Dolomites Diary Day 3
25,276 steps

Another day, another hike! And after the views from the day before, this one had a lot to live up to.

We drove to a carpark in a small village at the start of the hike, with the mountains looming up above the plane. We started by crossing a river and then hiking up a steep ascent on damp forest earth. The air was cool and warm in bursts as we passed through stripes of sunlight that filtered through the trees.

Not long into the hike, we came across some wooden signposts pointing towards a waterfall. We actually ended up shimmying along an old mine shaft in search of this waterfall (which was definitely not the way to the waterfall). It was a long, dark tunnel reaching into the belly of the earth, the chilled air hitting us almost immediately upon entering. The daylight quickly left us and we were left in the pitch dark, with only a plank of wood keeping us up above the streams of water and stones. Two of our team plunged onwards whilst the rest of us quickly decided to turn back! Once we had emerged into the sunlight once more, we quickly spotted the rest of the signposts for the waterfall and found it, bursting in great clouds of water and light over the cliff before falling thunderously on the rocks below.

As we proceeded, we happened on the remnants of other old mines, which were marked by gaping dark mouths into the rocks and ramshackle structures made up of slabs of stone that gleamed bronze and copper and blue in the light. The footpath beneath us shone similarly as we climbed further and further up.

And then, miraculously, the path levelled out and we emerged into a vast mountain valley fringed with snowy peaks and headed by one giant summit that blinded us with its bright splendour. Behind us, the hills stood proudly like kings with their jagged, rocky crowns and their velvet green cloaks. We followed a snaking river through the valley, feeling at times like we were in the middle of a muesli advert!

And then the climbs began again and we slowly rose up above the valley! We crushed our way across twinkling stretches of snow and tired our legs out on stony staircases hewn into the rock. Our path flanked the valley's slopes as it wound upwards into the higher mountains, rising and dipping and rising again until finally, the rifugio came into view. A lake appeared as we rounded a corner, nestled in a pocket of rock, its turquoise waters sparkling lazily up at us as we passed.

And then finally we reached the rifugio! After 3 hours of uphill walking, we had finally earned our lunch. We cosied up on large communal tables outside and ordered heaps of cheese and egg and potatoes. There were huge plates of pasta doing the rounds as well which didn't look half bad either!

Oh, and Michele and I finally got some cute photos together...

Our descent looped back around the mountain we had coasted on the way up. We shot snow  balls at each other as we crossed the plains of snow and trundled semi-drunkenly down the mountainside. Again, our path followed a river which at times leaped ahead of us in our descent, jumping over ledges into glittering cascades, and at others bounced energetically across the rocks in the riverbed beside us. 

After we had descended upon a herd of cows, whose bells we had heard languidly clanging and tinkling from far higher up, we rounded a corner and saw our starting point in the distance. We began to pass signs of civilisation again; a home, a herd of goats, a beautiful wooden chalet which looked like my dream home but was actually a rather magnificent cow shed, and groups of walkers including an old man with a traditional peaked alpine cap and a long wooden stick which he took to poking cows liberally with.

At the foot of the hill, we dipped into a 15th century church, filled with faded frescoes and the heady scent of wax and pine. And then we wound along back through the forest, across the river and to the car once more, where the mountains we had just climbed and conquered loomed up above us.

Just another day in paradise.