and Indy prowled the complex, anxious to go outside and walk around on the grass (unfortunately getting on the grass was not going to be an option - but they would get outside). Their flight was finally called for boarding, and the duo made their way down the complex maze (which it wasn't really; Indy was just overly tired - after all, it was nearly 4am for him!) to the bus which would take them to their plane.
Hmmmm...a bus. No walking down a covered tube into the plane, no. They were to be driven out to their plane. As the bus pulled away from the terminal Indy got to experience firsthand English Driving (on WHICH side of the road are we supposed to be on?).
The drive itself took over 5 minutes. The bus seemed to weave its way in and out of planes, construction areas, under bridges - it seemed to Indy that they were taking the 'scenic route'.
Eventually they arrived at their plane - in the back corner of the tarmac! They got off the bus and walked over and into their awaiting plane (gee, good thing it wasn't raining - and that the sun was trying to come out - otherwise there'd be a lot of soaked passengers; there seemed to be no provisions to protect the passengers from the elements, like the portable tunnels in the States do)
On this leg of the trip Indy and Bri had played rock-paper-scissors in order to see who would get the window seat. Indy lost, but Bri graciously gave him the seat so he would leave her alone to sleep. Indy sat glued to the window the whole 2 hour flight to Italy. Unfortunately, shortly after leaving England (I mean, within minutes!) until they got to the italian Alps, the entire view beneath the plane was cloud-covered - and a damned bright blanket of clouds it was with the sun up, too!
As they crossed into Italia, Indy noted that the blanket of clouds had become 'lumpy', and then....there were breaks in the clouds. Snow-covered peaks had pushed up to be a barrier between the clouds to the north, and the valleys (and more snow-capped mountains) to the south. These were some seriously kick-ass steep mountains! (ask a child to draw a picture of a mountain - that's what these looked like) Bri groggily opened one eye to the excited exclamations of Indy to see the mountains, nodded, then went back to sleep.
The plane flew out of the mountains and over the plains that surround Milano. Indy noticed that there seemed to be a lot of farm fields that appeared to be flooded. At first, while they were over the mountains, the 'flooded fields' looked like a swollen river with some lines of trees running criss-cross through it. Indy was thinking 'serious flooding here' and trying to place where the River Po was in relation to Milano when Bri informed him that these were rice fields. Oh... "Wait," said Indy, "Isn't it the Chinese who are masters of rice? I thought italians were pasta-people."
Bri just looked at him and went back to sleep.
The landing earlier at Gatwick was nice and smooth. You could tell you were down, but it wasn't jarred into you. The landing in Milano was...well, you knew when the plane touched down! Indy's teeth rattled most of the way to the spot where the plane parked. Bri informed Indy that the tarmac here isn't as well kept up as it is in other airports in the world. Indy noticed this after about the third pothole.
Going through customs was an interesting experience. Indy had gone through customs between Canada and the United States before. There were no customs to go through in Gatwick as they didn't leave the airport. But now they were 'officially' in another country - Italia - and customs had to be dealt with. Indy wondered if their 'contraband' (two jars of peanut butter and various easter candies/gifts) would make it through.
Indy and Bri split up at this point: she went to the 'italian nationals' line, Indy to the 'foreign visitors and other such trouble-makers' line. Indy expected a hard grilling and knew his limited italian was not up to any sort of conversation with a customs official. Nervously he walked up to the guard behind the glass tower and handed over his passport through the barbed wire fence. The guard, with barely a second glance, stamped his passport and handed it back, impatiently waving Indy to move along.
Indy waited for Bri to work her way through the line, and got their luggage in the meantime. He expected to deal with another barrier before having the freedom to enter Italia, but Bri said, "Nope, that was the customs check!"
WOOHOO! Indy was in Italia!
Quickly they went out and shortly found Bri's Amazon sister, Monica, who had come out to pick them up. They loaded the half ton of gear into Monica's little (but by italian standards, roomy) car, and off they went, screaming down the road at 150+ kmh (kilometers/hour). Not that Indy noticed, being half-groggy sitting in the backseat (he did take note of the speedometer, though, just for the record, and it did read 155 kmh at one point).
In a short while (part of which a very tired Indy snoozed) they arrived in the small village (1,100 people) of Ozegna, located at the edge of the italian alps. There Indy 'met the parents', and the army of cats that resided at Bri's old home (nearly half the cats were kittens only a few weeks old; one of them, a small white one, would end up adopting Indy before the week was out; Indy came to call this kitten 'Piccolino Neve', for 'little snow' - well, the kitten was totally white, after all...)
The amazing Amazon from Ozegna then took Indy on a short walk into the countryside, to show him the area. The vistas around were a contrast - from the flatlands of the valley which Ozegna nestled in to the rapidly rising foothills of the Alps barely tens of kilometers away. It was all neat. Then the two returned and met Bri's other sister, Donatella, and two nephews, Marco and Federico. After that they had a massive multi-course meal which Bri's mom prepared (Indy sucked down a full 3/4 liter of milk to go with it), and after that, the two unpacked and collapsed for the night.
Thursday, April 20th, 2000 - The Adventures Begin...
The idea was to get up early, have a quick breakfast, then head down to Torino. The Amazon from Ozegna was to deliver a data tape to l'Osservatorio Astronomico di Torino which she had brought with her from work, then she was going to take Indy around Torino to show him the sights of a local city before they spent much time in the mountains (also while there they were going to look up information on local rock climbing places). However, you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men...
Arising around 11am, the two adventurers consumed a scanty breakfast followed closely by a hearty lunch (multi-course; Indy almost drained another bottle of milk¹) then relaxed for a while. Indy found a perch up on the roof of Bri's parent's place and napped for an hour or so. Can you say 'sunburn', boys and girls?
