An elusive fox, a mythical vulture, the wandering ibex, long forgotten constellations, thunders and much, much more.
I often let my mind loose daydreaming wild encounters with animals I haven’t seen before, except from postcards or documentaries; and still so often I let these fantasies prevail and take off toward destinations closer to the sky than to the earth.
This is how the adventure you’re about to read today was born, with the idea of discovering wild animals and try to feel the embrace of the stars by sleeping where the nights are still illuminated by these natural light bulbs, instead of our usual street lamps.
I should make a premise telling you this was not a lonely adventure, to my sweet company I had the honor to have the model that sometimes follows me in this constant wandering, thanks to her we have also been able to exchange a couple of words with a famous alpinist who recently conquered his tenth 8000m peak.
But first things first.
A quick breakfast on the purring Hondaco 11 granted us the energies needed for the hike and hairpin after hairpin we reached the parking of Niblogo. We were hoping to reach a lonely town pinned on the side of a long-forgotten mountain, and yet we found this environment, but crowded by a huge amount of mountain tourists, that like us (but at a much more retired rhythm) were preparing to step on the path in skyhigh direction.
It was still early, and the jeep-shuttle service that moved the more retired hikers had yet to start, so we dived in this spacetime interval of old people disoriented by the shortage of shuttles and started the hike. After about half an hour we met the slap of this trip, that is, the shuttle service so long awaited by the old buckets. While it is true that the graveled trail is the perfect driveway for jeeps and that this is a great opportunity for old folks to reach the depths of the valley, the peace that was once breathed was now often interrupted by the rhombus and above all by the smoky byproducts of the shuttles.
In a valley that we later found full of hidden life, it seems almost a violence to allow that amount of shuttles and traffic.
Notice the upside down horse, he was rolling in the grass, playing like a puppy
Crossed the most popular restaurant-huts where 90% of the daily hikers stop, the traffic from shuttles dropped almost to a complete 0, finally restoring the natural peace. In this bucolic frame we had the luck to meet an elderly lady who lives in this enchanted valley. We got attracted to her house by the presence of a little donkey family fenced in the garden. There were also a couple of sweet puppies and we got close to them to look and maybe caress them. While approaching the animals, a 70s (and more) lady emerged from the hut. We’ve been with her for a while and she told us how the donkeys, horses and goats in this valley are used as a natural lawnmower.
“The only issue with them” -said the granny- “is that donkeys don’t smell like flowers”
Passing by the last lodges the most entertaining part of our journey starts: the climb. Given altitude and environment, the grassy meadows suddenly opens up on the rocky slopes with many boulders rolled from the landslides that periodically hit the entire alpine archway. The path that first rolled along the river with a tender slope now flips and points straight to the sky. Bend after bend, the trail passes by the last hill, then the yellow roofs of the Quinto Alpini Hut emerge from the rocky scenery.
With a final tearing we reached the hut that dominates Valfurva from his
iron throne rocky throne. After a quick stop we pushed past the shelter, reaching the Zebrù glacier that sits just behind the hut. In recent years, due to the constant melting of the glaciers, many finds of First World War have emerged. Italian alpine caps and Austrian jackets have risen from their last home to the hands of the few who ventured where the ice is now thinner and willing to surrender its treasures.
So the great glacier is depleted not only of its majestic rocks, but also loses the secrets of the men who, more than a century ago, lost their lives having the last glimpse on this charming white and ghastly giant.
This landscape puts into subjection, thinking that this white giant once was so great to isolate entire peaks and now is left bleeding and maimed. To those who can observe beyond his pain, he still gives glimpses and colors so intense to seem artificial.
On our way back from the glacier we were talking about the aplinist Marco Confortola, a man of those parts who recently won its tenth 8000 peak and that in his birthplace is celebrated as a hero with billboards, banners and posters that exalt his achievements.
We still had these words cool in the head when, in the turn, the sweet model who accompanied me had a whirlwind of disbelief, Confortola was just behind us! Needless to contain the enthusiasm, we let ourselves go to the joy of meeting an adventurer of today, and after two chats we greeted him to continue enjoying the panorama and grant him a well-deserved rest from fame.
It was almost evening, and the chances to enjoy a beautiful sunset were zeroed because of the clouds blurring in the darkening sky; a flock of merlons came among them, leaping swiftly in the sky, confusing their shape with their nature. They were birds and they were motion, they were gravity and lightness, dancing and nosediving in the constant waltzer of food search.
We gifted ourselves a well-deserved dinner based on typical alpine dishes, and after a somewhat alcoholic chamomile we hopelessly waited for the sky to open. Returning our hopes later in the afternoon.
At 4.45 the alarm shuttered my sleep. With the lightness of a drowsy I picked up the backpack, and dragged myself to the shelter entrance to look for the hideous stars.
And there they were, constantly in motion but immovably separating the valley from the overlying stars, those damn clouds that I had hoped to get rid off during the night. Perhaps, being aware of the hate I was feeding for them, some moved to pity, granting for some minutes a small window to the immensity of heaven.
It was my first time finally seeing the Pleiades in such a beautiful tone. A blue so intense and yet so alone, seeming to move the mechanisms and direct the orchestra of stars and planets.
