The Dolomites are a mountain range in Northeastern Italy north of Venice. This area has hiking with an opportunity to do "via ferrata" which translates to, "the iron way." During WWI, the Italians and Austrians battle lines were in this mountainous region and they used these paths to move troops and fight. They really had some courage to cling to the mountainsides and create these wooden ladders, metal anchors and other supports. They have been updated now to include metal lines that you connect to and more sturdy hooks but some of the original materials remain and you can quickly get an idea of how intense fighting in this region would have been.
We took advantage of Labor Day weekend and a Ryanair flight to cross the alps and land in Venice-Treviso airport. The morning we flew out was full of hustle and bustle because we somehow overslept and were woken up by our traveling partners, Megan and Ian five minutes before we were supposed to be headed to the airport. Here I am after a tornado fast morning routine on the way to the the airport.
Our flight was full of American vacationers headed to Venice and I am quite sure they were going to enjoy a weekend of gondolas and canals. We rented a car and drove north for two hours to the gateway city of Cortina where we rented the gear we needed and enjoyed a delicious lunch of beet and potato filled ravioli, pasta with truffle and beef, and gnocchi with pesto. Of course, you cannot have lunch in Italy without a full pitcher of wine, even if you are planning on hiking.
You can save yourself the effort of carrying full backpacking gear by staying in one of the many Refugios in the mountains. These are full service mountain "huts" (lodges) that have sleeping quarters, showers, food, drinks. This makes the load much lighter for a 2 night backpacking trip. All we had to carry was our clothing changes, some snacks and our Via Ferrata equipment. One could hike for a few weeks in the mountains and carry very minimal gear. Might have to save that for another trip.
Our first look at the mountain and checking out the map.
The first day's weather was overcast but the clouds left a kind of creepy, ominously challenging vibe. I would be lying if I said we weren't a little nervous. This is really our first venture out since Quinn's climbing accident last year. This is not as dangerous as sport climbing and provides more protection and is not as technical but I was still nervous. So much of climbing is a head game and keeping it straight is my biggest challenge.
Suited up and ready to do the first via ferrata
This one was not challenging but was a good little introduction to getting used to the gear and moving as a group. Megan kept commenting on how pretty the rocks were and how brilliant each color was. We were teasing her about saying rocks in their natural environment was always impressive. She took a lot of crap about this the whole trip. The title of the blog is one last chance to tease her! She is a good sport.
We spent the night in a Refugio with an amazing patio view of the mountains and ate a delicious meal with an Italian man who kept us entertained through most of the evening. He lives in Sardinia and we are going to try and visit him this winter. He is a physicist who lived for some time in Wyoming. How do we keep running into these kind of people?!
King of the mountain and his jester
The next day we hiked up to our next refugio and spent a little time watching the clouds and enjoying a warm beverage. The weather wasn't really cooperating so we decided just to go out for a little hike around. It started to snow.
At night, it really started to snow. It was such a fun atmosphere to be in a mountain hut in the dining room with fellow hikers enjoying a tall glass of beer and watching the giant snowflakes come down outside the window. It makes me want to live in a log cabin! We woke up to this.
We hiked out in this! Quinn spotted a Chamois!
Then we came to our first real challenge. There were about 5 of these ladders in a column down the mountain side. Putting yourself over the edge and maneuvering onto this thing with wet boots and shaky legs is quite the feat. I was just blabbering on and on about how nervous I was, Quinn and Ian were both pensive and quiet, and Megan was harnessing her self talk by saying, "sssh" and "bird by bird." We all made it down. It was very interesting to see how people handle stressful situations differently. Once I was on the first rung I felt fine about going down but a little part of me was always worrying about Quinn below me. I was really happy once he was finished.
We hiked for another 4 or 5 hours that day and had incredible views. We went in some tunnels built during the war and a bunker with an old cannon inside. It was an interesting look back in time. It made climbing that ladder seem like child's play in comparison with how hardcore those soldiers must have been.
More scenery and silly photo shoots
A marmot! He was squeaking at a Golden Retriever on the trail. He was loud!
Relaxing after a hard hike.
My favorite viewpoint in the trip
Ian walking the via ferrata
The trip was too short and I would have loved to hike another 2 or 3 days. I find the mountains to be so relaxing. We went back to Cortina and had yet another hearty Italian mountain type meal with creatively filled pasta (blueberries and venison) and more delicious wine and then we were back in Germany in a blink.