Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Dolomites II

This is a continuation from the previous post.

Day 5, like most of the previous days, was fairly foggy, although it was patchy at times, so we did get some views.  We watched the mountain bikers walk their bikes for a while, since they are faster when riding, but not much faster when pushing, and then we saw one of the hut employees coming out searching for the hut dog who had chased after the cyclists.  I am not sure what it is about a bike that makes it so irresistable to dogs, but there's got to be something.  The first few hours of trail were quite nice, from Rif. Tissi to a rifugio that we did not stay in, although we stopped for an early soup break, an to admire some Alpine Choughs running around on the railing.  We also saw quite a few lovely flowers, even though it was clearly past peak flower season.

Alpine Chough

All those black dots on the flat face are dinosaur footprints
After the hut, we had a steep drop down to a gravel road, and then a long slog down a steady grade on the road to a bigger paved road in the valley.  That bit wasn't so nice, and then we had some significant mud hiking up the other side of the valley, but once we were climbing it was nice to be in the woods again.  We were then skirting a beautiful mountain called the Pelmo, although we didn't really see it until the evening and the next morning, when the fog settled.  Still, we took a short side trip to go see a big rock covered with fossilized dinosaur footprints, which were kind of cool, even if many were just kind of indentations and not very footprint-like.  Chris decided to nap instead.  We then spent the night at Rifugio Citta di Fiume.

Chris decided napping was more interesting than dinosaur footprints

 The next day was clear in the morning, so we saw a fabulous sunrise, and aside from some Very Serious Mud, the day was pretty nice.  We saw tons of cows and some sheep (if unfortunately from a distance) and took a mid-afternoon strudel break before tackling the most technical portion of the entire trip; a steep climb up, and then a set of (relatively easy) via Ferrata up to one of our favorite Rifugios on the trip, Rifugio Nuvolau.  These via ferrata were 2 stretches of fixed cables and a few ladders, but unlike the one we looked at a few days earlier, the footholds were obvious and big, and we didn't feel unsafe doing it without any gear, even though the top set was pretty exposed.  This Rifugio is very isolated, high on a steep, rocky peak, so there were no showers (not just cold or expensive ones), but the food was good, and the owner is Canadian, so we were able to have eggs and bacon for breakfast, not just piles of white bread with butter and jam, which was a nice change. 

That is where we were going to spend the night! (we could see it after climbing up the via ferrata
The next morning we woke above the fog again, and again, the sunrise was amazing, and we had a view of a famous rock formation called Cinque Torri out of our bedroom window.  The day's hike was pretty mellow distance-wise (the official trail looped around somewhat confusingly, so we opted instead for a more direct route) but was really one of the best days of the trip. We took the shortcut path down to the busy paved road in the valley, but we had some great views all morning back up to where we had been and on to where we were going, and we even saw some Chamois, which look very different than I thought, and (at least from the distance we were looking from) look more like antelope than sheep/goats.  

The valley we were heading into is very interesting historically, since this was an extremely highlycontested front between the Italians and the Austrians during WW1; we saw various bits of ruined fortifications, and after incredibly mediocre sandwiches and cofrom a tourist junk shop in the valley we headed up towards one of the more unusual features of our trip (As a side note, if you are planning on hiking the Alta Via 1, do not count on lunch along the busy road between Rif. Tissi and Rif. Lagozuoi; if you need food and don’t want to order it to go from your previous night’s hut, go the more roundabout way and stop by one of the real rifugios near Cinque Torri).  The mountain of Lagozuoi was literally fought on and over for years during WWI; the Italians held the bottom and an incredibly narrow ridge half-way up the mountain (called Martini ledge), and the Austrians held the peak and ridge.  The “normal” Italian tactic during the war was incredibly stupid, and involved direct assaults up-hill into machine-gun fortified high-ground trenches. Needless to say, high casualties and not very effective.  Then the Italians got the crazy (if somewhat less lethal) idea to tunnel up through the mountain to blow up the Austrians from below.  Kind of clever, except of course the Austrians could hear what was going on, and were able to pull back before the explosion, so didn’t really lose much, although a huge chunk of the mountain is now gone.  Chris was convinced that he could see how it had looked and what was missing; to be honest, there was a lot of rubble that didn’t look that much different from many other scree slopes, but I believe that he was interpreting everything correctly.  In any case, we took some steep switchbacks about halfway up the mountain, then got out our headlamps and climbed well over a kilometer up the mountain through tunnels; conveniently supplemented with stairs and cables more recently than WWI.  Now, I am increasingly convinced that war is just plain stupid and that it would be way better for everyone concerned if we all just put our energy towards schools and engineering feats of construction not destruction, but the tunnels were pretty cool, nonetheless.  There were interesting educational signs and rooms with various recreated things, but even the tunnels themselves were interesting, and it was crazy to be climbing up through a mountain.  The fog/rain rolled in about as we reached martini ridge, so the tunnels also served to keep us out of the drizzle.  Unfortunately, that meant that we didn’t have great views from the summit that afternoon, but the showers were hot, and the food was very good and different from what we had the other nights, so despite being one of the more expensive (private) rifugios, Lagozuoi was nice.  It seemed more like a hotel than a rifugio, and indeed, is serviced by a cable car, so definitely there was more of a mix of people than at some of the more difficult to reach huts.  Sasha and I explored the summit a bit before dinner, even though it was foggy.

