The sky is beginning to lighten and I suppose the sun will be peeking over the mountains fairly soon. I will head down to breakfast in about an hour. This is the start of our first full day in the town of Selva near the Italian/Austrian border in the Dolomites. Here you will find signs printed with names in Italian and German: a legacy of when this area was taken from the Austrians in 1919 after World War I. Mussilini attempted to eradicate all vestiges of Austrtian/German influence but as so often seems the case he did not really succeed. You are just as likely to find people conversing in German as Italian and I expect people slip from one language to another with reckless ease. To say nothing of those who speak a language known as Ladin which is some local tongue I know nothing about. Selva, also known by the old German family name Volkenstine (sp), sits high in the mountains at an elevation of about 5,200 feet above sea level. It is the third and highest of three close villages that lead up to a pass that I suppose marks the border. The hotel Malleier (Ma-lay-ah) sits above the bulk of the village though there are plenty of inns higher up the mountain slopes than we are. I understand the population of Selva is 3,000 people but they have 12,000 beds for tourists. We are here at the very end of the walking season. Many hotels, including this one, will close for several weeks until the winter skiing season begins in December. This town does have an apprpriate alpine feel about it. Many of the buildings have flower boxes attached to their windows. The buildings have that chalet look about them that just feels right. At the same time the town is clearly geared towards the tourist industry with many small cafes, markets, sporting goods stores, and innumerable hotels. But while that kind of reminds us of Jackson Hole, Wyoming the town lacks the relentless theme-ing that Jackson Hole has. Or, maybe more likley, we just are failing to notice it. Selva feels more real somehow with the Dolomites rising all around her. Perhaps that is just an accident of geography. While there are some mountains snuggling up to Jackson Hole you typically have to drive to where you really want to go (e.g., Grand Teton National Park). Here cablecars and other mountain conveyances have base stations right in town.
Looking down on our base village: Selva in the Gardena Valley just south of the Italian border with Austria.
We arrived in mid-afternoon and after dropping our luggage off in what seem to be very posh rooms the majority of the HF group formed up to take a quick walk into town for a bite to eat. We settled on a cafe with canary yellow canopies sheltering tables outside for our repast. They don't skimp on portions. The sandwhiches we got for ourselves will serve as at least one lunch today. The atmosphere was congenial and I suspect that although our group is rather large, 26 guests and 2 HF leaders - Paul and Michael, we will mesh well. Sitting under those huge umbrellas on a pleasingly warm, probably in the low 70s under direct sunlight, afternoon was a pleassure. After all, we had spent the previous couple of hours on a bus driving from Verona. I think we will have no trouble finding interesting places to pop into in this mountain village. When you walk by a place that has a giant wood carved chain saw in front with a sign politely asking that you not climb the saw you have to feel good about where you are.
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The Sassolungo Massif.
We decided to jump right in and tackle the harder walk. What seems to really differentiate the walks is the amount of elevation gain and looss, especially gain. The harder walk would take us about 9 miles starting and ending at our hotel through the northern and western, reletive to the villages in the Gardena valley below, mountain slopes. We would gain and loose about 2,900 feet though hardly in equal meassure of distance. Contrast that with the easier walk which was, I believe, about 8 miles and gained 800 feet while descending about 2,900 feet. Our group of 16 people including HF leader Michael probably got moving just around 10:00. The morning had warmed up from a brisk mid-50s a couple of hours earlier to the mid-60s and the valley temperature was heading for a high in the mid-70s. All in all, fine hiking weather.We started the walk by strolling the winding and steadily climbing streets of Selva. These paved roads and sidewalks are often remarkably steep and it was not all that long before we were well above the heart of the town as we passed through the outskirts of the village along route number 3. We left the paved paths after about 0.8 miles and began, still fairly steeply, what can be thought of as wide hiking paths and sometimes single lane dirt roads maybe a bit akin to a woods road. Though steep the paths were very well maintained. You ascend through forests that seemed to me rather quiet. I heard the sounds of insects but I don't think I really noticed much birdsong. If you were lucky you might hear off in the distance the tolling of a cowbell.
Now and then our path would pop us out onto short grassy steep slopes that would provide us with the big mountain views. I beleive many of these peaks are limestone and it is fascinating to watch them change color as the light changes. For example, the dominating, rather conically pointed peak of Sassolungo was craggily gray and white early on but later in the day well on its way to jet black. A lone small cloud seemed to hover over the peak throughout the morning.
You can see all the photos for the first day here (11 Photos).
You can see our route here on EveryTrail.