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The Dolomites: Take a hike

A hike in the Italian mountains takes in the best and worst of the elements, with some hair-raising drops to negotiate along the way

The Dolomites: Take a hike
Fanes Valley. Image: Jack Southan

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I’ve been walking through the Dolomite mountains for almost a week now — the landscapes have been more dramatic than I could ever have expected and the scope for adventure has surprised me at every turn. I spent the first few days of my walk with a group of Americans, hiking through amazing rocky expanses, rolling grassy hills and up and down some difficult inclines, but, having let them go on without me, I’ve settled in the almost mythically beautiful Fanes Valley. The weather has been poor in the valley, misty and damp, so my expectations for seeing any impressive vistas as I head out again today are low. I’m walking about 150 miles across this magnificent terrain, so I have ground to cover.

I set off before the sun climbs higher than the surrounding peaks, the air is clear and crisp and the blue of the sky is brilliant. Climbing east out of the valley, I make for the mountain of Col Bechei, which towers over the shady forests below. It’s a two-hour walk to the base and a further two-hour climb to the plateau below the peak, over rough ground and steep rocky inclines. It’s misty on the plateau but when the sun momentarily burns through the swirling cloud, the surrounding landscape is revealed.

Huge mountains scarred by landslides and rockfalls, forested valleys with rivers and yellow trails crisscrossing the floor, and brilliant sunlight dappling across it all. It’s spectacular. For a few minutes, it seems the weather is beginning to improve so I pull myself away from the views and turn my attention to summiting the mountain.

There’s a short, sharp scramble, then a steep climb up to sheer rock, which precedes a perilous rocky trail that clings to the steep contours. “Everything is under control,” I think to myself, just as an icy wind hits my face and the first cold flakes of snow hit my cheek. I look out behind me and see an ominous black cloud rearing up from the valley floor.

I push hard and as I finally reach the summit the snow is coming in fast. Anxious not to get caught on such an exposed peak I allow myself just a few moments to revel in the glorious view, before slipping and sliding my way back down, taking as much care as possible not to career off the edge and down into the valley far below.

Making it down safely, I check my watch and decide it’s time to press on. Looking like a portrait of the America frontier, the valley stretches out before me — pine trees lining rough trails through grassland and sandy clearings. Huge cliffs rise up on all sides and glow white and orange in the mellow sun. I check my map and see Route 11 marked; it’s not a place I want to forget in a hurry.

Hearing deep rumblings above me, I quicken my pace and with moments to spare before the blizzard whips in I make it into the warmth of the refugio I’ve planned to stay the night at. For the next four hours I watch the snow set in, and by nightfall the landscape is white as far as the eye can see. Tomorrow is going to be another challenge altogether.

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