¹ - Milk. In the U.S. many different farmers give their supply of milk to one large 'milk factory', where it is processed according to need (whole, 2%, 1%, skim, or worse-than-water). 2% milk in one area of the country pretty much tastes like 2% milk elsewhere in the country. So if you found a milk level you like, you are pretty assured of finding it anywhere you travel. It is quite different in Italia. There milk is supplied by regions. Different regions collect the milk from their areas, bottle or put it in some container, then distribute it. It tastes very different from area to area. Thus milk from the area around Torino is milk from Torino, and it is noticeably different than milk from the areas of Valle Sacra or Milano. Also, not only will the taste be different from region to region, but the taste will be different within a given region depending on the season (and thus whatever is available for the dairy cows to munch on). Indy found the Valle Sacra milk to be too thick for his tastes, and the Torino milk to be more akin to what he was used to back in the States; unfortunately milk seemed to only be sold in 3/4 liter bottles or less, so Indy would seem to be putting away a lot of milk during the week's visit!
Ozegna - view from the roof
Bri came up to find him and then they went off on some 'local' adventuring. Taking Bri's mom's car (a small Fiat-Uno; think Plymouth Horizon for basic size and shape - 80% of the cars in Italia are like this), their first stop was the small village of Quagliuzzo near Ivrea to visit some friends of Bri who were working there. After that, Ivrea itself, a modest-sized town north of Torino. There Indy first encountered a type of people he came to call 'mexicans' (as opposed to Mexicans, who are, in general, just regular Mexican nationals). These 'mexicans' are....Albanian, Moroccan, Slovenian vagrants who try to do you a 'service' as if you could not do this yourself (such as directing you how to park your car - as if you have no idea how to do this) and then expect to get paid for these 'services' (these 'mexicans' reminded Indy of those people near the US/Mexican border who jump in front of high speed cars on a highway to wash the windshields for money). Bri brushed off the 'mexicans' with practiced ease, but Indy cast furtive glances back as they left the car, half expecting said 'mexican' to bust a window or something just because they didn't pay for this guy's 'assistance'. Fortunately, no vandalism.
As the two wandered the streets of Ivrea, Bri decided to culturally-enlighten Indy and dragged him into a pastry shop. There she treated Indy to a sampling of various bite-sized pastries and a hot chocolate to die for (a real hot chocolate! it was extra rich and thick and chocolaty and...oh, nevermind; you want one, go to the pastry shop in Ivrea!). After filling themselves (well, after Indy filled himself) with pastries, they wandered more through Ivrea. Main streets, side streets, everywhere. And in their wanderings they found....a bookstore! Indy drooled (again; the pastries got the first drooling). They browsed through it intently, and found a small treasure trove: books on the Alps and climbing in the Alps. Then, to their surprise, the clerk at the store turned out to be a novice climber! She gave Bri information about local rock climbing, and furnished for Bri a guidebook to a mystical place called "Traversella". The book, Arrampicare a Traversella, showed an extensively developed climbing area near the little village of Traversella, northwest of Ivrea, in the foothills of the Alps. Maybe an hour's drive from Ozegna? Not much more than.
The catch was that all the ratings were the European ratings; no YDS ratings to be found in the book anywhere (which, really, shouldn't be too surprising, since the YDS is an American system - and hon, this wasn't America!). But that was okay for now. Indy had a secret surprise waiting for the Amazon from Ozegna which would overcome this little barrier. All they had to do was not go climbing until after Easter...
Happily armed with this new font of knowledge, the two headed off back to Ozegna, making a quick stop at a local mall. It was late already; the sun had set. They returned for a large dinner², where Indy downed another 3/4 liter of milk, and finally sleep. Bri warned Indy that tomorrow would be a full day - they were scheduled to go skiing in the Alps, up by the Matterhorn (aka Monte Cervino by the italians). All Indy could think was "Urp..."
April 21st - Exploring the Mountains
After a restless, partly sleepless night, Indy rose to wake Bri. He had come to accept he was going to be mercilessly destroyed by the Amazon Skier Dudette (aka Bri, Amazon from Ozegna, and so much more). She is an experienced Alps skier. Indy....can get down the little 600 foot hills back home near Baltimore without breaking too many limbs. Bri had the plan that they would ski into Switzerland, then ski back into Italia. If Indy survived, that would be keen. So after a quick breakfast the two got their stuff and headed to Valle d'Aosta. And Cervino.
Monte Cervino, aka The Matterhorn, from the italian side
About an hour later they arrived. The Matterhorn (Monte Cervino) was a magnificent pyramid of rock and snow. Indy looked at it with awe. Yes, it is the most photographed mountain in Europe. Indy added to the reputation by snapping a half dozen pics himself.
Bri and Indy searched around for ski rental equipment prices. They were sorely disappointed at just how much it was going to cost. The tickets along to go to Zermatt, Switzerland, were going to cost them a pretty lire (or penny). But the ski rentals....they were almost double what Bri remembered them being. Urk! Indy and Bri calculated that in order for Indy to rent skis and get a pass to Zermatt, it would cost Indy almost everything he had in his pocket at the time. Bri pointed out that the snow conditions were really not very good. They debated this a while. Bri wanted to ski in her home mountains pretty badly; it had been more than a year since she last skied there. Indy wanted to experience it, too (even if it meant he would likely get killed doing so!). But Bri also wanted to ski in good conditions, and wanted Indy to experience (or fall down a lot in), too. So in the end it was decided they would not ski this trip, save it for another visit. Indy was both saddened and relieved (though more saddened than relieved). So to pass a little time the two explored town and some of the outskirts, played in the snow (can you say 'snowball fight'?), and witnessed a few small avalanches on some of the surrounding neighboring peaks, and ate lunch. Then Bri hit on an idea.
"Indy, why don't we go to Monte Bianco?"
"Ummm...gee...I dunno...okay!" And with that the two were off.
