Alice Julia Brambilla
One morning at the end of June I received a meeting request from my colleague Simon K. stating “As you know, both of you will be at the Basic Alpine Campus.” – but actually, I didn’t know about it.
In this email that was addressed to myself and my colleague Maggie M., Simon was telling us that we would be taking over the organizational tasks during the Alpine Campus; an event for Oberalp employees to discover different mountain activities.
Mountains have always been part of my life. I grew up around Lecco, a small town on Lake Como, where you have two life choices: you either start sailing or you start climbing. I hated water, so my choice was simple, I would be a climber. So, for me it was easy to accept Simon’s offer to take over the organization of the Alpine Campus. For Maggie on the other hand, this task would be a little more challenging for her. She didn’t know the difference between a carabiner and a quickdraw and she had never slept in a tent – this task was going to be a new experience for her.
After a tough weekend of organizing and packing, and successfully fitting enough clothes for one week in a 55 L backpack, the day of our departure had arrived. I was excited and Maggie was nervous. The car ride to the Alpine Campus consisted of a Q/A session, trying to answer all of Maggie’s questions about climbing and the mountains. The extent of her climbing experience had been in the bouldering area of our climbing hall - so about 3 meters high and padding underneath.
We arrived in Prags/Braies after a bit of a drive, to our basecamp for the following week. We met Stephie and Martin from Globo Alpin, our mountain guides for the Alpine Campus adventures. After a quick briefing with them about the next few days, we mounted the tents, cooked and ate all together and Maggie took notes and wrote down a schedule for cooking and cleaning shifts for every participant!
When Maggie’s bedtime approached, two inflatable matrasses and a -30-sleeping bag were not enough to keep our fresh mountain-girl comfortable for the nights to come. A warm woolen hat and gloves helped to get this issue fixed and Maggie was ready to jump in that big orange sleeping bag that made us look like big frozen carrots. 6:00 a.m. our alarms were ringing. After a quick breakfast together, a first introduction lesson about map reading and orientation in the mountains we were ready to start our first day: Orienteering hike.
All we had was a map and our orientation skills. The two mountain guides walked behind us, we started a wild crossing of the steep mountainside, climbing over bushes and small rocks. This was already quite exhausting, but as we reached the top the view was breathtaking, with the Lake of Braies surrounded by beautiful mountains. A short break for a quick snack, then we approached a short via ferrata, the first one ever for Maggie. Helmet on, harness worn and via ferrata kit set, she was ready to start. She did great and with the help of Martin she was the first one to reach the final top.
On our way down, we stopped at a small uninhabited hut, where Martin and Stephie set up a belay point on the table’s legs with ropes and carabiners. This was our make-shift learning station where we had to build up a belay and where Martin and Stephie would introduce us to the abseiling procedures. When everybody had done the abseil form the table, we continued the walk towards the lake. Cold water and a cold drink were a perfect relief for our feet and soul.
Back at basecamp, the Czech team of Matus, Klara and Gabo were on dinner duty, to our surprise had a tasty risotto dish waiting for us when we arrived. With full and satisfied bellies, we sat down at the bonfire to recap the day and plan the next.
After a sunset and a sunrise, we were ready to start our second experience: via ferrata and abseiling. Upon our arrival at Passo Falzarego we sorted out equipment, got a packed lunch form our beloved mountain guides and started the approach to the via Ferrata.
Martin and Stephie decided to take a small break to let us try something… the first abseiling. We started the same procedures practiced the day before, this time on two fixed belay spots instead of an unsteady table leg. What was also different from our practice spot was the ground. Instead of standing on a flat surface, we were suspended above a 25-meter overhang. One by one, we had to rappel down, until it was Maggies turn. You could sense how worried she was, based on her pale expression – I think one of her deepest fears about the Alpine Campus had arrived.
It took about ten minutes of second thoughts, tears and encouraging words before Maggie did one move on the abseiling ropes. All she needed was a person she trusted and someone to distract her from bad thoughts. Maggie and I started to descend, slowly abseiling near one another. We had descended just a few meters when she started screaming, but what surprised everyone was the reason she was screaming. “That was the best thing I have ever done!” She turned from the most scared person to the most excited and happy person in just few seconds. We didn’t reach the ground yet when she asked if we could do it again. I somehow believe that her first abseiling has been a success. We moved on to the starting point of the via ferrata “Brigata Alpina” on Col di Bos. Helmet, harness, kit: ready to go. Maggie was in the front with Martin; we, in the back, following the “leaders”. Maggie had never gone so “vertical” uphill, but she was ready as she had just abseiled 25 meters above an overhang! That via ferrata was now a piece of cake for her! In fact, it was, and in a few hours, we got to the top of Col di Bos. From the back row someone said: “Leicht, leicht, Federleicht” which means, “lightweight, lightweight, featherweight.” !” Just like the game Broken Telephone, in the front row Maggie got it as “Leicht, leicht, Maggieleicht!”- and this became our motto for the Alpine Campus.
A little more effort and we were about to reach the entrance of the Tunnels of the Great War, to start our descent. Before entering those small, narrow and humid tunnels, we put our helmets and headlamps on and headed in. Everything was cold, damp and slippery, we literally couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. How could soldiers survive in there during the hard winters of World War I?
After what felt like hours, we saw a light on the left side of the tunnel - finally the exit. Except for the fact that this exit was 60 meters above a huge overhang. This was one of the most uncomfortable and cramped exits I had ever been through, and I have to admit it was not of easy access for me. Maggie did have tons of fun, rappelling down just like a pro.
After reaching the hut in the valley we headed back to the basecamp where we met Hannes, our Technical Hardware Specialist who educated us on some via ferrata kits and climbing equipment - another day had come to end. That evening around the bonfire Maggie had bright eyes, enchantingly talking about her abseiling experience and how scared but excited she felt that day. Amazing how two days in the mountains can transform a person’s idea about alpine activities.
Day 3: climbing and multipitch day, another “first time” for Maggie. During the ride towards Monte Popena, above the Lake of Misurina, the most pronounced word on our van was “Abseiling”. Maggie just wanted to abseil. No climbing, no hiking, just abseils. But as she learned fast, there is no abseil without uphill. Somehow the long approach seemed to be shorter as sometimes we could hear “Leicht, leicht, Maggieleicht!” from the back.
On that day, Erwin, (another mountain guide) joined us for the climb. After the approach we settled at the base of the wall, where we had in-depth explanation of belaying on a multipitch. Then we divided into two groups: some of us started for a 5-rope length multipitch, Via Adler-Mazzorana, others did their first climb and tried a 2-rope length multipitch. From up there the view was astonishing: Group of Sorapiss, the Lake of Misurina, Tre Cime di Lavaredo in front of us, Group of Cristallo behind us. Just a pity that we had to go down.