Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Paradise Found

This morning, we are just about to seat ourselves at a 2 person place setting, at a different table from yesterday when Michaela's mother very quickly stops us and says, " no, no,no!" motioning for us to sit in the exact same chairs as yesterday. We dare not argue and obediently take our appointed spots! What difference does it make, we wonder? The b&b only has 5 rooms and they are not even full!
     Today, we are excited to finally start our hike. The entire South Tyrol area is a skiers' mecca, with lifts that go from the towns below, up to the Alpse de Siusi, which is a huge plateau of rolling green hills and pastures. Ski runs form an intricate network that crisscross and cover every hillside and mountain.  We will take a gondola to the plateau and hike 6 miles across the pastures then zig zag 2 steep miles up the side of one of the mountains, a 2,100 ft elevation climb to Rifugio Bolzano, at the very top. 
     The gondola is a 5 min walk from our b&b; the ride takes 15 min. I was expecting wilderness and undeveloped open space and am incredulous at how commercialized it is at the top. This is the hub of the ski area and all around us are ski shops and cafes. Because only a limited number of cars are permitted. there is only a small parking lot and a couple of small hotels. The network of hiking trails passes herds of cattle and horses with signs that direct hikers to various rifugios. We set out on a paved road, which changes to a walking path across pastureland. As we walk, the crowds thin and the ski buildings are no longer visible. After about 3 miles, the path becomes increasingly more rugged and ascends steeply; we are thankful we did not do this trip in yesterday's rain.  The rocky and precarious switchbacks quickly climb higher, and we now have a spectacular view of the plateau's rolling hills, patchwork of green fields, and small wooden cow huts that dot the landscape. The jagged mountain peaks rise above. It is some of the most spectacular and beautiful scenery I have ever seen. I think we have found paradise. 
      The last mile, 5 hours later is a barren landscape and we feel the cold winds whip around us. These winds will not let up the entire time we are up here. Rifugio Bolzano, built 140 years ago is a 3 story stone structure with all wood interior. It consists of private and dorm style rooms, bathrooms and dining room. Much to our surprise, the dining room is the only heated room and the space hearer is turned off at 9.  We stay in this warm room until closing time. We meet 2 other couples from California and learn that the rest of the guests are hearty Germans. Many of them have been hiking hut to hut for several days, on their own, none are with tour groups. All the staff appear to be college students; our waiter is a physics student at the university in Innsbruck, who says there are no good universities in northern Italy. He has been working at the hut all season and leaves next week.
   The photography does not disappoint as evening brings misty clouds that float across the jagged peaks. I stay out until the last of the light is gone and feel satisfied by the images I have captured. 








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