Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dolomites Roller Coaster

Having successfully made it to Ortisei I was ready to begin my journey into the Dolomites. I boarded a two stage cable car that whisked me up to the Secada at an elevation of 2500 meters. From here I headed East.

One of the major draws of hiking in this area was the propsect of spending the nights in high alpine huts, known as rifugios in Italian. Here one could enjoy a beer after a day of hiking, eat a delicious and filling meal and then spend the night without having to leave the alpine environment. All of this was possible without having to carry a sleeping bag, cooking gear and a tent. Before I left I had called ahead and made reservations as I was hiking on the tail end of the high season. Having spent the night in six huts I discovered that each one its own flavor.

I spent my first night in Rufugio Puez. Situated in a tiny little gulley Puez offered good views of the Stella group to the South. The word that best described this hut in my mind is compact. Able to accommodate 94 people, the bunks were three levels high. The low ceilings and archways in the dining area gave the interior a cozy feeling. I spent the afternoon and evening hanging out with a nice couple of Bonn playing cards.

I did not spend my second night at a Rifugio, rather my path dropped down into the resort town of La Villa. Here I spent the night in a pension with a room big enough to dance. Knowing that I had a long day ahead of me I cleaned up and rested. From my porch I had a picturesque view of green pastures and the high peaks.

My next destination was Rifugio Lavarella. Here I was glad that I had made a reservation as this hut was full and turning people away. Located in a flat basin near a pleasant green lake, this hut was modern and positively luxurious. Like uez dinner was ala carte, but unlike my last rifugio I was assigned to a table by myself for dinner.

Located in a unforgettable lunar environment the Rifugio Biella had a more remote, undeveloped feeling. From my bunk room I had an incredible view of the alpine scenery. Downstairs in the dining area I was seated at a table with others. This, along with the smaller dining area, felt more interactive to me which made the evening very pleasant. Biella is located at the base of mountain Croda del Becco, which was well worth the effort to ascend.

After day five I rested my head at Rifugio Vallandro. This hut is at the Southeast end of the wide meadows of Prato Piazza. This hut had a nice wood paneled dining area, comfortable bunks and a little history. It is situated right next to the ruins of an Austrian fort from World War One. From this hut we got up with sunrise and were treated to vivid red colors on the face of the Croda Rossa.

The travel itinerary that I was following suggested spending the next night at Hotel Tre Cime, but we pushed on further to Rifugio Locatelli. What this hut lacked in ambiance it made up in location. It offers an amazming vantage point to appreciate the Tri Cime Lavredo, three distintive peaks that used to be on the border between Italy and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. I had a delightful dinner here, especially since a couple of Corvallis, Oregon were seated right next to me.

Little did I know that the best rifugio would be saved for last. I spent my final night at the Rifugio Pian di Cengia. Located near the impressive Croda dei Toni peak, this tiny little hut is the highest hut in the Tre Cime Natural Park. After eating my Weiner Schnitzel in the intimate dining area I climbed up a ladder and through a trapdoor to access the 15 bunk dorm.

From here I descended for the last time ending up at Hotel Dolomitenhof. There I only had to wait 3 minutes before I boarded the bus that would take me to Sesto. From there a series of trains would take me to Milano for the beginning of the final chapter of my journey.

You can find more of my photos here.

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