|We started at the bottom of the map...|
|... and hiked to where Anna is pointing|
Before Sasha joined me in Germany, I went on a week long hiking trip in the Stubaital of Austria with this same group of friends, and it was such an amazing trip, I started plotting ways to get back into the mountains as soon as we got settled, and also going to Italy was at the top of my Europe travel list, so going to the Dolomites and hiking from rifugio to rifugio (hut in Italian) was exactly what I wanted to do for our long vacation this year. I had spent months pouring over our guidebook, planning where we'd stay each night, making reservations, staring at the various maps, so by the time we had our bags packed and headed to the train station, I was very excited.
Once again, we started our trip with a night train. Not the best night of sleep ever, but I woke up on my birthday in Venice, which is pretty awesome. We'll post later about Venice, since we went back after hiking for a few days, but then in the afternoon we took a train up to the town of Belluno to spend the night before heading to the trail head. As we took the train north, the scenery slowly shifted from lagoon to plains to hills to MOUNTAINS!!! I love mountains!
A second gelato (the first was in Venice), a nice birthday dinner, a good night's sleep, and a breakfast later and we found the bus to take us the the trailhead. We asked the driver to let us out at a stop called "La Pissa" (for those of you who want to get your accent vaguely right, the double "s" is pronounced, as far as we can tell, like an English "sh"), which was hardly more than a bus stop sign on the side of a busy road, which fit with our guidebook's directions.
I should note here, that most people hike the trail from North to South, but we decided to do it in reverse. We did this for a few reasons: first, we were hiking in mid- to late September, which is the tail end of the hiking season in this region, and some of the rifugios close on September 20th. More of the southern rifugios close early, so in terms of having places to stay and good bail-out options if the weather turned bad, it made more sense to go south-to-north. Also, there were some dedicated amateur photographers in our group, and they declared that the lighting is better with the sun at your back, which happens more frequently if you are hiking north. SO, we took all that into account when making the plans, and started where most people finish.
From the bus stop, we walked along the road for a few hundred meters, passed a little creek and a cute waterfall, then found the trail and started up...and up...and up... One benefit? drawback? of hiking south-to-north, is that we had significantly more elevation gain over the course of the trip, because we started much lower than we finished. But going uphill is fun, so no worries. We took a rather steep official cut-off trail, then joined up with a jeep-track, but spent most of our hiking hours climbing. Still, it was great. We both noticed almost immediately that as our breathing evened out and our leg muscles started working, all of the stress of work, job applications, etc. started to melt away. We would breathe in a deep breath of cool mountain air, and it cleared all the worry from our brains and bodies on the way back out, so we just started focusing on the rocks and trees and mountains around us. For the next 10 days, our biggest worries were whether or not we'd get to the next rifugio in time to have cake or strudel before dinner.
|Sasha, putting one foot in front of the other on his way up the mountain.|
I think I'll have some meal pictures to share later, but for those of you wondering about the food (aka MOM), some nights we had "half board", which included 3 courses, other nights we ordered a la carte off a menu, but generally the meal went like this: "first course, choice of vegetable soup, pasta with tomato sauce, or pasta with some sort of meat sauce, second course, polenta or potatoes with meat or with cheese, dessert of the day." Now, we ordered half-board a few times in Austria and the desserts were always very Germanic, which pretty much means a small dish of some soft sweet thing; yogurt, pudding, molded creamy pudding, etc. Those sorts of desserts are fine and all, but I was much happier with the deserts in Italy, which tended towards the cakes or strudels. Yay for cake!!
