Alta Via 1 – Days 4 & 5 – Vassoler to Belluno

By the time day four rolled around a bit of a phenomenon was happening for me. I found myself continually slipping back into 5th position in the group. The previous days I had figured that I was doing this for two reasons. The first was I wanted to take as many photos as possible of the group, the second was that there was no sense (in my opinion) to move exponentially faster than the slowest member of the team. So to help with both of these aspects, I just assumed position number five and took my time snapping pictures and grinning from ear to ear. But, as day four rolled around my reasoning for moving more deliberately was this… our time was starting to come to a close in the Dolomites. I was determined to enjoy each and every step and I think I was managing to do that quite nicely.

Also by this time, I was developing some sort of repetitive motion, claw like right hand due to carrying my camera for the first three days. I had managed to stay upright and not drop/throw/smash my camera despite slippery and muddy conditions.

Towards the end of our evening at Rifigio Vassoler; Breein, Matt and I explored their nursery where we finally found some edelweiss. For some reason I took this as a challenge to find it in the “wild”, so wild flowers became my focus at least for portions of day four and five.

Our stay at Vassoler was a good one. They served morning coffee in giant bowls. It was wonderful. Day four was going to be our last long distance day, so we attempted to get some decent sleep and be ready for a near 20 mile effort again.

Day 4 – Vassoler to Pian de Fontana (18.7 miles – 6,237 feet of descent – 6,007 feet of gain)

I recall this day as being a very long one. Looking back at my notes, it actually was our longest day on the trail at 8:45. The few events I remember about this day include some seriously muddy and slow descents, Breein trying to refuse to give crackers to an aggressive wild mountain horse, and thankfully a short runnable road section. In terms of scenery this may have been my favorite day overall. It’s hard to rank them, but I thoroughly enjoyed the terrain we traversed. Sections of the trail morphed from the typical awe inspiring views we saw on the first three days, to some seriously cool and lush forest running. We even managed to find a mushroom that probably inspired the mushroom you see in Super Mario Brothers.

Towards the end of our day we found clusters of edelweiss and I probably spend too much time clinging to cliffy areas to try to get good photos. Day four ended with a several thousand foot descent into Pian de Fontana. Britta bombed ahead while I and others took our time down the mountain. We rolled into PIan de Fontana towards the late afternoon and prepped for our last evening together on the trail. Overall day four was probably my favorite we had on AV1. The terrain was varied. I feel like it was our most difficult day in terms of distance and vertical, but it was one that I didn’t want to end.

We all but closed down the dining area at the Rifigio and made the most of our last night.

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Day 5 – Pian de Fontana to Belluno (12.8 miles – 6,886 feet of descent – 3,143 feet of gain)

In our celebration of a successful day four, we forgot one key thing. We forgot to actually look at the map and guide to get on the same page as to our route for our final day. This would be our shortest day, so maybe we felt a bit overconfident. Either way, day five was marked by a four mile detour up to the top of a seriously high cliff.

The started out like the last four. We left Pian de Fontana a little later than usual as our mileage was going to be short. We turned off a trail to a less traveled one and began to climb a few thousand feet upward. This was the sort of climb that I don’t typically enjoy. I’m not one for heights, so the seemingly half mile up of “on all fours” wasn’t my cup of tea. In these types of situations I like to get it done as quickly as possible, so I led the way up. I remember saying to myself “at least we don’t have to come down this thing”… little did I know that we’d be doing just that.

Once at the top (after a few sketchy snow field crossings), I realized that we had to have made an error. The only way forward, other than a several thousand foot drop down via a parachute, was a via ferrata. Since this wasn’t an option for three of the members in our group, I realized we must have taken the wrong route. I yelled down to the four others as to what I found.

Our trek back down was sketchy to say the least. I’ll let Breein tell you about the snowfield crossing… Once back down we retraced our steps, identified the correct route and made our way to the “finish”. The final few miles were uneventful. I was trying to come to terms with our journey finally ending. Once out on the road, we waited for a bus to take us back to Belluno. Day five was complete. Alta Via 1 was over.

I won’t go into this journey any further, I feel like I’ve rambled enough. I can say that I enjoyed every step and appreciate the company of those I traveled with. Until the next time…

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