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Fasten Your Seatbelts and Prepare for Takeoff

Monday, September 18th, 2006


I just realized today that in two weeks it will be winter for Luci and I. And I don’t mean the pseudo-winter that we had this summer up at Boccalatte (lasciamo perdere, eh) but real true astronomical winter. No, wait that can’t be right. Ah yes, spring starts in New Zealand next weekend. I can’t even keep it straight anymore. I guess we haven’t seen astronomical winter in over three years. But in all the 27 winters I’ve experienced in my life I can’t say that I have ever stood on snow and ice a kilometer thick before like I did last summer. Or can I say that one day we had 8 inches of snowfall and the next day it was sunny and 70F outside like happened to us this summer on the Grandes Jorasses. I guess you can say we are just sailing on a sea of irony.

Tomorrow we leave Italy, and I have to say, I have never been happier to be out of here. Sure, in the past I have always been ready for a change of scenery by this time in the season but this year I am simple ready to be GONE FROM HERE. This season in Italy was going superbly until the 4th of August when in began to snow. I determined that we had about 4 feet of snowfall throughout the month of August. Snowfall means no clientele for us at Rifugio Bocalatte; no clientele means, well, nobody at the hut. Kind of a novelty at first but by the end of the month (some 20 zero-counts later) it was simply madness.

By the time the Alpine club came up to do the work they were scheduled to (see earlier posting) we were ready to make a run for it. We couldn’t get in the helicopter fast enough. What insanity, though. About a week before the date they were supposed to come up to work we got in touch with the contractor to see how many days he was planning for the work so we could plan their meals. That is when he drove the last nail in the coffin of our august. He said that he told all his workers to plan to eat cold food because he thought they would come up after we had closed. We were kind of looking forward to the extra income a couple days of guests would bring us but, in a way, the news was kind of a relief. So we called his bluff and said, “Fine, we are going to fly down on the helicopter you fly up on.” I don’t think he was expecting that. Our theory is that he was going to bring up his own food and then turn around and charge the Alpine Club for full-pension at the hut. So when he tells the Alpine Club that we are not going to be around they are surprised and he tells them, “They said they don’t have enough food to feed me and my crew” to try and cover his ass. The truth, of course, is that we needed to FLY down because we have so much left over food that we can’t possibly pack it down on our backs. Not only is this guy a bad worker, but he is a terrible liar. We keep telling the Alpine Club that this guy is a crook but they won’t listen.

Anyway, the day before they are scheduled to fly up it snowed another 4 inches. So, on the morning of the flight it is kind of hectic getting everyone and everything on and off the roof of the hut and in and out of the helicopter. We almost lost my brother’s sombrero in the process. But, we arrived safely in the valley like rock-stars in our private helicopter and promptly caught a bus (very not-like-rock-stars) into town to our friend Gio’s. He wasn’t around but he let us stay at his place, being the brave soul that he is. We threw massive rock-star like parties and made sure to clean up really well before he arrived at the end of the week (Just kidding, Gio!). Luci’s parents came up for the weekend and we did a little hut to hut hiking to a couple of the huts in the lower valley.

Since we had the motorcycle, we decided to take a detour through Val d’Isere and the Vanoise on our way back to Milan. We also had to stop in Turin at the Alpine Club office to sort out my payment for the painting of the hut and to talk about “things”. We found out that it began to snow again at the hut later the same afternoon that we had flown down and they had beat a hasty retreat without doing any work whatsoever. Sono i cazzi loro.

Back in Milan…Luci and I had been talking about taking a little three or four day motorcycle trip to the Dolomites. But, she and her folks took most of the week to recover from the hike to the huts and then this came up and we needed to finish that and, “oh crap the post office is closed on Fridays”, blah, blah, blah and we never got around to it. So I have spent the last two weeks at my in-laws…fun. My personal in-law law is: two weeks. After two weeks, suicide begins to look like a viable escape. Coincidently, two weeks is the time it takes for my older bother and I to begin seriously considering fratricide.
So my bad mood has been building for days and then it started to rain. It POURED for 24 hours straight without stopping and has since been drizzly punctuated by the occasional drenching. I decided to just go ahead and put the motorcycle away early. Sad day. But it only got sadder.

Yesterday, Saturday, we all went to an antique show. I like antiques; they like antiques; there is no reason this shouldn’t be fun. One of the few things my mother-in-law and I can agree on is that we have completely opposite tastes in almost everything; especially when it comes to clothing and domestic decoration. I am not going to give examples because it is enough to know me or read a couple of pages of this blog and imagine someone completely opposite in everyway and you have my MIL. Alright, alright, an example; she says she could never go to Antarctica because she would get claustrophobia…yea, fear of ENCLOSED spaces.

