Lagazuoi and WWI Battlefields
July 23, 2014
The skies are clear and sunny. It is a breezy 14C and we are headed to the Lagazuoi Cable Car. The day has a bit of a rough start as a water bottle has spilled its contents into the backpack and on the worst place possible – where the pack sits on the back. We head out anyway hoping the pack will dry a bit on the drive. We drive through the Passo Valparola which was the starting point of Saturday’s walk to the Passo Falzarego at 2105 m. There we take the cable car to the Rifugio Lagazuoi at 2752 m. This cable car holds a diverse group of hikers – I hear German, Italian, Polish maybe. Looking out of the front of the cable car as it nears the rifugio you see only rock face as the car lifts it self over the ledge to the station.
We get out and it is breezy and cold – probably 7C or so. I need my black Arcteryx hoodie. The first thing I see is a stretch of snow with two caterpillar tractors working at moving the snow. I know we are at a real alpine rifugio as you have to walk up a steep incline to get there and without even starting the walk I am already out of breath. We are definitely above the tree line – stunning grey white Dolomite peaks and they feel very close. The Dolomite summits look just like the pictures you see in an adventure- hiking book. There are any number of trails here that lead to the battlesites, lookouts, some reconstructed battlements and vestiges of battlements from WWI. There are a lot of serious hikers, people who are here to see the vestiges of the mountain battle grounds, and rock climbers.
I am already a bit intimidated by the sight of these impressive mountain peaks, what look like long gullies of shaley rock, the snow drifts that I can see in the gullies, the steep trails that I can see winding up to the mountain summits.
Parked on a rock promontory is a Range Rover overlooking the Dolomites – every bit like an ad in a car magazine for off-road enthusiasts.
We head down the trail and it is steep, muddy and slippery from the melting snow. We reach the first lookout gallery within 5 minutes. It is small opening carved out of the side of the mountain, supported by wooden beams. It is narrow and with a low ceiling but obviously an important look-out with a view of the entire valley below.
Then the trail changes to small, shaley rocks where you actually do not see a trail and I am having trouble with my footing. Not 10 minutes into the walk and the trail is covered with snow plus you have to head down hill. We are at the Forchella Lagazuoi at 2573 m. The capogita slides easily down the snow. I take the mud route along side the stretch of snow. As I see the experienced hikers pass confidently by me I start to seriously lose my own self-confidence. I revert to the tentative, hesitant steps of a novice hiker.
The climb now goes uphill (another 70 m higher) but it is not the climb that is bothering me. It is the narrowness of the trail, how high up we are and what seems like a major precipice down. My pole loosens some stones and I hear them cascading down the mountainside. The terrain seems so harsh. Not the green meadows full of flowers from Sunday’s walk. We are at the Forcella Travenanzes.
I am spooked, tense and tentative when I set my feet, which is not good. I am having a hard time with my footing on the loose rocks and I don’t want to look around or down! It feels like I have two pieces of wood for legs because it seems like my knees and my ankles are not bending. We are walking on a trail that is kind of a half way between the valley below and the top of the mountain – rocky, narrow, slippery uphill to arrive at, with some encouragement, Forcella Gasser Depot (2633 m). And there too, some remnants of former observation points. I see where the trail heads up to what were the galleries in WW1 and the summit of Fanes.
Some experienced hikers pass quickly by and I have now lost my confidence totally and am thinking about how I will ever make it back down those slippery rocks and along that precipice. All the things you are not supposed to think about. Not good. When asked if I would like to go up to the next stage I say no thank you.
I am calmly coached – think of your poles as your third and fourth legs, plant your poles firmly in front of you to help with breaking your downhill momentum, plant your feet firmly and confidently. We head back down and I try very hard to step confidently but it is just not happening for me today.
At this point I am not looking around at all. I understand that we are walking back down to the parking lot but I am not at all aware of my surroundings. Two young French sisters chattering away about the best trail to take down and then their parents pass me. I look down and see the parking lot below. I relax a little and look at the vestiges of a stone battlement, a mountain stream, and yes now I start once again to see the multitude of flowers!
It is still early around lunchtime and we head across the highway to a small road that winds through the meadow. We find a spot on a grassy knoll and I apologize to the capogita for not being able to complete the planned walk. It was just too steep for me. He tells me that it was actually less steep than yesterday’s walk and that yesterday’s walk to Viele del Pane actually had a far longer precipice. It was however very green and there were lots of fleecy sheep below while today there was snow and rocks below. I mull this over as we eat our panini and then take some pictures of the delicate purple tiger lilies.
When asked where I would like to go next, I point to the top of the hill and we start the uphill climb. Walking through the meadows I start to relax and there is a great view when we get to the top. Then I am asked – do you want to take the same (easy is implied) road back or go down alongside the chair lift. The second option is much steeper and rockier – I realize that I have to redeem myself and choose the rocky road. I will myself to take sure and confident steps. There is no precipice to look at and I make it back down easily. The end of another walk not only with stunning scenery but also filled with historical interest.
We head to the Paso Valparola and the museum housing the WWI finds from this area – for another blog.