Happy birthday Mom!
Despite a string of intense thunderstorms, we have had a steady flow of guests here at Boccalatte. Last night we had our busiest night of the season so far: 16 guests. Two came down unannounced from the ridge, 7 came to climb the standard route up to the summit of the Grandes Jorasses, and the other 7 went to climb a rock route on the Tour des Jorasses. This means that today we had three different breakfasts to serve for the different parties; 2, 5, and 8am.
On Friday, the Courmayeur Guides Course came through on their high mountain segment with 2 instructors and 6 students. As always, they arrived semi-unannounced and from a direction rarely climbed. Luckily, we caught wind of their plan via the Valle d’Aosta rumor mill. About four hours before their arrival our fiend Matteo called from his campground in the valley. He has a good view of the summit and had seen them on descent in his binoculars. About two hours before their arrival, one of the students, who frequents Boccalatte, called us to tell us they would be arriving in a couple of hours. So we threw together a dinner (we had no other guests) and watched the Italy vs. Ukraine world cup soccer game together.
We did, in fact, have a bit more forewarning of their plans than I let on. I was in the valley on Tuesday and stayed at Matteo’s campground. He told me that there was a probability that the Guides Course would be climbing up to Jachia and attempting the Tronchey Ridge. I was in the valley because the Alpine Club was planning on flying up to Boccalatte with an engineer and iron worker to look at our puny wooden walkway and design a replacement. I figured that this would be a good opportunity to buy paint to paint the roof and exterior of the hut. I have been planning to do it for years and the alpine club agreed to pay for materials and my time. Seeing as they were already going to be flying up, might as well fly me up with paints and supplies. It would make reimbursing for flight minutes easier. While shopping for paints, I found some new benches and tables. Our existing ones were very old, broken and nasty. Kind of like the hut sometimes. The Alpine Club had pre-approved the purchase of new benches and tables but had not expected to be flying them up on this flight. It was kind of crazy. I had to fax them an estimate and the president had to arrange payment and I had to fit them in the van.
I was also shopping for other random stuff for around the hut. I just rearranged the bunkroom to give more space when we are full. I mounted the ladder to the loft onto the wall and resized and shuffled around the coat pegs. Now there is a coat peg for every bunk. The idea was to co-associate a coat hook with a bunk using little numbers; so bunk #7 would have hook #7. Easy. Every hardware store has little adhesive numbers, right? I also needed a rubber sleeve to slide over a broken section of our effluence pipe. A very common item in American plumbing but almost non-existent in Italy. I have looked for this piece in the past with no results but I got a good lead on a huge plumbing supply store. As it turns out, the place had changed names. After a morning looking for the place and then looking for the piece, I still came up blank. I went to a couple of other stores suggested by the clerk but, as usual, they looked at me like I had just landed in a flying saucer. These guys were complete idiots. Hopefully it is just the ones that run the supply chain and not all the plumbers in the valley. I was in a three story warehouse of plumbing supplies with a very clear picture of what I needed and these guys couldn’t get the least bit creative to find a substitute and weren’t about to let me wander the warehouse to look for what I needed. They kept telling me I needed a plumber with a pipe welding machine to fix the pipe when I know very well that all I needed was a stupid rubber sleeve.
“So where else does one find a 12cm rubber sleeve?”, I asked they guy at the hardware store where I went to look for adhesive numbers. You know the numbers I’m talking about, right? The ones you stick on mailboxes, over doors, etc. I should have known better but it seemed simple enough. Once again, Luke looks like a fool asking for something that doesn’t exist. Anyway, the guy at the hardware store suggests a farm supply store for a piece of straight rubber tube ( I had abandoned hope of finding something purpose-made). At the farm store the guy actually laughed in my face when I asked for a piece of 12cm diameter rubber tube. He said for a tube that big it had to be special ordered, could only be purchased by the meter and cost almost $100 a meter. Ouch! Before walking out I asked the lady at the checkout of there was a gommista nearby. Gommista literally means rubberist or gummist (which is what I prefer to call them because it sounds funny) but, as you can probably imagine, it is a tire-guy. I don’t know why I didn’t think of looking at a tire shop earlier. The gummist let me loose on his pile of busted inner-tubes and I found almost exactly what I needed. The moral of the story: if it is gum your looking for, go to a gummist instead of a leadist. Or in Italian: se e’ gomma che cercavi, vai al gommista invece di un piombista.
