Walking in the Dolomites – Viel dal Pan
July 22, 2014
Today we are driving to Arabba. The road winds up and then on a long S curve down below I see the bell tower of the church, the houses surrounding it and all nestled in a green valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It is the small town of Arabba and so picturesque as you round the curve that it literally takes your breath away. We take the cable car to Porto Vescovo to walk the Viel del Pan. It was once the trail that was used to bring supplies such as salt and flour and such to the summer pastures.
As with the first cable car ride, my first sight of the snow-covered summits leaves me feeling a bit like I am star struck. Born and raised in Central Canada, my only previous experience with mountains has been as a tourist seeing the Rockies from the highway. Beautiful yes, but it was a kind of passive appreciation of the vastness and ruggedness of the Rockies. Here I am actually on a mountain perch where literally people have been working and living for many centuries. The thought strikes me because from the shell shaped valley below I hear the chorus of sheep baaing accompanied by the chimes of the bells around their necks. The sheep are just little beige dots below and I can just make out the sheep dogs running, turning on a dime, herding the sheep where they want the sheep to go. Right beside me on the trail are three small sheep far away from their flock below. Just below the trail a man with a white beard, plaid shirt, suspenders, and alpine hat is looking through his binoculars at the sheep below. On the trail in front of me bounds a black dog who is headed towards those “lost” sheep. I am watching a shepherd and his dog at work. The same work that has been happening on these mountain pastures for centuries. It all makes me feel very small – the sheer force of the mountains that have been here for eons and being a witness to a lifestyle from another time. It is all a bit humbling and once again I feel very thankful that I am here to enjoy this scene today.
Reality check – one of the hikers that was on the cable car with us has his dog off leash and the dog is interfering with the work of the black sheep dog. A reminder that we are all just tourists here, some of us appreciative of the beauty of our surroundings and some of us oblivious to how we are disturbing this beautiful scene.
The trail itself winds through the green meadow, narrow, and a reddish-brown color. The grass blades are covered with little drops of water either from the morning dew or the rain the day before. The drops of water catch the sun. We are walking slightly uphill along a kind of ledge below the mountain and with green meadows falling steeply to the valley below. To our left and on the other side of the valley is the snow-covered Marmolada summit.
In the valley below is a dam and a man-made lake – Lago Fedaia- that is a rich blue-green color. The side of the mountain seems to just drop right into the water.
We see a line of black dots in the snow on Marmolada – hikers headed to the summit. I can also just make out a small house – a rifugio for skiers. I comment on how icy that walk must be and the capogita tells me he has skied down the Marmolada before. I am of course quite impressed but feel no urge to either walk or ski there!
The clouds are starting to swirl around now and we have lost the bright sun. We get to the rifugio Viel del Pan and on the deck lots of people seated at the tables. From here I enjoy the view down the valley towards the blue waters of the lake and can appreciate the breadth of the Marmolada. The inside of the rifugio is all wood, red striped curtains are tied back on the mullioned windows, the chair back have little cutouts of hearts in them. The view out the windows is of the snow covered mountainside. Just like being in an alpine post card.
We decide to head back as the clouds are getting thicker. The trail we take is a bit higher up and it actually we are walking in a trough, quite muddy. We find a small rock where I can sit to have lunch. It is on a bit of a sharp incline but the sight line to the valley below makes for a great view while munching on my panini. I get up to get my water bottle out of the backpack but step on the buckle of the backpack which slips on the mud and down I go. Luckily I caught my fall with one hand. The capogita is standing and I could easily have pushed both of us down that incline. But fortunately, that thought just momentarily flits through my brain and I forget it as I wipe the mud off my hands and arm.
We head out quickly as the clouds are still swirling around. We pass a patch of snow along the rock wall, a reminder that weather has still not been consistently warm enough to melt the snow.
A group of mountain bikers is coming towards us. We have to step up off the trail to let them by. The trail is so narrow that the real danger is that they lose their balance, hit you and send you over the precipice because those long handlebars come within centimeters of you but you have no choice, the trail is steep.
Back at the base of the ski lift and it is not raining so we head up the slope to the top of the shell-like valley. There are marmote here – a type of ground-hog – and the alarm call that they make is a whistle that sounds like a birdcall. And because we are in a valley the sound is really amplified. The capogita looks around to where the sound may have come from, spots a marmota and takes some pictures. I watch as a mother marmota seems to be carrying something in her mouth and then she drops into her underground lair. The capogita shows me his pictures and I see that she was carrying a baby to safety in her mouth. We watch as a young marmota the same color as the stones and mud stands up and takes a look around.
We head uphill. I am coached on how to place my feet – cross one over the other side ways – because it is not only steep but muddy slippery. I make it to the top out of breath and we spend some time watching the sheep dogs below very effectively herding the sheep into a tight circle. There is the view of the green valley below to make that steep climb up very much worth the effort. The path down is steep and again, I am coached calmly. Take sure steps, plant your poles in front of you and we make it down on another trail that somehow the capogita has spotted and makes for a much easier descent.
Then back into the cable car and back to the car in Arabba – despite the iffy weather another amazing walk.