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Friday, August 31, 2012

Hiking in the Dolomite Mountains with Collett's Walking Holidays

Hiking in the Dolomite Mountains with Collett's Walking Holidays

As some of you who have followed this blog in the past know I like to hike. You can't work in an Army Navy Store all your life.

One of the challenges has been to find places that my wife and I can both hike but at the levels that we feel comfortable and to a have good meals and a nice bed at the end of the day.

I think we both felt like we found what we had been looking for all these years. Collett's Walking Holidays operates in several different sites around Europe. They offer the option of picking your up and returning you to the airport, run small hotels in quaint little towns, do breakfast and dinner for their clients and provide hikes around the regions they are in. Just for the record I have no vested interest with the company.

Sherie and I have wanted to go to the Dolomite Mountains on the Austrian/Italian border for some time. It's quite remote, has a lot of history and quite unusual geology. The Dolomite's have an unusual concentration of calcium, magnesium carbonate that was formed under the ocean many years ago, in the rock in some places you can see fossil imprints. The rock in this area is literally falling apart and creates these incredibly steep shard like mountains.

Sherie had researched a number of tour companies but US companies tend to be at least double the cost of many European companies and we liked the smaller feel instead of being herded around in larger groups. On this trip we met no Americans in this area. We tend to also have busy schedules so we wanted to have a flexible scheduled start and finish which Collett's easily accommodated. It's interesting to note we were taking a week but many of the Europeans we met were taking 2 weeks or doing a week in conjunction with other trips. Booking was easy, they answered all our questions and sent us a list of necessary items for the daily hikes.

We left Burlington, Vermont about 4pm on Friday the 17th and arrived in Venice at 11am on the 18th. We were met by a Collett's representative and given time to get our things together. There were other folks coming in the same day on earlier flights waiting for us as well. We then got the 3 hour ride from Venice Airport to Corvara, Italy where our hotel was located. You could rent a car but unless you are comfortable driving on tight road with kamikaze drivers I would discourage it.

There are 4 options in the Corvara area for Hotels (Corvara seen in background). Two above Corvara the Angelo and Hotel Panorama, one just outside of Corvara and one in Pedraces. All are great locations however the ones above Corvara require some extra effort when coming out of town.

We choose Hotel Panorama for it's food. It was a little extra but really worth it. Breakfasts were a huge spread of pastries, fruits, cereals, juices and breakfast meats. The dinners were even better. Every night had a theme and the attention to detail in the 3-7 course meals was just phenomenal. I told my wife that is what I wanted at home from now on and she laughed at me.

And then there was the hiking. Each house that Collett's runs has daily guided excursions. Angelo (the house closest to us) usually ran a easier hike, harder hike and a couple of via ferrata hikes daily. Via Ferrata is best described as free climbing with a harness and a set of tails that catches you if fall. You clip into a series of cables that have been bolted into the rock at regular intervals.

Sherie stuck to easier hikes but found that some days were more challenging than others. Some of our dinner mates did just Via Ferrata and found them exhilarating.

 I did a hard walk the first day with Cat and Pat (guides from Collet's). I was the only person who signed up for the walk but they brought in a guide from another house as you need 3 in case some one gets injured (one to go get help and one to stay with the injured person). I went up Sasso Di Stria (which was an important WW1 landmark) but more about that later.

On the second day I wanted to tie into a good hike which got some peaks So by myself, I went from Corvara to Sassongher (seen above) and then over to Sass da Ciampac (seen below) both 9000 foot plus mountains and then circled back into town. It was an 8 hour day and conditions with the sun were quite hot. The mountains here seem to be almost like a reflector oven as a lot of the heat gets reflected back at you.

Third day was a glacier walk up the sister peak to the Marmolada. the glacier is one of the lower elevation ones in Europe and with all the warm temps there is receding quickly. We rode up in chair lifts that look like balloon gondolas, take two people standing and that you get into like a bob sled. Once on top the group that I was in hiked the 1/2 mile up to the bottom of the glacier and were instructed by the guide Filippo on how to put on our crampons and harness and roped together.

We then began across and then up the glacier. Movement was kind of jerky with 6 people roped into the guide and in all honesty my instinct was that if someone lost it with the number of inexperienced people in the group I was going to die, but what the heck it was a nice day. Stopping a fall arrest with experienced people is difficult much less inexperienced ones. We made it up and back with minimal problems but I had the feeling by the end that I did not like being a dog on a leash. Another note is that if you did not want to hike this peak there is a cable car that takes you do the top and many people were kind of staring at us as we trudged up the slope.

The next day Sherie and I went to the WW1 museum for a guided walk through the WW1 ruins around Sas Dei Strei. Both of us were not aware of the tremendous fighting in this area, the level of tunneling done by both sides and the tremendous loss of lives due to exposure, etc.

On Thursday I did a hard walk with Mary and Ella from Pedraces to another mountain range (once again I was the only guest but they were more than willing to accommodate me) and came back through an incredible valley to refuge for a nice cup of coffee. There are many refuges all over this area which make hiking quite civilized.

On the last day I got to hike Mount Marmolada a 10000 foot peak (hidden in the mist). I'm going to do a separate account of this hike as it was quite challenging and quite a thrill. The guide canceled out on account of an overbooking issue but the Corvara manager stepped up and said he would take me. There were a lot of crevasses and falling rock that added to the mood.

The weather during this time was 75-85 during the days and 55-65 overnight. There were several strong thunderstorms that came though the area but none during the days.

Saturday morning we left Corvara at 8am got a ride back to Venice (which was hotter than Hades) and caught a mid afternoon flight back to NY and got into Burlington at midnight on the 25th.

All and all a great trip.

Steve B


D. Chinn said...

Steve: You went all the way to Italy for a hike? IMHO your time (and money) would have been better spent in Oregon (specifically, Crater Lake). Magnificent does not begin to describe it. And, as a bonus, you would have been investing your ca$h in the USA!

Barre Army Navy Store said...

Thanks for the feedback D. The travel time from the east coast to west coast is a day so the time is the same. Perhaps you missed the point this was really nice ie not roughing it. Like I do every weekend.

As to buy USA does anyone here in the US offer anything like this. I doubt it.

Venice airport hotels said...

I do this once a year, because the scenery of Dolomites is amazing.