While we rose above the trail, our sight turned to a brighter shade of pale.
Shadily quoting the now awkward Procol Harum (notice the closing sequence in their clip) we start our chronicles from the past amazingly hikey week. I finally reached the Dolomites and walked above the (smashing) frozen lake of Braies, glimpsed at the bewildering three peaks of Lavaredo after a couldy ascension, skied through a dense snowfall and built a truna waiting for a lazy cloud to pass over.
Let’s start with the best monday since a while.
We woke up in the lil’ town of Villabassa, before the sun rose, after filling the thermos we confusedly moved to the bus stop, here a driver with little inclination to use the national language picked us up and led us to the entrance of Lake Braies. This lake is famous for its vivid colors and the frame of rocky mountains encompassing its beauty; it was therefore an obligatory pilgrimage, even if the colors that make it famous were covered by a thick padding of snow.
We crossed the first part of the lake, following a consolidated track along the central section and then moving towards the West bank. The thickness of the ice was such that groups of people were crossing in all the possible directions, but hearing a light crack in the distance we immediately stopped, and very calmly, resting the snowshoes with minuteness we returned to the side of the lake where the harder ice gently turns up to the soft coastal rise.
After this small injection of adrenaline we took the undergrowth leading to the valley of Val bosco (“woods valley”). The path initially beaten by traces of skis and snowshoes deviates to south, leaving few traces in the direction of the lower valley we were aiming at.
The snowfalls of the previous days canceled and blunted the traces left along our direction, giving free rein to our guiding instinct (this time in complete safety given the nature of the valley) and we had fun tracing our way through piles of powdering snow and traces of hares too lively to hibernate.
The surrounding landscape opened on steep rocky sides dissonantly alternating between jagged crags and soft blankets of snow.
lucky bastard backcountrier has enjoyed leaving his signature along the slopes creating a geometric plot, as if to further adorn those places.
Occasionally some icefalls appeared between those cracks.
As we walked towards unmarked plains the traces of human presence disappeared, leaving us as the last bulwark a stupendous wooden house timidly emerging from the white landscape.
Once we reached the bottom of the valley, where the soft slopes turn into vertical rocky bumps, we flattened a spot in the fresh snow to be used as a kitchen for our meal of thermosed tea and sandwiches.
In the silence of our chews, nature around us revealed itself timidly, perhaps still troubled by the sound of our steps. Then gradually more frantically the birds resumed flying and singing near us (certainly thanks to our meal). It also seemed that the rustle of the fronds became stronger, but it was only thanks to our silence that we could hear these voices.
After starting a close friendship with some local inhabitants we wore back the snowshoes and went home to set up the trip for the following day.
The target? To see the three peaks of Lavaredo.
On the day after we departured again before dawn, waking up on the usual bus surrounded by a bad weather (to say the least). Low clouds swollen with snow permeated the valleys stretching to the mountain peaks surrounding our path. Fueled by an unextinguishable enthusiasm we departured in the direction of the Fondovalle hut and started chewing snow to fuel the flame of enthusiasm burning within us.
Perhaps thanks to this flame the clouds dissolved right when we hat to wear the snowshoes to start the first part of the true ascent.
The forest slowly leaves its place to a narrow valley characterized by large accumulations of snow, weighed down by the humidity of the clouds just dissolved and ready to relax by taking a trip downhill.
Moved by a healthy instinct of self-preservation we took a quick step to reduce the exposure time to that situation of latent danger, arriving at the saddle that detaches the valley to open up toward the white plateau leading to Locatelli hut.
As we embarked on this stretch of trail the clouds fell back onto our path, bringing moisture and wet snow to accompany us along the last stretch.
Once in the vicinity of the plateau leading to the final shelter, visibility has returned to being that of the morning, with the passage of clouds that sometimes obscured the landscape and then reopened, giving breath to the dolomite giants of the three peaks.
Rushing in the winter bivouac to change and devour the everlasting bread rolls and hot tea, we quickly set off for home hoping to avoid a more massive clusters of clouds and getting lost in a tremendously white and majestic environment.
When we arrived at the first hut at the bottom of the valley, we made a promise of returning to that mountainside, sealing the vow with a warm strudel. A small messenger has witnessed this promise and is probably hardly wishing for our return to snag some more crumbs.
Thinking back on this last experience, we did not give up the ascent of the second day walking every step paying constant attention to every sound or slight drawing of detachment present on the ground surrounding us. We crossed the trail staring at the flanking walls as much as the path ahead of us, steadily advancing weighing every step on the basis of the last assessments. Even with this care, we stepped close to a hill that later on created a lil’ avalanche.
But could this be enough mountain-fuel for now? Of course not.
The ski-mountaineering course officially ended this weekend, with the most dense and instructive tour one could wish for. We left the usual parking lot before even the earliest ray of sun encroached on us, and we reached to the town of Canza around 8:30 am.
The adventure started from here untangling along the woods and a plateau until reaching the Margaroli hut, from which the next day we had to leave to touch the peak of Punta d’Arbola (or Ofenhorn, if you see it from the tax haven side).