Summit cross, Lagozuoi, in memory of the Italians and Austrians who died on the mountain in the war

Sunrise the next morning

Poor Ann, that pony left a bruise!
The next morning was clear again, and so again we had a gorgeous sunrise.  On the way down the north side of Lagozuoi, we also passed a ton more short tunnels and fortifications, and the rest of our group humored us as Sasha and I clamored around almost every one.  The first half of the day’s hike was really nice.  There were some pretty peaks around us, and we saw some sheep and then a beautiful alpine lake, and there was a steep but well-graded trail up to another forcella where we stopped for lunch.  After we got down from the forcella, however, we hit a wide, flat jeep road which still had pretty scenery, but was fairly boring as trails go.  Unfortunately, the dairy we passed early afternoon was closed, although that didn’t stop Ann from getting attacked by a disarmingly cute biting pony.  We made good time on the road, however, and got to the next rifigio, Fanes, with plenty of time for a pre-dinner strudel and cocoa (a delicious but unusual strudel with a more cake like-dough than typical), and Sasha and I even had time to go for a second hike before dinner.  Which was really cool because we saw some incredibly unusual rocks.  There seems to be a whole slope of Karst rock, which we thought made it look like we were walking over a stone brain, and then there were fields of boulders that reminded us of the trolls in Frozen (which we had just seen).  Fanes was also great in that it had nice, hot showers which were not timed and didn’t cost extra!! This Rifugio was also more like a hotel, and we were a bit worried because the book said it was often quite loud, but in the end we only had one other roommate in our dorm room, and he was quite quiet, and while there was music for a while in the evening, we couldn’t hear it from our room at all.  And the food was quite good.  We ordered off a menu and it was more like a restaurant than a rifugio kitchen (not that I mind a bowl of spaghetti followed by polenta and meat after a long day’s hike, but change was good).  
Brain rock!!

The pretty meadow we passed by accident
Photographing from Seekoffel summit
The official trail of our penultimate hiking day was probably the least exciting trail-wise, or would have been if we’d stuck to the trail.  You can take a road/gravel road from Fanes down to another hotel/rifugio, then there’s a steep climb up and you can stay on the wide road all the way to the last hut (or first hut if you are going the normal direction).  But in trying to take an alternate trail version up the last part to the hut, we misread a sign and accidentally took a side-side trail (very infrequently used) up to a small rifugio which, although we reached it at a perfect time for a snack of some sort, had no food to offer us but yogurt!  But even though it was a bit further, we had some nice views down into the valley we had just climbed out of, and walked through a lovely meadow, followed by some really unusual bumpy hills, so it turned out to be a nice detour.  Also, we reached the final rifugio of our trip, Rifugio Biella, in time to hike up a nearby mountain, Crodo del Beco or Mt. Seekoffel, in Italian and German respectively, which was a strenuous but fun hike up.  The trail was rocky and at moments tricky (enjoyably, not dangerously) to descend, but luckily this was our clearest afternoon of the entire trip, so we had some nice views from the summit, and took lots of pictures.  It started snowing on the way down, but not hard enough to make the going difficult.   We enjoyed our stay at Biella.  The staff made up for their limited German/English with enthusiasm (we could see into the kitchen and saw them dancing away at some point in the evening) and the food was tasty.  It definitely felt “rustic” after the previous two rifugios, but since we were hiking out to civilization the next day, that was no problem. And, we lucked out, for in the morning when we got up, our cheerful hostess pointed out a few Ibex (Steinbock, in German) on a scree slope of the mountain we had hiked the day before.  We got some good lucks with binoculars before breakfast, but luckily, they were also still there as we were hiking out after breakfast; they weren’t that close, but it is still cool to see large mammals (at least large by European standards).  
Dinner the last night

The hike out the final day was nice but fairly uneventful.  There was ice on the puddles we passed on the way down, and pretty soon we had views of Lago di Braies/Pragser Wildsee, which was a lovely blue lake surrounded by mountains.  The lake is a destination in its own right, so once we reached the lake, we saw tons of people out for an easy stroll, but the crowds weren’t too heavy in late September, so we were able to have a final picnic lunch on the beach of the lake, before hiking a few more kilometers into town to find our hotel.  There were buses to the lake, but we decided it was easier to walk.  We reached the hotel with plenty of time for one final strudel, and o find the small grocery store in town to stock up on a few snacks for our train ride the next day.  We ate dinner in our hotel, and the food was really good, and not just by hiking standards.  And, besides the lovely food, they had a salad bar, which seems like a real treat after days and days of pasta and meat and polenta.  As if that weren’t enough, the inkeeper even washed all of our dirty clothing, since they didn’t have coin operated laundry machines (we did pay a small amount, but man, that was definitely money well spent!!)
Lago di Braies

At the official start/end of the Alta Via 1!

I will tell you about our time in Venice in another post, and will include a separate post about what we brought and some logistical details, in case anyone wants to hike this trail, but I really love hiking in Europe.  I love the mountains, and I love how they are just different from hiking in the US.  Backpacking with tent and campstove is fun, but so is walking through sheep meadows and having a hot meal prepared for you every evening.  Civilization is never very far off in Europe, but the air still tastes clean and fresh, and the mountains and sunrises are glorious. 

the Pelmo from Rif. Citta di Fiume

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