Thursday, September 24, 2015

"The light of eternity" (Four hikes in the Dolomites)

"I always thought death would come on the freeway in a few horrifying moments, so you'd have no time to sort it out. Having months and months to look at it and think about it and talk to people and hear what they have to say, it's a kind of blessing. It's certainly an opportunity to grow up and get a grip and sort it all out. Just being told by an unsmiling guy in a white coat that you're going to be dead in four months definitely turns on the lights. ... It makes life rich and poignant. When it first happened, and I got these diagnoses, I could see the light of eternity, a la William Blake, shining through every leaf. I mean, a bug walking across the ground moved me to tears."
 ~ Terence McKenna, a few months before his death

At the same time that I'm cruising around the Dolomites, having "the time of my life ©," the world keeps spinning, and it doesn't get more fair. Last Saturday an old friend, mountain climber, photographer, and writer, was walking near his house, and his heart gave out. He leaves behind a wife and a precious daughter. A fun-loving, thoughtful, enthusiastic, super-fit guy in his 30's isn't supposed to go so suddenly. Friends have been sharing photos of him, and even though I know he's gone, I can't quite get it.

Back in California, my brother's suffering goes from bad to worse - two months after his latest brain tumor surgery he's still in the hospital, and may not be coming home for some more months. His right arm works well, the left arm barely, and his legs not at all. Probably the smartest guy I've ever known is confused and weak and having delusions about what's happening. He's convinced that he wakes up in a different room every day. I wouldn't wish his experience on anyone.

So there you have it. Immense joy. Immense suffering. Laughing one minute, crying the next. And laughing again, with tears in my eyes.

Love, love, love,

Hike #1: From Le dla Creda to Senes to Pederu and loop back to the start. I'd walked up a steep river canyon before coming to this meadow. I had a snack on the porch of this small locked hut.

The wind was gusty, but the sky was blue. For now.

An hour later the clouds came in, and even stronger gusts. Some were powerful enough to knock me off the trail.

There were places where you didn't want to get knocked off the trail. I was wondering where the trail went when I saw the thin line zig-zagging up the loose scree in the center of the photo. It's hard to see.

Ah, there it is. I have to walk up that? It started raining, and gusting hard, and I considered going back. Is this actually dangerous, I thought? I only saw a couple people all day, so if something goes bad - it goes bad.

More like it - refuge in the rifugio. Pasta, cold radler (half beer, half lemonade) followed by latte machiatto and apple streudel for dessert. I'm less than half way from finishing the hike. If you have an Android phone, you should get the app Backcountry Navigator. Amazing and hugely helpful for finding trails around the world.

Walking down the impossibly twisty gravel road to the valley floor.

That's Rifugio Pederu and the valley that continues to St. Vigilio, where I camped for six days. I'd walked in this area twice before, but on different routes.

The mountains are crumbling. I imagine they come down in a big landslide periodically, and this one just stopped at these trees. This ended up being my longest hike, 26 km (16 miles) with total climbing of 1,370 meters (4,500 feet.) I'm getting in shape!

The next day, sunset and a typical mountain village. There seems to be a lot of wealth in the area, even though many people are running family farms.

Apparently this is Manifestaziuns village. I'm just guessing. Or maybe it's Maltungssaal. Manifestazioni? I give up. Since the Dolomites region was controlled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire since something like 1511 until Italy "won" it as a prize after WWI, every place has at least two names. There is also the Ladin language and culture locally here, so many places have three names.

Hike #2: Cinque Torri (Five Towers). There are lots of beautiful views in the Dolomites, but this one! Wow.

I saw people on top of the tower to the right and thought, I'd like to hike up that. It turns out it is a sheer cliff on all sides. It's climbing or it's not going. In my case, it was not going.

Amazing landscape in the distance.

Endless trails and endless beauty.

In WWI, "The Great War," even though it doesn't seem that great in retrospect, was fought here for years. The Italians were here, where I'm standing, fighting the Austrians on the other side of the valley. More mockery to come.

I do a little oil painting in my spare time.

War is just the coolest thing! Blood and guts, torture, widows - who could not love it. These restored trenches from WWI run all over the hillsides here.

Between hikes, this is taken from the Passo Falzarego, just near the last photos. That's a tram going high up the mountain. I ended up taking a hike to the top and circling back, and not taking the tram.

Hike #3: Passo Falzarego to Rifugio Dibona loop. This is the ruins of a WWI hospital.

The old military road, and a tunnel that was built to allow major guns and machinery to be brought up the hill. Cuz war is so cool like that.

Across the valley is Cinque Torri, the previous hike. In the lower right is a defensive wall. They were using Howitzers to shoot bombs across these valleys at each other. Nuts. Tens of thousands of soldiers died here, and they fought to a stalemate. Well done, everyone.

More ruins from the war in the foreground.

The terrain will go from forest to rock in no time.

Do you see what looks like little windows in the rock face, running horizontally? They're little windows in a long tunnel built into the rock during the war.

Cortina d'Ampezzo is a famous area that can be seen in the valley at a distance.


The walk came from the left, just below the huge cliffs, and returned below the bluffs in the lower left.

Hike #4: The Kaiserjager Route. My guidebook says: the walk follows a supply route originally constructed by the Austrian Kaiserjager troops.

All through the area are small and large caves and trenches dug during the war.

The trail turns steeply uphill, and the view changes quickly.

This was taken from the short suspension bridge, next photo.

A rebuilt suspension  bridge. The rusted cable from the original bridge is laying to the side.

It doesn't look like the bridge is going to fall. Not quickly, at least.

Just the other side of the bridge, a cable is pretty much required to get you across. Don't lose your grip.

I ventured inside one of the tunnels that branched off in different directions and actually got a little turned around. Scary!

One of the windows bored through the cliff face. These were used for machine guns or to watch the pass for enemy soldiers.

The ruins of what would have been a bunk room for soldiers.

Those are my feet on the right. It's hard to get perspective, but look to the far left. That's the road, and the little white dot is a car. Why do I insist on taking these photos, I wonder.

It's hard to tell the angle, but this is looking sharply up the path as it ascends what looks like a cliff from down below.

Aha! The highest point of Lagazuoi Piccolo, at 2,778 meters, or 9,100 feet.

A monument to a mountain climber, I believe, at the top.

A lot of take in.

Just up from the cable car, and not far from the top, I had beet ravioli, of all things, and a radler. Why don't we have these kind of huts in the U.S.? Really, why? They're all over in the mountains of Europe. If we did have them in the U.S. they'd serve hamburgers or hot dogs, your choice.

There's a tunnel near the top, one of 11 in the mountain, that is 1,100 meters long, almost three-quarters of a mile. You're free to go down it on your own, just bring a flashlight. I'm not sure I'd survive it - I bumped my head about five times in the short time I was in there.

Part of the path on the way down.

Colorful plants near the end.

The next day. I wild camped just off the road near here for three nights. No, my van doesn't have a shower, why do you ask?

On the way to my current destination only an hour away, near Cortina, I came across this scene. Amazing color of the water.

This stream is running just next to my campsite in a campground. Yes, they have showers. Why do you keep asking?

(The End)