Except that the Amazon Goddess decided she needed a nap, and Indy could negotiate their little car down the smaller winding twisting mountain roads. This would be Indy's first experience at driving in another country. And after seeing how some of these people drive...well, even Baltimore and D.C. driving cannot prepare one for the realities of italian driving.
Fortunately for Indy, the drive down the valley into Valle d'Aosta proper wasn't too bad. What traffic there was, was light, and was coming up from the valley, not going down (it was early afternoon still, after all). Soon they found themselves down and heading west...towards Monte Bianco (Mont Blanc which most people know it as; those dang French are just everywhere, ain't they?). As Indy drove through the Aosta Valley, Bri snoozed a while. Indy marvelled at the majestic peaks that rose skyward on either side of him. To his eye they resembled the Rockies of Colorado quite closely, but seemed to be higher (but only by virtue that the valley is in general far lower than the 'lowlands' of the Colorado Rockies).
They passed through the city/town of Aosta and continued on towards Mont Blanc. An hour or so later they came to a small town of Entreves that had a cable car system going up the side of the mountain. This was the last stop before the famous Mont Blanc Tunnel, and the road beyond was closed. The Mont Blanc Tunnel passes through the Mont Blanc mountain (hence the name), but due to an unfortunate incident, it was no longer possible to go through the tunnel.
Just before getting to Entreves Indy had noticed a large, pointy of rock towering high in the mountains, with no snow on it. Snow everywhere else, on all other peaks up there, but none on this pillar of rock. It intrigued Indy, called out to him. What was it? Indy wasn't sure. But to him it was as prominent as a beacon in the night.
After a quick exploration of the village, in which the two adventurers found out the necessary information in order to gain access to the glaciers a couple of kilometers above them. They acquired tickets and headed up the side of the mountain. Their destination: the rifugio at Punta Helbrunner, 3465 meters above sea level.
Unfortunately for Indy, he didn't fully prepare for the chill that they would encounter at 3400 meters elevation (and he's been 'at altitude' how many times in his life? and they're going up to a glacier?? hello!). An outer shell would have done wonders. But he dealt with what he had. The two stepped off the last cable car into the rifugio and then a few minutes later (after touring the gem museum at the top of the rifugio, and putting on gloves and hats) they found themselves walking on Glacier du Geant (Glacier of the Giant). As the two ambled out on the snow, Indy wished he had brought the gaiters up with them. Alas, oh well. What's a little snow in the boots?
Dente del Gigante, 4014m, as seen from rifugio near Punta Helbrunner, 3465m
When they had gotten up to the rifugio, Indy soon learned what the pointed pillar of rock was: Dente del Gigante (as the italians call it; otherwise, Tooth of the Giant), peaking out at 4014 meters above sea level. And from the rifugio he and Bri could get a good long look at the 'tooth', practically bare of snow, sticking up high above the surrounding terrain. There has got to be climbing on there! It called to Indy like a Siren. But Indy, showing amazing self-control, held fast, knowing he and Bri were ill-equipped at the moment to huff it over there and climb it. But he would do more investigating. Perhaps on the next trip...
The two wandered the glacier, taking in the vistas around them, marvelling at the numerous pointy peaks that surrounded the area, and at the expanse of the glaciers in between the mountains. After about an hour they returned (just in time to catch the last cable car down!) and descended. Indy had added 3 more items to his list of 'gotta climb these': Monte Cervino, Monte Bianco, and Dente del Gigante.
Once they were down, Indy once again drove while Bri napped. They stopped in Aosta itself, city for which the valley is named for (or vice versa), to get some ice cream and browse some bookstores (and the city). Once they were done, Bri took the helm and drove them back to Ozegna via the 'back roads' (not the highway), which was pretty nice (and inexpensive as the highway is basically a toll road in Aosta). It only took 30 minutes longer to go the back road.
Once back in Ozegna, Bri's mom had a massive and tasty dinner ready and waiting (as were Bri's father, sister Monica, and Monica's husband Massimo, who complained that Indy was too skinny and could Bri's mom PLEASE feed him more!). Indy's sides burst after this meal. He basically died and went to bed (it was well after 11pm). Tomorrow was going to be an early-rising day.
April 22nd - Punta Quinzeina
Beepbeep! Beepbeep! Beepbeep! Beepbeep!
4:10am. Indy's watch alarm went off. Seemed like he had just fallen asleep (which, really, he had). He washed his face and got the Amazon from Ozegna up. 4:25am. They got ready and by 5:15am were on their way, flying through the dark roads of Valle dell'Orco between small villages with smaller streets. Soon they were winding their way up the steep, narrow, and more-than-extra-twisty sharp turns road to [St Elisabetta]. Once past there they kept going for a short bit, the road going from pavement to dirt and gravel. Twilight was upon them; they could almost see the potholes and ruts. Finally Bri pulled the car over to the side. This was the parking area. Or, at least, a parking area.
The two suited up in the chill morning mountain air. Indy wasn't exactly sure what kind of a day they were in for, but they were heading up into the snowline, so was prepared for cold temps (esp after being chilled for most of the hour or so up on Glacier di Geant yesterday): thermals (tops & bottoms), ski pants, fleece jacket, down vest, Gore-tex outer shell, heavy socks, heavy-duty hiking boots - the same he used up Rainier the previous year. Bri was similarly decked out, expect in place of the down vest, ski pants, and outer shell she had her one-piece ski suit and her North Face rain/wind jacket. Indy furnished hiking poles for both of them, and within a few minutes of parking they were off.
Indy quickly found himself getting out of breath. Granted, they were nearly 5000 feet up in altitude, and Indy wasn't used to this (being stuck at sea level for most of his life :-/ ). Bri was also breathing heavy. But they wound their way up the meadow and hillside.
On the way up they passed a stone building. It was really pretty cool. Indy decided on the way down to look it over in more detail. It reminded him faintly of the Anasazi ruins he visited a few years before.
