Dolo-MITE (days 1-3)
We started our hiking journey by taking 2 trains, first from Nice, FR to Milan, and secondly from Milan to Brixen (aka Bressanone). Mostly uneventful with a few notes:
- An exceptional Italian seafood restaurant steps away from our Airbnb in Milan- complete with a hilarious joke cracking Asian waiter.
- Brixen being a beautiful little hamlet with charming architecture, fountains, and shop fronts in an idyllic riverside valley setting.
- Brixen disappointing us by having ONLY pizza restaurants, after enduring a week of crappy pizza in France.
- The longest back and forth game of Egyptian Rat Screw with our Israeli bunkmate
- Nick trying to flirt with a mannequin in downtown Brixen… twice
We started our hike from our hostel in the center of town, heading over the river and through the woods… directly into steep switchbacks ascending the mountain. It was here that Niko picked up his beloved stick. A staff fit for a 6’8’’ wizard, or perhaps running electrical lines between houses, he fell in love and there was no talking him out of it, haha. Once we popped out of the forest, we strode through a few tiny hillside towns, flush with wildflowers, charming traditional houses, and sweet wild raspberries. We bounded up to where we would take a short-cut cable car to the lower ridge of the Plose mountain group. At the top we encountered a totally radical, never before seen contraption. The word “PLOSE” was spelled out on a massive scale in lumber, with a bike mount inside the “O” that allowed a rider to do a full 360 loop. With stunningly impressive other mountain ridgelines in the back, we glanced at each other and quickly decided there was no way we weren’t riding that thing. It took a few up one side, back down the other runs to get enough momentum, but soon enough each of us got to feel like we were defying gravity, sometimes hanging inverted directly at the top of the “O.” The mountains sure looked crazy hanging upside down! From here we had about an hour of steady but not too strenuous climb to our first night’s sleep.
Every once in a while, while on trail, you meet a fellow traveller or group of hikers who you end up instantly bonding with. Making fast friends in the middle of nowhere commiserating over isolation, the difficulty of a given day, or just a celebration brew is one of the best parts of hiking in our opinion. And on this first day of our weeklong hut, we met an outgoing Canadian chap who had hiking enthusiasm and experience in no short supply. I can’t wait to ask him about hiking in Banff, I thought! Fast forward 30 minutes – Holy Shit, this is the worst Canadian I have ever met!! There has to be a catch… oh, what’s that, you’re actually from somewhere else but have lived in Canada for 20 years? That explains it, but why hasn’t the laidback, more layers of cool than a frozen onion nature of your neighbors rubbed off on you, EH? Our guy bragged about his pace and the heaviness of his pack (??) and thankfully was off right as we reached the hut. Time to relax with a draft beer and have a sigh of relief, more thankful of his disappearance than for day one’s walk to be over.
The view from the hut was stunning, looking over the Odle group, the “spikiest” group we’d see. (It turns out “Odle” means needle in Ladin, a dialect sometimes spoken in the Dolomites) Other exciting discoveries at the hut were a slide and swing set, a sheepy alpine meadow for observing the sunset, and a British group of hikers who, despite having about 20 years on us, would out-hike us each and every day on our overlapping itineraries! We were anxious to try the hut food which I had been talking up for months as most every internet reference and guidebook promise an overabundance of soul warming rustic Italian/German food. We had some veal goulash, spicy and hearty pastas, charcuterie and bread galore. It was a paradise of over indulgence after our first day. Even though the days would get progressively harder, the first one sometimes is the roughest as you get warmed up- so we replenished the burned calories and then some in our enjoyable first feast. 🙂
We started our second day with a slight descent through areas where both cows and horses were left to graze. I had determined the night before that merely having a friendly demeanor was not enough to earn the trust of the local sheep. So with the horses, I elected to go with a shameless bribe of a handful of grass. It worked to perfection and I made friends with a few very pretty horses. On our continued descent towards the bottom of the valley took us out of the meadows and into the forest. It looked like great cover and habitat for wild game, but we saw none. Being the last ones out of the hut in the morning probably didn’t help, as a brigade of other hikers had already certainly pounded that same route!
From the bottom of the valley it was up, up, up. Here’s where we started noticing the immense amount and diversity of wildflowers. There seemed to be a new species around every bend in the trail, with multiple types of flower in purples, yellows, whites, and pinks. There was also a few waterfalls in this section that added to the feeling that we were all starting to get… that we were somewhere really special. After a few hours from the bottom, we made it to the pass. We decided to all cross the pass with first views of the valley together to see what was on the other side. It was so beautiful that I at least was got chills! Here at the pass was an optional 2 hr side trip to the peak of Sass de Putia which was billed by the guidebook as a worthy endeavor. We all started up the peak but Niko and Athena decided they’d rather hang back and save energy for the next day. I continued up higher and higher to a cabled section that wasn’t quite a via ferrata, but it was a little scary. There was some exposure and really expansive views, and no one else around. Because of this eerie loneliness, I think the climb seemed scarier. At the pinnacle however, it all proved worth it (as it usually does). I got some great pictures, had some solo introspection about how happy and lucky I was, and we all were to be here together. Once I decided to stop being so philosophical, I scrambled down as fast as I could to rejoin the crew. We still had about 40 minutes to go to get to our next hut!