The next day, we had a lovely hike through a national park to the second rifugio of the trip (Pramperet/Sommariva).
|Sasha and Chris on our side-excersion|
Generally, we went to bed pretty early (lights out by 10, and some nights we didn't even make it to 10) but that was good, because the weather pattern that held for most of our trip was clear, cool mornings with an inversion layer of clouds in the valleys, which then steadily rose over the day so that the evenings were mostly socked in (although we would get intermittent views all day, so we still did get some afternoon views). What it did mean, though, is that we often had amazing sun-rises, and yes, I was actually out for sun-rise many days. I am not claiming that I was perky or loquacious for those sunrises (tea came at breakfast) but they were beautiful.
|Day 2, challenging stretch of trail|
The third day brought some actual rain for part of the day, but never very heavy. We went up and over one forcella, but it was pretty thoroughly socked in up there. There was, however, a cool ruined building that has played a number of roles over the year, including barracks during WWI. After that, we dropped steadily down to a road, and had a reasonably long stretch of road walk, which was OK because it was a very low traffic road, and it was great because we had the option to stop at an amazing dairy, and had one of the best lunches of the trip; nothing super unusual, just delicious sausage, cheese, honey, and toasted bread. And then we couldn't say no to either of two kinds of dessert (jam tart and some sort of cheese blueberry bars). I'd blame that on the language barrier, but that would be a blatant lie. We were lunching under an awning, though, which got us out of the rain. Turning off the road, we then had a long, muddy climb that was really hard. The grade wouldn't have been too bad, but there were heavy vehicles doing road/trail work near the top, and they had turned the trail to soft, wet mud, so at times it felt like we were trying to climb up a treadmill. But we made it, and once we got past the vehicles, the rest of the hike was on jeep track all the way to the next rifugio where we were greeted by a flock of very friendly goats (I thought they were great, but Sasha scared them away after a bit when he decided they were getting too friendly; something about how he didn't want the goats to actually eat my pants....imagine) and then in turn we greeted our two other hiking companions, Ann and Chris, who for scheduling reasons had to skip the first two days of the hike, and instead hiked up from the town of Agordo.
|Good thing we had a map, this sign wasn't so useful!! Day 3|
|Road walk, day 3|
|tree growing in ruined building|
|Amazing lunch, day 3|
|Welcoming committee at Rifugio Carrestiato|
Day 4 was a pretty long day, and was tough for our friends who just got up to altitude, and as our fourth day, we felt it a bit, too. We got a bit of a slow start because there was a Via Ferrata near the Rifugio, and we had heard of these "iron paths" and wanted to see what they are like. These routes are bolted cables going up the mountains that you climb up with a special climbing harness, and this one was (according to a book we found in a later hut) particularly difficult. The trail started across a ledge maybe 2 feet wide, then as far as we could tell, started going straight up the mountain; it looked more like mountain climbing than hiking, so we just took a few pictures and went back to our normal hiking trail. Via Ferrata look like fun, but only with appropriate equipment and with either experience or with a guide who knows what they are doing!! We were quite satisfied with merely hiking, on a mix of pure hiking trails and jeep roads (we even saw a jeep on one!!). We even had to cross a small snow field.
|The problem with candid pictures, is that then most people aren't looking at the camera. Oh well. Snack stop!!|
The hike was pretty nice; we had some nice views before the clouds rolled in, but definitely ended with a few drizzly, foggy hours before reaching Rifugio Tissi. Although the weather didn't stop us from taking an afternoon strudel break, of course! And we were lucky to have a brief break in the clouds in the late afternoon. With all of the other hikers, we piled out of the rifugio to photograph the amazing peak across the way that we knew was there but hadn't seen yet! And we also hiked a few extra feet to get up to the summit cross that is really close to the rifugio. Now, the rifugio is near the summit of a small peak and it was a rather rocky trail up to it from the jeep road in the valley, so we were rather surprised to see some mountain bikers trickling in (in the dark) as we were starting to eat our dinners. I think they were a bit underexperienced for the roughness of the trail; it sounds like they did as much mountain bike pushing as riding. Having had that experience before myself (I am NOT a technically good mountain biker), I feel like we definitely had the better approach this trip, sticking to our own two feet!
OK, I'll write about days 5-10 and Venice in other posts since this is getting long. My goal is to get all three posted by the new year, so that I will have time to tell you about our planned Christmas trip to Vienna and Salzburg with my (Anna's) family!
|You would think it would be hard to hide something this big, but the fog is pretty capable of hiding mountains.|
|Summit cross near Rif. Tissi and fog|