Sunday, August 14, 2011

What's the worst thing that could happen?

After a week of hard training, today we had a rest day and we finally got the opportunity to explore aspects of Passo dello Stelvio other than the bitumen 5m in front of our bikes. 

Passo dello Stelvio has the benefit of being so high that it has snow all year round. This means that skiers come during the summer and catch ski-lifts to the higher peaks and hikers trudge their way to the top with spiked boots and walking poles. We asked the hotel if we could hike to the top but he suggested that it is not wise to do so without proper hiking gear. 

We took his advice on board, then quickly dismissed it and began our way up the mountain. I mean, whats the worst that could happen? The first couple of kilometers was a barren dirt road with sections of ice that refused to melt despite the sun. At the top of the road, a ski lift took you the rest of the way to the top, passing over an ice glacier that was covered with a thin layer of snow. We decided NOT to take the ski lift. 

Equipped with Dunlop volley shoes and tracksuits, we crab-walked our way through the snow, digging our feet in to ensure we didn't slip. Between the odd snowball fight we stopped to take in some air as we were nearing 3000m in altitude. When we finally reached the top we were met by a field of skiers and snowboarders, all taking advantage of the remaining snow. We then took the escalator (yes, escalator) to the ski lodge for a coffee  and to think about how we were going to get back down the mountain. 

It was decided that we would go to the ski lift and ride it back down over the snow, not wanting to fight gravity on the slippery surface. The ski lift operator was clearly impressed that we had walked across the ice and let us on for free. 

It was then a simple task of walking back down the dirt section to the hotel. Not wanting to waste any energy, I decided to go as the crow flies and Ben followed behind. I walked down the steep slopes of shale rock but Ben decided to take a more adventurous route. He stood at the top of a section of snow and joked as he slid a little down the slope. I turned back just in time to watch him lose balance and slide on his back down the hill. As he picked up speed, a look of sheer terror spread across his face and he slid 20m to the bottom. 

As he hit the bottom, Ben tried to stop his momentum with his feet but his right ankle took a nasty hit. Unaware of the pain that Ben was in, I struggled to contain my laughter as I made my way over to him. His ankle immediately swelled to twice it's size and it was obvious that something was broken. I helped him out of the hole and literally carried him on my back down to the road. Another hiker with a 4x4 kindly drove up the dirt road and collected Ben to take him back to the hotel. 

After a quick rest, we made the 50km drive to the hospital were Ben is currently getting x-rays and treatment. It's been an adventurous day but the most ironic part of it all is that Ben didn't want to hike and wanted to take the ski lift up in the first place! Lesson learned. 

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