Walk From M.te Lussari to Cima Cacciatori – Julian Alps
August 10, 2014
It is an early start to the day for those among us who are not morning people. We meet up with the commandante at 8:00 because the drive to the Tarvisio area, which is just about at Villach and the Austrian border, takes about two hours. The area also borders Slovenia.
The drive up is along the autostrada and we exit at Valbruna. It is a festival day and there is a lot of activity. It is a little hamlet of a place but distinctively Austrian and alpine in feel with its onion domed church steeple and balconies covered with flower baskets. This area was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire until after WWI and like the Val Badia area was also part of the battle fronts.
The parking lot at the ski lift is already quite full when we arrive around 10:00 o’clock. The slogan on the gondola lift says – Lussari Senza Confini – without borders. This of course has only been possible in the past 20 years as in the days of the ex-Jugoslavia the whole area was off limits and heavily guarded at the border.
As we come out of the ski lift area, on the summit of Monte Lussari in front of us, is the charming view of the Sanctuary Monte Santo di Lussari, with the tightly grouped white houses around it and an impressive backdrop of mountains. It is a perfect summer day with clear blue skies and the occasional puffy cloud. You could stay here all day and just admire the view of the Julian Alps but we are headed to the Cima Cacciatori.
I am told, that for the most part, it is a just a regular walk in the mountains. From Monte Lussari (1766 m) and to reach the summit of Cima Cacciatori (2071 m) the dislivello (change in altitude) is only 305m. However, there will be a short stretch where in order to reach the summit there are a series of cables (cavi). This upgrades the level of difficulty of the trail. The capogita has safety ropes in his backpack for me.
We head down what in winter is a ski run and then into a pine forest. We are surrounded by a lush green glow from the larch trees, the green of the grasses on the slope below us, and the rhododendron shrubs with their bright fuchsia flowers.
The commandante tells me to enjoy this hard packed trail because you know that this perfect walking trail will not last long! And he is right. We are climbing steadily and now are walking along more rocky terrain and the green has changed to the deeper green of mugho pines. The larch trees are shorter and have a lean to them from the heavy winter snowfalls.
We can see the Santuario Lussari behind and below us surrounded by green and with that splendid backdrop of mountain ranges and blue summer sky.
We reach an area where the trail follows a scree (defined as loose rocks on a cliff- ghiaione in Italian). This type of trail is what spooked me at Lagazuoi. Everything is at a slope, the trail is narrow with small loose rocks, and the slope beside me is straight down. The capogita checks to make sure everything is alright with me. I am determined to not think about the slope and to stay focused on planting my feet firmly.
A tiny dog scampers past us. He is skipping on and off the trail, runs ahead of us, doubles back and then heads up the trail again. He loosens some small rocks and I can hear them falling down towards us. The expression on his face is sheer joy and excitement. You can just hear him thinking. Look at me. I am a wolf, free and wild. I look down the trail and see the family he is with – they call out and he heads back towards them.
Now the trail is steeper but I am enjoying this bright sunny day. We are now walking along the bare part of the scree – some scrubby mugho pines and shrubs but mostly layers of small rocks. I need to catch my breath. A number of times I can hear the sound of a bell ringing in the distance.
We reach a rock wall and I see a number of walking poles lined up and leaning against the rock face. The capogita says to me – stop and catch your breath, put your poles away. I look up and I see a woman coming down along the side of the rock face. She comes down to our level, stops right in front of us and tells us to wait before going up because there are seven more people coming down. Here we are at the cables. The capogita takes his safety ropes out. The woman says – no need for ropes it is all very simple. The capogita replies – but she has never done this before. And the woman continues – really no need for ropes. The capogita asks me what I would like to do and I hear myself saying – I don’t need the ropes.
I see the family and the little dog arrive. They are saying that it is time to put the harness on the dog and they also pull out the safety ropes for the little girl who looks to be about seven or eight years old.
The capogita gives me a pair of gloves. He instructs me to do my best not to make any loose rocks fall and to hold on tight at all times to the cable. We are headed up along the rock wall in a kind of vertical gulley. I hold on tight to the cable with one hand. It is all about hauling myself upwards and balancing myself with the other hand by grabbing hold of the opportune rock outcropping. I understand now why you do not want to loosen any rocks. If you do they are likely to fall on the heads of the people coming up behind you.
Then the capogita signals me to stop. We are at a bit of a ledge where there is no cable. There are hikers coming down towards us. He moves away from the wall to let the hikers by. I stay close to the wall because there really is nowhere else for me to move to. The capogita checks with me to see how I am doing – all good I say.
There is the rock face on one side and loose shaley rock on the other. The first hiker seems to be explaining to the other two, who are having some difficulty, how to come down. His tone of voice however, to me, does not elicit a lot of confidence and we wait while they tentatively negotiate their way down and then around us. I take the opportunity to pull the camera out of my back pocket and take a few pictures of the trail below us.
The trail gets a bit steeper and it feels like I am almost in a crawling position – bent over, one hand on the ground and one on the cable pulling myself up the incline.