So knowing that we have opposite tastes it is just easier to split up in the antique fair to look at things we each like; me alone and Luci with her mother and father. It didn’t take long to discover this was not my kind of fair. It was mostly jewelry, furniture, silver, high-end stuff. I did find an old Leica 35mm camera for 500€ which is a good price but I wasn’t carrying that kind of cash around with me. I had seen everything I was interested in seeing and went to find the pod of Pandolfis. I found them in the vintage clothing section.
Now for those of you who know me, you know that I have never been any sort of animal rights fanatic. On the contrary, I once put myself unintentionally and somewhat embarrassingly at odds with friends and colleagues at break time at McMurdo. We were all sitting around reading the photocopied New York Times and there was article about a guy who had been sentenced to jail-time for brutally killing someone’s puppy. I exclaimed something along the lines of, “that is nuts that they would sentence a guy to jail time for killing a stupid dog”. From then on, I was a crazed canine murderer to at least one of the group. But, I digress.

Before going to look for my wife and in-laws, I had been looking at a series of old Chinese sculptures in ivory. Some of these piece were made of very, very large pieces of ivory. They were obviously from very large Tuskers that are simple not found anymore. It made me think of a study I once read about how the genetic traits for large tusks in elephants are being selected out and how large tusks are becoming less and less commonplace almost as a mode of self-preservation from poachers. With poaching on my mind, I went to look for my family. I found my mother-in-law wrapped in a ocelot coat in a vintage furs stall. When they saw me, they collectively jumped. Luci made a futile effort to distract me by showing me something she found in a different stall. Yeah, right. I was upset. I said to Luci, “you are trying to convince her NOT to get that, right?” She said, “I just spent the last fifteen minutes trying to convince her not to get TWO”.

I have always been indifferent to fur. In fact, I think rabbit fur is great. I think using the fur is a great way to put to use something that might otherwise go to waste (I guess since Americans don’t really eat rabbit like Europeans, that sounds like kind of a weak argument). But seeing my mother-in-law buying the fur of an endangered animal that was killed exclusively for the value of its fur on the international market I found upsetting. But what could I do? Try arguing with someone who thinks she would suffer from claustrophobia in the wide open space of Antarctica? I just walked away and waited in the car. I am leaving tomorrow anyway. No more mother-in-law for seven months.

Yes, its true. Tomorrow we leave this wonderful country for cold, white wastes of Antarctica. This year we are going to the USAP’s newest field camp, WAIS Divide. Luci is going to be one of the two cooks and I am going to be the fuels tech and light mechanic. This camp will be much larger than Siple Dome with an average population of about 30 from what we understand. But first we have a couple of weeks back in Maine where hopefully I can bring to a close the long motorcycle licensing saga amongst other things. This year, our employer is doing training in Denver like it used to be done in the past. Why they have changed back I am not sure. Probably because it is cheaper to send new people home from Denver than from Christchurch when they begin to discover that McMurdo is going to more like a gulag than the penguin and pony show they saw on the Discovery Channel. Hopefully my brother Joel isn’t one of them. He has signed up to go to the South Pole for the season.

Snow and Boredom

Friday, August 18th, 2006

Grandes Jorasses text.JPG

The weather improved slightly at the beginning of last week. Enough to increase our lunch counts but, since the climbing conditions were still affected by the previous weeks snow, overnight guests were still only a trickle. Because of the good weather, the guys who were planning on coming up to work on the emergency radio came and made their improvements. It seemed a good opportunity to fly down some stuff that doesn’t need to be up here, including myself. I got to fly in a helicopter that I haven’t been in before; an Agusta Koala. Comfy. I took the lead photo on the descent. After my three minute descent, I loaded the van and drove to Milan where I was greeted by one frustration after another.

I haven’t kept the blog updated every Sunday because we have been having internet problems. I have tried everything and, after a call to the ISP, we discovered that it is a problem with the server. We use an old-school dial-up server that we signed up for for free back when the internet was almost unknown in Italy. It was a promotion by the Italian Telecom. Things moved very fast and now, like in the states, most people use a DSL connection. But we held onto the free dial-up service to use with the radio bridge phone at the hut. I also used to from time-to-time when we were having problems with the Iridium satellite phone software at Siple Dome last year. But, after weeks without being able to connect, a few phone calls and a long time on hold, we discovered that they are having “problems” with the free service server. My theory is that because it doesn’t earn them much money, they just stopped maintaining it in hopes that people will sign up for a pay service.

