The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Two Castles … Take Two

It started raining at about 4.30pm yesterday and was still going strong as we got going this morning. After being beaten away by the crowds on Thursday, we suspected that 8am on a very rainy Sunday morning would be a better time to go to the castles, and so it proved to be. Rather than a queue snaking out of the ticket office and right down the road, there were only three people in front of us and within minutes we were clutching tickets.

Both castles can only be entered as part of a guided tour, and we were allocated to Hohenschwangau first:

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We then had an hour to pause for coffee and elevenses before we needed to make our way up to Neuschwanstein, which lies an (uphill) mile away:

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The rain had stopped by then and, as it was gone 11am, the crowds were building heavily.

I wasn’t quite as impressed with the second tour, even though it’s clear that the two buildings are just as interesting as each other. The problem here was the size of the tour group (70+) causing a feeling of more time being spent waiting for everyone to group than there was in being addressed, and the crowded rooms meant there was no opportunity to move around to look at various features. Quite a contrast to our first tour, with just 20 or so people present and plenty of opportunity to peruse the features of each room.

Our visit wasn’t quite finished with the second tour. On our way out of the castle we spied a high bridge over a gorge:

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so off we set to find it. By now it was approaching 1pm and this is the crowded state in which we found it:

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Yikes! We did manage to squeeze on after a short wait, and it was clear why it was so popular, with excellent views back down to Neuschwanstein (the second photo above was taken from here) and of the waterfalls.

In my view, it was worth the second attempt on visiting these highly touristy honeypots, even if we did have to get an early start and brave the rain to do so. It was a good and interesting day which told us quite a bit about King Ludwig II of Bavaria; Wikipedia has since told us even more.

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This may be the last post for this trip. Depending on the weather, we may take a walk up a hill tomorrow, but we certainly won’t have internet tomorrow to talk about it. If the weather is as bad as forecast, then we’ll likely skip the hill and start the long journey back towards England, stopping off at a few places en-route.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Moving On … Or Not

This week of our holiday was meant to be a tour up the Romantic Road, visiting some of the towns and walking bits of the footpath on the way. That plan was scuppered when I realised that I’d left the guide book at home, so we found ourselves in the right area, but without any information as to where to walk and what to see.

We’ve been perfectly happy in Füssen, and could happily fill up the rest of the holiday here, but feeling that we ought to make an effort to visit some other places, we picked, at random, the town of Schongau slightly further north and off we set, pausing at Schwangau on the way for me to have a go on the summer bobsleigh run :-):

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In hindsight, I should have done a bit of Googling about our destination before we left…

Arriving in Schongau, we weren’t overly enamoured with the Stellplatz (motorhome camping area), but there were a few other vans there, so we paid our €5 and took ourselves off for a walk around the ‘historic town’ (as it bills itself). It was dead! Everywhere was closed, there was no-one around, and the Tourist Information Office doesn’t open at all on the weekend, which meant that we had no source of information as to what there is to see and do.

In the absence of being able to find out any helpful information about the place, we opted to go for a mapless stroll instead, following a footpath which was signed to Peiting, 4km away.

A quarter of an hour later, we passed another signpost, telling us that Peiting was 3.9km away, which didn’t seem quite consistent with the previous sign, but onwards we went, along the river and over a dam with a good view upstream:

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but not quite such an attractive view downstream:

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and then through a forest. About 45 minutes into the stroll, we popped out the other side of the forest and got to a signpost which told us that it was 4.3km to Peiting. Hmmm, I think we may have missed a turn somewhere along the way!

We wrote off the idea of seeing Peiting, but the signpost also told us that we were 0.9km away from the ‘Villa Rustica’ and whilst we had no idea what that was, we thought we’d go and investigate. Having followed the signs around three sides of a rectangle and come out about 200 yards from our starting point, we found ourselves at the site of a Roman villa, of which the remains of a bathhouse have been preserved (except for the bit which was lost to the laying of a gas pipeline in the 1990s, which seems criminal to me) and are on display to the public:

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The building has been erected to protect the remains

A helpful guide, upon realising that our German isn’t up to much, gave us a folder containing all of the displayed information in English, and we whiled away a good half an hour or more perusing what was on this small site, including the garden displaying aspects of the Roman diet:

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With the day having been saved, back to Colin we went, arriving to find that all of the other vans had left. Suddenly our uneasiness that this wasn’t a nice place to spend the night intensified and it took about 3 nanoseconds for us to agree that we would leave too. Where to go, though? North, where we would likely meet the same issues of closed Information Offices, and not knowing where to go or where the footpaths lay, or back to the safe option of Füssen, where we know there is still plenty for us to do?

