Don’t get lost on a Sunday in the Dolomites. That was the simple lesson learned after watching several members of an Alpine rescue team spend their day of rest drinking in a bar. The smashed glasses were worrying enough, but a search party had to scour the area the next day after one inebriated colleague went missing.
He had barely been able to talk when he left the refuge, and was last seen telling his workmates to go on without him, as he was enjoying the scenery. Here’s hoping he found his way to safety because the landscapes in the area are intoxicating enough. But that he could get so thoroughly sozzled at a bar nearly 3000m above sea level, where every path out is potentially treacherous, says plenty about the area.
Italy’s Dolomites are a paradise for hikers who like the comforts of home. There are refuges every few hours on the Scilliar-Catinaccio Loop providing dormitory accommodation for about €20 a night and the meals, by trekking standards, are excellent. There’s no need to carry a sleeping bag because these are supplied to a majority of the huts, meaning that walkers can pack just the basics. While the food is not cheap, it is not nearly as steep as the landscape.
These factors make a four-day loop, which could be stretched out to a week, of moderate difficulty. The loop can be started from either the north or south sides, with the north entrance starting at Compatsch and a chairlift to the start of the walk.
Walks can start from an afternoon stroll, but it takes half a day to be free of day walkers and into the area proper. There is a constant clunk of cow bells in the lower regions and both the scenery and the locals seem more Austrian than Italian. The sharp peaks are world famous for climbers and adventurous walkers can hire via ferrata equipment for about €3 a day from local equipment shops (via ferrata – the iron way” – is a combination of ladders, metal brackets, footholds and bridges to assist progress in challenging spots).
Walkers needn’t worry about ropes, although the walk up from Rifugio Vajolet to Rifugio Alberto has an iron cord along stretches for added security. Smart cookies can take advantage of the goods cart between the two huts and organise to have it carried up for them.
The basic four-day route is to Rifugio Alpe De Tires on the opening night, reaching Alberto for the second night and Rifugio Antermoia the final night. Hikers should allow about five hours a day for each day on this route but the number of huts keep things flexible. The Kompass 1: 25,000 map No.629 Rosengarten-Catinaccio-Latemar covers the walk.
Beautiful Bolzano is a great base for the trek and hikers would be wise to stock up at its fresh food markets. The town also has an excellent array of outdoor cafés and the combination of German beers and Italian cuisine is a great way to unwind after a hike. Just beware if your drinking buddies happen to include any members of the Alpine rescue team.
The nearest major Italian city to Bolzano is Milan, about three hours by train (€20 one way). Buses run regularly from Bolzano to Castelrotto and then onto Compatsch.