Photographically speaking, it was a great challenge with such a limited time to be able to compose, prepare the equipment, and in the dark move and place the tripod. But the joy given by that slit was such to give new energy to the awakening, and it was like waking up (this time for real) holding the camera.
I had yet to surrender, and as I was looking for some wild animal, light and silent as he/she could be: a fox appeared!
The hut is not only famous for the breathtaking view and enviable position, it has recently been chosen by a fox as fast food, and if the holder yield to tenderness to give away some surplus, tourists have taken it as the hut’s mascot. Some people found her at dawn sleeping among the benches on the lookout, others were approached while eating their meal, and sightings have multiplied in the last months of the summer.
Not finding her as I first came out, I thought she was still full from some past banquet, but she was already there, before the dawn conquered the valley she was coming home, walking along the manmade path excavated in the stone.
Shortly after seeing the fox, the rifugger left the hut, dragging the snowmobile down to the valley and it was almost poetic to see the similarities between the fox and the man.
This inhuman humanity of nature always strikes me strong in the soul.
Discovering behaviors which we often associate with humans in animals it seems to me that the “framework” is widened by contemplating not only us, men, but all the animals inhabiting this land.
Sentimentalities were sweet but certainly not hot, and after two hours outdoors I was freezing my hands. Fortunately, breakfast in the hut is served from 7.30 am onwards. A cup of hot tea and a massive amount of bread, jam and butter helped to restore the morning energies.
Closed the backpacks we started the second and last stage of our cut off Confinale tour. With no other days available, and unable to enclose the second and third stage in a single day (we’re no supermen), we decided to continue the tour up to the Zebrù and then come back, just to say that we have touched and passed the 3000 meters high.
So we went back to the cliff that surrounds the shelter in the east, and we went on to one of the most beautiful views we have ever seen.
On this desolate path, however, we were surprised by a sound of rolling stones, and immediately our eyes were lost in search of some responsible along the ridges. An ibex was gulping about a hundred meters away from us, searching for the most delicious mosses digging into the rock, pushing away some sporadic rock downstream.
I had never seen an ibex, and never would have imagined seeing one so close and so quiet. Taken by the enthusiasm of this encounter and the unreal calm of the animal I decided to try to approach it. This is where we started a Fantozzian climbing of the rocky ground, first with chopsticks and camera in hand and then, freeing myself from useless weights, only the camera.
The ibex was aware of my presence, sometimes turning and staring at me; at some point I thought it was going to leap to me and point me with the not-so-small horns, but soon afterward he/she began to grope and pluck softly, like a domestic sheep. I approached it until I decided to roll over a ridge, from which it accelerated the pace, leaving me in the distance.
Although this encounter was very naïve, the calm and the beauty of that animal were extraordinary, and I admit that in the ingenuity of the chase I enjoyed it a lot.
Greeted by the friendly ibex, we continued to the mountain pass from which you can see both the valleys that make up the complex of the Gran Zebrù, the clouds had risen from the morning and this allowed us to see the majestic glaciers of Cevedale and Forni , as well as a shelter chosen as the destination for our next round (this time completed and extended), the Casati refuge with its 3269m asl.
At these altitudes not only Eagles dare, but also the elusive Gipeto, a bearded vulture that was driven out of the Italian mountains because of its incorrect classification as a predatory bird for cattles and which has been subject to the repopulation of our valleys in recent years. Though along the way there are panels featuring its curiosities and history, we never even saw its shadow in two days of walking, but just as we were about to get off from the highest point of our lap, a sound never heard before broke the silence of the wind. It was the gypsy Gipeto who wished us a good return.
With all our animal hunting breaks we had accumulated a bit of delay on the initial plan, the descent would not last for less than 4 hours, and hunger bites began to make themselves heard. However, crossing a waterfall which was growing in sight due to the melting of ice caused by the first rays of morning light, I could not resist the urge to take a picture of this natural show.
Thanks to my sweet assistant I can now show you an alpine waterfall long exposure, realized in less than three minutes!
There is a strong contrast in these last couple of pictures, the tender flowing of water opposes to the stillness of the stones below, the valley in this point is silent, but the growing waterfalls bring music, noise and a rupturing voice to the emptiness of this whole.
Starting the trek again, and this time without intermediate stops, we descended the river from its source to the parking lot. Walking a lesser known path, interrupted by continuous streams that slowly rise from the rocks. Here, there are clusters of blue butterflies that exploded in a swirl of color at our passage, it seemed to be in a magical valley, and perhaps in the end it was just like that.
This should conclude the story of this adventure, but last friday, however, the fury of a summer thunderstorm fell on my town strafing it with hailstones as big as golf balls.
Fortunately I was at home and could not withstand the desire to capture, if not the grains, at least the storm. So here is the result of the first test of thunder photography, I had never photographed lightning, but was always attracted and getting these results was a great satisfaction.
Only note to my future-self, try to compose the shot before starting to shoot.
Well, what to say next… Are you ready to dive in the next adventure?
I’ll leave you with a canyoning dive, from last sunday in Val Bodengo!