Walk to M. te Sief – Dolomites
July 19th, 2014
Saturday morning and it is a splendid sunny day –Sassongher is outlined almost graphically against the clear blue sky.
The walk starts at the Passo Valparola (2168 m). It is just after 9:30 in the morning and there is a light wind blowing through the pass. The air is crisp and clean. At this point the vegetation of the rock face is small mugho pines and low grasses and the dominant color is the chalky grey of the rock face. Below us is a small pool of water that catches the green color of the surrounding valley and the blue of the sky – Lech de Valparola – Lake Valparola.
The trail takes us past the rifugio and into the green meadow above the lake. We are surrounded by the green grasses and the waving yellows, blues, purples of the meadow flowers. Not more than five minutes into the walk my eye catches a bright fuchsia flower. I have to stop and look at it as I have not seen this flower before. It is a rhododendron shrub I am told, and common to these mountains.
The ground is quite wet and rocky and we have to work our way around the muddy patches. The trail heads downhill and now the mud turns into a tiny rivulet of water following the rocky trail down a bit of a narrow crevice. I take both my poles in one hand to hold onto the wire cable while I step onto the round iron rails that form the steps. We are only fifteen minutes into the walk.
The crevice opens up onto a view of pine-covered forests, a green valley below and a mountain face beside and above us. This part of the trail is narrow and the rock face has cable wires to hold on to on one side and on the other side there is a steep drop.
The trail takes us all along this rock face with the coniferous forest just below. Mugho pines seem to kind of grow off the side of the crest and rise up along the path. Small pine trees cling to the rock face above us. I can see the trail winding slowly uphill and continuing along the rock face ahead of us. It feels rugged.
We come to a kind of curve in the trails and the rock faces tower above and almost lit up by the clear sunshine. I can see snow-capped mountains beyond the valley.
It is also lush with flowers – the trumpets of the purple Gentiana, white and yellow anemones, and tufts of bright green grasses. The scent of the pines mingles with the floral of the flowers. I can make out the spicy scent of the wild carnations – Garofalo. The bright pink flowers are on a single stem with their heads just above the grasses ad stones. On the rock faces are masses the shiny leaves and bright pink of the rhododendron shrubs.
We have been walking for about an hour and three-quarters, we leave the pines behind and are now walking through rolling green fields. We pass a wooden cabin that is perched on the hillside and looks out at the mountain peaks beyond. We turn and head up a hill that is a patchwork of green grass, masses of pink rhododendron.
The cabin is looking very tiny below us. I can hear the slow chime of cow bells ahead. We near the top and the capogita pulls open the wire rope that forms the gate for a vast enclosure. We are entering an alpine pasture. Perched at the top are café- au- lait colored cows serenely looking at us as we walk by. They are framed by the rise of mountains on the horizon.
We leave the cows behind and continue up the grassy slope. We start to follow a line of trenches from WWI which have been reconstructed as a remembrance of that war. Because you cannot dig down here the trenches are actually more like six-foot walls of dry rock that wind their way along this crest. This was the battle line that was held by the Austrians. The valley below is also known as the Valley of the Dead because so many Italian soldiers died there as they vainly tried to attack the Austrians who held the mountain point of above them. It is really unimaginable and emotional at the same time to think how anyone could have survived in these mountains– huge amounts of snow, severe cold, avalanches, rain, only the most rudimentary clothing, foot gear and food, let alone vermin and artillery firing at you. It is past the middle of July and on the way up here there were still patches of snow in the indents of the meadows.
Almost three hours later and we reach the summit of M. te Sief and the 360 degree panorama of snowy mountain peaks and valleys that is the icing on the cake for this beautiful walk.
We stop for lunch. It is amazing that on this rocky pinnacle and beside the tunnel openings to the tunnels, there are bright yellow and white and purples flowers blooming. As I try to take in the scenery around me I think a sense of euphoria takes over. I can see the Col Lana where there are a series of WWI lookouts and tunnels. I can just barely see the hikers working their way up. It is steep and they need the help of the cables and iron rungs for steps. I see that this trail now leads down the side of this summit with the wire cable ropes and iron rungs. I ask if we are continuing on and the answer is – no. It was not in the plans and so we do not have the required security ropes along that I would need.
But if I want, I can try to go down as far as this set of steps. I am handed a pair of gloves for grip and I head down. I reach the bottom and there is a patch of snow that I have to stand in just to say I walked in the snow in July! The way up was much tougher than I expected as the steps feel much steeper than on the way down and I have to hold on to the cables to haul myself up.
Today there is no circular trail – we head back on the same trail that brought us here. The day is stunningly beautiful and we take our time.
I always enjoy the descent because I actually get to take a good look at the formations of the mountains and truly appreciate the splendor of these Dolomites. Everywhere you look the massive grey-white mountain summits rise and fall.
We arrive at the cow pasture – the word bucolic really fits here. The majestic view, the peaceful looking cows, the gentle ringing of their bells as they bend their heads to chew on the meadow grasses and flowers.
Down the hill, and we reach the cabin. It is all bare wood on the inside too and there a number of tables and benches on the far wall. Off with the backpack, I sit down and enjoy the stunning view of the mountains while sipping my water.
These grassy, rocky slopes are the home to marmots too. On the trail in front of us I spot two young marmots running back and forth under the shrubs. We stop to take a few pictures of the frolicking pair.
Of course the down hill part of the trail from this morning is now an uphill trek. We get to the crevice that the water flowed down this morning. It takes every ounce of effort to lift myself up and not slip on the wet iron rungs. But once again at the top is a green meadow full of flowers and as if I have not seen enough flowers today, I stop and take some more pictures. I am exhausted as this has been more challenging than any of the walks I have done before. But I do not want this beautiful day to end.
It has taken me some time to write about this walk – I felt the emotion of it all week. It was the perfect initiation to the experience of walking in these mountains and that stunning scenery is etched in my brain.