Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Book review: Wolf Hall

I re-read Wolf Hall and enjoyed it again. The Goodreads reviews I've linked to give a reasonable spread of opinions; most who hated it get tripped up by the "he" business but I liked it. Mantell uses "he" for Cromwell even when the syntax would have it referring to one of the other men; this is surprisingly hard to avoid tripping on, even when you know it; but that's good: it keeps you awake.  I found the first perhaps two-thirds engrossing, and read past midnight several nights; the fourth fifth perhaps dragged a little; and the end picks up again. And, although this is generally a serious book, I should pick out the comedy with the French alchemists (p 404 in my edition; again p 410) as superb (Should you not wipe their table? Eh, I may as well wait until they've spilt the second jug). Although, really, said alchemists are nearly irrelevant to the main book, and the attempt to tie in the memory machine is weak.

I realised eventually that a large part of what I liked was vicariously enjoying not just Cromwell's success but a world well run. Cromwell, as presented in the book, simply knows how to do things, how to get things done. And so, when given authority, he manages to work things out. Under Cromwell, Brexit wouldn't have happened. This presents such a lovely contrast with our own world, where those politically in charge seem incompetent. He's also good at bringing up his staff. And this is a beginning of a period of transition, from rule-by-aristocrat to a more bureaucratic system; we get to see that happening.

Cromwell is perhaps too omni-competent: speaks all languages, knows how to do all things, always explained by his travellings as a youth; but maybe it's survivorship bias. And he (and Wolsey) are presented as having little personal direction other than serving the king. Which brings us to Henricus Rex, who is the most mysterious figure in the book: where does he get his energy, his drive, his certainty, from?

On the central matter of the book, Henry's desire for a son to settle the succession, and hence his need for another marriage: this is all such a tragedy of lack of theory and failure to see beyond the commonplace. Eventually they get the right answer: the succession can be set by act of will of the king, since the king is sovereign (see Hobbes; but sadly they didn't have Hobbes yet). The Key Insight about the succession is that is must be certain, in order to avoid civil war. But that's all it needs to be. It can be certain by being the king's eldest son; but in the absence of one, it can be just as certain by the king's clearly expressed will, and acts of parliament. Which is what they ended up doing.

However - and this despite the personal misery it brought to many people - the divorce, in that it brought about the split from Rome, and the challenging of papal authority, is a good thing; so perhaps avoiding it would have been bad.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Book review: Rosewater

Rosewater is an expertly judged cyberpunk-biopunk-Afropunk thriller is set in Nigeria in the aftermath of an alien invasion, according to Adam Roberts in the Graun; and Goodreads seems to like it. Miriam recommended it, or at least pointed me at it; I read it over the past weekend and enjoyed it. But. Ah yes as ever the but.

As a technical bookwriting matter, the flashbacks become a little confusing, because the flashback chronology is a bit textureless, so it is very hard to remember one piece of the past story from another, and keep them in sequence. That isn't desperately important but could have been better managed I think.

I think the book picks up ideas from White Queen - I don't have a review of that, but I do have Divine Endurance - and I'd recommend either of them above this; especially WQ, which is stunning (for example, this review).

The "but" I began with is the flaw so common in sci-fi nowadays, that the eventual revelation can't live up to the build-up. Unlike WQ. Nonetheless the book continues nicely for about 4/5 of its length; if you had the self-discipline to stop at that point, you'd win.

For the positives, well, see the Graun or Goodreads.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

At the dentists

Just personal stuff.

For years I have not gone to the dentists. I forget exactly how long; more than a decade. Sometimes I have had little twinges but they go away and I fooled myself that all was well. But about a month ago I got a twinge that didn't go away, and looking I realised that the edge of my molar looked like a limestone cliff undermined from beneath.

And so I booked an appointment with Miriam's dentist, Hurst Park, a private practice, having decided not to even try jumping through the NHS hoops. And a week later I had three fillings in my lower right. It turned out that the "undermined cliff" was a previous filling that had fallen out. A few days after that I was de-scaled by the hygienist. And a week later I had a smaller filling in the top right. Apart from the not-at-all-fun feeling of being injected, all was well.

Since then I've had a couple of sleepless nights with mild but continuous pain in my jaw, which have taken a couple of hours downstairs to cure, much to the surprise of the cat. Hopefully those will die away.

