Mystery Meat on the Mulaz – A Trip Report from Dolomite

Post by blogger | January 31, 2011      

(January 11, 2011) After our nice Dolomite mission on Cristallo Scharte, Fritz and Riki picked something a bit closer to my final destination in Italy so they could transfer me to Federico’s care for my Montebelluna boot manufacturing tour. Thus, our route for the day is another classic known as the Mulaz.

Mulaz backcountry skiing in Italy, Europe.

At the start. We pass below the couloirs in the big wall, which are skied later in the season when they fill in. You can see how a classic wind is blowing a whiteout cloud on the opposite side of the peak. Later that morning I'd be inside one, trying to get out.

Last night we stopped at a meat counter in Cortina. Fritz got those butchers hopping and before long had a sack of tasty stuff, most of which I’d never heard of and couldn’t pronounce even after oral modification surgery.

Despite such mystery meat encounters, I do have a rule that during traveling I’ll eat nearly whatever is put in front of me. That’s to prevent the impolite and downright inconvenient diet style whereby a tourist tries to modify the local cuisine to their selfish tastes, or worse, to restrictions such as not eating cheese in Switzerland, or ordering a decaf coffee in Italy. A good attitude helps with native eating, as does carrying and using digestive aid capsules. But sometimes even my drug enhanced iron constitution can’t take it.

The meat is good. I chow down. Then off to a Cortina hot spot where we have a few of some kind of fancy pink Italian spritzers the locals were all pounding like mineral water.

Back home to bed. Around midnight the “digestive discomfort,” to put it politely, begins.

Tough it out. Yeah. So instead of staying home I skip breakfast and jump in the car with Fritz and Riki for a ski tour of the Mulaz, a classic peak of the Dolomite mountains. Of course my friends are feeling fast, having massive loads of Italian enhanced carbs coursing through their veins. My carbs were still in my stomach. At least most of them. But I was beginning to receive not so subtle hints that whatever was in my stomach needed to be located elsewhere, preferably external to my body. But when, and where?

So off I go, trying to stay on pace with the Austrian ski gods, only they’re striding ahead in such an obvious speed mismatch I immediately realize they’re headed for the summit, while I’ll probably just go around 3,000 vertical and wait for my companions at an obvious pass, where a hut (closed for the winter) yields a defined and slightly civilized location.

The climb is easier once I’m resigned to my fate, as I don’t push hard and my cardio base can get me up just about anything. Yet being fit can get you in trouble when you’re not feeling well. Instead of quitting near civilization and recovering your strength at a cafe, you can find yourself in the middle of nowhere. Bonked after your thoroughly efficient metabolism thoroughly uses up every last drop of glycogen in your tank.

After a few hours of burning my last calories, I’m at the pass where the huts are. A chilling breeze gnaws on my spent carcas like a hundred rats. I’m thinking I’ve got to find some shelter.

By now my stomach feels like a flaming oil drum. My body can’t take this, I think, it’s now or never. So I hurl everything I’d eaten in the last 12 hours as an offering to the spirit of the Mulaz.

With the fire in my gut thus somewhat assuaged, yet feeling like I was about to pass out from the bonk, I manage to slide a few hundred feet down to the locked and shuttered buildings of the hut. I’m thinking that by locating myself near the structures, I can call on my phone and give Fritz and Riki my exact location. More, lots of closed huts have “winter rooms” where ski tourers can take shelter. Just then, a classic European whiteout drapes over me like a painter throwing out a drop cloth. I can only see a few feet in front of me. No ski tracks. No map. Just the buildings all locked up. I can’t just stand here and freeze, I think, and I don’t see a winter room.

I want to dig out my thermos and take stock, but hands shunt and chill so bad I can hardly take my backpack off, let alone deal with a thermos cap. I’m known for my warm hands, so this is weird. I haven’t gotten “log hands” in years. Must be from the lack of calories, I think to myself. Whatever the case, this is looking more like a Jack London scene every minute. I do the old hands-in-crotch desperado warmup move. That gets my digits normal enough to dig out my cell phone to coordinate with Fritz and Ricki. What, no service!? This is Europe, where all the gear I should need for ski touring is a phone and a shovel, right? Apparently, I’ve found the one spot in Italy without cell service. Amazing.

I’m not hypothermic yet, I think to myself, and I know the way back enough to re-acquire the ascent track. So I get my skins back on and start shuffling up the short hill to the saddle, using instinct and occasional glimpses of a tram cable that drapes over the hill to my left. A few minutes into that my handy bleeps. Oh thank you, I’ve got cell service.

“Where are you Lou?” It’s Fritz. “I’m just climbing up from the Refugio,” I reply. “We’re at the saddle, where the cable goes,” he says.

Then I hear a shout, from probably 150 feet away! Totally surreal, to be so close to someone and absolutely not know they were there. I yell back that I’m coming to meet them, but the cotton candy is so thick I can’t see to ski around a big gully between us, so I just head towards the shouting. A cliff appears under one ski tip like it’s materialized from nothing. Scary. I back up and using a ski pole like an antenna, sideslip along the side of the gully until what feels like a steep snow ramp leads me down.

Still walking totally blind, I feel the angle pick back up and am able to ramp up a steep pitch to my friend’s voices. Still spooky. I don’t know how big the slope is, the snow seems a bit unstable. It’s probably a tiny terrain feature, but I reach for my Avalung thinking “this is the place where this thing would work.”

Whew… I’m soon reunited with my friends. They inform me that that he east side of the mountain has a classic pressure drop from the wind and has developed one of those cloud banks that create butter thick whiteout, while the east side is clear. By going for the refugio, I’d skied directly into the whiteout. We walk across the saddle, and in 30 seconds were in totally clear air. The demarcation between clear and cloudy is like a fence.

