Sunday, August 27, 2023

The Dolomites - Days 5 and 6 - Refugio Cinque Torri to Staulanza to Refugio Tissi

Route of hike on Day 5

Now midway through the hike, we had attained our trail legs and felt at ease with the trail conditions and the terrain of the Dolomites. However, Day 5 turned out to be the longest of the whole trip at just under 15 miles. At mile 10, I began to feel hotspots on the soles of my feet and needed to take care of it before they blew-up into full-fledged blisters. And as I sat down to have Helen tend to my feet, my cell phone butt-dialed two friends just waking up at 7 AM in California (my apologies Don and Vincent). All in a days karma. The scenery on these two days was every bit as good as previous days - maybe even more spectacular if that is possible! And the weather cooperated nicely as you will see.

Day 5 - Refugio Cinque Torri to Staulanza 

We said goodbye to the Cinqui Torri, one of the more famous landforms in the Dolomites

A steep descent greeted us first thing in the morning - I likely frowned knowing that "up" was to follow

Yes, there is a hiker (Helen) where the cliff "touches" the trail

A southern view toward Passo Giau

Looking back to the north from near Passo Giau - Monte Ragusela rises above

From Passo Giau looking east toward Monte Antelao - another distinct and separate massif in the Dolomites

A glaciated valley points toward Marmolada, the highest peak in the Dolomites at 10,968 feet

The trudge up to Forcella Giau looking northwest - note the northeast dip on the strata

Finally! Something other than white Triassic limestone - a brown shale and sandstone

Moving easily from Passo Giau toward the east with Mount Pelmo looming in the distance

The size of the boulders was astounding but even they were dwarfed by the immense relief of the mountains

This was a relatively easy passage toward Forcella (Pass) Ambrizzola - and oh, so scenic!

There were a few interpretive signs along the way and some of them had English translations. Below is a cross-section seen along the trail near Forcella Ambrizzola, along with an English translation on the formation of the Dolomites. The text looks to be a direct translation from Italian to English. A translation by me of the signed translation is as follows: The modern appearance and spectacular formation of the Dolomites is the result of multiple events over long spans of geologic time, that act together to make these mountains unique. And it is the presence of alternating rock types - harder layers that form plateaus and cliffs - and softer rocks that weather and degrade readily to form slopes and valleys. This combination yields the varied topography of peaks and valleys. The last part about French mineralogist Dolomieu is readily understood. Not mentioned here are the glaciers that swept through the Dolomites to excavate the deep valleys. The red lines below are faults. The reference to hydrochloric acid means that limestone will readily fizz when in contact with HCl but dolomite (or dolostone as it is now being called) will only fizz with Hal after being powdered with a sharp instrument.

Cortina d'Ampezzo, seen from Forcella Ambrizzola, will host three Olympic events in 2026

Rest stop along the trail with a fantastic view of Mt. Pelmo in the distance, elevation 10,394 feet

Triassic limestone and flowers frame a view of Mt. Pelmo

Along the road in the left distance is where I developed some hot spots on my feet

Graceful Mt. Pelmo

Recent rocks from a debris flow issue from a drainage at the foot of Mount Pelmo on our way to Staulanza

What a relief to see the forest where Staulanza is located - 15 miles!

 Day 6 - Refugio Staulanza to Refugio Tissi

Route of hike on Day 6 - solid blue line is by taxi; dashed yellow line by foot.

Three miles on pavement did not sound enticing to our small group and so we opted to take a short taxi ride to save three miles of frustrating walking. The cost was 40 Euros. We were let off at Malga Vescova, a small farm where we began our uphill climb to Refugio Coldai of about 1,450 feet. It was pleasant walking in bright sunshine, with some flat areas to admire the scenery.

Hand painted sign to Refugio's Coldai and Tissi at the start of a spectacular climb

At the top looking back (northeast) to Mt. Pelmo and Staulanza in the valley to its left

Refugio Coldai (cappuccino!) and the forcella beyond that leads to Lago Coldai 

Lago Coldai on a Monday afternoon

On the shore of Lago Coldai where we enjoyed lunch

We got occasional views down 2,000 feet to the village of Alleghe and its reservoir

Leaving Coldai and a view toward our destination of Refugio Tissi, located on the lip of a cliff

I complained a lot when we got to a high point, only to see that we might have to descend rapidly and then hike back up. In the view above you can see just that. It was virtually straight across to Refugio Tissi but it necessitated a 700-foot descent with a climb back up 800 feet.