Monday, 5 November 2018

911 truthers

Recently - to my horror - I discovered that one of my friends is a 911 truther. Or conspiracy theorist. Or, as he might put it (since he was a pains to say that he didn't actually have a coherent theory, he just thought things didn't stack up) a just-not-stack-upper1.

To me, it sounded so, so tediously similar to all the GW denialist nonsense that I'm wearily familiar with. I pointed out the analogy, of course. And of course it just bounced off. I had hoped it might make him think but no such luck: the response was simple rejection of the analogy. Not that he was opposed to analogies in general: he made several himself.

Anyway, let's write some of this down, since I bothered to do at least some research.

Not reading the mainstream view


Just like the GW denialists, who won't read the IPCC reports; or indeed like the people who don't trust GR (or even SR) but have never worked through the maths themselves, my friend hadn't read the mainstream view; which I take to be the NIST report. I haven't either, but I don't need to, since I don't want to dispute it. When I pointed out that it was a good idea to at least read the thing you're supposed to be disagreeing with he did accept that.

Trillions going missing


One of the conspiracy theories needed to explain what happened, is that the plane that hit the Pentagon mysteriously hit the accountancy department, and that Rumsfeld had only days before announced that the DoD had lost trillions. The implication is that the plane - or, ha ha do you see explosives - were used to remove the evidence. Cunning. Except: why do it immeadiately after. If you're trying to do it, why not destroy the evidence and the investigation first, and then not have to announce the problem at all? But that's not the most serious problem: the serious problem is that multiple trillions is too big a number. You cannot lose that much (aka: so-called "skeptics" not being skeptical of things that they should be).

What is the mainstream view? Fairly simple: the trillions aren't lost, they just aren't accountable to high auditing standards (arch). The truth page sez Interestingly, the Bush Administration did not seek to place any blame on the Clinton administration for the missing assets. They really do think this is all "missing". They do know about the mainstream explanation, since the page also quotes although the numbers seem large, it’s not because we really don’t know what happened with the transactions. The problem has tended to be that we just didn’t record them properly, or at least they're capable of quoting the words, but only to scorn them. My friend was either unaware of the mainstream view, or chose not to mention it, I don't know which.

Why would you believe the mainstream view? Firstly, it seems (to me) immeadiately plausible. Not-up-to-date accounting standards, led by inadequate computer systems, is exactly what you would expect from the DoD. It also fits other facts: if they really had lost trillions, it wouldn't be quietly forgotten, even in the context of 911: that much money is enormous; it would have been a years-or-decades-long highly visible scandal.

To be continued?


If my friend keeps pushing this, I'll add to this page. And maybe show it to him one day.

Notes


1. Are you upset by the "tone" of this article? Well tough titty for you then fish face. In normal face-to-face conversation I'm polite; even online, when talking to named individuals I am fairly polite; but otherwise online I take no prisoners: no quarter asked or given. Compare, for example, Scott Adams is a tosser.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

User:Obsidi

Notes for myself, perhaps. and anyone else interested.

Obsidi ended up indeffed. Here's the ANI close; here's the note at [[User talk:Obsidi]].

What's kinda interesting is the total lack of anyone supporting him. And, in a sense, the lack of discussion. It's like everyone has been waiting for this. In GW terms, I have him tagged as a "skeptic", though not an especially unreasonable one. What's also interesting is the obsessive secrecy; there's just no hint of provenance at all. Or rather, Obsidi does his best to avoid giving out such. Though at one point he erred, and edited as anon with a CEI IP; hence my tweak Which, characteristically, he ignored, other than having the edit rev del'ed.

Update 2018/11/03: unblock declined.

Update: 2018/12/14: second unblock procedurally declined as stale.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Book review: Anathem

I wrote something about this in 2008 when I first read it. Now, following our summer holiday, I'm reading it again.

From the Anathem wiki, I find a convenient copy of: "Our opponent is an alien starship packed with atomic bombs," I said. "We have a protractor".

Hmm. Now time has passed - we're into October - so it's about time to finish this off. TL:DR: it was worth reading again.

