Dolomites, day 0, Lago di Braies

It is Friday evening and we are in a rather grand old hotel on a lake in the Dolomites. Tomorrow we begin walking the Alta Via 1 (AV1).

We came from Venice by bus. A slow journey as we had to change buses twice, but pretty and interesting. The transition from the flat plain around Venice to mountains is sudden and dramatic. We are now 1500m above sea level and feel like we have entered a different world with Swiss-style alpine buildings, ski resorts and lots of German spoken. The people in this hotel are mostly couples and families on summer holidays by car, enjoying the beach by the lake and a little day hiking in the mountains. We are enjoying it too, But tomorrow it will change.

The AV1 is a moderate 11-day mountain walk. After the comfort of this hotel, we will stay in a mix of places ranging from quite spartan (no hot water, sleeping in dormitories) to quite comfortable. All will have great views and the company of fellow hikers. Our blogging will be sporadic as there will be few points with internet service.

We are looking forward to hiking. The weather has been good so far.

Attached are a few photos from today.

Dolomites days 1 and 2

Day 1 (July 28) Hotel Lago di Braies to Rif Biella
What a good start to the walk! A short day but enough for a first day. We arrived at our rifugio (hostel) just past noon, a few minutes before the thunderstorm.

It felt slightly unreal to begin the walk after so much planning. But the early morning was cool and inviting with a level walk beside the lake. We walked briskly, enjoying the start.

Then the walk went up, relentlessly up, and as we left the forest, the morning became warm. Our packs felt very heavy, but mostly we are out of practice. After an hour the packs were still heavy, but not uncomfortable and climbing felt more familiar. The Dolomites are steep and rocky with good views and sharp craggy peaks. The trail is well maintained and although our progress was slow, we felt immediately at home. The elevation gain was about 900m with good views. The trail had a bit of everything including a short distance with chains to help the steep climb.

We lazed about in the afternoon as the rain came and went. Tomorrow will probably have rain again. It is heavy at times, but then it clears. The clouds add to the views.

The refugio is friendly and sits 600m below a peak of huge rock slabs. Dinner with a couple from Barcelona and a German family with two children. English was the common language. Good food and a happy atmosphere. Everyone is friendly.

Day 2 (July 29) Rif Biella to Rif Lavarella
Thunderstorms over night, but some sun with the cloud in the morning and no rain. The first part of the walk was downhill, steeply at times to rifugio Pederü at 1500m. We lost all the elevation we gained in the previous day. After a rocky path through open area full of marmots, the route was on 4wd roads originally built during the wars. Lots of forest and some pasture land with cows and tinkling bells. Spectacular mountains all around. Rifugio Pederü has good road access so the next part of the walk had lots of day hikers and mountain bikers. A 500m climb mostly on good trail to our destination rifugio Lavarella. The mountains are wonderful here. Huge slabs of rock with sharp peaks and and enormous bolder fields and scree slopes at lower levels. Just as yesterday, thundershowers in the afternoon. The rumbles of distant thunder started almost exactly at noon and this time we walked through some light rain before reaching the very comfortable and very German rifugio. It rained hard at times while we enjoyed a good lunch and hot showers, then cleared later in the afternoon.

Dolomites day 3

Day 3 Rif Lavarella to Rif Lagazoul

We are at rifugio Lagazoui at 2752m (9028 feet), the highest elevation we will reach in the Dolomites. The view is spectacular when there is one, but today we are in cloud. With luck it will clear tonight. There is a cable car from here to the town 650m below meaning lots of day hikers as well as those who come to explore the tunnels from the first World War. The longest, 1100m long at a 45˚ slope is a WW1 memorial and a major tourist attraction. This area was the battleground between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Italy between 1916 and 1918.

The walk today was the best so far. A small climb followed by two hours in open meadows with marmots, cows and craggy peaks on both sides. Then a much longer climb to Forcella del Lago, a small pass between two sharp peaks, and a very steep descent. The climb and descent both look daunting, but are easier than they look. The descent is the steepest I have done, but the trail is excellent and as long as you focus on the trail, not the dizzying view down the slope, it is OK. That was followed by a long 500m climb to the rifugio. All in all, a bit challenging but something we both thoroughly enjoyed.

We didn’t reach the rifugio until 2:00 and the rain held off until later. Then it came with thunder, heavy rain and hail. We are snug in our tiny room after a good dinner The weather tomorrow should be much like today.

Dolomites days 4 and 5

Day 4 (july 31) Rif Lagazuoi to rif Scoiattoli

Not as good a day. A good start with clear sunny weather and a terrific view from rifugio Lagazuoi. The path for the day goes east along the side of the valley the rifugio sits above, then drops to cross to the other side of the valley, climbs and goes west to end almost across from where we started. The first part of the day was on good trails through meadows. We crossed patches of hail from the previous day that looked like snow. However, Inge had taken some migraine medication and felt unbalanced as we climbed higher on a narrow trail across steep scree. We turned around and found a path down to the road at the bottom of the valley where Inge could take a ski lift up to rif Scoiattoli. I carried on with the original route. Inge didn’t miss much. It was a long steep climb from the valley bottom on an old rocky trail in trees.  The trees didn’t open up until almost at the rifugio.

Rifugio Scoiattoli (the squirrels) at 2225m was great. Good food, hot showers and comfortable bunks; all a tired hiker could ask for. Great views. The usual late afternoon thundershower and some heavy rain.

Day 5 (Aug 1) Rif Scoiattoli to rif Cità di Fiume

A wonderful day. Sunny, good trail and beautiful country.

After a few days of walking we know some of the people doing the same walk. We see each other on the trail, stop at the same places for coffee, end up in the same rifugi and talk over dinner. It creates a sense of community.

We began with two hours in scenic alpine with a good mix of climbing and descents, then crossed a paved road at 2000m elevation with a busy coffee shop full of cyclists and motorcyclists.  The road must have been part of the Giro d’Italia as it was painted with messages encouraging teams and riders. We saw a very Italian group of older cyclists dressed in club jerseys, out for a day of riding in the mountains.

After the road, several hours in a lovely high meadow area that felt a privilege to walk through. Then a longish walk down to the rifugio. No rain.

Dolomites days 6 and 7

Day 6 (Aug 2) Rif Cità di Fiume to rif Coldai

More good weather. We said goodbye to two German guys we came to know over the last few days. They were walking on a bit further for that night and ending their walk the next day. The majority of multi-day hikers on the AV1 are German and most refugio staff speak German. Some refugi feel German and others feel Italian; you never know what to expect in this part of Italy.

The day was was in a more developed area than the previous days. A short section along a road, some dirt farm roads, through a ski area, and then a long steep climb to rif Coldai. It is near a town and gets lots of day hikers. Very friendly refugio with great views. No rain.

Day 7 (Aug 3) Rif Coldai to rif Vazzoler

Cloudy but no rain. An average day of hiking, more alpine than yesterday. We said goodbye to two German women we have seen for a few days who finished their hike today.

We have changed our plans. The 11 day plan in our guidebook is too relaxed. For us an ideal day is about six hours of walking. A number of days on our 11 day plan are only four hours of walking which leaves too much time sitting at the rifugio. Tomorrow we will combine two days from the guidebook into one and the next day we will walk out to a town. That also cuts off a section which includes a high narrow ridge and a short but almost vertical unprotected climb, both a bit beyond our level of comfort. Instead we get a bit of “down time” in town to eat gelato, drink espresso and use a laundromat. Probably we will have WiFi in town and can post something on the blog.