During our 2013 trip to the Dolomites in northern Italy (Wildflowers of the Dolomites Part 1 and Part 2), we were captivated by the mountains and scenery, and were lucky enough to revisit them in 2015. Carrying less gear in our packs (but still too much – next time we’ll be going ultralight!) – we once again used several of Gillian Prices’ Walking in the Dolomites Cicerone Guide books, plus topographical maps.
The huts, or rifugias, are not like Aussie huts, but small hostels with showers, deliciously filling hot meals (after all that walking, believe me, you will crave carbs!) and bunk accommodation, in private rooms or dorms of 4-10. This means that you don’t need to carry a tent, sleeping bag and cooking gear, just a YHA sleeping bag liner. We hiked from rifugia to rifugia but also stayed in villages, soaking up the spectacular views, the great food… and, of course, the incredible alpine wildflowers. Join us on our hikes!
We start in the little village of Mareson-Pecol. The peak to the northeast is Monte Pelmo, the one to the southwest is Civetta, and we plan to circumnavigate both. In the off-season in little villages (as opposed to tourist magnets like Cortina), there seem to be plenty of places to stay, and we’d booked a small hotel with a $0 cancellation policy at the time we visited. This is important when planning hikes in alpine areas because, if the weather changes, we’d be restricted to the valleys, instead of staying overnight in the higher-altitude rifugias. Even though there’s a $0 cancellation policy, it’s polite to discuss your weather-dependent hiking plans with the manager beforehand or upon arrival.
Accommodation in most rifugias can be booked a day or two in advance, with discounts if you join the Italian Alpine Society.
The forecast for the next few days is clear and warm so, at ‘sparrow fart’, we set out for Mt Pelmo, climbing up through open meadows and conifer forest
with perennials such as Campanula barbata (above), Prunella, swaying spires of yellow aconite (Aconitum lycoctorum) and – hooray! – orchids, this one possibly Listera sp.
The summer is unusually hot, so climbing into the cooler heights is welcome; the Pelmo circuit hike is also justifiably famous for its incredible views.
At this altitude, little gentians begin to pop up
while, on scree, more campanulas,
aquilegias (Aquiliegia einseliana?)
and a swathe of Dianthus monspesselanus, so wonderfully fragrant that I smell them before I see the flowers.
Glorious views are the perfect seasoning for our crackers-and-cheese lunch stops,
with golden Helianthemum alpestre and pink alpenrose splashing colour amongst rocks around us.
But there is further to climb, the white scree radiating heat as we puff our way up, dripping with sweat.
Unsurprisingly, there aren’t many photos of plants here as I trudge up the unstable rocks until we finally collapse at the top. Phew – but yet another glorious view!
A quick breather, before a scramble around an outcrop, aided by cable
blue Paedarota bonarota clinging to the rock only slightly less tightly than I’m clinging to the cable!
A final scree slope to descend, dotted with little white flowers – Arenaria? Cerastium? There are so many different little white alpine flowers that it’s impossible for me identify them with certainty so, if any readers can help, please do! Although Geoff and I prefer to walk on our own rather than in a group, it’s times like these that it would be nice to have a knowledgeable guide (eg from here or here)!
At long last the historic 1892 Rifugia Venezia comes into view – a very welcome sight, because I’m totally buggered from climbing in such heat (>28C).
The next day, refreshed and refuelled by a shower, hearty home-cooked food and a good night’s sleep, we head off, the surrounding mountains surreal in the hazy air.
And for the first time, I spot the famous flower I’d searched for in vain on my last visit – the Martagnon lily! Other plant nuts will totally understand just how thrilling this was. I took about a million pictures, but here is just one:
We pass back through Pecol and continue to Mont Civetta. We’d hiked here last time without circumnavigating the ridge – the weather turned bad and the season was late, so a lot of snow still lay across our path and the highest pass would have been risky with our lack of experience. This time, the summer is both early and warm, so I expect to see many different flowers in bloom.
And indeed, colours appear in great swathes across the meadows – wow!
We begin to climb more steeply, numerous species of saxifraga, potentilla and other tiny plants dotting the rock faces beside the trail, so I’m constantly stopping to peer into crevices:
before we arrive at Rifugia Coldai for delicious home-made cake and coffee.
The vegetation changes again beyond the rifugia, with a magnificent geranium meadow and representatives of the Apiaceae family (more diverse and plentiful than they are in Oz)
as well as my first sighting of the beautifully inky hoods of aconite: cue another five minutes for photos!
Higher still, and we reach Lake Coldai. Last time we were here, ice scattered the surface, but now the water is a mirror. It is spectacularly beautiful, and a perfect spot for lunch.
Onwards for the last push to Rifugia Tissi. There it is, silhouetted at the top right of the ridge:
It doesn’t look very far, does it, but it takes a very long time to grow in size! The final steep push is exhausting – yet again, the weather is bloody hot – but fortunately my pack is a bit lighter; Geoff’s, on the other hand, has mysteriously become heavier! At last we are there.
We drop our gear in our room and, after a restorative cuppa and cake, explore the area around the rifugia. At 2250m, it’s well and truly alpine, and rich in different flowers:
Pedicularis is parasitic, like the Orobanche I saw in the valleys last time. Like the Apiaceae family, it’s another group of plants that appear to be more common here than in Oz.
It’s wonderfully exciting – there are so many new plants to see, even though we walked this section last time. Tomorrow we will be walking further and higher into completely new territory.
As it turns out, this does not quite go as planned, but the next two days bring not only some of the most stunningly unique landscapes Geoff and I have ever seen, but also some rare and special plants…