Shlutterhutte was way more crowded than first hut, in fact it was hard to even find a seat for dinner, but maybe it’s because the food was just as good if not better than the first night. Our lodging here was split with Niko in the bunks and Athena and I in a private room. We had a nice little window that provided great views of the sunset over the next few collections of peaks. As was the norm, it was easy to get to sleep after a long day of activity.
Day 3 started by climbing over a pass, around a valley, and up a steep slope of switchback on loose scree rock. It was a scenic section to get to the first pass, but the whipping wind chilled the atmosphere enough to have us hurrying though. We saw some marmots, faced a couple sprinkles of light rain, but nothing major thankfully. After the steep scree ascent, we looked down over a mountain basin surrounded by all types of rock formations. Spikes, sloping cliff drop-offs, massive massifs of dolomite rock with snowy at the tips… it was stunning. We circled around the bowl and there we were rewarded with our first taste of via ferrata. The path of the steel cable and iron stemples never had us too far over the rock below so we progressed through the climb unclipped. No doubt that our many nights at Stone Summit with friends over the past year had helped us feel confident and agile on this segment. Miraculously from the top of the climb, we actually had phone service which we used to Facetime to show off the incredible 360 panorama to anyone we could get on the phone… but being as though we were 6 hours ahead, and it was 7AM EST, that was only the Maresco parents. But what we showed them extricated the oohs and ahhs we were looking for, some outside validation of our efforts thus far, and our desire to share the exquisite beauty with friends, family, or again, anyone up at 7am, haha.
After we crested the hill to an amazing high plain with more views to die for, the vast expanse of safe, flat ground prompted Niko- complete with wizard’s staff- to sprint (maybe even skip) around like a kid on his first recess in a month. Athena and I laughed together and were really happy that he seemed to be enjoying himself more than we’d ever seen. Also, while we were exploring the high plain, we of course checked out the edges and peered over the sheer cliffs to the rock piles below. We found what looked like goat poop on one ledge where I like to imagine a regal ibex standing on the cliff admiring his kingdom. Before continuing on to the Puez hut, Nick and I took a side trip up the saddle to a peak who’s name eludes me. It was a bit of a tough climb, but as per usual, worth it because of… MORE INCREDIBLE VIEWS!
The remaining hike to Puez hut was scenic, but a bit mentally grueling as we were all ready to kick our feet up and chow down. Once we arrived at the hut, we met up with our English counterparts and learned of our friend Linda’s injury and helicopter evacuation. Apparently she had just a simple trip over a rock, but because of the weight of her pack and an unfortunately placed rock, she came down face first right in the middle of the trail on top of said rock and required stitches. We were told it was pretty bad, but that she would recover. Really sorry to hear of it, but we knew she was a trooper and the group seemed to agree she would be alright.
Our night in the Puez hut was also the fateful day that we ended up meeting the “smelly kids in class” on this hike. After coming down from placing my stuff in my bunk, I noticed a malodourous presence wafting through the common area. I did my best detective work while trying to remain at a distance and discovered, much to my dismay, that the smell was coming from… the two guys that Niko had struck up a conversation with of course! I tried frantically gesturing to him, to no avail, so when he eventually separated Athena and I told him in no uncertain terms, that we were not to be fraternizing with the brothers in need of bath. He said he hadn’t noticed and we found a seat at the back of the room for dinner. No less than 15 seconds after sitting down did the two guys reemerge and ask to share our table. Uh oh. We weren’t mean enough to turn them away so they sat with us, Nick’s face immediately revealing that he now totally understood what we were trying to tell him. Dinner was delicious as usual, and the two guys, Dutchmen Kees (pr. Case) and Luuk (pr. Luke) were actually really cool. They admitted they smelled and after stating on their own accord that they badly needed showers (a collective sigh of relief from our side of the table) it was determined we’d play some cards that night. We started with a game called “Shithead” and then moved on to “Asshole.” Despite the profane names of the games, a friendship was forged and good times and a few beers were had by all. These guys were a lot of fun! They were slightly younger than us, and their youthful exuberance and enthusiasm for the sometimes grueling hikes was a refreshing addition to our squad. We hoped to run into them again on the trail.