Friday, July 16, 2010

Dolomiti, Part I

The starting point for our hike in the Dolomites was the town of Bressanone. We arrived just before dinner to check into our bed and breakfast and get a few things before the stores closed. Bressanone was a tiny little town and it reminded me a lot of Austria. Even though we are in Italy much of this region is German speaking and you can clearly see the influence in the architecture. After dumping our backpacks we went walking around the town. The main square consisted our a few churches around a central plaza. The streets in this area were closed to cars, though on some I'm not sure a car would even fit. The cobble streets get so narrow in places its easy to feel lost in a maze. We had a delicious dinner here, opting for a somewhat upscale little restaurant on the street rather than the Bufalo Cantina, which looked okay from the outside. One of the main errands of the night was to hit up the grocery store to get food for the hike!

It was a bit of deja vu going into the Coop market! Chels and Ethan will remember the excitement of seeing the red lettering of this grocery store. (In Norway, we never passed up the chance to buy food!) The selection is somewhat limited but we were able to get a bunch of cheap granola bars, chocolate bars, and made some delicious GORP with M&Ms. We decided to go with standard bread, cheese, and salami for most of our lunches. We found some amazing little pepperoni sticks and some cheese that didn't need to be refrigerated (kinda like laughing cow -- somewhat sketchy but tastes good). As for the salami......we bought a big squishy thing - more on that decision later! For bread we decided to go with one of those dense loaves that resembles a brick. We have taken to referring to it as elven bread and Chris says that the only way he can force himself to eat it. Its actually not bad with cheese spread on it and given how heavy and dense it is I'm guessing we could survive on it for a few days at least in a pinch! We also found a couple pouches of tuna which has yet to be eaten and Chris is betting that we never do.

One of the pleasant surprises thus far has been the extensive system of gondolas and chair lifts in this area. In many places the valley is simply one giant ski area in the winter, so there are many different lifts. In the summer, however, they allow hikers and bikers to use the chairs and it has been a great for us right from the beginning! The first day of the Alta Via 2 is a 6000 foot climb up to Rifigio Plose, where the actual hike begins. By jumping on a gondola we were able to cut out the first 4500 feet - awesome! The day started out somewhat cloudy with what looked to be a few showers headed our way. We didn't mind too much because it helped to cool us off on the relentless climb the rest of the way to Plose, where we had a quick lunch of of bread, cheese and GORP. The rest of the day was a slow meandering across alpine meadows, occasionally dropping into valleys and crossing windy roads that lead up to tiny little clusters of homes. Some of the day was spent walking through pine forests before we started a climb to the Forcella di Puntia.

I had read in the book that the ascent to the saddle was "relentless" which is never a good sign when hiking. We were able to see the small saddle way in advance, practically from the start of the hike. It matched the picture in our book perfectly, and when I told Chris that was most likely where we were headed I could tell he was a little skeptical - it looked really far away. The mountains here are extremely wild looked because of their sheer rock faces and jagged tops. They look like something straight out of Mordor, which is why Chris has made so many LOTR references thus far. The cliffs and peaks are really spectacular, however, they lead to some pretty rocky and rough trails. There has been a lot of scree and boulders to negotiate in climbing up to many of the passes we need to cross. The first day was a introduction to it all as we climbed up and up. I was a bit tired when we reached the saddle, but the view was definitely worth it. I love being able to see into two different valleys and the feeling of crossing from one to another.

The rest of the hike was an easy slight descent along the ridge line to the Rifugio Genova. The hut system in the Dolomites, and many parts of Europe for that matter, is awesome! The huts provide hikers with a bunk and blankets, so that we only need to carry small silk sleeping sacks. They also serve up an array of hearty food throughout the day. It is great to relax after a day of hiking by sitting at a picnic table on the deck overlooking an serene panorama enjoying a tall glass of cold beer. And that is exactly what we have done each day!

One of the staple foods at the rifugios is of course spaghetti and meat sauce, but they also have some damn good salads and vegetable soup. One of the local special are a kind of bread dumpling made with bacon and herbs served in a simple broth. Though we were not quite sure what it was the first night after the waiter tried to describe it to us and thus decided to go with spaghetti, he told us "next time you try the balls."