I’m as weak as a newborn kitten, but get down the mountain without more stupidity (as in, why did I go up here in the first place?). Yes, I should have stayed home. In this case my eyes were not exactly bigger than my distended belly, but I let my eyes lead, while a man should march on his stomach. To their credit, that morning Fritz and Ricki had asked me if I wanted the car keys so I could turn around, but I told them I’d be fine. Since their used to me keeping up but dropping a bit behind now and then, I can’t fault them for getting on ahead. Lessons learned: You’re never too fit to do something stupid, and watch out for those mystery meats!

European backcountry skiing in Italy.

The Mulaz, no summit for Lou.

Guidebook above is difficult to find to purchase. It’s published by these guys, and is ski touring for Sud Tirol. It is perhaps out of print.


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18 Responses to “Mystery Meat on the Mulaz – A Trip Report from Dolomite”

  1. mtnrunner2 January 31st, 2011 12:10 pm

    >A cliff appears under one ski tip like it’s materialized from nothing. Scary.

    No kidding!

    In spite of meats of questionable origin and microbe content, that’s got to be a great trip. Great rock faces in the first pic.

    That’s a cool guide book too. I bet with the lengthy mountaineering history in Europe they have some good maps, books and so on.

  2. Thom Mackris January 31st, 2011 5:47 pm

    Thanks for sharing, Lou. Many of our brethren forget that a bit of humility can keep our sorry arses out of a boat load of trouble :mrgreen:

    As for me, I am forced to balance cultural sensitivity with what I know my body can tolerate. Having a few food sensitivities, I may appear to be culturally insensitive to many – even in the good ol’ USA, but so be it – it’s my body, and I’m the one who has to bear the consequences.

    Another point. How many world class athletes would deviate from a known, workable dietary routine before a big event?

    Of course, the mountaineering ethos is predicated on a fairly high degree of self abuse. Mountaineers are different from just about every other category of athlete 😯


  3. gtrantow January 31st, 2011 7:13 pm

    Thanks for putting mountaineering into a real perspective. Way too many people do not respect the mountains and pay a high price for ignorance. Your humility and calm response are worth note.

  4. Pete Anzalone January 31st, 2011 7:28 pm

    Great story and writing Lou – really enjoyed it.
    PS: Glad you pulled thru!

  5. mc January 31st, 2011 7:59 pm

    A liitle too far of skiers right and it would have been coming out both ends!

  6. Lou January 31st, 2011 8:10 pm


  7. Brian January 31st, 2011 10:12 pm

    Lou, I’ve been reading Wild Snow for many years, and I have to say this is my favorite post. Really great.

    Glad you made it back to write it up.

  8. Dave Hojo January 31st, 2011 10:54 pm

    I had a similar whiteout experience on Whistler. Ended up going around a 60 foot cliff that I knew was there, only I couldn’t actually tell how far or close “there” was. Your “cliff under ski” brought back that moment rather well.

  9. Mark W January 31st, 2011 11:28 pm

    Unreal gastro-glisse! Glad the Mulaz’s revenge didn’t do even more damage.

  10. Craig Steury February 1st, 2011 1:31 am

    Thanks for the account Lou! I had a similar experience with the “Burger Royale” in Chambery. (you could argue that anyone eating at McDonald’s with all the good food available in France deserves what they get!) The next morning I was really looking forward to a tour in the Belledonne mountains with my friends and a couple of local guys, but was on the fence about going touring, feeling so “green”. (maybe this feeling will pass, etc). After losing my delicious French Pastry breakfast I went back to bed – not to surface again for 2 days. Oh well – you can’t win them all!

  11. pcatt February 1st, 2011 3:46 am

    Lou, great story. I probably would have lost my dinner twice if I saw my ski tip hanging over the cliff! The guidebook pictured looks like a great tour source and I am sure you have mentioned it earlier in one of your blogs. But I am not so sure I would have any luck scrummaging through your many interesting posts finding the reference. Could you let me know the name and author of the guide book. Many thanks! Philip

  12. Lou February 1st, 2011 8:28 am

    Philip, I’ve been trying to find a buy link for that book ever since using it in Europe, and no success.

    The publishing company is here:

    But I can’t seem to find the book on their website. Perhaps someone from Sudtirol could suggest where one could get that book. The copy we were using is not in English, I recall it was in either German or Italian. But it’s well organized and still works if you don’t know the language.

  13. Lou February 1st, 2011 8:33 am

    Craig, indeed, you’re lucky that eating fast food in France didn’t get you thrown in jail!

  14. dolf February 1st, 2011 9:47 am

    Lou, from the photo of the book, it looks like it’s in German (which sounds about right for Sudtirol)

  15. Rogier Koop February 2nd, 2011 3:13 am
  16. pcatt February 2nd, 2011 4:57 am

    Lou, many thanks for the link. I hunted around the web-site and found the book, or so I think “Skitouren im Trentino” by Ulrich Koessler. However, the publisher doesn’t ship outside Italy, but I did manage to find it on good ol’ and they will ship anywhere. Here is the link:

    Pretty sure this is the one as it has your Mulaz tour in it.

  17. Lou February 2nd, 2011 9:58 am

    Pcatt, that’s the book! Thanks for a better link! It’s really a good guidebook, I wish I would have done something like that myself back in my guidebook writing days (when I was making ten cents an hour).

  18. David Gerrard February 4th, 2011 6:07 am

    I’ve come across that guide in various bookshops from Amsterdam (NL) to Garmisch Partenkirchen (D) so I’d be positive about it’s availability within Europe.

    Another site of interest to those seeking literature of the german speaking lands could be:

    All in german, am afraid, but whoever needs a translation of “skitouren” probably shouldn’t be in the hills…

    Cheers, David

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