Il Ritorno – Drive from Alta Badia to Malga Ciapela
July 26, 2014
Today is our last day in Corvara. We had hoped to take a cable car up to have a last touristic look at the mountains and valleys. But from the breakfast room we can see the clouds are swirling grey and low all around Sassongher. We wait a bit to see if the skies clear at all, go to pick up the panini for lunch and then stop in at Christian’s. At dinner last night he invited us to stop by for a coffee before we leave. I can honestly describe Christian as a charming and professional innkeeper offering a the type of warm hospitality that is straight out of a bygone era.
We reluctantly load up the car and head out of Corvara (1568 m). We pullover on a high point so I can have a last look at the Alta Badia, the rolling green meadows with the little houses for hay and the mountains that today are shrouded in clouds.
We go through the Passo Campolongo (1875 m) with that stunning view of Arabba (1605 m) below us. The road through the pass connects Corvara in the Val Badia and Arabba. Arabba was the starting point to take the cable car to Portovescovo and the walk along the Viel del Pan.
Then we start the climb up to the Passo Pordoi (2,239 m) which connects the Sella group in the north and the Marmolada group in the south. The road connects Arabba with Canazei.
We park the car across from the hotel at Passo Pordoi to take a look at the view. The mountains behind the hotel are shrouded in clouds but you can see that we are at the level of an alpine pasture. No trees, just bare rock face and, all around, the little hay houses nestled in the rolling green pastures. I see a group of hikers are ready to set out even though it is a very grey day. I get out of the car and feel a brisk wind blowing. Last night I was told to make sure I had my black hoodie in the car with me but this morning when I was packing I thought that I had probably misunderstood as we were headed back to Trieste and not Lagazuoi! I would have needed my hoodie. At this altitude and with the wind it is probably around 10 C.
I can see that the road now winds straight downhill to the valley below. We are at the highest point of the pass so you can imagine that the road ahead is all switch backs.
We start down and I see a sign that says 23 tornante – 23 curves to come going downhill. The curves that are numbered are the real switchbacks, your regular curve does not even merit a sign on these roads. We are travelling down through the alpine pasture and then enter a deep valley. The landscape changes from meadows to dark green pine forests, cascading streams of water, and impressive rock faces. We are in the Lupo Bianco still winding our way down the mountain road to Canazei.
In Canazei the gondola lift passes right over the road above us.
I am being tested. What mountain do you see? I don’t know. Where were you when we went to Arabba? I can’t answer. Marmolada – is the right answer. I say but how can that be – it is over on the other side somewhere near Corvara. Remembering that I said earlier, now I finally understand how mountain passes work, it appears that I have understood very little. Now I’m saying, I think you are making fun of me. We stop in Canazei where there is a large map of the area and the capogita points out Arabba, Porto Vescovo, the Passo Pordoi, the curving road we travelled down. He also shows me the road we are on is headed to Lago Fedaia which is the lake we could see from Viel del Pan. So we basically crossed from one side of the mountain to the other by driving through the pass.
We are in what feels like the deep mountains now. I can see snow in the screes very close to the road. The road is protected from falling rocks and avalanches with roof like structures, stone walls, heavy wire meshing.
We have been driving a little over an hour now and have arrived at the rifugio above Lago Fedaia and facing the Marmolada. The rifugio is a stone two-story stone building. Along the back is a steep staircase leading to the second level with neatly stacked firewood on each step. The inside is warm and cozy with hand-made wood tables and chairs, a large enamel wood burning stove, wood coffered ceilings, deep wood window casings. Outside is a terrace with a stunning view of the mountains which feel very close, but now it is drizzling and colder still – probably not more that 5 or 6C. We chat with the young woman making the coffees. She has the most engaging and genuine smile. She tells us that yes, it is cold and raining and it was a long winter, but it is all to be expected and this is what it is like here. She was so accepting of this harsh weather and the harsh conditions in these mountains. This winter the snow reached the second level of the house and a number of times the pass was closed. It was still snowing in early June and the then it rained a lot. The ground is so wet that you can still see patches of snow right by the road and definitely on Marmolada. I stop and think that as Canadians we do seem to complain a lot about the snow and cold and are almost always in a state of anxiety with our snow alerts and frostbite warnings. But for this woman it was a just a normal and natural part of life. She tells us how lucky we had been with the weather this past week as it has been the only sunny warm days so far this summer.
We head through another tunnel and then turn to drive over the dam that forms Lago Fedaia. I see the grouping of houses that I could see from the Viel del Pane. Sure enough it is the same lake! But today the stunning turquoise blue color is replaced by a cool grey blue that mimics the rainy, grey sky.
It still feels a bit disorienting. Here we are at the Marmolada that seemed so close when we were on the Viel del Pan. Through the Passo Fedaia and we are again descending into a valley and through alpine meadows.
We reach the Malga Ciapela which at one time was an active summer pasturing area. We stop to look around, really a last look at the mountains. There is a large flock of sheep and goats grazing by the parking lot for the lift up the Marmolada, which at 3,343 m, is the highest peak in the Dolomites.
As we wind our way back down into the valley the rain gets heavier and heavier. Lunch is a panini in the car by a rapidly running river with the rain streaming down the windshield.
The wood shingled roofs on the houses are replaced by red-tiled roofs and the alpine pastures by vineyards. It has been a week of exhilarating mountain walks, breathtaking scenery, and exceptional hospitality.