Walking on the snow Sella Prevala
August 1, 2014
Early start to the day – 7:30 because the drive to the Sella Nevea area will take two hours or so.
I get to drive the autostrada. It is the third time I am driving this road. I still cannot drive more than a steady 110 Km per hour. The Canin range where we are headed is pointed out to me and not for the first time! Now I remember that Canin is the predominant mountain that you see from Udine. When we stop for a caffe’ I feel that I was far more relaxed driving, though of course, we did not make very good time and our destination is still an hour or so away.
Sella Nevea is an Italian ski resort on the border with Slovenia in the municipality of Chiusaforte, located at 1200 meters above sea level, at the foot of the granite massif of the Canin. It is directly under the basin (conca) of Prevala where we will be walking.
It is definitely a curving mountain road. At several points we follow a beautiful clear and blue-green brook that runs parallel to the road. There are no alpine meadows here, just dark pine forest. Through the trees we see water cascading down from the mountains. As we get closer to the Sella Nevea area even the small tunnels are built to curve around the side of the mountain. Luckily there is not a lot of traffic because as you are taking the curve you enter into the darkness and your eyes have to adjust to that.
We take the cable car up to the Rifugio Gilberti at 1860 m. It is a grey stone and blends seamlessly into the background of granite and snow. Unlike the rifugio’s in the Val Badia where there were all kinds of people enjoying the food and views, here, we are just about alone. There is still snow on the ski run. The capogita points out the path we will be taking up the snow and then left along what looks like a rock wall. We start out. The snow has melted on the lower part of the ski run and we walk along shaley rock.
Then we head onto the snow surface. This is a ski run so we are headed uphill. The snow is undulated forming these little shell-like shapes. The surface is soft enough so that you can plant your foot but then underneath is still quite frozen. This means that you are not slipping on the snow. It is a beautiful sunny day and I am walking on the snow with snow all around me in a short-sleeved t-shirt. When you see pictures of people skiing in the alps, there almost always is a shot of people sitting outside at a rifugio in short sleeves and enjoying the sun. As a central Canadian I do not associate snow with enjoying the sun in short sleeves, and I have always wanted to be able to do that, like in those pictures of happy skiers in the alps. I am not skiing but here I am enjoying the snow and the sun and I am warm!
As the climb gets steeper I am even warmer and I have to stop. The sun reflecting off the snow is bothering me a bit and I have to keep my eyes down to minimize the glare. The capogita is taking a zig zag route up the snow. This is helping me with my breathing but I have to stop again. This time I do look up and see there is still a ways to go – the trail up seemed much shorter when I was looking at it from the rifugio. I have to stop a third time and this time I am winded. I plant my poles and lean on them because we are at a good incline. Almost there I am told – only about ten minutes left and I start-up again. There are four hikers making their way down the slope – they seem to be having a bit of difficulty with their footing and finding the best path down. It seems that going down is a bit more challenging for your footing than going up the slope.
By the time we reach the top of the ski run, I am very warm and the glare of the sun makes me head straight to the bit of shade provided by the ski lift. Or what is left of a ski lift that used to come up from the Slovenian side. It was damaged by severe winds a couple of years ago. The walk up took about 50 minutes and now we are at about 2100 m. I start to cool down a bit and go over to the other side to see the view. The cool breeze that is coming from over the snow is nice and fresh on my face. Below us is Bovec and Slovenia. The view of the snow in the valley and the rock faces all around is rugged and stark, yet the sun is warm. I love that the rifugio where we started out is just a small dot below us and it feels good to have done that climb. We watch as a hiker puts on skis and starts to ski down – summer skiing!
Grey puffy clouds are swirling around the peaks alongside us. We head straight back down on another trail. The weather is decidedly variable so while there are a number of trails to choose from we are taking the quickest route back because we do not want to get rained on.
The trail takes us under the station of the former ski lift. We hear the sound of some loose pebbles falling and look up. The capogita has spotted a small stambecco walking along the foundation of the ski lift station. Then a second one pops his head around the corner. They are small, with a warm nutty brown colored coat, and short stocky legs. They turn to look at us and then disappear to the other side of the building.
We reach a snow-covered slope along side of course, a bit of a precipice. The capogita tells me to plant my heels firmly into the snow and in his foot steps as he makes sure that the snow is frozen enough that our feet do not slide on the incline. I am planting my heels and my footing is solid until I hit a small icy patch, and I cannot get a good grip with my boot. I momentarily hesitate which is not good because my foot starts to slide. The capogita is right there and tells me to keep going. I have to say that my boots did do the job – just enough of a heel on them that I could dig into the snow and we are back on the rocky trail. Also I would think the experience of keeping up right walking on icy Ottawa streets certainly helps me with my balance and we are back on the rocky trail.
I just finished reading a guide-book on mountain flowers and in the book there is also a description of 9 mountain zones and how the vegetation changes and is adapted to the different mountain zones.
So on the walk down I am not only enjoying the flowers but am now tuned into the changes of the zones. The first part of the walk tiny little flowers are growing in the crevices where the wind has accumulated a bit of soil and cling to the rocks.
We are high enough that the short willow shrubs are just starting to bud and form small pussy willows –perhpas the piano subalpino superiore. The water has eaten its way through the rocks creating deep cylindrical holes, deep crevices, bowl shaped holes and all are still filled with snow. Further down the trail the pussy willows have changed to tiny green budding leaves.
The trail is now following what would have been a narrow supply road built during WW1. It is supported by a rock wall that had to be built to keep the road in place through snow and rockslides and every other kind of harsh condition that goes with mountain warfare. I cannot help but think of why as human beings we fight, and lose so many lives, over a mountain summit.
The terrain is now mugho pines, shrubs of rhododendron, and those perfect tiny purple lilies. The capogita stops and signals me to stay quiet! He pulls out his binoculars and on the rock face across from us he says there are two young chamois. They are barely visible with the naked eye and at first I cannot spot them. Then one moves slowly and I see them. They have also seen us. Through the binoculars I can see that they seem more delicate in shape and size than the stambecco we saw earlier. We stop for lunch and watch as they graze a little, move towards a patch of snow and then move on. The lunch view is spectacular – valleys and summits all around us. The capogita points out the Piani del Montasio, other summits like the M.te Poviz, Canin……he knows them all as if he has a topographical map in front of him.
The descent takes us through a pine forest with the pine trees growing up and above the trail from the slope below us. This is now another mountain zone.
Then we are in a deciduous forest which would mean again a change in mountain zone. The footing is very slippery because the dark humus and the decaying leaves are wet from all the rain. I slow down a bit and need to take a rest as we near the bottom. The muscles have to work hard to keep your balance on a down slope with all these slippery leaves. It is also starting to rain a little and so we made the right decision to not take a longer trail. The walk down to the car took about 3 hours and it is sunny again. Parked beside us, the skier that we saw earlier is putting his skis in his car.
It was so enjoyable to be in the mountain air, surrounded by summits and valleys, and truly amazing to experience walking from one mountain zone seamlessly into the next. It was also a walk of firsts – seeing the chamois, the stambeco, feeling the heat of the sun while walking on the snow.
It is still early and we take a one lane road to head up to the Malga at Montasio.