Dolomites, Part I
In Venice, I had to wake up the hotel clerk to check me out. It was Sunday, August 29 and I was to meet my Colorado group at Marco Polo Airport. I got to the hotel office before 7:00 am, and the door to the office was locked, so I knocked on the office door. I heard someone moving and eventually a clerk I hadn't met opened the door. There was a cot in the room and he looked still asleep as he let me in the office.
"I need to check out", I said.
"I thought you were checking out in the morning," he said.
"It is morning."
So he checked me out of the hotel. I walked through San Marco plaza which is particularly lovely early in the morning. There were few people and many pigeons. I walked out to the waterfront and bought a ticket for a boat ride to the airport. It was a long ride in the relatively open waters of the Laguna Veneta stopping at Murano Island and at the Lido resort before the fast ride to the airport.
I had already met with our leader Denise and her husband the previous night, and had a seafood dinner with them before the Vivaldi concert. In the morning, I met them first at the airport and then the others when their plane arrived. We loaded up in a couple of vans and started the trip to the Dolomites. From Venice, we had a lovely ride from Venice to Dobbiaco, crossing a river gorge over a high bridge and driving through busy resort town, Cortina. The rugged mountains grew around us as we traveled. We checked in to a lovely Tyrolean hotel in the small town and took a ride by train and bus to a park area with a lake. The next day we took train and bus to the Sexten Dolomites park for a training hike. We did not go as far a originally planned because of forecasts for thunderstorms in the afternoon. We climbed steeply through the forest to places where we had a view of the dramatic mountains around us.
On Tuesday, August 30, we started our ten day trek on the Alta Via 1. We used public transportation to get to the Lago di Braies. Around the lake, ragged clouds hung across the surrounding mountains. From the lake, we climbed steeply up the dolomite wall and crossed a ravine, high on a flattened log bridge. We hiked up the ravine into a high mountain basin below shining cliffs. We climbed out of the basin steeply to a place where I pulled myself up by holding onto metal cables. On top, we ascended through a narrow canyon and then descended through a very rock area to our first Rifugio, named Biella. The small lodge was very rustic with interesting Tyrolean carvings and photographs, and it was full of trekkers. There, I had a lunch of pasta with a crème and mushroom sauce. From the lunch stop, we followed a road and then a rough trail through a rocky landscape with very green grass. We descended to Rifugio Federa Vedla, located below a massive mountain, where we spent the night.
The next morning, from Rifugio Vedla, we hiked steeply down a road to Ucia Pederu, a low spot and lodge where buses brought people to hike. From there, we hiked steeply up to a rifugio where we had lunch and on to Rifugio Fanes were we stayed. My roommate Rick and I climbed to a high spot above the rifugio where we had a 360 degree view of the dolomite mountains all around us, including Sasso della Croce, Sasso della Nove, Sasso della Dieci with its dinosaur fin, and the Lavinores. I took pictures of scenery and flowers and spent time sitting in the grass.
On Thursday, we climbed from Rifugio Fanes to the high point with a cross where Rick and I had been the previous afternoon. We walked by beautiful small lake, Lago di Limo and next through a lovely green valley towards the twisted peak, Cime Campostrin, which looked a bit like Uncompahgre Peak in Colorado. In the distance, we could see Mormalada, with its glacier and at 10, 989 feet, the tallest peak in the Dolomites.
From the valley we climbed steadily to a Forcella di Lech pass between Cimo Lago and Puntedi Fanes. On the rugged pass, we could see the trail descend steeply to a ledge where it disappeared over the edge. Below the ledge the trail descended steeply down tight switch backs, and we had to be careful with our footing, but the trail was good and we descended towards a lovely lake where we ate our packed lunches next to the ruins of a World War I building. From the lake, we started up gradually over very rocky terrain.
Soon we started to climb steeply towards the next rifugio above us on the summit of Mount Lagazuoi. I felt very good and climbed ahead of the others. As I climbed, I passed the remnants of World War I fortifications. I passed an old shack built into the rocks which served as officer quarters. I went into one tunnel where there was a slot for a sharpshooter and an opening for a machine gun. In another tunnel there was still a machine gun. The Austrian troops fired down on the attacking Italian troops from these fortifications.
They are still finding the bodies of soldiers in the Dolomites. Thousands died in avalanches, some actually triggered by the enemy. Soldiers rolled boulders down on the opposing troops from above. In the winter, frost bite and exposure was a threat and food supplies were not reliable. Tunneling under the enemy became the preferred, if ineffective, strategy, and both sides dug deep into the mountains creating galleries for troops, guns and artillery. It was an unusual alpine campaign and one of the most horrible fronts of the Great War.
We climbed a short way above the Rifugio to the 9,300 foot top of the mountain where there were magnificent views in all directions of the broken, white, pink and grey Dolomites. When we went back to the high, Rifugio Lagazuoi, I drank a large beer on the deck in front of the endless scenery, high above the valley below, and with my beer, I ate a very nice strudel with gorgeous whip cream. What a spectacular day!
On Friday, August 2, we climbed down from Lagazuoi, the high point on the Alta Via I. We passed the fortifications and hiked through a rugged valley with a chaotic scattering of stones. In that valley, we found ruins from the Great War and explored among the caves, stone walls and ruined buildings.
We hiked on under the high cliffs of Tofana De Rozes and climbed a broken trail above the Alta Via towards the cliffs above us. Near the top, we climbed through loose rock, and at the top, we crouched to enter a dark cave entrance and found a carved gallery with a number of openings allowing daylight to enter the space. This was Galleria del Castelletio, excavated during World War I with side rooms for personnel, a privy and openings for machine guns and cannons. There was still an old cannon in the opening at the far end of the gallery. We imagined bringing artillery up the steep and treacherous climb we had just completed. Apparently, they brought the steel cannons up in pieces. I was particularly concerned about the descent back through the loose scree. Denise, a thoroughly accomplished mountain climber, gave me some helpful tips.
"Put your foot down more gently before you put weight on it."
We made it safely back down to the Alta Via and continued around Tofana De Rozes and down to Rifugio Pomedes, where for lunch I had a purple blueberry pasta with cheese and bacon. We next descended steeply on a trail through the Larch forest. At the bottom, we crossed the road to Cortina and began to climb steeply. We hiked through forest until we reached a large dolomite tower, rising as a monumental rectangle two hundred feet into the air. We hiked under the rock which was the primary massif of Cinque Torre a rock formation with five towers. We continued to climbed first through lush pastureland where we passed a herd of sheep. Then, we climbed more steeply through rocky terrain to Rifugio Averau at Forcella Nuvolau pass, where we would spend two nights. Again, there were spectacular views from the Rifugio.