A big day: Sanda and Chris’s big day out in the Dolomites. It ought to have been simple enough really: 3 cable cars to take us to three separate peaks with short walks in between, but in between not having a map, poor signage and our (exceedingly) limited Italian we manage to make it a touch more exciting.
The first cable car is easy enough. It takes us to the peak of Piz Sefeur. Even at this level, the Dolomites are breathtaking. We’re surrounded by mountains on all sides, snow capped on the far eastern peaks, jagged rock on ours.
The next cable car is a little more challenging, but lovely in that it has an open cabin and as we ascend, the views are stunning.
From our lofty perch we see spruce, pine and richly green slopes. There are wildflowers galore and even mushroom fairy rings. We alight at the second peak: Gran Paradiso.
There’s a promise of ibex in these mountains and also very excitingly, marmots on high, which are much loved here. Of course we see neither.
The mountains are wonderfully peaceful post summer rush. We have both cable cars to ourselves and whilst there are plenty of hikers, mountain bikers and hang gliders, the spaces are so vast that they’re mere dots on the landscape.
It’s on route to the third cable car that we run into a problem. Allegedly it’s a short “20 minute” walk, however we’ve long since learnt that with European directions, 20 minutes could mean anything from 10 minutes to a more likely 45 minutes and so it’s no great surprise when a cable car doesn’t materialise after good 30 minutes steep walk. A further 30 minutes on we find ourselves at the opposite end of the mountain, very fortunately at a rather delightful restaurant with million dollar views. Clearly the wrong spot though.
We prop and wonder where we went wrong. Thought processes are enormously assisted by a delicious meal: a tomato based pasta for me, flecked with the cured ham they call speck here (nothing like the fatty speck at home). Chris has homemade cheese dumplings on a bed of leek. Light as a feather and delightful.
The staff solve our riddle – we turned right and walked across and up the mountain. We should have turned left and walked up the mountain. They assure us we can walk down this mountain, catch the second cable car again and go for take two. And so we do. There’s a moment’s panic when the 2nd cable car won’t let us in a second time, but a nice man takes pity on us and lets us through. So, off that, left we go for another steep hike. Chris’s foot is holding out remarkably well, thank goodness.
We finally make it to the third cable car. I use the term “car” loosely. The first two were spacious, gracious gondolas, made to hold 10 passengers, slowing to a platform so you could gently alight. The third, is a box for two. A TINY box for two, standing room only – the little white box, below.
To add to the drama, there’s no platform. And it doesn’t slow down. You stand in a spot and take a running leap to get on. The second person stands a little further on and leaps in after you, then they slam the door shut. Now in my defence, if there had been a few people ahead of us, I might have worked it out. But there weren’t, so I didn’t know I was meant to jump. That extra bit of a second’s delay meant I was late, but got on. Poor Chris then had to run and make a flying leap, with fully laden backpack, before the car left. That sound you can hear is my heartbeat pounding in my ears, partly compounded by the terror of what acrobatic move we might need to execute to get off at the third peak: Forcella Sassolungo.
Above us the peaks loom, stark in the extreme. They’re far too high to photograph from this ground level. They are apparently, one of the six major climbing challenges of our world. When we arrive, two men fling the door open and lift us out of the car. Not as bad as I thought then. The temperature here is less then half that below, a cool 11 degrees vs the balmy, sunny 24 of the lower slopes. I can’t believe people climb these peaks – they’re vertical rock with no visible footholds or vegetation. A modern day adventurer holds a world record for climbing not just these peaks, but also Everest within 2 months of each climb. Lunatic. Brave, certainly, but a lunatic. I’m getting vertigo just walking on the flat this high up. Fascinatingly, we learn that these peaks are the remnants of a coral sea, under water some 200 hundred million years ago.
It takes a while for my heart rate to settle, to the point that Chris can convince me to go back down. My average resting heartrate is really slow – in the low 50 beats per minute, so to have it thumping away is a warning I’m heeding. Himself eventually convinces me, with suggestions that the cable cars close at 5 pm, and we have three of them to catch plus walks in between. We jump on like pros, make the vertical descent, and hop off like the professionals we’ve become. I refrain from kissing the ground. Just.
The rest of the way down is easy, lots of time to look at all the details.
Two relaxing rides down later, we’re on what passes for ground level, just in time for cocktails. We don’t get the post storm lighting of yesterday, but nonetheless, it’s been a fabulous day. I’ll drink to that.