The two pushed on up the steepening hillside. At times they had a trail, but then it would disappear. Or seem to go off in a direction they didn't wish to go. Indy and Bri looked up at the mountain above them, trying to pick out a reasonable path. There didn't seem to be one, even as the skies grew brighter as sunrised neared. The only option seemed to be...'go up that way in some wandering fashion'.
Indy noticed on the way up that the ground was soot-covered, as if there had been a major grassfire here a few years ago. Much vegetation was dead, but there was some coming out from under the ash. Kinda neat, the contrast between the burnt ground (which covered most of the upper section of the mountain, up into the current snowline) and the spring foliage peeking through.
Indy was trying to pick out a trail on this blackened hill to follow up, but kept failing. Bri finally gave up on Indy and started marching straight up the side of the mountain. Indy watched her in amazement. No way he was going to be able to keep up that pace for long! So he kept to his switch-backing and wanderings and occassionally found a spot of the trail (or a trail), and would lose it again. Bri kept urging him to hurry his sorry slow-butt up; time was wasting (this coming from the girl who complained about how early it was when they woke!). Indy tried, but Bri kept far ahead of him. But Indy didn't give up.
After a while Indy finally caught up to the Amazon from Ozegna. There's a reason she's called this. While Indy was keeling over from lack of proper acclimatization (they were well over 5000 feet now), Bri was breathing fine. She snapped a couple of photos of sunrise while Indy tried to dig out his oxygen bottles. <gasp!> <wheeze!> Then, as Indy caught his breath, the Amazon from Ozegna surged onward.
By now they were above the snowline. The trail, when found/evident, would disappear into a bank of snow. Which made it difficult for navigating; the snow was deep and soft, which sucked for that meant it hide beneath it the talus boulders and associated ankle-breaker holes between said boulders. Indy had not brought his ice axe along, but even if he had, it would have done almost no good: the hiking staff was longer, and the snow was too soft to think about self-arresting. So upwards they headed, taking then trail when they could, going basically straight up when they couldn't. At one point Indy thought he saw a built-up stone wall that indicated the trail was there so they headed over, but it turned out to be one of the now many stone huts/buildings they had seen scattered across the mountainside (Bri explained to Indy that these were the summer 'homes' of farmers when they brought their cattle up to the higher elevations for the warmer months). The one they found now had been mostly destroyed. By weather (nature) or man-made destruction, it wasn't readily evident. Indy was leaning more towards natural causes. But they didn't stick around to investigate much. Bri reminded Indy they were on a schedule; they were to be back in Ozegna by 10am, by orders of the Amazon's mom (moms of Amazons are even more Amazon; let this be a lesson to the reader!). It was nearing 8am already so they pushed on....and into deep (and still soft) snow.
"Urp!" exclaimed Indy when he fell in to a waist-deep section. Wading forward he clawed his way onto some boulders sticking out of the snow. Bri followed in his tracks, wisely letting Indy break trail whenever possible (this meant less energy spent by her).
As the sun rose higher in the sky, the air temperatures warmed considerably. The Amazon from Ozegna had long before removed her ski suit, opting for the protection of her fleece jacket and rain/wind jacket. Indy had shucked his vest, as well as the shell, going up with jacket and thermals. He kept his ski pants on, though, although they were mostly unzipped in the legs for ventilation purposes.
They continued working their way up the ridge, weaving their way between towering rocks and piles of boulders. They found a semblance of a trail, though not always the same trail. Sometimes it was the foot trail they found buried in the snowbanks, sometimes it was a trail from an alpine competition that Bri told Indy about partway up the mountain earlier in the morning (the 'alpine comp' trail basically followed a series of thin, short sticks poking up at far intervals). But ultimately they wound their way up and....Indy could a cross far up ahead - the summit! (Bri also informed him that there was a large white cross on the summit, but Indy had forgotten about that conversation).
The snow was more prevalent up here; fewer rocks were around to walk on. The going was noticeably slower. They had to carefully pick their way up over rocks and across banks of snow (Bri chose more the former, Indy the latter; Bri went faster).
Finally they were within spitting distance of the summit. It was almost 9:00am. There weren't no way they were going to get down to the car and back to Ozegna before 10:00am. Or 11:00am. Oops. Well, since the day was good (although very hazy and warm by now; looking into the valley it was quite difficult to see the town of Rivarolo, only a few kilometers away from Ozegna), the duo decided to press forward.
From this point the summit (and the large white cross) was only 100 meters away, maybe 30 meters vertical. With not a rock sticking up out of the snow between them. A slip here could be Bad(tm), depending on if one stopped sliding, sunk down into the snow as they slide, or kept sliding (coming in at the angle they were to the final crest/ridge to the summit, Indy didn't know how steep the other side was - and it turned out to be rather severely steep). Bri gently surged forward across the snow and up onto the final ridge. Indy followed slightly slower behind.
A few minutes later the intrepid adventuring duo arrived at the tall (~10 meter) white metal cross, marking the summit of Punta Quinzeina. 2344 meters above sea level. Success (well, now they had to get down, but that shouldn't pose much of a problem). They stayed on the summit a while, doing the picture thing. Bri attempted to find her dad's name on the cross but failed (he had told her he had gone up there some many years ago and scratched his name in the cross; what he didn't tell her was that it was up near the top, not around the base! and neither of the two adventurers thought to climb up to have a look; oh well!). Indy looked around and his eyes followed the ridge line that ran from Punta Quinzeina to the next mountain peak to the east-northeast. It looked inviting, but....they were already running out of time. Okay, they were already late getting back. Indy expected severe Amazon punishment upon their return. Little did he know...
The two started down. If the day would have been clear the view would have been spectacular. There they were, 2000 meters above the valley below, at the literal edge of the Alps...and it was so hazy you could slice it with a knife. <sigh> Maybe another trip. In the meantime...
