Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Dolomites Part Two--Hike to Rifugio Bolzano

You know the saying that truth is stranger than fiction? Are you ready for one of those stories?

I explained last post that my husband and I were hiking in the Dolomites with backpacks full of things like bottles of wine and flip flops...not exactly survival gear. This is because you don't need much of anything when you hike in this area, due to the fact the place is riddled with boarding houses for hikers and climbers. (called a Rifugio, or hut) So we certainly didn't need a tent, which was a good thing because I no longer owned one that worked.You see, poles are needed for a tent to be functional, and I left mine behind at Upper Lyman Lake in Washington State weeks before.
(for the full story )
No, this stranger than fiction tale has nothing to do with the Dolomites, but instead how I got my tent poles back. I'll try to make it brief, so I can get back to the hiking story.

I thought I had found my poles when I called the Leavenworth ranger station and they said someone had turned some in. Imagine my disappointment when I drove there only to find they weren't mine. (though, I was a little comforted by the fact I'm not the only space-case hiker around) I was not hearing anything back from Marmot about replacing them, and overall I was losing hope. This is when my oldest daughter, Amber, called me at work to tell me she knew where my poles were...her science teacher had them. Huh?
Naturally filtered water right on the trail--so cool

Amber reminded me she had borrowed my tent several weeks prior for a kayaking science trip she was taking through the college. She explained she had written down her science teacher's phone number in case of emergency, but thought she had lost it. Get turns out it had gotten stuck INSIDE one of the poles, and fell out when the people who found it at Lyman Lake took them out to have a look. How crazy is that? Of course, the science teacher could only wonder, "Tent poles? What tent poles?" when they gave him a call. Thankfully, for some reason he eventually thought of Amber. (maybe because, like her mother, she's always losing things) Yesterday I went to the college and picked them up, and now I don't have to buy a new tent! (side note: Marmot did eventually contact me and offered to replace my poles, which makes them a top notch company for sure)
Goats blocking the trail

Anyway...I concluded my last post with the exciting disclosure from our host at Rifugio Bergamo that there was indeed a route to another "hut" (the one I really wanted to stay at) that could easily be achieved in one day. What I failed to ask about was the difficulty of this path...but we were soon to find that out.

The book I had bought about the Dolomites categorized the hikes in three ways: Grade 1=easy. Grade 2=medium with reasonable amount of fitness required. Grade 3=Strenuous, sometimes with exposed stretches requiring aid by anchored cable. The #3's looked pretty exciting, but I decided against doing anything that challenging...but fate decided otherwise.
This isn't so bad...yet
When we got to the first cable, it was "Wow, this is cool! Take my picture!" By the time we were at the fifth or sixth one and up about 7,500 feet or so, it changed to "OMG...I feel like I'm going to pass out!" (which really would not have been a good thing) I didn't like the sensation at all, and found it hard to calm myself down. (mostly because I couldn't stop breathing as if I were in labor. Former climber Ken, of course, was completely unfazed)
"Wish I had an overhang"

See that big drop off to the right? We just came straight up that.
You can also see another Rifugio behind me in the distance.
(Alpe di Tires, I believe)
Thankfully, once we were past that section, it didn't take too long before we could see in the distance the beautiful Rifugio Bolzano.

Just look at it! Can you blame me for wanting so badly to stay there? Once we were checked in, had our backpacks safely in our room, and had our fill of beer and delicious soup at the restaurant, we set out to conquer the top of Mount Pez. 

The cute restaurant inside. A cook actually passed us on the trail,
hiking to work with his apron on. Can you imagine?

We didn't speak German, they spoke very little English, but we all understood beer!

8,400 feet (only an extra 400 feet from where we were) and what a view! Considering this is a European hike, I suppose I really should use meters--but whatever. I grew up in the states, and my school gave up trying to open my mind to the metric system after the sixth grade.
Mt. Pez. A place of sacrifice all the way into
the Middle Ages.

Thanks to my Dolomites book, we had directions on how to get to Compaccio the next day, where we took the gondola car down to Suisi and caught the bus back to Bolzono. (though I have to say, the signs and markers are quite exceptional, making finding your way around these mountains very doable) One thing you need to know once you get to Suisi; even though all the other buses pick you up in the parking lot, the Bolzono bus needs to be caught on the road just down the hill. (a kind bus driver on his break somehow communicated this to us in German when he noticed we had been sitting there for over an hour) 

I hope this information is helpful for anyone who is considering doing a 3 day hike in the Dolomites. As long as you don't have a car to get back to, I really think this route is your ticket. I might also suggest first seeing if you can pay to have your luggage/backpacks checked at a hotel in Bolzono; something I didn't think about until it was too late.