And so we are back in Füssen, where we arrived just in time to nab one of the last places on the excellent Stellplatz here.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Lunch Atop Krähe

When we sat lunching on top of Ahornspitze on Wednesday, we looked over towards a path which zig-zagged its way up the very steep hillside opposite and I declared that I liked the look of that path. In fact, so much did I want to walk up it, that I was even prepared to go on the cable-car-from-hell again to make it possible. You can just about make out the switch-backs in this small photo, I think, as it heads up to the gap between the two rocky outcrops on the ridge:

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Presenting ourselves at the ticket-office just a few minutes after opening time, we were soon sharing the car with plenty of paragliders. There were no weather doubts this time – this was a very fine day indeed.

After ten minutes at the viewing platform, during which time the paragliders all lined themselves up ready to go…

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…we concluded that conditions weren’t yet right for anyone to go running off the side of the cliff, so on we went, towards our objective for the day.

The walk was superb and, whilst there was plenty of blue sky, the weather was so kind as to keep the sun hidden behind a thick cloud as we made our way up the steep bits. Had it been beating down on us, that would have been a mightily uncomfortable climb, but with us in the shade, it was merely a bit hot and sticky.

Looking back we could clearly see the two peaks we had climbed on Wednesday. I’ve identified them below with arrows (although that left-hand arrow only wants for a cross-bar to make it into an anchor; the perils of drawing arrows freehand with a touchpad mouse!)

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Once we popped out at the top of the switch-backs (in between the two rocky lumps in the foreground of the above snap), it was just a nightmarishly steep stony path (think stepping on a plate of ball-bearings on every third step) and a couple or three simple scrambly sections to get us up to the top.

There, Mick hugged the cross to save him falling down the few hundred feet of sheer drop which lay about two feet to its north:

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It was a fine spot for lunch, with uncountable lumps in front (to the south) of us, as far as the eye could see (although this is a hazy bit of photographic evidence):

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Three circuits of our summit were made by a glider whilst we were lunching. The third so close that I was rather alarmed. Mick was highly amused by my alarm, particularly as he captured my gibbering on video. (Such a shame that I haven’t got enough internet to be able to upload it…)

As lovely as this area is, this particular set of hills doesn’t lend itself to circular walks without taking on days far longer than we are fancying at the moment, so rather than continuing along the lovely looking ridge to the next summit, we reluctantly turned and retraced our steps (the plates-of-ball-bearings path being far worse in descent).

By the time we got back to the viewing platform by the cable car station, the paragliders weren’t just queuing, but jumping too. We watched a couple of take-offs, before we wended our way downwards:

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Two and a half hours, the signpost by the cable car station said of the path back down to the car park where we had left Colin. I acknowledge that we fair trundled down that last 3000’ of descent, but even so, I had to question whether that timing was designed to make people think they had better buy a ticket to get down, rather than walking. We were back down in an hour and five minutes.

The stats for the day were 11.4 miles walked, with 2800’ of ascent (and 5800’ of descent; hopefully the knees will forgive us soon).

In common with Wednesday, there were plenty of people on the main path, but we saw no-one once we had left that path to make our way up the switch-backs to Krähe, nor did anyone join us on the summit (even if the glider did come close!), where the log book has only been signed four times in the last week; only two people were met on our way down. It seems that the summits aren’t the most popular places to be.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

A Two Castles Day … or Not

That was a very pleasing day which didn’t go at all according to plan! The plan had been to do the touristy thing of visiting one of the two castles at Hohenschwangau, but it turned out that 11am was far too late to arrive (a fact we should have known from the evidence we saw when we drove past before 9am yesterday morning). Neither of us fancied queuing an hour for tickets, particularly with the unknown as to whether we would then have to wait even longer for the next available tour.

Instead, as Mick satisfied his craving for a Bratwurst, I got out the map and outlined the alternative plan of throwing a circuit of the lake of Alpsee into our walk back to Füssen.

The lake is very pretty, and once three minutes away from the castles, the path not too crowded, which was good for us, but a shame that the vast majority of visitors who miss the good views of the castles, which can’t be seen from close-up. The best views are seen from on the water, and see them we did, when we impulsively hired a pedalo for half an hour. My first time ever in a pedalo, and I adjudged it to be good fun.

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Back on dry land, we enjoyed a similar (but more distant) view as we lunched* at the far end of the water.

We didn’t quite finish a complete circuit, as we peeled away from the lake just before getting back to busier parts, to head over to the smaller lake of Schwansee.

