alps,  europe

inter-season alps | cortina d’ampezzo

The Italian Dolomites are seriously some of the best mountain ranges out there (that I’ve visited thus far). The Cascade Range will always catch my heart, but the dolomites are incredibly breathtaking. It might not have been the wisest decision to visit them in late October, when it’s in-between seasons. Unfortunately, I only had a very specific time frame to visit the area if I wanted to go for more than just one day. So I was praying for good weather and that it would stay the constant dry and sunny I had been tracking a couple weeks before. Initially, I wanted to do multiple hikes, mountain biking, and at least one via-ferrata adventure. Although I climb, my friends have had much less experience. So via-ferrata routes are ideal for the hiker looking for more technical adventures. Plus, via-ferrata equipment are far less expensive in Italy than in Switzerland, where I had last done this. So you see, I had quite the adventure-packed schedule planned.

But as always, I have back up plans and routes. And especially started beefing up these second options as I was realizing snow started to descend on the mountains the few days before our arrival. What impeccable timing, weather! And not only was weather turning on us, most of the outdoor adventure companies were closing and ending rentals for mountain bikes and other summer adventure gear. It was evident that the mountain towns were gearing up for winter season, storing away their bikes and bringing out the skis and snowboards.

Cortina d’Ampezzo

I digress, we spent 3 whole days in Cortina d’Ampezzo, a beautiful Italian mountain town. I chose this because it is central in the Italian alps, and most importantly, easily accessible without a car. Not to say that it was an easy trip, but there are enough trains and inter-city busses on this route to get us in and out. We took a few trains from Germany via Innsbruck and stopped at Dobbiaco Toblach. We were nervous about the bus running late and if we had actually missed it from the train station, so we went back inside to look for more information. But just as we stepped inside, I saw the charter bus pull outside, and we quickly ran across the street to catch it. And by the time we reached Cortina, it was dark and we couldn’t quite figure out the local city bus (as we continued to do so for the next couple nights). So we ended up walking a mile to our bed-and-breakfast (not AirBnB nor a hotel).

We stayed at a cute Italian house where an older couple hosted guests in their extra rooms. We liked calling the host Uncle Marco, cause he was such a kind uncle-y man who always said “prego”. Having a spread of German, French, and Spanish backgrounds,1 my friends and I needed a crash course on Italian. Although we learned to say “buongiorno” at breakfast and “grazie” when our tea was served, we didn’t quite understand how many different ways “prego” could be used. But to my knowledge, it’s like “bitte” in German, you can use it to say please and you’re welcome. But also in any circumstance, “prego” can be used when you don’t know what else to say. Prego!

the town of cortina

Day 1: On our first day, it was pouring, pouring, pouring down rain. It would not cease. I scrapped all outdoor plans and we had a lazy day in town. We caught one of the mini local busses into town so we didn’t have to walk uphill. Walking around a ski-resort town consisted of looking at high-end outdoor clothing brands, which we could not afford as students. But we could still dream! We exhausted all the stores and retired to our house. Since we could not cook in the house, we went out to town eat again. And this was our power outage night #1. Good thing the restaurant had a generator so we could continue eating our food in the light. The rest of town was shut down, and that was an eerie feeling. We tried finding the bus again, but it would not come as scheduled – we also knew we probably weren’t reading it correctly. So, through the pouring rain in the pitch dark, we walked back to a warm house, where Uncle Marco kindly helped dry our clothes on the brick heater.

Between fall and winter

croda da lago

Day 2: I decided we needed to get outside rain or shine. It was much lighter rain and at least the sky was brighter too. The goal: Croda da Lago. The best thing was that we could start walking straight out from our rooms, no need to drive to a trailhead! It was mildly misting and showering as we started the hike. But half way up, we started to encounter snow, which got continuously deeper and deeper. I had previously checked the forecast and there was no sign of heavy downpours or storms. So with the unchanging thin clouds, I thought we’d be safe to continue heading up. Myself included, we were not wearing the best shoes – good ‘ole sneakers. Definitely did not hold against water and snow. We weren’t complaining though. It was fun to be in snow again and we knew we would eventually be dry. We even made a couple snowmen! After 1000 meters gain, the trail tapered in steepness, the views opened up and we could see the wall of the mountain in front of us and then the lake and its hut. It was a relief that we made it to the lake (Lago Fedèra) at last. A bit blurry from the snowflakes all around us, but indeed a winter wonderland, contrasting the rainy fall we started in.

