Hiking the Dolomites
There are many mountain ranges worth exploring in the world, but few are as famously picturesque as the Alps. A number of countries come to mind when those mountains are mentioned and for me, France and Switzerland were always the first. My trip to the Dolomites sub-range however, put Italy firmly on even ground with them, as I have just experienced first hand its dazzling scenery, bafflingly spiky peaks, as well as the charming towns that make for great launchpads onto some amazing hikes.
As part of a larger Euro-trip, my family and I planned a 4 day excursion to hike a couple of the peaks in the Dolomites, a sub range in the Southern Limestone Alps. We started our trek from the town of Corvara, in the Alta Badia region of northern Italy, as the mountains surrounding it provided an amazing blend of challenging trails, relaxing mountain chalets (known there as rifugios) which will bathe, feed you and house you after a long day’s hike, and strong enough wifi – even at those altitudes – to keep my work flowing.
Getting to Corvara
Corvara will require either a bus ticket or a rental car as it does not have it’s own train station. There are a couple within a 30-70km radius, however, and shuttles or buses that can help take you the rest of the way. As this was a family trip, we opted for the convenience of a rental car to get us from the Munich airport to town. It was a 4 hour drive that gets more and more beautiful as you approach the town. And a great time to catch up on some family banter!
Dolomites Foothill Accommodation
The well traveled hiker might opt to arrive to the foothills of the Dolomites and start their hike that same morning, without spending a night, or needing any sort of accommodation. While that is certainly an option, keep in mind that the first day is likely your longest one, probably pushing a 5 hour climb. I would recommend spending the night in Corvara or another town in the area if you arrive any later than 2pm, and starting the next day, bright and early. Try to book in advance to get some cheaper prices.
We stayed at Hotel Tablé which offered a number of services, including a good buffet breakfast in the morning, a ride to the mountain to start our hike, and they held on to the backpacks and items we didn’t need while up there.
Our hike in the Dolomites was a 3 day, 2 night adventure. Each day, we would hike up to a rifugio, where we would spend the night. This often involved more than one peak, and therefore some valleys, and plenty of worthwhile landmarks along the way!
Day 1- Rifugio Lagazuoi
The hotel drove us the 20 minutes to the base of the mountain the first day at 10am. We started our hike under the majestic Tofana di Rozes Massif and quickly gained altitude, staring in awe at the surrounding mountains and the cute little town we left below. As we reached it’s peak, the first of two for the day, rather tired, we broke out some bars and water to reenergize before descending into the valley that would connect us to our destination on Mount Lagazuoi.
The descent was a nice change of pace but be careful with your knees as it will take a toll. A lake of the in the valley offered a great reason to relax and chill for a bit, maybe even take a dip, before starting the rather daunting second leg of the climb. I’m not going to lie, staring up at the majestic 9000+ feet of Mount Lagazuoi from down there was a little intimidating.
To make matters worst, I didn’t have much time to rest and enjoy the lake as I had a call in an hour’s time and had to get up to the rifugio in time to catch some wifi, so I left the others behind and carried on up. There are sometimes small sacrifices to the digital nomad life!
As I neared the mountain’s peak, I started to notice the astonishing World War I tunnels built into the hillside. I was breaking into a serious sweat trying to hurry up to make that call, I couldn’t even imagine what it must be like hiking up here in full army gear in the middle of a war! The tunnels are definitely worth exploring though, and a true reason to check out these peaks.
Finally, I reached the top and entered the comfy Rifugio Lagazuoi! What a great place to eat and spend the night this will be! I washed my face, ordered a beer and tried to connect to the wifi which, to my dismay, my laptop was unable to do. The bartender up there informed me that they often have trouble with North American Mac’s. Luckily, my Android phone had no problem and I was able to download the screensharing app needed to follow along and discuss the project’s next steps, albeit on the smaller screen.
By the time the call was done, my family had caught up, and we were able to sit down and enjoy the lavish meal prepared for us at the rifugio’s altitude of 2778m! We marvelled at the 360-degree views, breathtaking sunset, and the quietness of the mountains from one of the highest chalets in the Dolomites. All in all it was a 6 km / 4 miles hike with a 647m / 2,123′ net ascent. Needless to say, I slept like a baby that night!
Day 2 – Rifugio Pralongia
After falling asleep so early the day before after the long hike, I woke up at 6am and, with breakfast not being served until 6:30, I setup my laptop at a table and started implementing the details of yesterday’s call, just as the sun was starting to poke out over the distant peaks. Luckily, I had a local server setup on my laptop, so my it’s inability to connect to wifi wasn’t a problem. The first breakfast item to be brought out was the coffee, and it was most welcome! The food soon joined, as well as my family.
As we started out that morning as the energizing meal, it was clear that this would be an easier day. The path started with a steady decline as we descended from Lagazuoi, one of the tallest peaks in the area, to the valley and impending mountain. It ended up being more of a steady traverse with only two rather short steep inclines leading us over to the Pralongia plateau and the rifugio at its edge. If you’re feeling brave, there is also the option of taking an alternate route to the much higher ground of the Setsass on the way. In the valley between the two mountains stood another WWI relic of a small fortress, converted to a museum which, for history buffs, would be a great little break.
The last stretch to the Pralongia rifugio was rather flat and we arrived with much more left in the tank than yesterday’s hike. One could even take the easier route to the rifugio, drop off their bags, and head back out to attempt the much higher peaks presented by the Setsass.
In this case, I opted to take advantage of Rifugio Pralongia’s superior wifi situation, which posed no issues and allowed my laptop to connect, to get some work done. It really is incredible how connected this world can be and where one is able to take their work. Having had a shorter hike, we arrived around 3pm and I had plenty of time to finish everything I had to do before the American East Coast woke up and got to their offices.
It was a nice sunny day at the top so beating the glare was a little tough, but well worth the fresh air and beautiful scenery of an outdoor cubicle!
After a slightly intrusive call at 6:30pm (sacrifices people), I was able to join the others for dinner and once again, sleep came quickly.
Day 3 – Sella Massif and back to Corvara
By now I had my morning routine figured out and was deep into my code before the coffee arrived. Another tasty breakfast with a glorious sunrise, and we were once again on our way.
A similar route as yesterday’s, we descended into a valley and planned our next move. This area was littered with chair lifts, some of them operational even now in the summer, so the easy option is there for anyone looking to have a more relaxing day. After a good look at the map, we found the right trail and headed up the Sella Massif.
Tiny and barely visible from down there, its grey bricks camouflaged against the cliff behind it was our final destination of this hike – the quaint Kostner Rifugio. No wifi and not open in the winter, it’s just here to house and feed adventurous climbers in the summer. It was clear that many trails stem from here to much higher ground than we had time to get to that day, and it was a pity that we didn’t have another night to spend here so that we may explore them too.
That being said, we had time to enjoy one last refreshing beer and some sausages up top, take a last group photo and look across the massive range, in the distance at the Rifugio Lagazuoi, where we spent our first night, which by now stood barely visible on a faraway cliff. What a long road we traversed!
Feeling tired but accomplished, and let’s be honest, a little buzzed, we set off on the chairlift down to save our knees and enjoy the beautiful scenery on the smooth ride. All I could think of then was how amazing this must be to ski and, of course, apres-ski, in the winter!
Huge thanks to my parents for the idea and planning, and tolerating the random cabin laptop calls!