My principle objection to the book remains as before: that the in-math evocation of a life devoted to Thought is better, and more interesting, and more thought-provoking, than the second-half-of-the-book's Ninja Monks In Space. I would have liked to have read a second version of the book, slower paced - perhaps following my idea, below, of the aliens being further out - with no physical action, but everything done with thought.

When we turn to governance, always a fascinating issue, we discover what one might call the "Harry Potter  Problem", which is that the apparently-ideal sub-world our hero lives in turns out to have dreadful governance. In HP world, for example, Azkaban is a dreadful "prison" which is really a worse-than-torture-chamber and the wizarding authorities make use of Dementors. In Anathem the mathic authorities turn out to be despotic and unchallengeable. And this weakness of the world doesn't get remarked upon: in order for the Deep Thought to remain Pure, the Deep Thinkers have to be in a sense children: non-self-governing. "Can you govern yourself?" is always the question.

As a token, I offer another plot hole: the idea that the alien spaceship would come so close. Why would you take your huge, vital, vulnerable, infinitely precious spaceship so close to a planet with nukes, when you could so easily not do so. Instead, you hang further out, and send a pile of smaller satellites to observe. Not only is the far safer, but it also uses far less manoeuvering energy - an important matter, since in the books the aliens start to run short of bombs.

The idea of the spaceship hanging further out brings up another unexplained matter, which is the connection or lack thereof between the in-this-universe travel of the ship, and the travel between universes. The travel is talked of as though it is long; one could perhaps "explain" this along the familiarish lines that "warp drive only works far from gravitational fields", so perhaps the ship needs to spend a century or so leaving the current solar system. But, all that goes unexplored.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Summer 2018: Dolomites: day 4: Agostini to valley

Previously: arrival and day 1: Graffer to Tuckett; day 2: Tuckett to Brentei; day 3: Brentei to Agostini.

Wednesday 22nd: day 4: Agostini to valley


GPS track.

Sleep well, woken by E telling me my alarm will go off in 30 seconds, which it does. Over breakfast, discover from pix on the walls that the huge blocks above the hut are from a tower that fell in 1957; and that the new roof dates from a very heavy snowfall in 2013/14. Pink morning with cap of cloud on a lower hill.

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We're heading for the Bocca due Denti. Off 8:15 in sunshine that slowly fades to light cloud. We grind up the #321.

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Befre we leave, a quick group portrait, perhaps the only one I have of all four of us from the trip. D, try to look happier.

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Near the start of the ladders, we saw parties to the left doing real climbing. Pix: distant, and closer. It was all very hard work:

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Near the top there is some weird grotto-like stuff, which was fun at the time but is in retrospect not terribly photogenic. An odd soft-looking contrast to all the sharp limestone. At the top we're out of the mist, and have a wide view down.

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A closer view, including the distant mast, which is Doss del Sabion, which is one way to get down from, but instead we chose to walk.

The descent is sort of over a series of shattered shelves / ledges in a scree-filled ex glacial basin. Looking back, you can see the "two teeth". And so to the hut, 11:15.

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Due to what I shall charitably regard as some misunderstanding about boots, I ended up sitting outside and Miriam brought me out a coffee. I go for a look at the chapel - every Italian hut has a chapel - which is carved into the rock, clearly visible from the hut.

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After that, one last look back at the weird rock in the mist,

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and we head back down towards greenery and sunshine once more.

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Here's a view back, from around about Val Nardis:

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D continues to look elegant when resting - but I've used up my quota of pix of him - and E doesn't quite cut it. That's the last of the pix: after that we go down and around Lago di val d'Agola and come to the head of the road, which we evade on the path for a few lacets. Then it absolutely pours with rain for perhaps an hour as we march stolidly down the valley, finding no shelter at all. At last, as the rain peters out, we come to a chalet-hotel-guest-house and nearly stop for tea, but she doesn't really do for non-guests, but tells us the cable-car is just down the road, so we go on to that. The cable is on the map, but not the stop; we get a quick lift (2E each) up all the way to Madonna. There's then some comedy as we struggle to escape the Giant Echoing Multi-Level Ski-Station-Cum-Car-Park which is really designed for winter. Once out, we find a decent cafe not far off and plot our next move.