Anne on the trail to Refugio Tissi

I wanted so badly to take the trail on the left that contoured to Tissi but my trail mates talked me out of it

Huffing and puffing on the straight-up climb to Tissi

And what a view it was! Mt. Civetta on the skyline in the clouds (elev. 10,564 ft.)

On the front porch of Refugio Tissi - a rustic but scenic outpost on the edge of a cliff

With love from Refugio Tissi

Looking south from the Refugio - our path the following day was in the forested valley below

Dryas octopetala frames the view to the northwest into the valley and reservoir near Alleghe

Dramatic view to the northeast with a view of Mt. Pelmo in the upper right distance

Don and Anne share a moment at Tissi

The Dolomites near Alleghe

 Thank you for reading! I will have one more post to finish this hike with Days 7, 8, and 9.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

The Dolomites - Days 3 and 4 - Refugió Lavarella to Refugió Scotoni and Refugió Cinque Torri

Day 3 - Refugio Lavarella to Refugió Scotoni

The entire nine-day trek was off-the-charts fabulous. But Days 3 and 4 stand out in my own mind as something very special. Maybe it was the great weather or the blue skies, maybe the spectacular rock exposures or the highest elevation attained that make me feel this way. Or maybe it's that two older men were strangely transported as Wedding Crashers, high at a Dolomite refugió - read on! In any case, these were an exceptional highlight of the trip. 

Google Earth image - Day 3 (yellow) and Day 4 (green);
red lines are journeys on cable car and chair lift

On Day 3, we hiked about 7 miles with a total descent of about 1,800 feet with a subsequent ascent of the same amount. Day 4 was 7.5 miles long with a 1,900 ft ascent to Refugió Lagazuoi, a trip on a cable car downhill to Pian Falzarego and then up on a chair lift (both shown as red lines in the map above) to a place near our overnight accommodation. 

The Alps experienced their driest February and wettest April in years. We were lucky that not much snow greeted us during this early season trip. I chose this time of year because I wanted to be here before the drab summer haze. I wanted the bluest sky possible. And we got it!

Beginning the climb out from Refugió Lavarella

Only a short climb of about 250 feet took us to an elevated plateau above Lavarella, providing a good warm-up to the day.

Looking north toward the prior days' approach to Lavarella

The mountains surrounded us and each step brought more phenomenal vistas. Some mountains were eroded into sharp pinnacles; others reflected the bedding planes of the gently dipping limestone. Some vistas had both forms with broad aprons of talus on their slopes.

Refugió Lavarella with Cima Nove Neuner on the summit above

There was brilliant sunshine to begin but we did notice that clouds were building fast. The weather can be quite changeable in the mountains.

Self portrait, Wayne and Helen, above Lavarella

The plateau offered a gentle descent to the south

Like many places around the globe, there is an ebb and flow to the "traffic" as everyone begins their day at about the same time. As we made the short climb uphill there were many others on the trail including some mountain bikers. But after an hour or so, the fast ones were gone and we found ourselves alone on the trail.

Folded and contorted limestone beds

Before coming here, I was under the impression that the Dolomites would be made up mostly 
of highly contorted and vertically oriented limestone, resulting from the Alpine orogeny. As mentioned in an earlier post, there was a pervasive and gentle northeast dip to the strata throughout the range. But here on the plateau between Lavarella and Scotoni, I finally did see crumpled beds. There may also be a few thrust faults in the photo above, where the bending of the strata broke through the folds and ultimately slipped, one block shoved over the other.

More contorted beds

The limestone originated in the Tethy's Sea about 220 million years ago (short article here and a good cartoon of the seaway here). This sea separated the northern continents of Laurasia from the southern ones of Gondwana. Geologists think the main bulk of the limestone was deposited in shallow, quiet lagoons that fringed the edges of the continents.
The trail skirts a massive rockfall

One of the highlights for me was seeing many instances where huge sections of a cliff had collapsed and fallen. The size of the bounders was truly impressive. Above, you can see one of these rockfalls, passed on Day 3. This fall had to have occurred in only the last 8,000 to 10,000 years, since glaciers completely filled these valleys prior to that time. The next advance of glacial ice will bulldoze this rockfall material away. It is interesting how the upper sections of the rockfall are devoid of vegetation (a lack of soil?) but the toes of the falls had trees and shrubs (where pulverized rock formed more soil perhaps).

A Google Earth image of the rockfall and trail shown above

An Alpine meadow - view to the south

Hiking paradise - only a little up and a little down. There is an
alternate trail through the high notch in the rocks.