Coming off the summit ridge Indy demonstrated for Bri the concept of the 'butt glisade'. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) the snow was so soft that he didn't go very far very fast. But Bri was intrigued, and at her next opportunity, gave it a try herself. She enjoyed it far too much. She was very disappointed when they ran out of good snow banks to glisade.
The journey down was pretty quick. It grew warmer by the minute as they descended. The two were quickly out of the snowline and into the mid-levels of the mountain, where most of the ash from the fire was (Indy and Bri later learned that the fire was only from the year before; pretty fast recovery for the foliage up on the mountain). After about 2 hours they had reached the second stone building they had discovered on the way up. They took a quick break, then barrelled it down to the car. 2 hours and 15 minutes after leaving the summit they were changed and heading home, bouncing through the dirt road at first, then winding their way quickly down the narrow (but paved!) mountain road that led from St Elisabetta to the valley below. Bri was constantly beeping the horn as they went around blind curves. The reason: the road is so narrow that if you don't warn someone coming the other way around a curve, you will hit them!
On the drive down Bri and Indy discussed the possibilities of climbing Mont Avic on this trip. Due to the deep yet soft snow conditions, and because Bri didn't have quite all the desired equipment for this kind of mountaineering, they decided they would save Avic for the next trip. In the meantime, Indy would help get Bri outfitted properly and take her on other mountains with snow in the States.
In short order they were back in Ozegna. Record time for Bri: less than 25 minutes to do a 30 minute drive. Indy had to wait a bit for his stomach to catch up.
Once back home, Bri's mom stared sternly at the two. <"Why are you late?!?">
<"Sorry, mamma, it was Indy's fault. You know how those slacker softbody Americans are. He claims to have no energy,"> Bri replied.
<"NO ENERGY?!? By God, we'll fix that!"> stated Bri's mamma as she forced Indy into a chair and made him eat another 5 full helpings of a 4-course meal. Indy exploded.
After trying to rest the afternoon away (which, really, wasn't hard to do!), Bri coaxed Indy into getting up again. They had to meet Monica and various friends for dinner in Torino that evening. Indy groggily replied, "No, please, no more food..." and fell back asleep again. The Amazon from Ozegna grabbed his feet and dragged him downstairs to the car. Good thing for Indy he has a hard head. Bad thing for the stairs.
The drive to Torino was an experience in itself. Indy didn't witness many examples of Bad Driving(tm), but there were a few. Just enough to reaffirm for Indy that rumors he had heard of all his life about 'Italian drivers' could possibly be true. But before confirmation, he'd need more data. He would have it before the trip was out.
Unfortunately it was rather late when they arrived in Torino (the sun had set, it was deep twilight), so 'seeing the sights' wasn't much of an option. The two parked and headed to this little 'hole in the wall' place to meet with some of Bri's friends, her Amazon sister Monica, and some of Monica and Massimo's friends. Therein they had a wonderful (if slightly expensive) meal. Indy was able to eat just enough to not explode this time.
The good food and company ran very late into the night. It was after 1:00am by the time Bri and Indy finally left and headed back for Ozegna. Beat tired, they got back after 2:00am. Sleep came quickly.
Buona Pasqua! (eat, eat, eat, eat, eat!)
Once again, Indy was unable to rise at the crack of dawn. The original plan was for Bri and Indy to attend 11:30 Mass, but seeing as they did not get up until after 9:30am, it wasn't going to be easy to attend 11:30am Mass. So Indy and Bri exchanged Easter gifts with Bri's family (Indy gave Bri a copy of Freedom of the Hills, the climber's "bible" - now Bri had more reading material than she had time to read!) then the two walked the quiet and pretty empty streets of Ozegna (most people being in Mass). There they picked up a phone card (so Indy could call back to the United States to his family for Easter) and met a handful of friends of Bri's as they emerged from church. Among them was the familiar face of Susanna, a good friend of Bri's who had come to the States in '99 to visit. After this, returned to the abode of Bri's parents, where her sister Monica, her husband Massimo, and a friend of theirs came over for lunch. And it was a hefty lunch - larger than any of the meals Indy's had to date. Indy exploded. Again. Never had he seen so much food in one sitting (and 'one sitting', in this case, was a couple hours long!)
After lunch Bri put Indy back together again (an easier job to do than what the King's men and and horses had with Humpty Dumpty) and they napped. Later a childhood friend of Bri's came over with his fiance to visit for a while. Indy was able to follow most (but not all) of the conversations with his limited italian vocabulary (he most understood "softbody climber getting fat"). After this, off to visit Donatella and her family, where Indy and Bri played with the kids with their new Hotwheels(tm) toys. Then a return to Bri's parents place where more food was had. Indy exploded, then went to bed.
Day after Pasqua - an italian holiday
Yesterday the first real rains had come in the late afternoon/early evening. They persisted until the morning this day, then the weather slowly cleared up. Not that Indy or Bri noticed much for most of the day; they ended up sleeping in again until nearly 11:00am. When Indy arose he peered out of the upper floor bedroom to the clothes flapping in the wind below...his and Bri's clothes from earlier this past week. Bri's mom had washed their clothes for them and had them hanging up to dry! Oh wow, way keen. Real fresh air dried clothes! Indy wouldn't dare do that in Baltimore. For one the air quality is....significantly less than that of the country, and more importantly, if he were to leave his clothes outside for any length of time (say, all day), someone would undoubtedly drop by and help themselves to them all.
The day immediately became filled as Indy and Bri accompanied Bri's mom to the local market for a while, then back for lunch, and then by mid-afternoon Bri, Indy, and Bri's parents squeeeeezed into Bri's mom's tiny little car (did I mention it was way-tiny??) and off they zoomed, back to Valle d'Aosta. Their new destination: Castello di Fenis!
