Sunday, October 04, 2020

Val Fiscalina hike on a snowy day, Dolomites, Italy

Val Fiscalina hike on a snowy day, Dolomites, Italy

October 4, 2020

"Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it."

 ~ Cesare Pavese

This is the third time that I've done this spectacular hike in the Dolomites. The first time was October 12, 2015, memorable because it's my brother Mike's birthday, and it just happened to be the last hike of that year. As it turned out, it was also Mike's last birthday. Three months prior, I had surgery in San Francisco for colon cancer. Two weeks later my brother had his fourth brain tumor surgery. A week after that I left for Europe and surprisingly quickly had recovered enough to go hiking in the Dolomites. Mike wasn't as lucky, though we didn't know at that time how bad it was. A month after this hike, he was gone. 

In 2017, I hiked this trail with Julieta, a couple days after a big snowstorm, but we didn't know what we were getting into. There was no snow at the start of the trail, but there was plenty up higher, both snow and ice. I missed a turn, and by the time we corrected for it we didn't have time to get back to the van before dark. So we spent the night in one of the big rifugios, (mountain lodge,) and walked back the next day. It was a lot more dramatic than this paragraph indicates!

Forward to this year. I saw that there was snow in the forecast, but it wasn't clear how much. I spent the night in the van, but comfortably enough with my new IKEA comforter, and as I drove to the start of the hike I saw this scene:

It seemed kind of ridiculous to hike in this kind of snow, I'm not really equipped for it and if I get on a trail that someone hasn't been on before, I won't be able to see where the path goes. As I got to the parking area I saw quite a few cars, and that gave me encouragement to at least start the walk. I thought, I can come back if it gets too tough. This photo is taken from the parking lot.

How many times have I really hiked in the snow? Uh, I think once - and I got lost and had to spend the night up there!

The path starts quite gently up to the first junction.

This is looking back down the valley, the direction I'd come.

This guide board is a painted view of the hike. It starts down at the bottom in the center of the photo, and then you climb a lot around that first peak to the left, then veer towards the right and go horizontally until you get to the rifugio, which you'll see, then you come back down so you've done a big loop.

This is also looking back down the valley the way I'd come. That green field that you can see in the center of the photo? When everything else is covered with snow and it's getting quite cold, it looked like a little bit of Hawaii there. I imagined people laying out in the sun drinking fruity cocktails. 

This is a nice place to take a break, if you're a Labrador Retriever. Our family dog used to sleep on a picnic table with that much snow on it when we lived in Chicago when I was a kid.

I zigged. Then I zagged. Many times.

The snow was getting deeper, as you would expect when you go higher. But the trail is for the most part clear. At this point, anyway.

I like how this photo turned out. It's not too much farther to the first rifugio.

This pic below is a 360 photo. Click on it to see it in 360 mode, (on a computer drag the image with your cursor:

More snow.

The first rifugio. There are countless rifugios in this area. Some of them have steep, rugged roads that get to them, many of them have a cable car system that brings supplies from down in the valley. It's an incredible resource, and really encourages people to get out in nature and hike. They also have a menu of incredibly tasty food, really good prices, and friendly servers. Every time I come here I can't believe what a treat these places are, and how the economics work to support it. It's a national treasure!

These curtains of icicles were melting and collapsing as I watched.


If you look carefully in the center right of this photo you'll see the young Belgian woman who I talked to briefly. She was on her own, and walking a very long route. By chance I saw her the next day and she had walked 30 km on this day, 18 miles, with a lot of climbing. On her own, brave young woman!

Many people had come this way before me, and these deep holes formed as result of everyone stepping in the same spot. It was awkward to walk through this, but it didn't last long.

This is the highest point of the walk, so there's the most snow here. You can see a horizontal line to the lower left - that is a World War 1 road that the trail follows for a bit. There are some wooden planks to make it easier to pass.

This photo is the junction that I missed last time with Julieta. We were supposed to climb over the pass to the right but instead I guided us down the trail to the left. We went a long way before we met a young couple coming up over the top of a cliff, clipped on to a cable with harnesses and wearing helmets. They said you were required to have climbing gear to continue that path. Their eyes were as big as saucers when they realized that we intended to go that way! "It's  not possible!" they said. Yeah, ok, oops, my bad. 

At this point the trail went down steeply, and there was quite a bit of snow and ice. I saw a couple coming up, and as I was about to ask them if it was icy, I slipped and landed really hard on my rear end and back, and my water bottle was right underneath me. It's still sore, a week later. 

The path goes horizontally under the cliffs to the left, and above the lakes.

It's pretty darn steep, and feels like if you started sliding it wouldn't be so easy to stop.

Okay, I'm getting close to Rifugio Locatelli, where Julieta and I had spent the night.

This is Tre Cime, the most photographed piece of rock in the entire Dolomites. Not a fair representation of it when it's foggy.

Lunch! Polenta with cheese and mushrooms. Stick to your ribs good, and I think it was around $12? 

Now I'm walking back down the hill into the valley from the other side. Beautiful rock formations here. And everywhere!

Just near my van, after most of the low-lying snow had melted. I was beat! And I was happy! 

(The End)