press release, 8th october, 2015
for those who haven’t been to the dolomites (and you really ought to!) they’re a range of spectacular limestone mountains at the northern end of italy, immediately south of the austrian alps, and a world-renowned destination for sport-climbing and via-feratta. knowing this, when an invitation dropped into my inbox for the 5 th running of the annual dolomiti rescue race, my interest was piqued. a quick look at the video of last year’s race, and i was utterly hooked. the race, covering ten miles around the antelao mountains involves a relentless lung-popping climb through forest and high pasture to a summit where fixed ropes had been installed to protect the passage along a nicely exposed rocky ridge.
from here a thigh-bashing 1400m descent (including a 35m abseil) leads you to the edge of the small town of pieve di cadore, where the final kilometre is a stretcher charge to the main piazza and an ecstatic welcoming committee.
havin'g quickly scrabbled around bsaru for members who could jump at short notice, i assembled a solid quartet – not spring-chickens by any means, but certainly a bunch who,
i hoped, would acquit themselves well in the face of very stiff opposition. two of us are regular climbers, and a series of hastily arranged crag-sessions quickly brought our team-mates up to speed on the necessary skills for the roped sections. word reached me that a team from aberdeen was also travelling to the event, which certainly added a little zest to our preparations!
the race was conceived in 2011 by the local mr supremo marco da col as an opportunity for local mr personnel to meet in happier circumstances after two tragedies (a helicopter crash and a rockfall) in quick succession robbed the dolomites mr community of six highly-skilled and much-loved members. the race briefing on the friday night was a taster of what was to come with the border team and the aberdonians - who arrived after a fraught trip involving a cancelled flight and a blue-lights drive from verona, being called to the stage and welcomed warmly by the 34 other teams. our first sight of the aberdeen team was daunting to say the least. four eager, fit young lads, champing at the bit and being restrained on their leashes by team leader scott stevens. with a combined age of 196, the border team was the oldest in the race, and race day dawned with a sinking feeling that we’d bitten off rather a biggy. teams have to carry between their four runners a couple of 60m ropes and various bits and pieces of ppe and clothing. this was carefully allocated, with the ropes being carried by the team’s two strongest runners. the long climb from the start quickly resolved itself into a long snake of competitors grunting and puffing their way up a steep forest track for about 1000 vertical metres. i reach the top of the route with my team-mate and partner in many other previous hare-brained schemes, ian stark. we were delighted when after a few short minutes, our remaining two runners, bob mckeand and duncan buchanan crested the ridge – one a sweaty heap and one looking like he’d been for a stroll in the garden (i’m not saying which was which, you’ll notice!). what delighted us even more, though, was the fact that the dream team fae aberdeen had not yet appeared! quickly donning our ppe, we set off along the fixed ropes, via-ferrata style. the training we’d done over the last three weeks served us well, and a couple of lusty renditions of flower of scotland and a frightened squeak or two saw us safely to the end of the technical section. the run from here to the top of the abseil was on level paths and we marshalled our efforts and concentrated on not losing any ground on the chasing teams. the descent on borrowed ropes was knocked off without incident, and we set off on the final few miles of knee- crunching descent on fast forest tracks that dropped us from 2100m asl to 1000m. here, on the edge of town, we had to assemble an antiquated stretcher with whom we’d made brief acquaintance the previous evening and run the final kilometre with it skidding round the corners and bouncing up and down stairs on its single wheel. our reception at the finish was extraordinary, but even this was massively overshadowed a couple of hours later when all nine scottish team members entered the presentation tent in kilts. the marquee roof lifted with the roar of several hundred wildly enthusiastic italians. i’d like to tell you about the twelve-hour party that ensued, but i really don’t seem to remember it too clearly. must be my age... italian mr applicants have to demonstrate the ability to lead-climb grade 4 (italian), ice-climbing capability and proficient ski-mountaineering among other things. bearing this in mind, the fact that the “rolling stones” team from bsaru and their “boyzone” comrades from amrt finished in 25 th and 30 th places respectively on such short notice and crammed technical training was extremely gratifying. the hospitality we were shown, and the warmth of the welcome we received as the only two foreign teams was truly humbling. to be among italian mr volunteers in a collaborative effort to put behind them their recent traumas and the loss of personal friends was a very great honour. we have all been changed by the experience.
for more information on the border search and rescue unit, please visit the bsaru website at www.bordersar.org.uk (or just google bsaru).