Even though I'm anxious to put my newly functioning tent back to use, I'm afraid you won't be hearing from me again until next season. I'm pretty much adventure filled at the moment, and we seemed to have skipped autumn and gone straight to winter here in the northwest. So for now I will have to say, arrivederci (or auf Wiedersehen) my friends!
Our new besties at Rifugio Bolzano...
wish I could remember their names.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Dolomites Part One--Hike to Rifugio Bergamo

I'm not the most organized person on the planet. If you've read any of my former posts, this is already a given. (losing my car key and then my tent poles being a couple strikes against me...both of which were eventually found; more on that next time) Although I may be a scatterbrain most of the time, when it comes to planning a trip, I'm usually all over it. I enjoy researching everything about where we will be going and what we will be doing; this being especially true when it comes to backpacking. I always read a ton of trip reports and look through books and almost obsessively think about exactly how things need to go. (knowing full well they rarely do)
But I had to surrender all of that if we were going to hike in the Dolomites; because as much as I tried to formulate a plan, it was just not coming together. I was overwhelmed...the area is enormous, the possibilities are practically endless, and I had no idea when or even if we would make it to Bolzono. (the gateway town to the Dolomites)
Confused in Bolzano

Most people hike at least five days when visiting these mountains, but we only had three. So I bought a book called "Shorter Walks in the Dolomites" thinking I could connect a couple of the one day routes. Unfortunately though, the maps in the book are very specific, with no way to know for sure if you can connect them safely. This was enormously frustrating for me, until I decided I just had to let go. We'd pick a day hike and hope for the best; but at least I knew we could stay one night in a Rifugio, and then head back if we had to.

This is what fascinated me most about the Dolomites."Rifugio" is the name for the boarding houses that are scattered everywhere in the mountains for hikers and climbers to use. Little hotels in the middle of nowhere; it seemed too good to be true. I had to see one for myself. (The translation is "hut", which is how I described them to Ken. Boy, was he surprised when he saw one)

After getting to Bolzono way later in the day than I wanted (my night train idea having fallen apart) with no idea of where or what bus to catch, I was glad I had finally decided on one of the shortest hikes in the book. Walk #35 (out of 50) described a relatively easy 3-ish miles to Rifugio Bergamo. (I thought that's what it said, anyway) First you got off the bus at San Cipriano, then you were to cross the street to a hotel where the hike started...weird, right? Thankfully the receptionist at the hotel spoke a little English, so when I asked her if she knew about the trail she just escorted us through the bar to the other side of the hotel where there it was right out the back door. Talk about surreal.
Just getting started and WOW!
Before long the trial brought us to a Visitor Center with, would you believe it, yet another bar. I love Italy! Fate seemed to be telling me I needed to start this hike with a drink, so we ordered the house wine and sat down to contemplate our good fortune.
The Visitor Center...
...with helpful maps

Providence did seem to be on our side when we narrowly avoided heading out in the wrong direction. (maybe the wine wasn't such a great idea) Everything was going so splendidly, until we realized I had failed to notice that getting to the Rifugio was an "extension" of the easy hike; an extra hour and a half and straight up extension. Hummm....wishing we hadn't spent that extra time at the bar, because it was beginning to get dark.

I couldn't help starting to think about not being able to find this supposed boarding house; or maybe for some reason it was closed, or full, or shut down. Our fairly heavy backpacks were basically just our vacation suitcases we had to bring along...I doubted my cute sundresses with matching flats were going to help me get through a night at almost 7,000 feet. (though the wine we bought in Cortona might)
We are going to get there, right?
Just when I was starting to feel a panic coming on, we saw a flag perched on a pinnacle. Ken got to it first, and I pleaded for him to tell me that he could see the Rifugio. The way he excitedly got out the camera told me he could.
Rifugio Bergamo
What a sight to behold...we were saved! Stepping into the Rifugio was better than I ever imagined. It felt like coming home. A warm stove, a home cooked meal, and families with children playing on the floor. (Italian kids must be pretty hard core...but then again, they were not carrying 40-ish pound backpacks!) I seriously had to keep myself from crying and giving the host a big hug.

The stove complete with hangers to dry your clothes
Even better was finding out we could make it to the place I really wanted to see the next day. Rifugio Bolzano here we come.

To go to part 2: