Hut Hiking in Northern Italy travel blog

These llamas don't know it, but that's where they had the artillery...

The Little Red Hen lives at Rif. Pederu.

Pederu from the wicked switchbacks.

Rif. Sennes ahead. VAWT on left.

Try not to follow a sign like this.

This is what a trail should look like.

I needed my ice ax for this part. Instead I had to...

This is the moraine field just before the little snow patch. This...

The view out my balcony at Hotel Lago di Braies.

Friday, June 8, 2012: Rifugio Fanes to Hotel Lago di Braies

There I was, in the middle of an alpine field with no trail-markers and no trail. Nothing but hills and short stalked green grass clumps. And as soon as I found a trail, the trail number didn't make sense. And then it started raining.

But the day started out well.

I had the best coffee that I'd ever had in Italy at Rifugio Fanes. Plus I had the granola that I love so much now, and the brown bread with the little seeds.

They were shocked when I told them how much I liked the coffee. They thought I was crazy. They said it was just coffee from “the mokka”. I think that's the little french press. It's what I'm going to try to order from now on. I wonder if it's available in the little town cafes where everyone stands at the bar and downs shots of espresso. Perhaps I'll try getting this at a cafe when I get back to Bozen.

Then I got to watch the llama whisperer capture one of the llamas that got loose during the night. She just kind of ignored it with body language but kept talking to it in a nice soft soothing voice. When she was close enough to pet it, she did and gently took its reins. And that was it.

And that was right behind the main building where the owner pointed out the Austrian artillery positions from WWI. The night before, he showed me their family album from that time. I don't know why he showed it only to me, but he did, and I'm glad. I thought I was out of the WWI area, but no, it was though-out the mountains all around here.

The trail started out nicely too. All downhill to Rif. Pederu.

I saw pictures of Pederu in the family album the night before too. The pictures showed the area full of tents and wooden structures that housed the Austrian Army.

Now the same place is the rifugio, a parking lot, and some green green pasture land with happy cows. The pasture land was wet with mud but still green. I wondered how you could possibly have a tent on mud. Do you dig a trench? But then where does the water go if the ground is level? Even if it's dry when you pitch the tent, if it rains won't the water just seep in underneath? These are the things you think about when hiking alone.

The lady running Rif. Pederu was real nice. Much more personable than at Fanes. Why was this, I thought later, fewer people there? A different personality? What was it?

They also had water faucets in the bathroom that were higher up from the sink than normal, like at a hospital. Many places had faucets like this. You can fit your entire water bottle upright underneath and just fill er up. But not at Fanes. There the faucets are lower and you have to tilt your bottle or use a cup and transfer water from sink to bottle very slowly.

So Pederu seemed like a real nice place. You can even drive right to it. So why are there more people at Fanes? You'd think you'd get bored hiking alone, but no. There are plenty of things to think about.

Then the trail went up on a paved road, right up the mountain in a series of switchbacks that was no fun. Was this what people didn't like about Pederu? I could see about 15 cars in the parking lot. Where were these people?

The path finally leveled out, left the road, and became a trail again. It was forest land, and then in-between forest and alpine (where the firs look stunted), and then above the treeline. And then there was a rugged looking vertical axis wind turbine near a building. It was Rifugio Sennes.

I decided to have a real lunch this time. It was cold and windy, and the skies were threatening so it was a pretty easy decision. Why not go in, warm up, let some of the sweat on the back of my long sleeved shirt dry out (the part between my back and my backpack), and check out the hut so I could write about it for anyone who is curious.

Sennes had a great remote feel. It was remote. And it felt good to get out of the elements. I had the goulash soup and french fries. The goulash soup was great, and the fries were disappointing-but I ate them anyway in case I needed the energy later.

At 12:15 when I arrived there was only one couple there, but 4 or so groups arrived while I was eating. So it looked like they were doing a fine business. And they were friendly.

And they told me the vertical axis wind turbine only operated the lights and that they still needed a generator for everything else.

The decorations inside were typical for the mountain huts. They had lots of mountain things like old wooden skis, and old poles, old pictures, paintings, and stuffed animals etc... But one thing they had that was different was a giant piece of fossilized coral, maybe 1 foot by 1 foot big. It was bigger than anything the WWI Museum had, and looked like it was right out of a tropical reef.

And then it was time for me to go. I asked about the weather and they gave me a print out to read in English! A 40% chance of rain this afternoon. So the sooner I went, the better. I filled up my water bottle under the nice high faucet, took another look at the map, and was on my way.

The trail started out fine. It was a little uphill like the map showed, and I passed an intersection that was to continue on the Alta Via 1. My route deviated from the Alta Via 1. The computer from the alpine club had me go a different route that was a little shorter and that went though a different valley. But it reconnected to the Alta Via 1 at Lago di Braies. So, all in all, everything was going fine, until I saw the sign.

The sign was on a rock and didn't have a trail number on it, but it had the name of the little valley where I was headed. The sign had an arrow and there was a trail where it pointed. I had a flashback to the time just after Pralongia where I followed a similar sign. I should have listened to that flashback.

The area was now all alpine. It was above the treeline. It was rolling hills covered in the short stalked alpine grass. The sky was cloudy and I was trying to hurry before the rain.

If it rained, I wasn't sure how I would do. My backpack had one of those rain covers that comes up from a secret pocket on the bottom, I had a gortex jacket, and my shorts were a nylon cotton blend, and that was it. My plan for any rain was to put on my jacket, roll up the backpack rain cover, and keep going. I had long pants but they were nylon and not waterproof. Even if they were waterproof, what would be the point. If my legs get wet, no big deal, they are on fire anyway. My shoes are going to get wet no matter what, so I can't worry about that. The only thing is that my shorts will get wet, but at least they aren't cotton sponges. Well that was my rain plan, and I hoped that I wouldn't use it.

Then the little trail went from dirt to grass, but still looked like a trail, so I kept going. I tried to look at the map to find any distinguishable landmark. Nothing significant.

Then there looked like a more traveled path up-slope, so I went there. Was it a real path or just a game-trail? I searched for trail-markers. None. But I kept going.

Then there I was. In the middle of an area that all looked the same with no trail or trail-markers, and the heavens threatening. This time I was really lost. Now, I could either back track, or continue on to intersect a trail that I thought was ahead.

I continued on. Walking in the grassland was pretty good, sometimes a little squishy, but not dangerous. And then I came to a trail. A real trail with trail-markers. This trail was labeled “6”. It wasn't the trail I intended to intersect, and according to the map, there wasn't even a trail “6” anywhere around here. There was a “6a”, which couldn't be where I was, but no “6” and the markers have always been exact so far. How could this be.

And then it started to rain. On cue.

So, now my plan was to follow this new not-on-the-map trail to an intersection and then I'd know where I was. I took off my pack, broke out my jacket, found the secret pack pocket with the rain cover, strapped my straw hat to the back of the pack and replaced it with my ball cap, and got rain proof as best I could.

And it wasn't that bad. My shorts weren't even getting wet. And I was getting too hot in the jacket. And I was making good time, and there was no mud. And after about 45 minutes, I came to an intersection.

And as if on cue again, the rain stopped for a little while so I could figure out where I was.

It took about 15 minutes to figure out, and it was hard to believe. The signs weren't lying, though. And the clouds and rain made any sense of north/south unreliable. It was like having vertigo while flying. Where you can't trust your feeling for the horizon and only the instruments are accurate.

So I believed the map and the signs and set out again. It ended up being about an hour delay and added about 3 km to the hike. And I was happy for the experience. And I was happy to test out my rain plan. And I was happy to be on course again. And I was happy to get to the next intersection that confirmed I was on course.

And then I found out why no one else was taking this route.

There was a big moraine field where the trail should be, and it was on the side of a steep valley wall.

There was only one valley, the trail was clearly marked to here, you could see the trail further down the valley, it was just this huge mass of gravel and rocks blocking the path. I started thinking there's no way you could ever mark a moraine field because the rocks are always sliding down the mountain erasing any mark you could put up. So, I needed to try not to be stressed with the absence of trail-markers and do the best I could to follow where it looked like some people had gone before and don't break an ankle, and don't slide down out of control.

So I took my time and picked my way through, and eventually, I made it. Stopping was the worst part. Not really the stopping, but the starting up again. It seemed like the best strategy was to try to keep taking small steps and don't stop. I learned a better strategy later, but you need boots for that.

So, I made it out of the moraine field alive, praise be to the trail gods, and it was easy sailing down to the lake where I rejoined the Alta Via 1 and stopped at the Hotel Lago di Braies for the evening.

The Hotel Lago di Braies cost 70 Euros for the night with half board and was worth every penny.

More on this tomorrow, along with the final leg of my jouney.

Note: The one picture I have of the moraine field up there is just the easy part that traverses the valley. The harder downhill part was like that with smaller and bigger rocks mixed in, little or no trail, and everything slipping downhill.

Until then,

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