What would the Alps be without bovines!

Descending the Col de Locia to Capanna Alpina

Our gentle descent came to a sharp halt as we approached an overlook at Col de Locia. This descent of about 1,200 feet was on a rocky and partially fenced trail. To add to the excitement, we experienced a bit of rain on the descent - one of the few times we had rain in the whole nine days. On the valley floor in the distance on the photo above, you will notice a clearing where the Capanna Alpina is situated. We enjoyed hot drinks and French potatoes while waiting out the rain at this welcome refuge (vehicle accessible).

Water fountain and artwork at Capanna Alpina

In spite of the depiction shown above, these fountains actually yield potable water for hikers! To wait out the rain we stayed inside the Capanna Alpina for about 90 minutes. When it stopped we began the short uphill trek.

The ski run next to the trail that brought us 870 feet to Scotoni

It was hard for me to figure out how the skiing works here. In the photo above, you can clearly see a ski run and snow making machines were evident (yes, there are water pipelines in the ground to feed the snow making). But here there was no lift to carry skiers uphill?

Refugió Scotoni is set in a fabulous location at elevation 6,693 feet - it was idyllic.

View to the east showing the drainage of our next mornings climb

Don peering out of our dorm room at Refugio Scotoni, elevation 2040 meters

Helen stands inside our dorm room where the four of us slept

View to the west

Inside the refugió restaurant

Brilliant sunshine and sunset at Refugió Scotoni

An end to a great day in the Dolomites!

Day 4 - Refugió Scotoni to Refugió Cinque Torri

The switchbacks out of Refugió Scotoni are well-maintained

We soon found why this is so! A natural spring issues from the rocks above Scotoni and is used as a source of bottled spring water in Europe.

This small wall plaque is found 394 feet above Scotoni

It reads, "2160 meters (7,087 feet) - Here in the heart of the UNESCO Dolomites, from the "Scotoni" source, is born the highest mineral water in Europe. The water "EGA." So now we had been to the highest brewery at Lavarella and the highest bottled water source in Europe! Yes, they had pipes in the ground bringing the water downhill.

Climbing up with a view down to Scotoni

The view above is down the Badia Valley that holds the Ega River. 94% of the population in this valley speak Ladin (not a misspelling). See more about this small linguistic group and culture here and here. A map of the Ladin area can be found on the last link.

Higher still!

View to the west with Refugió Scotoni in the shadows of the valley floor

It was a blue-bird day! The previous days' rain has dissipated and the air was washed clean. We eventually rose above tree line, which here is about 7,500 feet.

Above tree line toward Refugió Lagazuoi

I was surprised that the tree line was as low as 7,500 feet at this latitude - about 46º 33' N.

On the right skyline is the Refugió Lagazuoi, our destination for lunch

The only snowfields we had to cross were very short in length

Helen approaching the summit at Lagazuoi

Looking back to the northeast and where we came from

Th gentle dip of the limestone beds ends at a 2,000 foot drop!

View down to the Andraz valley from Lagazuoi, elevation 9,029 feet

Lagazuoi would be our highest elevation attained on this trek. While the elevations are not high compared to the western mountains in North America, they do have a lot of relief (the difference between highest and lowest elevations in a given place). The photo above shows some of this extreme relief.

The spectacular deck at Lagazuoi

We were too blown away by the view to even remove our packs

Caffeine, carbs, and salt

View to the west from Lagazuoi and the Alta Badia Valley

I found myself wondering what we would have missed if we had arrived here just 24 hours earlier during the previous days' rain storm. None of this would have presented itself to us. And yet, later in the hike, we did have about 48 hours of low cloud that did obscure something from our view there. So who knows. We must go back and see for ourselves.

The Marmolada massif - The Queen of the Dolomites

To the southwest from Lagazuoi we saw a glacier coming down the north slope of Marmolada, the highest in all the Dolomites at 10,968 feet. Before World War I the border between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire was through the summit of this mountain. Amazingly, it lies only 62 miles from Venice and can be seen from there on a clear day.

View to the southeast to Lastoni di Formin ridge (shadowed face) and Croda da Lago peaks

The photo above shows the rest of the days' trek. The craggy peaks form the Croda da Lago (literally Crags of the Lake), one of the more famous landmarks in this section of the Dolomites. The shadowed ridge in front of the crags is formed on the northeast dip of the limestone beds, angling down to Cortina d'Ampezzo. It is called Lastoni di Formin. Both of these features would provide a stunning backdrop to the end of our day at the Refugió Cinque Torri. These towers can also be seen in the photo foreground and against the forested slope left of center. More about these later. Note the small building to the right of the Cinque Torri and the trails and roads leading to it. This is the Refugió Scoiattoli, where a surprise would await Don and I later in the day.