Once we're feeling drier and warmer I leave my sac and march purposefully up through town to get the car, which takes half an hour or so and I arrive in plenty of time, though I was worrying I'd be late. By the time I drive back down, M has found us a hotel and... all is well.





Stoat

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Summer 2018: Dolomites: day 3: Brentei to Agostini

Previously: arrival and day 1: Graffer to Tuckett; day 2: Tuckett to Brentei.
Next: day 4: Agostini to valley.

Tuesday 21st: day 3: Brentei to Agostini


GPS: part 1: Brentei to Pedrotti; part 2: Pedrotti to Agostini.

Up 7 as before, woken by wise people setting off before us. D sleeps through it all. We're up in the roof again. Overnight rain, and lightning. Somewhat cloudier today.

A thought: unlike say the Roche Faurio, which I can visualise - even now, as I write this down several months in arrears - piece by piece, the via ferrata are more of a confusing mass that don't fit easily into any scheme in my mind. Or, as E said, you generally can't see your objective.

Off 8:10 initially up a pleasant, i.e. not too steep, path up to the obvious col, Bocca di Brenta. It's several km of nice walking, with great views, and the end in sight for once. This is because we started from the Brentei, not the higher Alimonta, so are skipping a section of the vf.

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Just before we get to the steep bit (a bit of snow, a bit of scree, a bit of ironwork that elsewhere would just be a path forced up the scree), we see three climbers on the Campanile Basso (more distant shot). From the top, it's very little distance to the "Tosa e Pedrotti". Pedrotti is the "real" hut; it's where M and I stayed a day or two all those years ago. We stop for drinks and cake; 9:50.

Pic: col to Pedrotti, with Tosa down on the left. The slightly odd low "wall" on the path alongside the rock wall protects their water pipe. View from the hut plus signposts.

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After half an hour head off, contouring round the Pozza Tramontana. Looking along our trail, WNW, from underneath Brenta Bassa towards the bulk of Cima Tosa, and somewhat rightwards the peak of Cima Margherita.

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Somewhat out of sequence, here's a view back, showing the Pozza Tramontana. Which is to say, the big hollow in the ground. The Pedrotti is not-quite-visible off to the left, but you can see the flattish area it is on and the path leading to it.

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Back to sequence. Here we're leaving the level to head up the scree.

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There were flowers, but rarely (some more, near the Agostini)

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Mostly it is limestone and so very dry and moonscape-y. But impressive.

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The col comes suddenly, because Cima Polsa is nearly level. M and D rest while E and I walk east along it. E stares south, into what is probably Val d'Ambiez.

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We're unsure what is next, but gear up anyway. That turns out to make sense, because the in-parts-quite-airy next section does the std looking-impossible-from-a-distance route across a face. Spot the people; may require enlargement.

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Descending towards the Vedr. d'Ambiez. Note red-roofed hut peeking out at the left. Also note impressive Giant Fractured Boulders that have fallen off something.

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The ladders were a bit airy too, disappearing over the edge into nothingness. Note gen-u-wine crevasses in the glacier behind.

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We had ice axes, and crampons - even if not enough for all of us, but had we needed them I'm sure we'd have managed - mostly "to be sure". As it turned out, there really was some glacier this time. However, the nice people had arranged a rope at the end of the ladders. So although you had to walk on a thin layer of gravel / stones / rubble on top of bare ice, with the rope as a handrail it was fairly easy not to fall over.

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After this the "official" route, apparently madly, goes across and slightly up the glacier, and descends the rock on the far side. I assert that this is due to the path-setters paranoia, and their desire to minimise your glacier-distance at all costs, so D and I pioneer a route down the glacier, which proves easy and pleasant, and we wave M and E down.

Looking back up. If you zoom in, there's a bloke in red on the rock band, so you can see where we came down (closer shot, so you can see more people).

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Coming out of the glacier basin we return to the true path, with the hut tantalisingly close but still several hundred meters below.

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It's a lovely afternoon. Sit around, play cards - floating bridge in the Dolomites - and enjoy the views. Signposts. The chef comes to take our dinner order.

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There are bolts on them thar boulders.

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Monday, 20 August 2018

Summer 2018: Dolomites: day 2: Tuckett to Brentei

Previously: arrival and day 1: Graffer to Tuckett.
Next: day 3: Brentei to Agostini; day 4: Agostini to valley.

