The Dolomites, Italy
The fairytale village of Castelrotto nestles itself among 10,000 foot granite peaks.
Day 9: Auf Wiedersehen to Germany, as we enter Austria for a few hours. We ate lunch in Hall, near Innsbruck, and then proceeded through the Brenner Pass. Welcome to Italy. Buon giorno. We'll be spending 5 days here.
We stopped in Bolzano at the museum that housed the Ice Man, a 5,000 year old hiker recently found at the border between Austria and Italy [no pictures allowed but here's one from the pamphlet] who single-handedly redefined the start of the Bronze Age. The museum was state-of-the art and had a very good audio guide for us foreigners. After the Ice Man a lot of us had ice cream (gelati in Italy) because it was quite hot out. No clouds in site. It seems we left the rain back over the Alps in Germany.
After Bolzano, Raymond drove us up a thin mountain road into the Dolomites. It was impossible for me to conceive that a bus could actually drive on this road, and it turned into a harrowing experience for us all, except for Raymond. He's driven this road dozens of times in the past while driving for the Best of Italy tour, where he would sometimes do it 4 times a day. The drop-off was amazing at times, and the blind curves through small tunnels (which the bus barely fit through) caused screams from the passengers when a car came barreling down from above. But we made it, without even a scratch on the black paint of the bus. Our altitude was now 3,000 feet.
Dinner at the hotel [Gasthof zum Wolf] in Castelrotto (I was sharing a room with Santos again), and then a walk around town with its wonderful pink stand-alone bell tower. To bed at 10, anticipating a full day's worth of hiking tomorrow.
P.S. I write this early the next morning in a peaceful park on a hill above town [the picture above is taken from a spot close by]. The church bell is ringing and a fountain dribbles behind me. Birds are chirping and the morning air is crisp. The fog is being slowly sucked away by the rising sun.
Day 10: The cliffs of insanity...
Breakfast at 8, bus at 9 to Compatsch, which is at the base of some very scenic hiking trails. From Compatsch some of us grabbed a bus for a short hop to Saltria and the Sasso Lungo mountains. Gary, Santos and I took a bubble-topped ski chair from Saltria up to the Williamshutte and then walked to the Zallingerhutte. From there we hiked up to the Plattkofelhutte, occasionally resting and admiring the view during this steep trek. Gary and I then embarked on the Sasso Lungo loop, waving goodbye to Santos as he went off to hike the high ridge to the west. Follow the ubiquitous red and white flags and you're off.
Trail 594 across the south side of the Sasso Lungo mountains, 3 peaks 10,000 feet high and, according to the tour guide, a "six hour hike for the sure-footed." The weather, at 70 degrees and breezy, was perfect.
The first 3 hours were quite easy, with spectacular views of mountains, horses, sheep, some kind of hairy cow, and of course a statue of a guy named "August." We met many hikers, and had fun trying to figure out if they would say "buon giorno' or "guten tag" to us, since it seemed pretty much split half and half. The Dolomites are right on the border between Austria and Italy, and in fact belonged to Austria until fairly recently.
We met a German couple at Rif Pertini (another kind of hutte), and the husband wanted to practice English on us; so we thought what the heck - we've been practicing German on lots of people. It turns out they went on a "trip of a lifetime" to the United States a few years ago. New York, Niagara Falls, L.A., San Francisco, the Grand Canyon, and of course, Las Vegas.
We had lunch at Rif August. Now half way around, the trail started getting more rugged. We noticed a lift made up of what looked like phone booths disappearing into the heights of the cliffs like some strange string of yellow Christmas tree ornaments hanging off the mountain. These would have cut our trip in half because they went up to a narrow pass through the peaks, but alas the attendants told us that our boots were not adequate for the snow-covered trail up there.
So we continued through what Gary called a "rock garden" with many steps up and down on top of big rocks. Fortunately, the trail was well marked (now 526). [We stopped for a breather at a fence, and I took the panorama picture below of the view east.]
We ran out of water shortly after what we now realize was the last hutte on the trail. Two more hours on gravel trails that looked to go on forever, over snow, up and down rocks and grassy hills without water; and we knew we were running out of time and would risk missing the bus if we slowed down. What dopes we were (Marsha would be proud). Anyway, it became very peaceful with no more hikers other than we, and we became creatures striving against nature herself, for a moment anyway. Was this how the Von Trapp family felt escaping from Austria to Switzerland? Perhaps a little bit... (Hmm, I feel like singing.)
We passed high waterfalls that disappeared before hitting the ground, stumbled over creeks, skidded down snow fields, and after topping a steep grassy ridge finally saw the bubble-topped ski lift in the distance. We completed the loop, in almost exactly 6 hours, and made it to the lift just after it closed. Fortunately, the Zallingerhutte was next door and we got some water and sat down amongst horse awards. Zallinger horses are apparently famous - they are very cute anyway.
Confident we were the only hikers left on the mountain, we trekked down to Saltria via path 7a (next to the lift) through mountain meadows. We were a bit rushed because we only had 20 minutes before the last bus departed to Castelrotto. In the end, we made it by a dramatic 5 minutes, and walked into dinner at the hotel at the very end of the serving window, looking ragged because we had no time to freshen up.
Everyone was happy to see us, and glad that they needn't call the mountain rescue people. I guess we were happy too. After dinner I led a small group up to the view I found earlier and the peaceful park. We walked along a ridge around the park as the sun went down over the mountains and saw views of villages tucked in the hills and and interesting weather vane.
To bed (after a shower and couple more liters of water).
Click the pictures for enlargements.
Cowbells and Mountains
Click on the projector to see a video of the peaceful symphony
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Last updated 11/16/2005 . Email me at email@example.com.