Castello di Fenis dates back to the 12th century, and is a synthesis of successive building campaigns, which began in the late 12th century and finally finished in the 15th century. The site of this fortress was chosen more because of the pre-existing settlements in the area (dating to the Roman times) rather than any real natural defensive considerations, unlike most older castles in the Aosta valley. The castle was more or less abandoned around the beginning of the 18th century and eventually became a farmhouse for a while. At the end of the 1800s the castle was purchased by architect Alfredo d'Andrade and restoration of the castle began in earnest. In the early 1900s he donated the castle to the State, where in the late 1930s the castle became the focus of a massive restoration program, and exists much as it did then now.
Unfortunately their late start meant they got to the castle late, so were unable to get tickets to go inside. However, they did spend a considerable amount of time walking around the castle. It was simply beautiful! Indy fired off nearly a full roll of film on this fortress of old.
After circling the Castello di Fenis for a while, the foursome started to make their way back, but decided to stop in Chatillon, another village in Valle d'Aosta, somewhat larger than Ozegna (and more tourist-oriented) to walk around for a while. In the distance Indy spied another castle: Castello di Ussel. A squarish-rectangular fortress, it did not have the same elegant characteristics of Castello di Fenis.
As the foursome explored Chatillon, they almost got lost a couple of times due to the river gorge which slices its way through town. What seemed to Indy to be obvious ways around turned out not to be the case, which caused for the party to backtrack a couple of times. However, Indy did find a 'shortcut' through some of the side 'alleys' to get to a street that has a bridge which spans the gorge. Below in the gorge one could see remnants of an old Roman road and bridge which were built here nearly two millenia ago.
The group soon found themselves back at the car and heading home. On the way they got a good look at yet another castle: Castello di Bard. And nearby to that they spied in the bright yet fading light of the evening twilight the silhouette of Mont Avic. Incredible pointy mountain. Indy and Bri are going to have to come back and do this.
Once they returned home, the family rested and....ate (of course). The meal was not quite the enormous bounty it was the day before, but it was still far more than what Indy could eat. Bri's mom looked sternly at him. He kept eating. The waistline of his pants visibly bulged. Bri's mom looked happier.
That evening before bed Indy experienced a little italian television that he could actually follow along a little on: ER. In Italia they show television programs without the many commercials that permeate American tv, and ofttimes show tv series 2 episodes back to back, with only a couple of breaks during the whole hour and a half. So Indy got to watch two episodes of ER in italian, back to back, in an hour and a half. That was an interesting treat.
After that, Indy and Bri retired for the evening. Indy was exhausted. He never noticed when he fell asleep.
April 25th - Climbing at Traversella
Indy arose around 4am to try and snap a time exposure photo of Punta Quinzeina with star trails. The idea was to set the camera up, return to bed, get up about 40 minutes later (before morning twilight started), and end the exposure. Unfortunately...
One hour and seventeen seconds later Indy was back at the camera. Morning twilight had started maybe 10-15 minutes before. Still dark, but the sky was brightening. It would turn out that the exposure was over exposed due to that 10-15 minutes of twilight. Che sfiga! Indy will have to try taking this photo again on another trip (he did a second pic, 1 minute 20 seconds, but the final result wasn't as dramatic as Indy had hoped). So, putting the camera away, Indy returned to bed.
Today was yet another holiday in Italia! Liberation Day, the day the Allies drove the Nazis from Italy during World War 2. It happens to also be known as St Marco day - yea for Indy!
Indy and Bri woke up a little later than they had intended (what else is new?). They had many plans for the day, but it quickly became apparent there weren't enough hours available to do them all, so the highest priority item was to explore and reconnoiter the climbing scene around Traversella. Indy and Bri had both studied her copy of the guide fairly extensively, and had picked out a handful of routes to try their hands (and feet) on. It wasn't clear what the two should prepare for; obviously many routes there were multi-pitch in nature, so leading was almost going to be a definite. But as to what kind of pro they would need, what kind of rock they would encounter....they were not sure. Indy loaded Bri's mom's car with all the climbing gear. Thus ladened down, the duo took off on their next adventure.
An hour or so later, after a few harrowing experiences on the narrow mountain roads (in which several motorcycles and a Porche passed Bri & Indy and a number of other cars on blind curves with sheer outside drops), the two found themselves in the small village of Traversella...and it was smaller than Ozegna, if one can imagine it! Parking was definitely a problem. It was late morning and all five of the parking spots at the trailhead were filled already. Bri drove to the other side of town and somewhere found a 'space' on the side of the road outside the village. There she parked the car and the two burdened themselves with a metric ton of gear - hundreds of quickdraws, full set of nuts/stoppers, not-quite-full set of cams, almost-full-set of tri-cams, some miscellaneous mixed gear, backup webbing, top-rope gear, harnii, shoes, helmets...they were loaded for bear! Knowing they had a hike ahead of them, they also donned their heavy hiking boots (Indy was hoping for just Tevas, but...). Quickly back into town, they soon found themselves on the trail up.
Up. And up...and up...and up the trail went. Sign at the start of the trail warned them it was about 45 minutes to the Rifugio. Well, it turned out to be just about exactly that. There was some minor confusion about mid-way up as the two found side trails going this way and that, but other people going up or coming down set them straight. And the duo found themselves...outside a small and rustic mountain resort! They had arrived: Rifugio Bruno Piazza!
Exhausted from the hump uphill, the two collapsed at a sheltered picnic table and watched as many tens of people milled about the area. There appeared to be even some people setting up tables with table cloths, utensils, plates, glasses...it looked like an outdoor restaurant! After catching their collective breaths, the two quickly learned that this was indeed the case. No real surprise to Bri (who grew up knowing about these things), but a bit of a shock to Indy (they got all this up here how?). Bri and Indy discussed getting something to eat. And lo, lunch was served! Indy and Bri inquired about picking up another guidebook, this one for Indy (he who collects these things!). And lo, one was produced! So satiating themselves on the sandwiches they bought, Indy and Bri once again poured over the books and tried to decipher where they had to go according to the maps therein.
