In June this year, we ventured a bit further than usual and drove from Munich through Austria to spend a long weekend in the Italian Dolomite mountain range. The plan was simple; pack lightly, prepare for uncertain weather and find our feet again on paths anew.
Words & Photography by Jonas Stuck | @jonasstuck and Lamorna Manning
After we spent a night camping near the beautiful city of Meran, we quickly packed away our tent into Miles the Duffle Bag and headed into the mountains early next morning with our smaller packs. The hike started in St Ulrich in the Val Gardena valley, and soon the rising heat started to catch up with us. We had heard that this valley was relatively tourist-free, despite the stunning nature, and we were excited to experience it first hand. The region is also famous for the Ladin language spoken there, as well as the typical Italian and German. This mix of alpine cultures promised delicious ice cream, hearty meals and small shops where wooden carvings and other local products were sold.
We planned on hiking to traditional alpine huts (“Hütte” or “rifugio”) deep in the Dolomites, where we would find a comfy bed, delicious Italian cappuccinos and pasta – all for a good price. The typical mountain huts in the Dolomites offer a lot of amenities without being luxurious. They are the main reason you can travel light and fast because there is no need to lug kilos of food or a tent with you. Our Fraser the Rucksack was the perfect size for a short trip like this. There was enough room for my light hut sleeping bag, food and water for the way, as well as an extra pair of waterproofs.
With around 1500 meters of ascent, the first day took us steeply up to a fabulous view of characteristic Dolomite peaks. The mountains here are different to the Bavarian Alps; the bare-rock peaks rise dramatically, often with menacing thunder clouds trapped in their deep gullies. As we expected, these thunder clouds led to heavy rain showers a couple of times, but luckily the waxy water-resistant outer layer stood brilliantly to the test and kept my clothes dry; vital when hiking! We finally reached the Schlüterhütte, standing proud at the head of an incredible valley, and made ourselves at home (which included lots of food, wine and board games).
The next morning, we headed off early to climb the nearby Peitlerkofel, standing at 2875 meters. Visibility was low and higher up we encountered a large snowfield, but it didn’t matter. The swirling clouds and damp air were refreshing, though chilly. As the rain slowly turned heavier and heavier throughout the day, we bailed our original plan to summit the mountain and instead circumnavigated it. As we descended, the trails became less rocky and instead of scrambling we were hiking again. The path twisted beautifully through high alpine pastures speckled with alms (small mountain farmhouses).
Thankfully, on our last day, we woke to blue skies and sunny weather. This meant we could tackle the Panascharte, a Via Ferrata between two peaks, which involved some serious climbing and scrambling. On the other side, as we sweatily emerged from the mountain pass, we were surprised to suddenly see hundreds of tourists with cameras, drones and tiny dogs milling around – all thanks to the nearby cable car station. A bit of a change from the peaceful paradise on the other side! As we slowly accustomed ourselves to civilisation again, we thought about how little it takes to get away from it all. Over the past few days our bodies had adapted to the early mornings, the simplicity of hiking and the longs days outside in the fresh air. Even though it thundered, rained and was freezing at times, we knew all along why we were out there.