Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Halfway in the Dolomites

Sasso Lunga seen from Rifugio Juac
Sassa Lungo dominates the surroundings and changes color throughout the day. Here, late morning it seems black and forbidding as seen from the grassy slopes near the mountain hut called Juac.

We are at the halfway point of our time here in the Gardena Valley of the Dolomites and I thought I would share some thoughts about the trip so far. Lets start with some simple superlatives: the scenery has been grand, the weather great, the hotel superb, the food sublime, and the group very good.

Selva is one of many small town in this part of the mountains. It, like its neighboring villages, really thrives when winter comes and the skiers appear. Hotels abound. Now at the tail end of the walking season things are much quieter but the things we have seen here in Selva and her neighboring towns of San Cristina and Ortisie (sp) strike us as remarkable. The towns are clean, clearly well cared for, and there is a sense of pride that is hard to miss. When you toss in the incredible engineering that is on display with all the chair lifts, gondola of various sizes (from the Coffin Lift that squeeze two people into phone booth sized coffins to 50 person shuttles that look like they should be flying into space), funiculars, and more you can't help but marvel at the impact people have had on this area. It is a pronounced impact and yet it doesn't feel nearly as intrusive as it could. Sure there are scores of wonderful rifugios dotting the mountains serving all sorts of food and , I think, often providing some overnight facilities. Often these mountain huttes are built into places that seem awfully inaccessible. For instance Demetz Hutte sits in a notch of rock at about 2,600 meters at the terminus of the Coffin Lift and a pretty steep set of paths on either side of the pass it resides in. Add to all this the fact that a lot of the mountain slopes have their grass cut somehow, in preparation for making good ski trails, and the impact people have becomes ieven more impressive. And yet, though the impact is there so is the natural grandeur of these mountains.

Mom, heading the Rifugio Vincenza
This proved a well travelled hike. It also had some of the most varied scenery from woods to scree fields.

From a place like Ciampenie you can gaze out across the rolling mountains and see mountain hamlets, massive rock formations like Sasso Lungo or Mount Pick (sp) and catch the jingle-jangle of cowbells on the breeze as small herds move about. You can walk well maintained, though frequently fairly steep, trails that take you through mountain forests on moment and then through an alpine meadow that I am sure sometimes is full of wildflowers the next. If you are really lucky you might pass through a high alpine hamlet, yes a human abode, where a group of musicians carrying 10 foot long pipes with flared bells at one end regaled denizens of a cafe with airy horn music (changing the notes like a bulgar does by changine how they blow). And all the time you have big mountain views to gaze upon. It is majestic in its own way and I find that more impressive not less when you reailize just how much people influence the area.

A rocky trail
The steep trail between Vincenza and Demetz mountain huts.
Ken, ascending to Demetz Hutte.
This rocky ascent has to be one of the toughest portions of an HF hike we have ever done.
Demetz Hutte
To reach the Demetz Hutte (shown here) from Vincenza you climb switchbacks and then a rather rocky rough and quite steep trail some 400 meters in less than a kilometer.

We have done 3 walks so far. They have all been in the 8 to 9 mile range and had elevation gains and losses in the 2,700 to 3,000 feet range. Often the descent has happened far more quickly than the ascent. But sometimes, as was the case with the walking segment between Rifugio Vincenza and Demetz that ascending was very steep indeed (about 400 meters in about 1,500 meters of trail). Trails have been either what an American would consider a hiking path and typically in very good repair with good footing even when steep or single-lane mountain roads. At the start and end of walks you have to trek through towns and, of course, that means walking sidewalks and such which can be a drag. While, for example, the walk between San Cristina and Selva on an old railway grade that has been turned into a walking and cycle path is easy it is still a 2 mile drag after you have spent the day tromping through the mountains. Some of the walks we have done have been quite popular. Their were surprisingly large numbers of people, often in good sized groups, on the pretty strenuous walk that lead us to Rifugio Vincenza and up to Rifugio Demetz. While the walk that started with a gondola ride (the Seceda lift) from Ortisie and took us to the summitt of Mount Pick (sp) and then to the mountain hut Fereda was consierably less crowded. Usually you can feel as though you have the area to yourself.

Alpine horn players
We heard these fellows long before we saw them. Very special.

One last little note in passing should be shared. Our hotel, the Malleier (pronounced Ma-lay-ah) has been excellent. The rooms are comfortable, well appointed, and very well taken care of. The staff clearly care about the place. The food has been wonderful. We have a continental style breakfast that includes cereals, fruits, breads, meats, cheese, and more. It is ample and more than enough. Where they really shine though is at dinner time. We have several courses starting with a salad, then a couple appetizers, followed by the main dish, and a dessert. Everything has been delicious and very well presented. We had one evening of serious concern when the dessert was listed as "omelet surprise" and no one knew, or would admit to knowing, what that could be. Fortunately it had nothing in common with an omelet but was rather a merengue, ice cream, light cake, chocolate and berry sause confection that was delicious and totally squelched our desire to walk down into Selva to Cafe Monica for galato.

Dad, on the rolling path to Rifguio Fermeda
After descedning from Mt. Pick (sp) we found ourselves on rolling paths with grassy valleys spreading out below us and massive mountains rising in the distance.

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