They wanted to go to Primo Salto, an area a short ways up from the rifugio that sported a number of ~5.6 routes, many one-pitch. Normale was a 5-pitch route that was indicated as being one of the more popular routes to do but next to it were 4 or so short, one-pitch 5.5/5.6 routes. Indy thought those shorter ones would be ideal to get acquainted with the rock here. Bri concurred. So they gathered their gear (with Indy making a lot of noise banging around the rifugio when he stopped in quickly to...take a break) and headed...back uphill again! <grunt><groan>
Soon the two came to some cliffs. Higher up were more cliffs. Primo Salto? They weren't sure; didn't seem to quite match the map, but... they went up. And came upon a cliff swarming with kids, young adults, older adults....you name it, they were here! And the rock...Indy couldn't believe what his eyes beheld: bolts. Bright, shiny, sparkly bolts - everywhere! Indy's not talking "New River Gorge" bolts, but "bolts every 2-3 feet" bolts! The whole rock was matrixed with bolts! Starting around waist-level. Indy felt a bit dismayed at seeing so many bolts, especially when so many of them seemed so close to one another.
Then he and Bri re-consulted The Tome of Knowledge and discovered to their mild chagrin that they were not anywhere near where they wanted to be. Instead, they were at arrampicata per bambini, the climbing wall of the children. This is where all the next generation italian climbers were learning to [sport-]lead! Ahhhh, this explains why so many bolts, so close together. Indy and Bri turned around and headed back down the hill (a bit dismayed that they would have to go down and then back up again to get to Primo Salto).
Kinda detracts a part of what climbing is/means for Indy. :-(
They were back at the rifugio in a few minutes. Once re-orientated, they made their way along a new path - not up from the rifugio, but to the left! And about 5-10 minutes later (following a trio of other guys), they found themselves at the base of...Primo Salto! "Siamo qui!" announced Indy, in his badly-pronounced italian. Bri looked pained, but said nothing.
As the two looked over the routes, the three guys they followed came up to them and said that this wall was "too easy for you. You should go to Placche Nere (where the routes were steeper and much harder in general), and then if you are feeling strong - and you [Indy & Bri] look very strong! - you should then go to Torrione degli Istruttori (Tower of the Instructors - something someone like Eric Horst or Lynn Hill would climb on). There is much challenge there for ones such as yourselves."
Indy politely thanked them as they went to Placche Nere, still urging Indy and Bri to follow them. Bri looked at Indy and said, "Chicken."
As the trio disappeared down the path, Indy and Bri looked over the routes before them, and the rock wall above them.
Indy looked over the shorter routes with a practiced eye (Normale, the 5-pitch 5.6, being already taken by a party of 3) and settled either Primula or Quartino, two one-pitch 5.6 routes next to Normale. Primula was the dryer of the two, so Indy counted bolts, grabbed that many quickdraws (and a couple extra long runners for the anchor), and got prepared. Bri flaked the rope out and got set to watch Indy flail.
Indy, after tying in, started up what seemed to be a fairly straight-forward route. Quickly, however, the first few moves off the ground to and then past the first bolt were...non-trivial in nature. Different type of rock than Indy had ever climbed on before also was a distraction. But Indy managed not to fall (although whatever it was he did was barely called 'climbing') and closing in on the top, saw that the belay area here was soaking wet, but the belay on Quartino was wet but not sopping like a Louisiana marsh. Indy decided to traverse over onto Quartino, but had the unfortunate experience of having run out of quickdraws. He had to use one of the long runners to protect the traverse and final climb up to the belay anchors (Quartino is a bit of a longer route than Primula, you see). Once there Indy got locked in.
With all the noise that people on the ground were making, Indy failed to hear the leader of the trio on Normale calling to him. And when he did hear, he didn't understand at first that the leader was talking to him. "Capo! Capo! <Come out of the water, over here [gestured] to this other belay spot; it is not so wet!>" Indy looked at the leader, actually understanding with his limited italian, then looked at the section he'd have to climb next (actually quite easy 5th class scrambling - maybe 5.1??), and had Bri maintain the belay while he headed up the next 2 meters to the new belay (which was, as advertised, dry!). Then he went off-belay and prepared to bring Bri up.
Indy attempted to have a conversation with the leader ("capo") of the other team, but the leader's english was less than Indy's italian, so they grunted at each other, waved their arms a bit, and generally got along fine. It turned out that of the guy and girl he was bringing up, the guy below spoke a fair bit of english. Indy learned one unhappy thing: there are people in the area who will, without a second thought, go through your packs at the base of the rocks (esp if you are high up on the wall) and liberate any items therein for their own uses. The guy Indy was talking to had just lost some brand new gear and boots earlier that morning. Sad, this! Alas, good thing that his and Bri's stuff was in eye-sight of them, and that they weren't really going much higher (although the idea Bri proposed to Indy after she scampered up Primula to do all the rest of Normale, following the trio, was very appealing).
After Bri sauntered up to join Indy, the trio of climbers on Normale had already left the belay; two were at the second belay station, the second climbing. Indy suggested to Bri to move up the couple of meters to the first belay station of Normale, as the stance looked ever so much nicer. So Bri did, and set an anchor. Indy immediately joined her. There she convinced Indy to do the second pitch ("Innnndyyyyy, we have to climb some moooorrrrre! Dai! Dai! Do the next pitch!" "Wellll...okay.").
Indy went up. This time he had more than enough quickdraws (6), as there were only 3 bolts on this route - 3 very well-spaced apart bolts, Indy noted. More like Stone Mountain (NC) climbing than New River Gorge stuff. But it was okay; the terrain was quite friendly, and Indy is used to those Stone Mountain runouts.
