Dramatic Peaks Above Ciadin del Loudo
Along with stunning scenery with colossal limestone peaks guarding sweeping verdant valleys the Dolomites offer some of the best food served in alpine mountain huts with very quaffable wine. This together with the warm hospitality of the Italian people and a fascinating history make this region a favourite for hikers and trekkers.
I had driven through the Dolomites many years earlier and remember how I struggled to keep my eyes on the road when, taking a bend, the next dramatic limestone peak would appear causing me to stare in wonder. I was therefore delighted to visit the region again and to be able to explore it more closely on foot. The arrival base for the trek was Cortina and the plan was to arrive a couple of days early to enjoy a couple of local day hikes before setting of on the AV1 trek.
We would be guided on the AV I trek by Emma Jack of Cloud 9 Adventures. Prior to the trek Tony, David and I planned a couple of preparatory day hikes in the vicinity of Cortina.
Day Hike 1 - Passo Tre Croci, Lago di Sorapiss. Passo Tre Croci
Distance 17.5 Km; Ascent 739M; Descent 754M; Highest Elevation 2289M
The weather when we set off from the car park at Passo Tre Croci was very encouraging with some wispy light cloud breaking up the blue sky. The forecast for later in the day however, was not so favourable with thunderstorms likely. We had decided to take the easy trail (215) to Lago Sorapis as this would enable us to enjoy this local beauty spot and then to choose whether to simply retrace our steps or, if the weather held up, to take the more adventurous trail rising below the steep crags of Zimes Del Cardin Del Loudo. From there we could take a very steep scree descent and join the trail to complete a circular hike back to Passo Tre Croce.
With the exception of the very high number of people on the trail the hike through the dense woods to the lake was unexceptional. The lake is obviously a popular destination for Italian visitors and the presence of Rifugio A Vandelli al Sorapis close to the lake is an added attraction. The trail was in good condition and by the time we reached the lake we had only ascended 120M. The stunning blue of the lake contrasted strongly against the backdrop of the limestone cliffs of Circo del Sorapis rising over 1000M above the lake. People were dotted all round the lake sitting on rocks posing for selfies or enjoying picnics on patches of grass by the water's edge.
The tables outside the rifugio were full and so once we topped up water we decided to head up the steep trail towards Ciadin Del Loudo. This required us to retrace our steps back on trail 215 for 20 minutes or so before taking trail 216 breaking off on the left. This trail is obviously not used anything like as frequently as trail 215 because it was heavily overgrown in places requiring us to force our way past thick branches. The air was becoming very humid suggesting that the storms that had been forecast might be heading our way. After much perspiration and an hour of fairly steep ascent we emerged on the open ridge above Ciadin del Loudo. From here we could see that the cloud had built up somewhat but the storm did not feel imminent. We therefore decided to press on at least to the steep scree descent and to make a final decision then on whether to descend the scree. We reckoned that if the worst came to the worst we could simply retrace our steps by descending trail 216 and returning to the pass on trail 215 that we had taken to the lake although this would increase the return distance by about a third. I was particularly concerned about the prospect of descending scree in pouring rain should this occur.
Monte Cristallo from Forc. Marcuoira
Although the cloud was building quite noticeably we could not pass up on the opportunity to take a 20 minute break to admire the fabulous views from the ridge. The trail from here to the start of the scree descent was obvious and straightforward. Within no time we were staring down the scree face and lengthening poles to provide extra stability. According to my Garmin records the descent of the scree took about 45-50 minutes and we were all relieved to be back on a recognisable trail.
From here the route back to the pass was straightforward. The air was getting very muggy and it felt as though a storm was about to break. We were all relieved to be off the scree before any rain had fallen. As we walked through the woods there would be occasional views across the valley to the stunning Pomagagnon Ridge.
Storm Cloud Above Pomagagnon Ridge
The view through the trees to the crags on the Pomagagnon Ridge took my breath away. It occurred to me for the first time that in places the Dolomites are reminiscent of the grandeur of Yosemite Valley. The white limestone mirroring the pale, admittedly much smoother, granite of Yosemite. Similarly the distance between the limestone monoliths either side of wide, sweeping, verdant valleys reminded me of the way in which the granite monoliths of El Capitain and Half Dome tower above the valley in Yosemite. It is this that prompted me to process some of my raw images in mono in an attempt to attain the dramatic effect pioneered by the great Ansell Adam.
Shortly after I snapped this view of the ridge there was a loud crack of thunder and it began to rain. Sensing that were not too far from the hotel at the pass where we had parkedTony and I began to run as the rain became heavier. Sure enough within 5 or 10 minutes we were safely sheltering under umbrellas at the bar beside the hotel. David arrived fully clad in rainwear about 15 minutes later and we were soon nursing beers and
reliving aspects of a great first day in the Dolomites.
Day Hike 2 - Descent from Tofana di Mezzo (3244M) and Return to Cortina
Distance 9.3 Km; Ascent 25M; Descent 1168M; Highest Elevation 2445M
The hike to Lago Sorapis had been a reasonable effort and so the plan today was for an easier day, to get high, admire the view and then descend and return to Cortina. The cable car across the valley to Monte Tofana looked particularly appealing but unfortunately that morning the peak was covered in cloud. On reaching the ticket office at the foot of the mountain we decided to buy tickets only as far as to the middle station. What was the point in paying to be in thick cloud and in any case we planned to descend from the middle station using a marked trail (407). By the time we arrived at the middle station the cloud had lifted and the peak was bathed in bright sunshine. Fortunately, the cable car attendant at the middle station was able to sell us tickets for the final stage of the ride. This dropped us approximately 50 or 60 metres below the summit. The light was wonderful and we needed no persuading to hoof it up the path and then to make the easy scramble from the end of the path to the summit.
View from the summit of Tofana Mezzo (3244M)
The view from the top had been well worth it. The rocky peak enjoys an airy stance and affords excellent views in all directions. We were to look up to this peak a few days later on the AV1 although we didn't appreciate this when standing on the summit! Having had our fill of the wonderful views we descended the short way to the top station and took the cable car back down to the middle station. Once we had located the relevant part of the trail the descent was clearly indicated and we were soon on our way down the mountain.
Initially the descent was plain sailing. We were walking on scree but this had been pummelled into the mountain by piste machines used to maintain the ski runs in winter. Plus the gradient was relatively benign initially, but this was soon to change. Quite suddenly the angle of the descent steepened markedly and the scree became increasingly loose. We descended with caution at this point thinking that the scree would soon become less loose. Unfortunately this was not so. The angle remained steep and the scree became even looser the closer we got to the end of what was obviously a black ski run in the winter season.
Scree Descent from Tofana
As we approached the end of the scree we were asking one another for advice on the best line to take to avoid a long slide. At one point I ventured into a cluster of sapling trees thinking their roots would have helped to stabilise the scree but if anything this just seemed to make matters worse.
Fortunately it was now not long before the slope paused at a point where a track passed at right angles. There was a little shade and some grass to enable us to take a well earned break and enjoy the fabulous cheese and ham rolls we had bought in Cortina that morning.
Once we had finished with our packed lunches we continued along the obvious trail back to the town. It was impossible to stop gazing back at Tofana and checking the various stages of the scree route we had taken down. Apart from that the return to Cortina was unremarkable with the sole exception of the spectacular view of the town that greeted us when about a kilometre or so away. We had been walking across a meadow strewn with alpine crocuses in bloom as dusk was falling over Cortina. It had been another great day in the Dolomites!
Dusk Falls over Cortina
To be continued....