On our arrival the mountains framing these valleys of marble and serizzo were covered by a thick and dense overcast. The temperature was dissonantly high despite the snow-white valleys, and a slow and steady wet snow fell along the road and over us. Climbing the forest on which the path rises (genuinely messing the road during the first steps) we moved among narrow channels full of snow avalanches, which in some places reminded us of its latent threat by dumping rivals of snowballs on the slopes. Given the state of the valleys we furrowed, and given the constant warm snowfall that slowly rested on the already heavy slopes, we crossed with few compliments the first stretch reaching the second part of the track.
As the cloud approached more and more aggressively to swallow us, we were hoping for a digestion while venturing along the false plateau through fantastic valleys timidly hiding behind the thick white curtain of the cloud. Perfect crystals of snow fell constantly on our heated bodies, a constant reminder of the soft and monstrous whiteness slowly engulfing us with the ferocity of a tired predator, who sees the coveted dinner coming straight toward his den.
A cold and enveloping white had now engulfed us, denying the sense of sight beyond 30 meters and leaving only faded memories of the surrounding environment. The breath of such perturbation blew on us, through us, around us.
In that situation we become one with the witeness, as the mountain we were left enveloped by an oppressive lover who precluded the view leaving only few trees as black scratches on the white canvas to guide our way.
Once near the shelter, electric pilons and signal poles and indicated the direction towards the expected intermediate destination as torches in the night.
As if we had passed a first trial, when we arrived at the shelter the perturbation slowly moved, leaving us to admire the surrounding peaks, hooded by a thick white veil.
Peaks and coasts were illuminated by blades of light, chasing themselves and joining up to reveal the intense blue of the sky.
To alleviate the efforts of the day and give back some fire to the spirit, we had an excellent polenta with braised meat and some sweetened alcoholic sugar (to encourage sleep). In the evening we consulted the small mountain library of the refuge discovering an immensity of possible tours and routes, which I hope you will soon read on these pages. After the idol of future trails and maps we abandoned ourselves to the warm embrace of the bed.
Day two, 5.30 a.m.
The haunting morning deviation led me out of the sleeping warmth, also driven by the hope of seeing a clear and starry sky.
And yet she was still there, the thick cloud, obsessive lover who had long sought us in the night, was about to embrace us again.
The weather station located a few dozen meters from the shelter bode well in a sweet departure of the cloud in the morning, so we geared up with enthusiasm and hope. We left the shelter at 6.30, still well devoured by the blinding cloud but knowing the direction to be taken immediately after the shelter.
Fortunately, nowadays someone has already invented the GPS, and guided by a digital trail we made our way past the first pass and along the lake above, up to the slopes of the hill that would take us on the last stretch of glacier.
The visibility was also worse than the start, the trace of the navigator was clear but the ground was inscrutable, from one end of the group the visibility fell, so that the head could not see the tail. And in all this we did not have visibility on the conditions of the swollen slopes of snow surrounding us.
It would have been unreasonable to continue, but we still trusted in the weather. So after retracing the last 500 meters of the road we stopped to gain time and built a truna waiting for the perturbation to open.
Here the professional skills of the group emerged, the truna was designed by a surveyor to make living spaces on a human scale, the chief interior designer gave directives about the structure of the entrance and the security engineer directed the excavation and the construction of the walls. Obviously, the students were digging.
Such a structure is an emergency shelter created by digging a space inside the snow and building a roof using skis and sticks as structures, thanks to the presence of people and the thermal insulation given by the snow the temperature is kept constant at 0 degrees. Not much, but enough to survive until help arrives.
After this engineering deviation, however, the perturbation did not hint at abandoning us, so we made the best decision that could be taken, and returned to the hut drowning the displeasure of renunciation in a hot chocolate with cream.
Closing this second breakfast we went down along the road of the ascent navigating at sight following the silhouette of the person in front of us. Once reached the end of the plateau instead of retracing trough the wooded tract of the day before we descended along a ski slope beaten by merenderos and children aged 5-6 following an elderly ski instructor.
Some see in this constant pull to the climb a challenge to the mountain, to overtake it where it can not “attack”, passing through its defenses until reaching its peak. A fever of the summit where the enemy is the one on which we base our steps and which we conquer by planting our stick on its top.
I personally have pity of such vision.
The relationship with the mountain is more likely to be compared with a dance, in which we embrace and are embraced bythe mountain, moving our steps trying not to pinch on the feet of our partner and avoiding at the same time to let her loose. If we get too close or if we go in areas not yet granted, we risk to end such dance before the closing music with a clear refusal from our partner, and a volley, or an avalanche, or a storm engulf us snatching from the magic of a relationship that builds awareness of oneself through the gaze reflected in the other.
The peak becomes just another step of the dance, sought after and importantly sought, but not as fundamental as the basic movements allowing the most intricate figures to be drawn on the dance floor.
There are so many unbeaten trails on teh bucket list, keep your eyes open on these pages ‘til the next adventure.