So after a day of running circles around Aosta city I went up to stay in Val Veny at Matteo’s where he tells me about the Guides Course plan to do the Tronchey ridge. In the morning I meet up with the guys from the Alpine Club. I first meet up with the president of the Hut Commission. Actually, I almost hit him because he is standing in the middle of the road. He is a really great guy in his late 60s. He told us that before he had open heart surgery, he drank at least 13 espressos and smoked 2 packs of cigarettes a day. Now he only drinks the coffee. He is very pro-Boccalatte and as you can imagine, hyperactive, which is how I managed to find and get approved and purchased the benches and tables in less than a day in bureaucracy saturated Italy. He has a really hard time waiting for the helicopter which is always at least an hour later than they say they will be.
After we unload the tables, paint and inner-tubes from my van, Rebola arrives. He is their minor works contractor who immediately says, “who bought these crappy tables? I could have gotten you much better ones.” This guy makes his living ripping off the alpine club. He does bad work at inflated prices in less time than he says he does it in. We have told them that nearly all the work he has done at the hut has been done poorly and they have seen it themselves but for whatever reason they keep working with him. I don’t think they have a choice because I think he is mafia. Part of the reason I went ahead and got the table, paint, etc. was because I was afraid of what we would wind up with if Rebola was put in charge of it. Of course I knew he would get worked up that they didn’t offer him the work and would do his best to make me feel like I had made the wrong choices. By the way, he and his gang of thugs have fixed our poop pipe twice and it has broken at least that many times.
Rebola and Co. have done such incompetent work on Boccalatte that we told the Pres that if he was going to be the one to re-do the walkway that we wanted a written statement absolving us from any injury incurred by failure of said structure. The Pres told us that they were getting an engineer to draw up the design and to calculate stress caused by the snow falling off the roof onto it. The decision is ultimately theirs considering it is their building. The engineer seemed like a nice guy. He steps out of Rebola’s jeep in camouflage. I figured he probably got his training with the army corps of engineers (or the Italian equivalent). I assumed he was still in the military but as it turns out they are the only clothes he has that are suitable for work in the mountains. He works for an engineering firm in Turin now. Nice guy. Didn’t say much though. The Iron worker was a piece of work. He easily weighed 250lbs. I don’t think Rebola told him where he’d be going be cause he showed up wearing slacks and loafers.
Because the tables and benches are too long to fit in a helo bag we have to wait for the helicopter to arrive a with a net. An hour and a half later the helo arrives and I fly up with Vasco and the engineer while the Pres and the heavyweight ironworker build the sling load. The pilot is new and looks no older than 20. He doesn’t know where the hut is. I start to get nervous. He is supposed to hover over the roof of the hut while we disembark; a delicate task for a seasoned pilot. He approaches the hut and gets much to close to the rock wall behind the hut for comfort and is much to high off the roof for us to get out. After a couple of minutes of maneuvering we get safely onto the roof.
When the sling load arrives, the paint is under about 600lbs of furniture in the net. This means that if the net is set down the way it is that the paint risks bursting under the weight of the tables. The inexperience of the pilot works to our advantage because he works slowly and there is time between when the paint touches the porch and the full weight of the tables does. It gives me just enough time to pull the paint out from underneath to avoid bursting them. That would have been a mess. Finally the helo arrives with the Pres and the heavyweight ironworker. Luci had set up our metal folding ladder so that everyone could get off the roof safely. When the HWIW put his full weight on the top rung, it bent under his foot. But, he got down and back up again with out causing major damage to himself or the hut.
So the next hour was the typical haranguing over who pays for what and who is ripping off who. They did take a couple of pictures of the old walkway. After they were satisfied that they had achieved what they had set out to do they all remounted the roof in waiting for the helo. In the end they spent more time on the roof waiting to for the helo to fly them down than they spent doing what they came to do. Comic though: the Pres jumping at every little sound thinking it was the helo arriving; Rebola talking about how he is going to buy his own helicopter and hire a pilot (with the Alpine Club’s money, of course), the HWIW being gruff and the Engineer being timid.
The Helo finally arrives and they load up. I am given the charge of loading the net into one of the side baskets. These nets are made of rope and are pretty heavy. The pilot is being cautious now and is keeping clear of the wall which means the basket is hanging over the roof and is hard to access with out stepping right on the edge of the roof. To make matters worse it is above head level so I have to lift the net over my head. Eventually I wriggle the whole net is the basket and everyone loads and they fly off into the sunset.
Whew! It is such a nice feeling when the Alpine Circus Club leaves town. With the help of some day hikers we take the tables out and set the new ones up. Not so easy because the old ones need to be disassembled
to get them out the door. We keep the better benches to place around the hut for guests but the most battered ones we put into a big pile. The idea is that on the 4th of July we are going to have a big bonfire with the old benches and tables. We also got ribs and barbecue sauce for the grill which is becoming a tradition here at Boccalatte.
Tags: Rifugio Boccalatte