We stop for some hikers coming down. Again I have to stay close to the rock wall. The capogita is off the trail and out a bit to let them pass. Two hikers pass by easily and say thank you. We wait for a third hiker coming down, twenty something, fit, all the proper attire, plus a rope slung across his shoulders. He looks like he is an experienced hiker. He chooses to go to the outside of the trail, and so, is very close to the precipice edge. His foot catches some loose stones, one leg slides out from under him and he sets off a small cascade of loose rocks. The hiker that just past us is stopped further down and yells out something like watch out below, rocks are falling. This third hiker is right in front of me. His front leg is stretched out in front of him and his heel is dug into the loose rock. His other leg is bent behind him. He tries to lift himself up but his foot slides further in front of him and again he sets off another rock fall. Everyone is stopped and just quietly watching. He waits for a bit. He tries to stand up again and this time he does get up, he walks past me, I do not look back to see where he goes and I do not allow myself to think about it anymore.
I hold onto the cable and keep going. The trail narrows, I see the drop beside me and there is no cable to hold on to. I hesitate but the capogita seems to have anticipated this. I walk past him, his hand steadies my backpack and we move on. Now we are in a bit of an open space, no more cables. I stop to catch my breath. The capogita says just one last bit and we are at the top. I look up and cannot see a summit just rocks. I scramble up the rocks behind him, haul myself over the edge, he steadies my backpack and there we are at the summit. Handshake, well done says the capogita. We head to the cross and I get to ring the bell.
I take a quick look around, spot a bit of shade between two rocks. I set myself, and my backpack down. I am soaked in sweat, the glare off the rocks makes my eyes hurt a bit, I try to catch my breath, I keep my head down and do not want to look around at all. Luckily this only lasts a minute or so. I get up to take a good look at the stunning view. There are layers and layers of mountains and the green valley below. The commandante sets up his post on a rock at the edge of the summit. There are a number of other hikers eating, chatting, ringing the bell at the summit. I eat my panini nicely ensconced between the two rocks.
As always the capogita points to all the mountains, tells us the names of the summits, explains what other trails you can take to get to the various summits; Jof di Montasio (where the Malga Montasio is), the Jof Fuart chain, the Austrian Alps with the dominant peak of Glossglockner, the small town of Valbruna that we drove through, Camporosso at the base of the ski lift, Tarvisio, the plain Arnolstein in Austria dominated by Mont Dobrach-Villacher Alp. The Slovenian part of the Julian Alps dominated by Monte Mangart, at the Italian-Slovenian border.
As we are chatting and taking pictures, a hiker in black shorts, sleeveless t-shirt and black bandana is telling some people that yesterday he biked 160 km. He then literally hurls himself past us and down what I think is a precipice. The capogita tells me that it is a trail. I guess that this guy is not a hiker but a trail runner of some kind. Within a few minutes he is just a black spot below.
I walk around and just past the corner from where I was sitting is the little dog we saw earlier. He has his harness on and his leash is tied to a rock. I feel the empathy – like me, he seems very happy to have found a little nook to curl up in!
Time to head back down. The capogita asks me if he should put the ropes away. I say yes thank you I will go down sans ropes! The commandante sets out. The capogita stays close by me as we head down. The first part I hold onto the cables and mimic where the capogita sets his feet. I lean on the rocks where I have to, hold onto the cable and all is good. Then we stop at that point where there are no cables to let a group of hikers by. Luckily I have a small flat spot where I can rest a minute or so.
We reach the spot where the hiker lost his footing and the rocks underfoot are loose. I just barely glance at the spot and keep moving, then grab onto the next set of cables. A couple of times I sit down low and my butt is close to the ground where I feel safer than taking a step down!
Now we are in that vertical gulley and I am told to slowly turn around. The rest of the descent is backwards. I can no longer see where the capogita is setting his feet. I try and feel for the footholds and they are not easy to find.
All of a sudden my leg just dangles in the air and I can’t seem to find a spot to set it down. The capogita is right there, places my boot in the foothold and so I can confidently continue down. All this is duly captured “on film” as they say by the commandante! One last step down and we are back on the trail.
I turn around and pick up my poles. Just about 14 minutes to get down. My knees feel a little bit weak but I remind myself how much I enjoy the scenery of the descents and I look forward to the rest of the descent!
We are on the scree again. There is a patch of snow and a big black dog is running back and forth enjoying the coolness of the snow. I am enjoying the scenery. I believe I have gained a certain appreciation of this mountain morphology – the view as you look up is an impressive sweep of grey white scree leading your eyes to the mountain tops and then the blue sky.
As we walk through the larch forest I stop because I spot some blueberry bushes. No chance of finding blueberries, I am told, with all these people here today. The shade of green on the slope below is bright and vivid and actually quite soothing after the stony grey of the scree. This vegetation is like the boreal vegetation of Abitibi and perhaps also this feels very familiar and also soothing. Then yes, some blueberries. They are not quite ripe, a bit sour, but a taste of blueberries none the less.
We are back at M.te Lussari. Lots of people out and about enjoying this perfect summer day, the views, some lunch outside at the long tables. As we wait for the lift we take a last look at that lovely sanctuary summit and the mountains all around us. The last look at Cima Cacciatori in the distance and I am very happy to say – we were there!