So, as usual, here’s a better-late-than-never post about my hiking trip in the Dolomites of Alto Adige. The last week of June, after our trip to Croatia, we decided that we needed some time up in the clouds rather than down by the sea. I had been to Trentino for a summer camp in 2012 but other than that, my experience with the Italian Dolomites was pretty limited. However, I knew that I wanted to try a different kind of vacation, so we packed up the car and headed out.
5 hours later, we found ourselves in front of our hotel in Sexten (Sesto), which looked like it came straight out of a hiking magazine – we were surrounded by the Dolomites on all sides and could even see snowy residue on some peaks. The neighboring pastures were emerald colored and the evergreens stood tall and strong. The hotel was something you’d find in Germany or Austria with planters decorating each window and rich, intricate wooden arches above terrace. The air seemed like it came directly from the North Pole – crisp and fresh and cool compared to the sticky air of Bologna. We were 1,300m above sea level and ready for our vacation on the rocks.
I’ll leave you with my Top Three of our week-long excursion:
1) One of our longest treks had an overall change in altitude of 1,400m. We started at the parking lot of Ponticello, where we were told that there wasn’t any more space in the lot further up the mountain, where we had originally planned to park. This didn’t stop us – we started hiking right away, only later to realize there was a shuttle from the lower parking to our departure point. When we finally arrived at the refuge of Prato Piazza, we were pretty tired. However, we weren’t about to let that stop us.
Our destination, Picco di Vallandro, is one of the highest points in that valley and offers breathtaking 360-degree views. The way up was rough but when we got to the last 40 meters of trail, our abilities were really tested: the trail became a mix of gravel and slate, and with every footstep we heard shards trickling down the mountainside. And as we turned the final corner, we saw a path, about the width of a sidewalk, lined with a sturdy metal chain. It was my first experience with a trail that wasn’t safe and wide and to be honest, I wasn’t really sure that I was up for it. But a couple that was taking a break on the rocks nearby saw the terrified look on my face and told me, ‘Don’t worry, it’s easy!” So I took a deep breath, wedged my walking sticks in my backpack and slowly made my way across, holding onto the chain for dear life. Greatest. Decision. Ever. We sat up there at 2,839 meters above sea level and I definitely had to pinch myself a few times.
2) Another great trip was our bicycle trip from Innichen (San Candido) to Leinz. It’s about 40 kilometers and mostly downhill on the way there, so we felt pretty good as we rode into town. Innichen is still in Italy and during the ride you cross the border into Austria and arrive in Leinz, a cute but very commercial town. We walked around Lienz for about an hour, enjoying our mini-vacation-in-a-vacation; we bought some cannederli, which are typical bread-dumplings eaten in the northeast of Italy. I stopped for a cappucino, which cost about 3 times more than it does in Italy (and I thought Starbucks was expensive). After seeing pretty much all there was to see, we hopped back on our bikes – our goal was to get to the first train station of the Lienz-San Candido line on bike and then load ourselves and the bicycles on the train, since the way back was mostly uphill. We wound up getting slightly lost, passing the first station and winding up at the second station, which looked like a building from a horror film. There was no one inside, just some yellowed posters and a door that hung loose on its hinges. I refused to enter and explore. We waited for the train, not really knowing if it would show up or not, and breathed a large sigh of relief when we saw it crawl around the corner towards us. Our total km count was about 60 that day, and let me tell you, I now understand the rave about padded bike shorts. Those mountain bikes were pretty unforgiving. However, the scenery was fantastic and the change in physical activity was welcomed after 4 straight days of hiking.
3) My final, and most breath-taking, top is my experience with a via ferrata or iron path. After seeing various climbers with their helmets and carabiners, I got the itch to try out a more complicated climb. The valley we were staying in had various climbs, as it had been teeming with Italian and Austrian-Hungarian soldiers during World War 1. The soldiers would create these iron paths up the sheer rock faces so they could get a better visual and be more protected from enemy shooters. The Torre di Toblin was used by the Austrian-Hungarian army and has a series of iron ladders that go straight up against the vertical rock. The only things that keeps you attached are two thick carabiners attached to the metal cable running the length of the trail and your hands and feet.
The whole trail took about 2 hours. The ascent was really tough – some points you were basically rock climbing and below you was a precipice of 2,000m, as well as the other climbers. I have to admit I kind of felt like Spiderman as crouched on the rock edges and prayed for sticky fingers that would help me grasp smallest of holds. We had a guide with us from the Alpine School of Sesto, and it’s pretty much thanks to him that I made it up to the top. At some points, when the ladder ended and the scaling started, I would look at him as if to say “You’ve gotta be kidding me.” But he was very patient, knowing this was my first via ferrata and told me afterwards that not many people would’ve chosen this climb for their first time, I had done good.
The descent was much easier, but required some faith in the metal cable and the carabiners, as you had to sit in your harness to give yourself the most possibility of reaching certain holds. At first, the thought of sitting out over 2,000+m of nothingness was not appealing, but I soon realized that I had no choice. My muscles were at their limits and my flexibility was waning, so I trusted in that cable, there since World War 1 and continued down the rock side. When we reached the base, I couldn’t believe what I had just accomplished. The whole experience had flown by: just 30 minutes earlier I had been at the top, looking out over the fantastic views of the Tre Cime di Lavardeo. I had adrenaline pumping in my system for the rest of the trip, knowing that after the Torre di Toblin, I could take on any trail.