After 2015’s fabulous hiking trip in the Dolomites, I made it a point to return this year and explore even more of this magical place. I wasn’t with friends this time so I hired a guide through a company called DolomiteMountains.com. I selected a six-day getaway on the Alta Via No. 1 route, which takes you through these wonderful mountains in northern Italy on all sorts of various paths.
There weren’t enough people for a group so I went solo with a guide, Peter, who is from the area and teaches skiing, snowboarding, does bike treks and hiking. Peter’s native language is Ladin, an Italian dialect spoken in this area. He also speaks Italian, German and English.
In 2015, we were spoiled with daily perfect weather. I’m talking puffy white clouds, clear blue sky, breathtaking panaromas, the works. So I assumed that since I was going at the same time of year, these same conditions would appear.
Well, that did not happen. From Sunday to Friday, I experienced all four seasons. Was I disappointed? No way. I wasn’t exactly overjoyed at seeing the snow Thursday morning, if only because it was just a bit chilly outside. We did change one part of the day’s itinerary because the steep climb was covered in snow. Then the sun came out. That made for a wonderful day. I’m going to recount all four days here, one day at a time. I hope you enjoy following along as much as I enjoyed all those climbs, sometimes up 7,500 feet in one afternoon. Peter is a rock star. I recommend his services to anyone.
JULY 11. DAY ONE: PRATO PIAZZA.
“Are you afraid of heights?” Peter asked me as we sat and discussed the day’s itinerary.
Not really, since I did this last year, I told him. Yes, but there is a short part of the trail where you have to hold on to a chain. And it’s very steep there, he explains. If I don’t want to do it, we can go around another way.
Nah, come on. I’m game, I told him.
That’s how the day started. We started the hike around 9:30 a.m. At one point, we had climbed up to 7,500 feet above sea level. In total distance, we went almost eight miles.
For the first hour or so, the trail zig-zagged up and up, on this wonderful, hot, humid sunny day. Then we reached a staircase of wood planks built into the side of the mountain. Not a big deal, I thought. Just hold on to the cord and do not look down to my right. It wasn’t so bad. Then we got to that steep, dicey part. Peter took both of my hiking poles so I can use both hands to hold on. Then, as every good guide should do, he took some photos as I went. This was my first “test” if you will and I needed documentation.
THE TRICKY PART OF THE TRAIL
With apologies to Boromir (Lord of the Rings), one simply does not look down when going step by step, on a steep cliff, on a mountain, thousands of feet up. I just looked straight ahead and kept moving. OK, OK, full disclosure. I stopped once, turned around and took a photo.
Anyway, I got through that, high-fived Peter and we continued on our way to the top, on Mount Specie. This was 7,500 feet up. In the distance I saw the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, the three spires we hiked around last year. All of it just too my breath away. That may be a cliché or maybe it was the thin air. Whatever it was or is or isn’t, it’s spectacular.
We arrived at the first rifugio too late for lunch but we did eat a sort of frittata with powdered sugar, something I believe they serve for dessert. It sufficed until dinner.
Then we arrived at our rifugio for the night, Rifugio Prato Piazza. A rifugio is literally that, a refuge in the mountains for people to stop and take a break, eat and/or spend the night. They’re mostly family-operated and serve some of the best local cuisine. In 2015, we spent one night at a rifugio with a private room for the four of us. This time, it was all about the dormitory. This was a big room, with ten connecting bunks, mattresses and down comforters at the ready. Note to future travelers: bring a travel sheet, which I did. Our hostess showed us the showers, where some fellow trekkers, guys, were already getting cleaned up. Hey Peter, I said, “Where are the ladies’ showers?”
There aren’t any. It’s communal. “What?” I said. “Welcome to the mountains!” he said, laughing.
I grabbed an end bunk, organized myself a bit and went upstairs to take in my surroundings. I sat outside at a picnic table and it started to rain. The sun was out to my right. Rainbow? In the distance. A high-altitude headache was creeping in but I had Excedrin at the ready. I had no wi-fi, no cell service, I was looking at the façade of the Croda Rossa Massif (Red Wall mountain group) and it’s stunning blood-red rock. There’s absolutely nothing here not to like.
I crashed at 9 p.m. and woke up ready and rested for the next day’s trek, which, by the end, felt like two days combined. Stay tuned.