At the second belay Indy caught up with the trio ahead of them. There he belayed Bri up and watched as the capo of the trio led up into the steep section of the route, weaving between roofs, and getting to the third belay. It looked so nice! But alas, time was ticking, Indy and Bri's day was running out, so they rapped down. Two quick rappels and they were on the ground again. Bri wanted to possibly return in the morrow and lead the first pitch of Normale, so for familiarization practice, top-roped it twice. Happy and confident it posed no obstacle for her, the duo de-geared and humped it back down the long hill to the car. From there, out of the mountains (but not before getting some fresh water at the public watering well in Traversella!) and back to the Ozegna area, to visit with Bri's sister Donatella and her family.
Donatella and her family have a pretty nice place, and it wasn't long before her husband (who spoke broken english) had Indy out playing soccer (real soccer, not American football) with his two sons, Marco and Federico. Indy did what he could to favor his sore knee (an old war wound that flares up from time to time, especially when going up/down steep hills like at Traversella) and wasn't quite as quick as Flavio (Donatella's husband), Marco, or Federico (at least this is the story Indy is sticking with; there is no accounting for the fact that Flavio is a borderline expert player and the two boys just simply have more energy than any five children have the right to have - not to mention a few years more practice than Indy!). After long, grueling hours of this, Bri finally appeared (after consulting with Donatella about Stuff inside) and rescued Indy from certain doom. Alas, it was already too late; Team Flavio/Federico had scored so many points, not even the esteemable Amazon from Ozegna could reverse the score. The game ended at a tie when Donatella called out that dinner was ready. Alright, more food! Indy wasn't sure if he was looking forward to it (being famished) or dreading it (if it was going to be one of those 5-course full-on meals that he can barely finish).
As it turned out, the meal was five-courses large, but the portions...were just perfect for Indy! Indy was able to not explode after dinner for once!
After a pleasant evening of socializing and playing with the kids, Indy and Bri returned to her parent's place, where Indy grabbed a sorely needed bath. Then...bed. Indy was out like a light.
April 26: Torino!
Indy and Bri wound up running late again. There were many plans of things to do that day, but....just too many plans for the hours in the day. And they still had to pack for their flight out of Milano tomorrow morning!
L'Osservatorio Astronomico di Torino (The Astronomical Observatory of Torino) was nestled at the top of a rather high ridge overlooking the city. This was the old stomping grounds of Bri, so she took Indy on a tour of the place. Therein they met some friends of Bri (a whom couple Indy was already acquainted with: Roberto and Ron, italian and Montana-boy, respectively). After the visits with various people there, Bri tore through Torino looking for a post office so Indy could send out the few postcards he had. They failed to find one, so with an ever-increasing velocity, Bri flew the two of them back to Rivarolo, where Indy found a post office still open - for a few minutes. But just enough minutes in order for him to ask (in broken italian) for stamps, which he got. Then, that mission accomplished, back to Ozegna, where they met Susanna and Donatella and Bri's two nephews. More visiting, then the groups switched as Dony and the boys, and Susanna, left while Monica and Massimo stopped by. Then they had one more huge meal (primarily meat, as Bri's dad had gotten a roaring fire going and was cooking up a storm out back). Indy once again exploded.
Waddling upstairs, Indy and Bri (who walked far more than waddled!) dragged out all their stuff and began reorganizing and repacking. They are to be up at 3:00am in order to meet Monica so she can take them to Milano for their flight back to the States. 3:00am...and it was 11:00pm now! Ugh. Indy struggled with packing, as did Bri (lightweight that she is, she had a hard time compressing her suitcase to fit more in with her body; she had to have Indy's fat frame sit on it a few times to get things in and closed) Once done (nearly midnight!) the two dropped off, exhausted.
April 27: Arriverderci!
Indy's alarm went off...twice...three times. Indy never heard it. Instead he had a dream where Bri's mom was downstairs, yelling up to the bedroom window, crying out "Indy! Indy!". Indy awoke with a start. The room...was dark. No one was outside (or downstairs outside). He looked at his watch. Yikes! They were already 30 minutes late. He leapt out of bed and went over to where Bri was sleeping. Prodding her gently to arise, she rolled out of bed as Indy dashed to the bathroom to wash his face. They then dragged their multi-ton baggages down to the car, and somehow squeezing all of it in, along with Bri's parents, the troupe took off to go meet Monica. The drive there was a haze to Indy, who almost fell asleep again and tried to wake up. Once at Monica's Indy and Bri switched cars (moved the luggage, but let Bri's parents remain with their own car), said their goodbyes, and Monica drove Bri and Indy to Milano. Arriving in the morning twilight, Monica hung out with the two of them for a while, but then had to go to work. Bri and Indy boarded their plane (but not before Indy made sure to buy more italian chocolate! gonna need something to eat while up on Rainier in a few months...). At around 6:00am the plane took off (although it required extra room on the runway to get off the ground; the pilot forgot to account for Indy's extra bulk).
The flight to Gatwick was mostly uneventful. Indy was mostly zoned out from the off-hours of sleep/no sleep. The flight back to Baltimore was long, but uneventful. They, again, did not get a window seat (sad for Indy!), though Indy did his best to look out when he could past the huge guy he was sitting next to. It was all clouds, though, except at the Canadian coast. Even most of North America was enshrouded in clouds. Bugger.
Finally they were over Baltimore, and descended through the cloudbank. The day went from brilliant white of sunlight reflecting off the clouds, to a damp, grey misty day under the clouds. Passing through customs was a little more rigorous this time around than going to Italy, but no big deal. Bri and Indy made it through and found Mosca Man waiting for them. They quickly piled the baggage into Mosca's car as he appraised the two returning adventurers while they regaled him with tales of their journey (particularly the amount and quality of food).
Mosca's critical eye noticed Indy's pants weren't fitting anymore. He shook his head and said, "You're round in the middle, man!"