Alta Via 6

Day 00. Sept 02. Thurs. Sappada to Rifugio Sorgenti dei Piave.  3.5 hrs. 11 km. 700m up. 110m down. This day is not part of the Alta Via 6, also known as The Alta Via dei Silenzi, but it was the day getting to the start of the walk. There are a few ways to reach the start at the Rifugio Sorgenti dei Piave or the Refuge Source of the Piave (River).  1. Walk from Austria over the main ridge of the Carnic Alps, and the mountain of Peralba in particular, which is what you would do if combining the Alta Via 6 with the 10 day Austrian Hochenweg from Glockner to Sappada. 2. Walk up from Sappada on an easy path and minor road, which take about four hours. Or finally 3 which is to take a bus or taxi from Sappada up the minor road, The taxi is expensive and the bus infrequent and it does not seem sportif to come up this way, so I walked as I had an afternoon to spare.

I left Treviso early in the morning and got a fluent train and bus combination from Treviso station to Calalzo which took 2 hours. Then after a short wait the bus from Calalzo to Sappada came along on schedule and by midday I was in Cima Sappada where I intended to start the walk. However I had made the mistake of assuming the Rifugio would take card payments but then realized they would not. So I had to walk the 3 km back to Sappada for a bank automat. It was not a hardship as I had good time and Sappada was a beautiful town. With my now laden wallet I cut up onto the minor road through the town just to the north of the main road. It was now 1400. 

The lower main road of Sappada was picturesque and quite charming despite the traffic, but it was no match for the delight of the enchanting upper road just 100 metres to the north. It ran parallel to the main road for two idyllic kilometres. There were many old farms here converted into holiday accomodation or small hotels, but they kept their rustic charm of sun blackened logs walls and bright window boxes, the richness of which I have not seen before. between the farms were fields of hay which were all in the process of being cut. The flatter fields were mown by small, old, red tractors while the smaller or steep fields by a petrol driven sycthe. The sun was bright and hot and it reflected off the walls of about 10 small chapels which lined the lane.  Many of the log stacks had artistic features which I had also not seen before. South Tyrol is culturally Austrian and they speak German here, not Italian, which was imposed upon them after the treaty of Saint Germain in 1919, as a punishment for Austria’s role in WW1. The South Tyrolese perhaps enchance their order and idyllic beauty to distinguish themselves from more chaotic Italy and it seems the righteous people of Sappada have taken this to a new level.

01. Just after the small hamlet of Puiche, the smallest of the cluster of Sapadda villages, the path left the hayfields and barns and went up into the conifer forest.

After these two delightful, cultural and uplifting km the lane ended in the hamlet of Puiche, which was a rural gem in itself. From here the path crossed some uncut meadows passing small hay barns, made from sun blackened logs, and then climbed into the spruce forest. I saw a deer and fawn at the forest edge and they barely moved as I sauntered past. It was as if they did not see humans as a threat. The sun was warm and the glades in the forest were hot and covered in the brown grass of late summer. The large blue willow gentians were prolific here and seemed to be in their prime, with a few yet to flower. Bees swarmed them and they had to go right into the depth of saphire trumpets to reach their nectar.  After a good kilometre of forest path I came to a track. I followed the track as it contoured the conifer clad hillside with the minor road on the valley floor coming up to meet the track. All around were the light grey towering mountains supported by jagged buttresses so characteristic of the Dolomites and other ranges in the Southern Alps. 

I met the minor road at Rifugio Piani del Cristo, which was really a rustic tourist cafe rather than a proper mountain refuge. I stopped here for a cheese and tomato panini before continueing up the road for a good 3 km. It climbed gently and steadily and there were few cars on it to disturb my thoughts. Occasionally there was path beside the road which meandered into the forest for a few hundred metres of shade and spruce tree but it always came back to the road. Eventually this pleasant, but pufunctory, stretch reached a hairpin bend at 1670m elevation and the path now left the road for good and headed west into the forest climbing gently through the trees for an good half hour to reach the Passo del Riccolo in a pastoral clearing. Cowbells broke the silence beneath the towering mountains, especially Peralba which rose nearly 1000 sheer metres to my north. 

