Hiking Through the Dolomites

There is just something about hiking that I love. I don’t love carrying a heavy backpack, but I enjoy exploring on foot, and what better way is there to actually really get to know an area, to dive into a landscape and slow down than hiking. We had such a good time getting to know the Engadin in fall that I wanted to do something similar again this year. The decision was made to visit the Dolomites, a beautiful area in northern Italy. In preparation for the hike, we spent 3 days hiking in Ticino and climbed a fixed rope route.
This time we were taking an old friend of mine with us on the trip. Meradeth and I grew up in neighboring towns and have kept in touch over the years, but last saw eachother 11 years ago. It was great to spend time catching up while hiking up and down mountains. Our 5 day hike began on Grödner Joch or Passo Gardena at 2121 m and after a long travel day we were were greeted there with a chilly wind but at least the sun was out. We checked into our rooms before heading out for a bit. We lucked out with the weather and had perfect hiking weather the entire duration of our hike. Not once did we have to pull out our rain gear.

During the First World War, the front between the Italians and the Austrians ran through the Dolomites. Fixed rope routes (or via ferrata) were born here in an attempt to outsmart the enemy. Both German and Italian is spoken in the area and the names of places are written in both languages. The third language native to the area is Ladin, a language related to Romansh which is spoken in southeastern Switzerland and a very beautiful language. In the area where Ladin is spoken, it is possible to find sign in German, Italian and Ladin.

Bright and early and after a hearty breakfast the next morning we were off! Our destination was Rifugio Boè (Bambergerhütte) at 2871 m at the base of Piz Boe and in the center of the Sellagruppe /Gruppo del Sella. To get there, we climbed a fixed rope route to the Rifugio Pisciadu on Lêch de Pisciadu where we stopped for lunch. Afterwards we hiked upwards and onwards to Rifugio Boè, marveling at the views.

The next morning we woke up to thick fog which retreated as we made our way down the valley and up again to Sellajoch / Passo Sella / Jëuf de Sèla at 2180 m. About half way down to the valley a sound made us look up and wonder what kind of huge bird was flying near the cliffs. It turned out it was someone in a wing suit. Shortly thereafter he pulled his parachute and made is safely to the ground. After that we saw a basejumper make his way down. Crazy!

We crossed creeks, breathed in the fresh smell of stone pines and saw lots of climbers working their way up the cliffs. The Sella pass itself isn’t particularly pretty, but we stopped for lunch before continuing on along the base of Langkofel / Sassolungo / Saslonch.

Langkofel and Plattkofel /Sasso Platto (one mountain with two halves) have always been an interesting place for me. The last time we were in the Dolomites we took the cable car up into the ridge and the hiked down and back around the northern (Langkofel) side of it. This time we hiked along the southern base of it (Plattkofel) until we reached our next destination, Plattkofelhütte / Rifugio Sasso Piatto at 2300 m. The hut was newly renovated and we loved our comfortable room and the chance to take a hot shower. After a delicious meal the sun started to set and we went out to enjoy the view of the Schlern / Sciliar where we would be spending our last night on our hike.

A good night’s sleep and we were ready for the next leg of the trip! We had made a change of plans and were headed to the Tierser Alpl / Alpe di Tiers 2440 m at the base of the Rosszähne / Denti di Terrarossa which made for a shorter hike that day. We spent a lot of time on the trail watching a chamoix jump around, petting cute horses and foals and looking at marmots as they whistled to eachother. We made it to Tierser Alpl by lunchtime and after checking in, Meradeth and I walked up and along the Rosszähne while my husband braved the fixed rope route along the ridge.

The next morning I took the outside route to breakfast because I had this feeling I may see something special. And I did. I caught the sunrise right before the fog rolled in.

After a delicious breakfast we started out in thick fog which only gradually burned off. We climbed a peak in the fog and saw more fog but by the time we reached the Schlern /Sciliar and had had lunch it was sunnier again. The Schlern is a relatively flat area which looks like a mesa from a distance. We climbed to the top of the Schlern (Petz / M. Pez) at 2563 m, but there still weren’t any great views so we roamed around the area  before I said we should get back if we don’t want to get caught in the rain. We made it back to the Schlernhaus / Rifugio Bolzano where we were staying the night. The rain pounded on the tin roof while we rushed down the mountain. It seemed to stay put until we were within 10 seconds of the hut and we made it inside without getting wet. It poured for about 10 minutes, even with some hail and we waited it out playing cards in the dining room. Even after the rain stopped, it took a while for the mountains to appear, and when they did it was amazing. There were the iconic Rosengarten / Catinaccio and Latemar!

The following morning we were up bright and early to watch the sun rise from behind the Plattkofel / Platto Sasso and bathe everything in a soft light. It was a bittersweet moment knowing our trek was coming to a close. It was just down the mountain to Compatch where we would take the cable car down to Seis / Siusi from where we would catch a bus to Bozen / Bolzano.

In Bolzano we checked into our hotel and after a long hot shower and a rest out on the balcony, we decided to stroll around the town before sitting down to a pizza dinner and then coming across a fun pop concert the group Hosianna was giving in a square.

After a restful night, my husband and I headed up Ritten /Renon behind Bolzano to see the earth pyramids (hoodoos). It was actually the third time I’ve seen them, but it’s always fun to visit and after a stop in a small chapel we made our way to Wolfsgruben first to visit a small bee museum and then to go swimming in a lake to cool off. That evening the rain came to Bolzano and left the air clear and cooler.

Our last day in Bolzano was mostly spent in the archeology museum where Ötzi the Iceman rests. I clearly remember when he was found in 1991 by two hikers from Nürnberg and since then I have read every article about him which has crossed my path. Actually being able to see him was an amazing experience. In fact, I went past him twice to be sure I saw every last detail including his tattoos. It was also highly interesting to see the artifacts that were found with him and to see the amazing condition they are in, e.g the tiny stitches in his cloak and the knot in his cap. But before we got in line for the museum, we visited the cathedral and the Chiesa dei Domenicani which has amazing frescos.

Thank you Meradeth for joining us on our hike, for the wonderful conversations about bones, teeth, hands and genes, for all the catching up we did (11 years is too long!), and for hanging out in gorges and thermal baths!

Where we stayed along our hike and in Bolzano:

  • Rifugio Frara
  • Rifugio Boè / Bamberger Hütte
  • Plattkofelhütte / Rifugio Sasso Piatto
  • Tierser Alpl / Rifugio Alpe de Tiers
  • Schlernhaus / Rifugio Bolzano
  • Stadt Hotel Città

Where to eat in Bolzano:

  • Gasthof Fink
  • Vögele
  • Sacher Shop

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