Pian Falzarego

Sadly, we had to leave Lagazuoi, although overnighting there is something we might pursue on another trip. We took the cable car straight down to Pian Falzarego on the road between Cortina and Bolzano (The Great Dolomites Road). Hiking instead would have required an additional 15 miles on the trail. A huge bike race was occurring on this Saturday, making the place quite busy.

The cable car coming down from Lagazuoi to Pian Falzarego

Don and I on the cable car up to Refugió Scoiatteli

We hiked a fairly flat one mile to the next ascent. However, since it was a Saturday there was a large trail running event in addition to the bike race on the road. I was not interested in competing for trail space with runners and found a kindred spirit in Don. So, he and I took a chair lift to save ourselves from the throngs and an additional climb.

The view southeast from Refugió Scoiattoli to Lastoni di Forman and Croda da Lago

It was another spectacular view from the ridge top at the end of the chair lift! The weather could not have been better with puffy clouds and no rain. A perfect day!

What is this doing up in the mountains on a nine-day trek?

As we admired the mountains, our eyes occasionally glanced over to some very well dressed people who also were enjoying the view but were not hikers. We had noticed them getting on the chair lift down below but didn't give it a second thought at the time. We hovered around a bit watching it all - the mountains, the suits and dresses, the pouring of champagne. A private wedding party was underway necessitating the closure of the refugió to outside visitors for the day. Note the formal red rope around the private party, with Don focused on the humans. 

A wedding party had taken over the entire refuge and it was closed to visitors

I could only take so many photos of the beautiful mountains, so I then began to photograph the party that was underway. It is difficult to see in this small rendition of the photo, but directly above the head of the lady in pink is the Refugió Lagazuoi on the tilted peak.

Don watches double magnums of French champagne being poured!

While I wandered around the roped off area taking pictures of the mountains ('don't want any riff-raff sneaking in, now would we'), Don, with obvious delight, became further fascinated by the party and inched closer to the active pouring of those magnums of champagne. I was ready to make the final push to our own refugió for the night, only half a mile away. But then Don asked me if the guy pouring the bubbles might give us a glass? My first reaction was, "Of course not, don't even try." That was not the answer he wanted to hear and fortunately he completely ignored what said. So, he snuck in closer to the action and popped the question as we ingratiated ourselves with a few of the guys first, and then some nicely dressed women.

Champagne on the trail!

It turns out that anyone at a party is only too happy to have other "guests" join them in the fun and festivities! Soon we were chatting up those who were near the serving table. A couple of guys told us all about the wedding - the setting, who was getting married (a power couple from Cortina) and what was planned for the evening (dinner, music, more champagne!). Being Italians, there were no rules about outsiders. And we were harmless (and unique) guests.

A selfie inside the ropes!

They were as intrigued by us as we were of them. What a day it turned out to be - Don and I were officially wedding crashers high in the Dolomites!

A wedding guest

What fun! The woman above wanted to come over and find out who the new guests were. We had a nice chat with her on topics ranging from politics to mountain weddings. Note the date and abbreviation of the bride and groom on her sunglasses. Soon, I mentioned to Don, "Hey Don, weren't our wives walking up the trail with those trail runners sometime earlier today? ...Oh yeah, I guess we should go...."

The Cinque Torri

Back on the ridge, we moved along a trail toward the famous Cinque Torri. The elevation of the Torre Grande is 7,746 feet. The rock is a well-known climbers paradise.

On the trail to Refugió Cinque Torri

This was our refuge for the night!

At this link for the refugió, you can see a photo of its dramatic setting beneath the rock formations of the same name. In that photo, also notice Refugió Lagazuoi on the skyline in the background. 

Cinque Torri today

The refugió was built in 1902. See this link for historic views of the hut and some great images of old postcards. The next five photos have only captions and show what this historic refugió looks like on the inside.

The breakfast table

The coffee and Aperol Spritz bar!

Staircase to the sleeping area

The view out of our bedroom for the night

Each refugió had their own monogramed napkins

Sunset on Croda da Lago

Sunset on Croda da Lago

If you made it this far reading - congratulations! It's a long posting. The next ones will be shorter.