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Monday, August 06, 2018

June 22nd: Via Ferrata Grand Cir

It thunderstormed during the night, enough to wake me up, which wasn't a bad thing since I had some stuff that was still in the wash and needed to be taken out and air dried. I went back to sleep, and still managed to get up early enough to make breakfast for Bowen.

After breakfast, we packed up our bike, which despite being under a shelter showed signs of chain rust, left the keys in the apartment, and rode down to the train station, carrying all un-eaten food on the bike since we knew we were getting a taxi transfer. It turned out that our taxi driver was none other than Lukas Panitz, the owner of Base Camp Dolomites and a mountain guide and tour organizer. While driving up, I asked him about good paths down from Selva di Gardena on the bike, as I didn't think that there was a good bike path up, something he concurred with. He said that there was a good alternative down back to Bolzano, by riding over to Castelrotto towards Siusi. "There's a plateau there, so even though you have to climb a bit, the rest of it is easy riding, and it's away from most traffic." I asked him for ideas for what to do on our free day in Selva, and he suggested that if we were lucky, we might be able to get a mountain guide to do a Via Ferrata which was something his daughter practiced and enjoyed. He named Piccolo Cir and Gran Cir as two options that we could potentially do with a 6 year old. I told him about our consideration to do the Stelvio and he said to ping him in case he could find a way to help us.
I'd heard Arturo talk about Via Ferratas before, but I had no idea that a little kid as young as 6 might be expected to do it. We rode over to the tourist information office after dumping our bags at the Residence Antares. We could have walked it, but Lukas had emphasized that we might have already arrived too late to get a mountain guide for the day, and while we could do it on Sunday, this was the optimal day to have an off-bike activity. The tourist information office told us that the mountain guide office was already closed for the day, but then she called one of the mountain guides she knew and he was available and would meet us at the office!

Miguel met us and told me the price would be 200 Euros. Well, I didn't know squat about climbing or Via Ferratas, so I agreed and we went back to the hotel to get Bowen's sandals. Miguel looked dubiously about my cycling shoes, but I told him that that was all I had. He picked up harnesses for us, and then we headed out. Residence Antares was happy to hold our bike in the ski room, and Miguel picked us up in his car and drove us to the cable car.
The view from the top of the cable car was pretty good. On the way up, Miguel told us that Piccolo Cir was shorter but harder and Gran Cir was longer but easier, and he would suggest doing the Gran Cir first. Not knowing any better, I took his advice. In retrospect, doing the Piccolo Cir would probably have been more fun, and might have left Bowen more enthusiastic about the Via Ferrata experience.
The approach started with a hike up to the base of the wall. Bowen happily kept up with the mountain guide and walked surprisingly fast. At the base of the wall, we were asked to put on the climbing harness. I would manage my caribiners myself, but Bowen would be tied to the guide.
The climb itself felt like it was too easy, with only a few places where I felt like I ws in danger of falling. But as I climbed, I caught myself doing dumbass things, which is probably how someone could get killed doing an easy climb. For instance, you're supposed to have one caribiner clipped in at all times, but I would catch myself moving both at once.
I thought Bowen would not be happy to get dragged along by the guide, but it turned out that he was very happy to do things this way, and indeed he seemed to be having fun. In due course, we got to the top, where unbelievable views could be had, because it was such a clear day.

Unfortunately, a cold wind blew, and Bowen got cold. Once Bowen gets cold, he stops wanting to work hard, so the mountain guide half-carried and half-guided him down the mountain. There was no question that Miguel had earned his pay that day! Bowen was quite tired, but he nevertheless still walked all the way back to the cable car station for lunch. There was no question that we were going to try Piccolo Cir.

Back down in the village, Miguel showed us the zipline playground and the supermarket, and then we found an ATM so we could pay him in cash. The zipline playground wasn't good enough to hold Bowen's attention, so we went back to the hotel, where our room was finally ready for us  to move in.

It turned out that the supermarket was just behind the hotel, and the apartment was on the ground floor (even though the receptionist called it the basement, we still got plenty of natural light). I went to buy dinner and breakfast the next day. The kitchenette had no oven, so I had to be careful to buy stuff that could be cooked over a stove.

We then did our shower and laundry routine, though I didn't have to wring out everything as thoroughly since we were here for two nights and there would be time for everything to dry. We checked out the hotel's indoor pool, which was Bowen's first exposure to a European-style pool, which typically has toys like button-activated waterfalls that give you a shower, jet-streams that would push you back-wards when you pushed a button, and even bubble makers on the floor. It wasn't a very big pool, but Bowen loved being able to turn the waterfall on at will. Even the showers were kind of strange, as they had aroma therapy options, where you could push a button and get various smells in while you showered.

We had to have an early night. Technically, the Sella Rondo Bike Day started at 8:30am, but Lukas had encouraged us to get an early start because things tended to warm up in the afternoon, and of course, certain winds could build up. In any case, the Bike Day ended at 3:30pm, and given that traffic would be waiting to traverse the passes the moment they were let through, I didn't want to be on the mountain when they opened up the roads.


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