Monday 20th: day 2: Tuckett to Brentei


GPS track, part 1 and part 2.

Up 7, down to breakfast, D then M and E trickle in. We aim to leave at 8 and manage 8:15. M somewhat worried about the glacier at the start of today's route; I assert that it will be fine, in some way; and unlike most other parties are are at least carrying some crampons, even if not enough for everyone. But as I expected it turns out to be the sad moranic remains of a once proud Vedr. di Brenta Inf. Here we are approaching the pass, happily in the shade at this point; M and E on the left, D further on. We were not alone.

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Here's a view back from the top, for the situation of the hut. Or a zoomed-out view.

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At the top of the Bocca del Tuckett, 2613, we're just a hop over Cima Sella from connecting to yesterday's route before it headed down to the hut. At the col we put our gear on and proceed to the Ferrate aspect. On the far side, views down into the Val Perse and the cliffs of the Croz dell Altissimo. A little further round we can see lake Molveno and the town, which I think is where M and I started off decades ago when we visited the Dolomites.

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Today's via is a little harder than yesterday, but not much. As usual it's rather hard to capture the flavour in a picture; try clicking one and going through the sequences. At some point we were on the Sentiero Dorotea Foresti.

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The drops on the south side seem steeper than the north. At some point we realise that we're under Cima Brenta and that - given the number of people above us - it is probably climbable. Since it's 11:30 we have time, so I (and with some cajoling D) give it a go. But the ?Swiss? who are doing it are a party of ten and turn out to have secured themselves with a fixed rope. A little way up D and I realise that it is getting a little airy and we have no rope, and no real idea of how hard it is, so we beat a prudent retreat.

Not long after that we turn a corner to the Bocch. della Vallazza and can just see the red roof of the Brentei, far below (zoom). They don't want you littering. After a little section of ladders we come to the Bocca Bassa dei Massodi; from col down is the via Detassis.

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The path becomes a bit weird, and I think I lost track of exactly where we were... lots more ladders... and more... and more... 14 in all, and eventually it becomes clear that the ladders are avoiding a manky narrow steep scree / soil pile between two walls; here's a view back up to it (more distant).

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After that it's a fairly easy path down to the hut, which we reach around 5: a long day, but we all survived well. D as photogenic as ever, no-one else comes close.

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The rocks are also photogenic, and surreal.

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Lower down it starts to get green, and you realise how relentlessly rock it is higher up.

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Even flowers!

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Note that we're in the Brentei (2182), not the Alimonta (2580), because the Alimonta was full when the Tuckett phoned them for us this morning. That's kinda OK; the central section is rumoured to have suffered a collapse that might be annoying to get round; and we get a somewhat easier start to tomorrow by missing out the "central" portion, and so since we're all feeling good we skip a semi-planned reset day.

Dinner is good, preceded by playing bananagrams with an Italian woman at the next table, who does remarkably well given that she's playing in English. but we win :-).





Saturday, 18 August 2018

Summer 2018: Dolomites: arrival and day 1: Graffer to Tuckett

Next: day 2: Tuckett to Brentei; day 3: Brentei to Agostini; day 4: Agostini to valley.

This is week 3 of the summer holiday: week 1 was the Ecrins (Miranda and I); week 2 was Italy Cultural (all of us; Turin, Florence; Venice) and week 3 is all of us doing via Ferrata in the Dolomites, and the drive back.

A note on the pix: I can't put them all up here. Click on any for enlargements, and then you can click through them all.

Next: Tuckett to Brentei.

Saturday 18th: Venice to Graffer


I did an early morning run in to Venice across the causeway, having recced it the day before, then walked (via the quieter Accademia sector) in the relatively cool morning to St Mark's square. I was there too early for the cathedral, so after a sit by the sea looking out I walked back, enjoying the city. After some faff we leave at 11, it is nominally 3 hours to Madonna di Campiglio, but who could have guessed it? Roads can get quite busy on a Saturday afternoon in summer. So we don't get there until nearly 4. That leaves us ever-so-slightly pressed for time: we drive down to just above the pedestrian bit where a little square has a shop to sell us a map and some chocolate, then back up to the Groste cable car carpark, where the last lift is at 5, and hastily do what we really should have done at leisure some much earlier time: sort through all our now rather jumbled kit for what we want to take and what we don't. We mostly get through this, I manage to leave behind my headtorch (but I don't need it) and fail to find my cap (so I wear my white "panama" instead, which is fine). We've negotiated 5 days parking - they seem oddly unfamiliar with the idea that people might want to do the via ferrata tour - but they want us to put the car in the "garage" for safety, happily this is just over the road, and so we get the 10-to-5 lift and we're on our way!