With the sky having clouded over, and with it feeling like the forecast thunder may happen, once past Schwansee we hurried up the pimple, over which lay Füssen, having come to realise that neither of us had closed Colin’s skylight. As it turned out, the hurry was unnecessary. The sky later cleared again, and as I type this at 8pm, not a drop of rain has yet fallen.

Arriving back in Füssen I tried yet again to take a photo of the river which would capture its startling green colour. The result was better than the previous attempts, but still not truly representative:

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The walk back out of Füssen to where Colin is currently residing was a walk adjacent to the road – a fact that I only noticed when we were half way back; I had intended us to take the slightly longer but more scenic route. Even the road is not an unpleasant walk though, and we were soon back at our start point having covered a total of 12.25 miles (including the pedalo tour – I forgot to stop the Garmin Gadget for that – but at least it was self-powered) with a very modest 500’ or so of ascent.

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The route of the pedalo tour!

(*Talking of lunch: I bought a new (and rather large) block of cheese yesterday. It looked so ordinary, sitting in its wrapper, and being sold in such big blocks I took it to be a popular local choice. When I opened the wrapper, as I made sandwiches this morning, I was hit by an intense and very unpleasant smell of week-old socks (and I say that as one who loves Stilton). The smell when Mick opened his bag at lunchtime was equally pungent. Unfortunately, it tastes just as it smells, and more unfortunately I’m not sure I can bring myself to write off such a large lump of cheese. Maybe I’ll have come to appreciate its flavour by the time it’s gone?)

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Branderschrofen and Ahornspitze

As our 30-person-capacity cable car* started its very steep ascent this morning I commented that I hoped that the low cloud, which was completely hiding the hills, would soon lift. Mick observed that the number of paragliders in our car was probably a good omen on that score. I concurred. Ten seconds later we ‘ooohed’, as we burst out above the cloud.

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It’s certainly better to be above the cloud than within it, but it did mean that there were no views to be seen back down to the valley. There were, however, plenty of peaks poking out in the other direction.

Being without a plan we started by heading up the nearest cross-bearing summit we could see:

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which involved a bit of a scramble in sections:

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but they were very easy scrambles, and soon we were roasting on the summit:

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After plenty of posing…

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… we left the top just as another couple arrived, and with excellent timing enjoyed a brief brocken spectre on the way back down, as the cloud drifted up to meet us. A handful of seconds later, the cloud dispersed, as it was to do a number of times throughout the day.

Back at the cable car station (the first peak we had chosen only being possible as an out-and-back), we pondered what to do next, and again without forming any real plan we wandered off in the obvious direction. When a path heading up Ahornspitze was met just as lunchtime was approaching, it wasn’t a hard decision to head up to have lunch in the shadow of its summit cross. It’s obviously not a popular place, as we enjoyed complete solitude for the entire ascent, lunch break, ridge-explorations and descent.

Pondering the map, we concluded that we didn’t have the time/inclination to complete a circuit, and so we merely retraced our steps, soon finding ourselves cooling down in the cloud layer which had drifted up to meet us.

Back above the cloud again, over to the cable car station we headed, but first I declared that a slight detour to revisit the viewing platform was in order. It was a good move; the earlier cloud on that side of the hill had completely cleared and, sure enough, the views were good:IMG_7246

In hindsight, we shouldn’t have bought a return ticket for the cable car, but should have walked down. However, as we had bought the return, we duly used it. Three and a half minutes later, we were back down in the valley, where the day was positively roasting.

The 4.75 miles we covered (with 1600’ of ascent) were augmented this afternoon when I walked a 3-mile round trip into Füssen to buy a better map. The ‘walking map’ sold to us by the Tourist Information Office was rather lacking in key information – like contour and grid lines!

(*That was a terrifying 3.5 minutes. Big cable cars are, to my mind, the work of the devil. Small cable cars are marginally better. Perversely, I don’t mind chair lifts. Clearly, though, my levels of laziness are such that I’m prepared to go through 3.5 minutes of terror in order to avoid 3000’ of walking ascent at the start of the day.)