When I got to Milan, I was looking forward to using the Pandolfi’s high-speed wireless to catch up on some stuff but, alas, they were having problems as well. I spent the better part of a day trouble shooting their system with no luck. I determined that it is a problem with the line and finally gave up. I also found out that I had gotten a speeding ticket from back in June that I had to deal with.

Many towns in Italy have started using what they call the AutoVelox. Sounds like some kind of anti-venom doesn’t it? What it is is a guy with a camera and a radar on the side of the road who takes your speed and picture and sends you the bill if you are going over. They have somewhat recently introduced a points system to Italian driver’s licenses. If you lose all 20 points you lose your license. So, along with an envelope containing the $200 speeding ticket, I received a form to fill out with my license details so they could deduct 2 points.
The catch is that I don’t have an Italian driver’s license. For a foreigner to get a driver’s license in Italy you have to go back to driving school. It takes months and cost hundreds of Euro. I have decided to take the easier and legally questionable route. According to the law, if you are in Italy for more than a year you are required to get an Italian driver’s license. But they are not specific about how to count a year. I have decided that since I am never and have never been in Italy for more than a year I should be fine with an international driver’s license that anyone can get at their local AAA in the states. Of course these expire after one year so every time I’m back in the states I have to make a trip to the AAA for a new one. Luci’s father offered to take the hit for me and send in his license but, in a sort of masochistic way, I am interested in testing the system I’ve been using all these years. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

While I was in Milan sorting out all this business and getting the motorcycle ready to take back up to Valle d’Aosta, the weather at the hut had gone bad again. By the time I got back up, there was another six to eight inches of snow on the ground. In the past week we have had one nice day which happened to be the 15th of August or Feragosto; the big summer holiday day. We served a few lunches to people who had struggled up in the snow that still blanketed the trail well below the hut but we had no overnight guests. In fact, today is a week without any over-night guests. We are bored out of our minds.

With no internet either I have been losing my mind. Last night I made a deal with Luci that I would call our Antarctic employer to see if they had received her new dental x-ray if she would call telecom to figure out how to set up our cell phone to connect to the internet. I had spent at least 20 minutes a day over the past three on hold with them waiting to talk to someone to help us configure our new phone. True that we have nothing to do but doing nothing is better than sitting on hold. To make matters worse, there is this horrendous jingle that they use in a new ad campaign on TV and on the radio. At least in commercials you only have to hear it a few seconds every-so-often but when you are on hold with them they play the same ten-second loop over and over again punctuated with a recorded voice saying “all our operators are busy. We invite you to wait until one is available.” Of course, when Luci called she got right through. They made the necessary adjustment to our account and, before I knew it, I was checking my e-mail. Phew. The call to our employer went equally as well. In under two minutes I found out that Luci had been physically qualified for Antarctic deployment. Now we can dedicate our full attention to our boredom.


Saturday, August 5th, 2006
IMG_4269.JPG The past two weeks have been complete contrasts. This time last week we were preparing for the onslaught of climbers that were to make our first full-house of the season. We ultimately ... [Continue reading this entry]

Busy season

Monday, July 24th, 2006
Sorry, but I don’t have any good pictures this week. We are coming up on our busiest time of year and between painting the building and taking care of guests I just haven’t been able to get away from ... [Continue reading this entry]


Monday, July 17th, 2006
IMG_4254.JPG I don’t have too much to write this week. I have spent the whole week painting the façade and metal storm doors. The façade went pretty quickly but the storm doors dragged ... [Continue reading this entry]

4th of July

Monday, July 10th, 2006
IMG_4243.JPG Happy 4th of July. This week has been considerably slower than last. We had only one zero count night though. Compared to last year when we had 11 zero counts up to this ... [Continue reading this entry]

Alpine Circus Club

Sunday, July 2nd, 2006
IMG_4215.JPG 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 ... [Continue reading this entry]

Opening 2006

Sunday, June 25th, 2006
IMG_4172.JPG As of last Wednesday, Rifugio Boccalatte is officially open for the climbing season on the Grandes Jorasses. Luci made a convincing argument to open by helicopter. We came up to Valle d’Aosta ... [Continue reading this entry]

Closing Boccalatte

Friday, September 9th, 2005
Airgreen.jpg The end of the season has come and gone. The last two weeks at the hut were incredibly slow. The weather was touch and go and the nice periods never lasted long ... [Continue reading this entry]


Monday, August 15th, 2005
Feragosto 2005.jpg Buon Feragosto! Today, on the big European holiday of the Assumption, when most Italians try their best to splayed out in the sun on the beach, we woke to 20cm of ... [Continue reading this entry]