With sort of a layover day in Cortina d’Ampezzo before beginning our trek, the day was spent in an all-hands orientation meeting, a short hike at the top of a cable car, marking maps for our self-guided trek, and rearranging luggage. On the hike we enjoyed some spectacular views, got a small taste of the local trails, visited a rifugio, and saw our first Alpine wildflowers.
First, though, I have to note that I had a fantastic view from my room. Here is the view from the postage-stamp-sized balcony.
And here was a different view from the window just around the corner from the balcony.
Cortina is located in the alpine valley of the Boite River at 4000 feet elevation. It is perhaps best known as a winter destination and was the site of the 1956 Winter Olympics. On the bus ride from Venice we drove past the ski jump, and I would later take a walk from which I could have a more leisurely view of this unique structure.
On this last day before the long-awaited beginning of our Dolomites trek, the Hiking Club group I would be hiking with first had an orientation meeting with the organizers of our self-guided hike. Self-guided meant that we would be provided with maps and directions but would not be accompanied by a guide. One of our questions had to do with weather. The morning of the orientation meeting it was clear that the afternoon temperature was going to be at least 25 degrees C (80 degrees F) and we were almost wondering if we really needed to pack the recommended down jacket. Of course, the answer was Yes, because weather in the mountains can famously change fairly quickly. However, we were reassured that it wouldn’t actually snow because it was only September – and the beginning of the month, at that. Spoiler alert: we did have snow at the highest rifugio, at just over 9000 feet elevation.
The short-term forecast for the next few days seemed to call for afternoon clouds and (thunder)showers in the mountains, so several of us decided to take a nearby cable car up to Mount Faloria. We were a little concerned that this might be our only clear view of the magnificent Dolomites for several days, and we wanted to make the most of it.
I simply let my GPS run from the time we left the hotel until we returned, so the track includes the walk across town, the cable car ride, and the mini-hike on Mount Faloria.
The cable car was a quick way to ascend and descend the 2800-foot elevation difference between the town and the flatter area on Mount Faloria. The cable car run actually has two separate sets of cables: one for the lower flatter section (just 17% grade) and another for the upper section (46% grade).
Riding the cable car was a bit like an old-fashioned E-ticket ride (for those who remember what that was!). As the cable car neared the top we had a fantastic view of Cortina far below, as well as the mountains on the far side of the valley.
A youngster riding in the cable car with us got a boost in order to see the views.
More or less as soon as we exited from the cable car and got clear of the building we had a wonderful view of the mountains directly across the Boite River valley. This is part of the Tofane mountain group, which is within the Parco Naturale delle Dolomiti d’Ampezzo. We were aware that, in several days, we would be hiking somewhere over in that area – actually, behind the next mountain group – and tried to figure out where there might be a trail.
In the Cortina area there are numerous ski lifts and runs. Of the six 1956 Olympic Alpine skiing events, five were held on Tofane and one on Mount Faloria, so there is a great local skiing tradition. Directly behind the cable car building, which is actually a bar/restaurant/rifugio, there are a few smaller, local ski lifts.
We decided to explore first near the cable car, and attempted to follow a short nature loop trail, though I must admit that we were unsuccessful at following the entire loop. However, we did find several overlooks and the upper terminus of a via ferrata called Sci Club 18. We also had a great view of the Olympic ski jump a couple of miles south of the center of Cortina. Along the path we saw our first Alpine wildflowers, including a bright yellow daisy-like flower in the Senecio genus. I think it is too yellow, rather than orange, to be either a grey Alpine groundsel (Senecio incanus) or a pinnate-leaved ragwort (Senecio abrotanifolius), the most likely candidates in my Alpine wildflower book, so I’m not sure of its identification.
Another wildflower was grass of Parnassus (Parnassia palustris), which I would see virtually every day of the trek.
A bit farther along we could see a building that we imagined to be a World War I-era fort, though I haven’t been able to find any information about a war-era fort in the area. It also might have something to do with the movie Cliffhanger, the mountain climbing scenes for which were filmed in the Cortina area. (And the sign for the nature loop trail marks something called Cliffhanger Lodge.)
After a brief exploration of the nature loop trail we returned nearly to the cable car, to a trail junction marked with signage that we would soon find familiar. We had been on trail 212 and decided to walk up to Rifugio Tondi following trail 223, which initially was the same as trail 213 and 214. In order to follow trail signage correctly, it is important to know the name of your destination: then you basically can follow the arrow at each trail junction to get there.
The trail to the rifugio follows one of the ski runs and gains 600 feet in 0.6 mile (20% grade). Along the way there were enticing views of mountains ahead of us and several other wildflowers, including campanula and this hoary plantain (Pantago media).
When we reached Rifugio Capanna Tondi we stopped for a break to experience the rifugio and enjoy the beautiful scenery around us. According to a modest sign outside the rifugio, I gather that Capanna Tondi was a climber who died in 1970 at the age of 30, presumably locally. Rifugio Tondi had several outdoor picnic tables on a pleasant, sunny terrace. There was a special table with a display of a specialty of the house: grappa.
I had the impression from the information we’d been provided about the rifugios where we’d be staying on our trek that they are generally located in areas with beautiful views. This was one of the views from close to Rifugio Tondi.
After our break we hiked back down to the cable car. On the way I noted some rosebay willowherb (Epilobium angustifolium, or Chamerion angustifolium), in the US known as fireweed. The pink color of the blossoms made a pretty contrast with the green forest in the background.
After riding the cable car back down to town we walked to the hotel taking a different route than our outbound route. After arriving at the hotel we had plenty of daylight to work on marking our maps with our hiking route for the next 9 days, using several different colored highlighters so that each day’s route would be clearly distinct. Then it was time to rearrange our luggage, since we’d be hiking with a backpack and leaving all other luggage in storage during our trek, except for a refresh bag we’d receive halfway through. I shared a room intended for two people with two other women, and we seemed to execute an elaborate dance as we had all of our luggage spread out at once and criss-crossed the room getting our things organized.
The next morning we would begin our trek. Ready or not, here we come!