The lift is fun of course and sweeps us up. We have a moment of doubt if we're really supposed to get off at the mid station, but we are, so we do. Stop briefly for a bier and to adjust packs for walking. Then it's a half-hour walk up to the Rifugio Graffer. This was curiously quiet, which gave us a quite erroneous impression of how busy future refuges would be; I'm now pretty sure it is quiet because you can just as easily sleep down in Madonna, and get an early lift up.

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I'm reasonably sure this pic shows the view down from near the Graffer to the mid station.

Soir: decent meal, shower (3 euros!), cards, write. We have two 2-bed rooms, scrupulously clean as is the entire hut.

Sunday 19th: Graffer to Tuckett


GPS track. A bit more than 5 hours, a bit less than 10 km. Senterio Benini.

Room comfy overnight. Wake 6 due to noises off, up 7, b'fast in std hut style (tea-or-coffee-or-milk, bread-butter-jam-cheese-milk), pay E177 total, conveniently by card since cash is another thing we're slightly short of in our hurry (but don't be deceived: this was the only one that took cards).

We're on the Senterio Benini. 305 is the long-distance route. You could probably survive without maps if you had to, the signs are generally good. Notice the nice red plaque telling you to how to via ferrata. I found today's route a bit confusing, once on the VF, in that it was hard to tell quite where we were, or where we would be going next. Sometimes you could see where you were heading, often not. Subsequent days were clearer, or perhaps I paid more attention to the route.

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Cima Groste from the north, from not far off the cable car top station. It can be climbed, I later discover - probably up the central gully - but we didn't try to or even think about it. Our route goes up to the base of the central rubble fan, then rises gently leftwards to the skyline on the left, then curves round out of sight back rightwards behind the ridge where, if I recall correctly, the via ferrata starts with the ironmongery. The rock is impressive, alien-spaceship-like (actually it reminds me of this).

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Daniel, of course, makes his own way:

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And is desperately photogenic when resting. He just folds up so well:

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The landscape is weird, here it looks poured, layered, like rice paddies of stone. This is from the shoulder in the previous picture, looking NEish, just before the VF starts properly.

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From the "corner" of Cima Groste, looking SSW to Cima Falkner. The path is the obvious line at mid-height rising leftwards; if you click for the hi-rez version you can see people to the L and to the R of the rubble slope.

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MED on a "typical" section, click-to-enlarge and you can see the cables and stuff. Here is it zoomed out for context.

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Somewhere around the Bocca alta di Vallesina things got particularly confusing, in terms of directions, but it sort-of didn't matter because we were heading down north into the valley towards Tuckett on path 315, and that worked. Here's a view from around about that point. D and E on the cable to the right, M's rucksac just visible. There was some kind of long descent, which I can't quite fit in - see pic, note crowds - which was pretty dramatic looking back (zoom in, spot-the-people).

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Round the corner and heading down, looking S to the hanging glacier on - I think - Cima Brenta.

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The Castelletto Superiore. Like a giants tower, with giant spiral steps leading to it.

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Here's a view down towards the hut; and the hut itself, taken rather late in the day. We arrived at some sensible time like 2, but the place was heaving. We sat outside, I slept for quite a while with my hat over my eyes. They weren't quite sure if they would have space for us, and couldn't really say until late, maybe 8... but of course by the time we'd stopped for lunch and dinner it was too late to throw us out, and they did have space. But, the lesson is: book ahead. We end up with beds in the top of the second building. My cheeseburger for dinner was enormous, but good.

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From the hut one can look back ESE up towards tomorrow's pass and today's route. The obvious notch is the Bocca Tuckett, tomorrow's route. Our path today was the valley not really clear to the L of that, L of the sharp tooth that is the Castelletto Superiore.

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