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Alatsee Circuit from Füssen Camper-Stop

We arrived in a very wet Füssen yesterday lunchtime after an even wetter drive through Austria. The weather wasn’t conducive to being outside, but as it became clear that it wasn’t going to let up any time soon, we donned wet weather garb and took a walk down into Füssen for a quick look around. I discovered during that excursion that my waterproof jacket, which I already knew to be seeping around the neck, is now leaking quite comprehensively in a number of places. We hoped for better weather both today and for the rest of the holiday…

Happily, we woke without an audio accompaniment of pitter-pattering this morning and although it was still grey and cloudy, we could see features that were completely hidden yesterday, like hills:

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We didn’t quite shun the hills today – we just ran out of time to pop up the little pimple which had been on our agenda – but we did enjoy a watery theme by including four lakes in our excursion. An undulating forest walk took us to Alatsee, at the furthest point of our outing, where, during a circumperambulation of the lake, we enjoyed lunch at its far end. It wasn’t a bad lunchtime view:

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Our return route then took us along the south shores of Obersee and Mittersee (and past some ski jumps, oddly positioned next to the tennis courts and crazy golf), and after a stretch along the Lech river we just touched Forggensee before we veered off to return to where Colin is currently residing.

A total of 13 miles were covered with around 900’ of ascent.

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The walk wasn’t completely free of obstacles…

Monday, 21 July 2014

A Week (or so) in the Dolomites

We’ve just spent 9 days in the Dolomites, most of which was in the company of Martin & Sue, together with a group of their friends and friends-of-friends numbering (I think) 17 in total. Here’s a very brief account of “what we did on our holidays”; for more detail and some additional photos, I would recommend a trip over to Martin’s blog.

Day 1 – Sunday 13 July

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Martin had planned the perfect first day’s walk – very gentle but with excellent views of what this area has to offer. A cable car did the hard work for us, so all we had to do (aside from learn the names of, and become acquainted with, those in the group) was to stroll along gently undulating tracks, which boasted real chocolate box views of meadows, wooden huts and, of course, the great jagged lumps of towering rock that form the Dolomites. The descent back to the valley was accompanied by rain, but having enjoyed weather far better than forecast, no complaints were uttered.

With the extra explorations Mick & I made up the valley, before we returned to Colin (parked on a campsite in Corvara), we covered 13 miles, with something like 500’ of ascent.

Day 2 – Monday

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Misty summit; we lunched in the bivouac hut that’s just visible in the gloom beyond the chapel.

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A bit of clambering on the wired-path along the ridge

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Descending in the trenches

With the gentle introduction complete, Day 2 was brutal! Or, so my lungs thought with the steepness of the ascent route up to Col di Lana. The day had dawned with very low cloud, which had risen somewhat but was still shrouding the tops as we ascended and it stayed that way until we were a way along the ridge, beyond the summit, when finally it started to clear (albeit still with plenty of passing showers, most of which stopped about 2 minutes after it was decided that waterproofs had become necessary). This was a good walk for an iffy-weather-day, though, with plenty to see close up, like the wartime trenches and tunnels, not to mention the great crater blown out of the ridge by a 45000kg Austrian bomb.

After looping back under the ridge, the final descent took the same route as our ascent, and thus was equally steep. My legs started to complain…

The stats for the day were somewhere in the region of 7.5 miles walked with just under 3500’ of ascent.

Day 3 – Tuesday

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Not the best composed photo but that impossible-looking peak is the one we went up

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Made it to the top :-)

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Cracking views from the lunch spot!

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A look of terror on my face as I descend the wired section.

Sassongher dominates the view from Corvara, standing proud and looking a thoroughly unfeasible walk. So, when part of the group declared their intention to visit its summit on Day 3, we jumped at the opportunity to join them.

It’s a steep ascent in places (in fact right towards the top there’s a small section of via ferrata), and it’s almost unrelentingly uphill, yet I found it an easier day than the Col di Lana outing. Lunch, drinking in the views (and in Mick’s case drinking my share of the coffee!), was taken on the summit before we headed down towards Stern, just down the valley from Corvara.

After apfelstrudel at the Gardenazza Hutte, we parted from the group as they continued down to their accommodation in Abtei, whilst we descended to Stern to catch the bus back to Corvara. When we passed a sign saying that it was 40 minutes to the bus stop, and seeing that we had 28 minutes until the bus was due, we decided to made our descent a fast one. Despite the best efforts of a group who wouldn’t let us pass, we made it to the bus stop one minute before the bus arrived. Excellent timing, and a truly excellent day.

We had walked 8.5 miles with 3500’ of ascent.

Day 4 – Wednesday

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Lots of people heading up a patch of late-lying snow

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The view from the peak I didn’t visit

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The via ferrataists on their way down, including Mick (third from bottom)

We fell off my map on Day 4 (and that map is in a cupboard that I can’t reach from where I’m sitting and I’m too lazy to get up to get it), so I’m going to be a bit vague as to where we went. It involved Martin driving us up to a pass about 20 minutes away, from where we walked up to the Averau Hutte. There the group split, with all but Martin & me heading up a nearby peak which involved a via ferrata route. I don’t do via ferrata and Martin was kind enough to sit it out so as to accompany me up the nearby peak of Nuvolau, atop which sits the oldest mountain Hutte in the Dolomites.