Trail or river?
The Rifugio

I decided to check out the hut since a light was on, and see if we really had been following someone’s footsteps the whole way up. But when I got in, the man came to us, looked us up and down and started talking fast in Italian. All I could understand was “danger” and “subito” (immediately). I think he was trying to tell us that the weather or snow was dangerous, but I had thought we were fine, and the sky still looked alright. But we heeded his warning and immediately turned around. Honestly, nothing happened, it wasn’t high winds nor precipitating heavily. Perhaps another route was not good, but we safely made it back down to Uncle Marco’s haven. Funny enough, we had power outage #2 during our dinner in town again. At least the skies had cleared up and we had a glorious view of the Milky Way. It’s nice to have the power out and eliminate all light pollution to reveal the beauty beyond Earth.

Morning beneath the mountains


Day 3: Our last full day at Cortina, we were graced with sunshine and blue skies. My friends were barely awake at dawn, but I was already outside try to catch the last glimmer of alpenglow. Marco served us breakfast per usual for. It’s always delicious when you can eat 3 bread rolls with a mix of apricot jam, nutella, and more! And then we were happily on our way out the door until we were a minute too late for the bus. The bus system is honestly confusing, it changes every day and you have to read it in Italian, figuring out which are school day or holiday routes. So instead, we opted to walk to town and enjoy the beautiful morning.

Originally, my top priority destination was the gorgeous Lago di Sorapis (which I later got to visit). But looking at the elevation of 2000 m, which was the same as Lago Fedèra from the previous day, I knew we’d be hitting more snow if we hiked it. Plus, I couldn’t tell if the busses were running that direction this time of year anymore. So I though I’d see if it was possible to do a via ferrata route to Col Rosa, a small peak north of Cortina.

Misty landscapes
Lago Ghedina

In town, we headed to a gear rental shop and were met by a kind gentleman who gave us so much advice and information about the area. First off, he strongly suggested us not to do the via ferrata route since it would surely have snow en route, which is dangerous even for a seasonal via ferrata climber like him. But he was generous enough to continue telling us about various hiking trails we could take to get awesome views with minimal snow travel.

Off we went with our highlighted Cortina map of trails. Our first stop was the top of a ski lift, Col Drusciè. But to get there, we first hiked to Lago Ghedina which gave us a beautiful reflection of Tofana di Rozes against the fall color leaves. The theme of the hike was fall colors with a hint of winter snow. It was gorgeous! Everywhere along the trail, I was delighted. Little did I know that I was graced by golden larches (the very same ones I’ve been enthralled by in the PNW). We were recommended an awesome hike for an out-of-season time. We continued traversing along north and began to hit intermittent snow, which was soon unavoidable.

The further we walked, the more mountains we saw and all of a sudden, Col Rosa came into view! It’s a very distinctive feature in the mountains and I loved how clear a peak it was, as opposed to the massive rocky mountains surrounding us. I kept thinking how cool it would be to climb the via ferrata route on Col Rosa if weather had been in our favor. I guess I’ll have to come back later and explore more of the area! Just as we reached the Col Rosa saddle, we started to head downhill. Switchback after switchback we went until we finally reached the area of Fiames. My compadres were quite tired after this 16 km hike, so we decided to take one of the town busses from Fiames back into Cortina. And this time, we finally found where the return busses begin their journey to the town outskirts (a few blocks immediately downhill from the main bus terminal). It was so unintuitive, with little signage, but at last, we had figured out how to take the bus back home.

Valley of larches
Col Rosa

After enjoying another dinner in town, this time without a power outage, we began to repack our bags and ready for our next journey. Uncle Marco was so kind to serve us breakfast again at the early hour of 6am so we could catch our bus out of Cortina. I will always be grateful for the hospitality and generosity of our host. May we continue to be this compassionate towards others! And what a beautiful town and surrounding. Cortina d’Ampezzo, I’m coming back for you some day!

Update: I did end up going back and check out my adventures starting at Tre Cime and the rest of them here!

My adventures:

  • Croda da Lago
  • Lago Ghedina – Col Drusciè – Passo Pospòrcora

Other great adventures I didn’t get a chance to explore:

Photos shot on Canon Rebel T6

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