After regrouping with the via ferrataists and revisiting Averau Hutte, we then popped back up Nuvolau before descending via a via ferrata route. Not quite sure how that happened, as I don’t do via ferrata! I shall be eternally grateful to Sue for lending me her kit for the one section.

The length of the walk back around the hill, and the pull back up to the Averau Hutte (my fourth visit of the day!) was a surprise so late in the day, but at least, from there, it was only a 45 minute descent back to the car.

We had walked 10.25 miles with something like 3000’ feet of ascent for me and a bit more for Mick.

Day 5 – Thursday

The legs, which had started protesting at the steep, shaley descents on day 2 were really protesting at any hint of a downhill by the end of Day 4, so Day 5 was spent reading our books and enjoying the views, although we did venture down the valley to visit the group in the early evening and thus did enjoy a stretch of the legs to the tune of 3.7 miles.

Day 6 – Friday

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A fine spot for elevenses

With the group dispersing, mainly homeward bound, on Saturday morning, Friday was the last day for a sociable walk, and a few people had voiced approval at the suggestion of a gentle walk that made good use of a chairlift cutting out 700m of ascent.

Quite how every single member of a group of six managed to sail past, without noticing, the turn we were supposed to take, I know not, but we rectified the situation by throwing a loop into the walk, from a point further down the hill. That added 300m of ascent into the otherwise mainly-downhill walk (there was only one other notable pull upwards that I recall), but the surroundings were so nice that I don’t think anyone minded.

My favourite bit of the walk came later, as we hugged the hillside, walking through pine woodland. With the day having turned out to be hot and sunny, I was glad of the occasional water trough to be able to soak my hat and was just worrying that I’d under-judged the quantity of drinking water I needed to carry when we descended steeply back to the valley and ambled down to Stern, to where Mick & I had relocated Colin at the start of Day 4.

The stats were 13 miles walked with around 1300’ of ascent.

Day 7 – Saturday

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This snap doesn’t do justice to what a truly stunning view this was

Whereas the group had dispersed, Mick and I were sticking around for a couple more days, and on yet another glorious day we set out (initially via chairlift) to go past Gardenazza Hutte, on to Ciampani, with the intention of walking from there to Puez Hutte, before looping back around to pick the path back up just above Gardenazza. The only fly in the ointment was that Mick was feeling rather under the weather, and whilst he struggled bravely on for the first 45 minutes of the day, it was clear that he was feeling miserable – so much so that when I suggested, at the Gardenazza Hutte, that he should turn back, he didn’t put up much resistance. And so, by myself I continued on the route – at quite a lick too, to assuage my guilt at leaving Mick sitting all on his lonesome for the day.

I was back at Colin by 2.15pm, having walked 9.5 miles with just over 3500’ of ascent.

Day 8 – Sunday

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When I got back to Colin yesterday afternoon, I gave Mick two versions of the day. One was “It was awful; you wouldn’t have liked it at all”, which was, of course, designed to make him feel better for having missed out. The second, and factual, account was that it was a stunning walk, with an excellent variety of terrain, surrounded by interesting geological features, and with barely a person met other than for the short distance on (the motorway that is) Path 2. I recommended that if Mick was feeling better today, then we should go and walk it again, so that Mick didn’t miss out on such a gem.

So, that’s what we did. With a forecast of a rainy afternoon we made as early a start as the chairlift permitted and by the time we got up high the early low cloud had lifted from the summits. It didn’t start clouding back in significantly until after lunch, and it didn’t rain until we were down in the valley, nearly back at Colin.

It was just as stunning a walk as it had been yesterday (but with smaller snow patches – they’re melting fast!), but gosh, it was hot today! We omitted the off-path plateau wanderings that I included yesterday (intentional wanderings, by the way!), but took a longer route back down to the valley, giving final stats for the day of 10.5 miles walked, still with just over 3500’ of ascent.

 

(Notes: This area of Italy is tri-lingual, with German spoken by the majority, Italian by a much smaller percentage and Ladin by a very small minority. My very limited knowledge of German exceeds my knowledge of Italian and Ladin, so where places have names in more than one language, I’ve tried to use the German one. I may have failed, here and there, in consistency. I acknowledge that there should be an umlaut over the ‘u’ of hutte, and apologise that I was too lazy to break pace in my typing to üse it.)