From here it was an easy saunter north through the forest and pasture for a delightful half hour to reach the picturesque Rifugio Sorenti dei Piave. The minor road also went to the refuge where it terminated in a car park for day trippers. The car park was nearly empty and the refuge was enjoying a quiet moment when I arrived. It had some 30 beds but I was the only guest in these strange covid times. I had a 8 bed bunk room to myself and quickly put my sweaty cloths in the sun on the balcony and then had a wonderful shower. Before supper I went to see the spring where the River Piave was born right beside the hut. It was slightly manicured into a stone circle where the pure and crystal water gently bubbled up out of the pasture and flowed down a stone channel to start its long descent to the Adriatic

Dinner was huge, even by Austrian standards, It was simple and delicious honest mountain fare without any hint of pretense or fussy presentation. It took me an hour to eat it all and wash it down with a litre of Radler, a lemonade shandy. Although it was just the Prelude Day to the AV6, it felt like I had already started it with the ambience in the refuge, the mountain vistas and the flowers which I am now familiar with. I am delighted I am at the start of the main walk in my favourite time of year in the Dolomites. 

Day 01. Sept 03. Rifugio Sorgenti dei Piave to Rifugio Gasperi. 23 km. 9 hours. 1610m up. down1680m .  I was ambitious and decided to combine the first two days of the Alta Via 6 into one long day. It seemed a good idea when I planned it looking at the two short 4 hour days. I had a large early breakfast and left well before 0800 retracing yesterday’s steps for the first half hour until I got to Passo dei Rococolo. When I got there the mist which had been flowing up the valley engulfed me and the sun vanished, along with the promise of a nice day. I followed the path 136 which climbed out of the firs and into the scattered larch and dwarf pine woods. There were plenty of flowers on the rocky hillside, some dripping with dew. The rocky path was covered in black salamanders. They were slow and clumsy in the morning cold and had not yet warmed up enough to move off the path. I passed about 30 of them and I had to keep looking at the track to make sure I did not step on any. After a good hour the path started to climb steeply up a gully and I obediently followed it up to a small col called Sella Franza, where there was a junction of paths. 

Just at the col I climbed out of the mist into the bright sunlight. Looking back across the valley which I had just been in was a sea of mist, and beyond it rose the south face of Peralba, its light grey cliffs gleaming brightly in the sun. To my south was the steep hillside I had to walk up to get to the Passo del Mulo, 2356m, which was the chink in the barrier of mountains which blocked my path to the south. I now took path number 135 which left the grassy sunny col and climbed up the rocky pasture. I passed a few marmots whose piercing shill alerted other marmots danger was present. It was a sustained climb and it took me over half an hour to eventually reach the pass, where there were expansive views to the north past Peralba mountain and on to the Carnic Alps beyond. However at the pass the mist filled the bowl to the south and I could see nothing. 

02. Looking north from the Passo del Mulo, 2356m, across the valley I had just walked across which is under the mist and on to the great south face of Peralba, 2694m. Just beyond Peralba is the Austrian border.

I set off and descended into the mist leaving the warmth of the ridge behind. I was familiar with the change of the vegetation on different aspects of a mountain and these south facing slopes were covered in the small field gentians and harebells which thrive in more arid conditions. I zig zagged down the path for a short half hour with the sound of cow bells getting louder as I approached the Laghi di Olbi lakes which were obscured by the mist. There was a track going up the mountain here. I suspect it was an old WW1 track, to man defences on the pass I had just come over, when Italy and Austria fought a fierce war throughout the Dolomites. After the lake the path dropped steeply for another half hour during which the mist cleared. I  entered the forest again, first of larch and then fir and spruce as I dropped down to Rifugio Grosso. 

03. Coming down to Sappada from the Val d’Olbe valley to the north of the town. From here the Alta Via 6 crosses the main road and then goes up the Val Enghe valley to the centre right

From here the path 135 continued south descending into a deep valley, Val d’Olbe, with a ski piste zigzagging down it in on a narrow shelf between the cliffs and the river. The piste had been turned into a summer track for All Terrain Vehicles to supply the Rifugio up here and maintain the ski lifts. It was quite steep and relentless but I dropped height quickly passing many day trippers slogging up. Most were going to the lakes and others up Mont Lastroni where there was a path right to the top of this airy peak. I could see the green fields below Sappada approaching quickly as I descended and it was only when I bust out of the forest did the town suddenly unfold with a row of hayfields and pasture, some with sheep. Below them the strip of the picturesque town stretched in both directions along the valley with hundreds of pretty houses all heavily adorned with overflowing window boxes. I followed the upper lane to the west this time, keeping above the bustling main street with it’s numerous sports and local artisanal shops until I reached the large church in the town centre. I stopped here in a cafe for a simple lunch of 3 cheese and tomato rolls.  

04. One of the many old farm houses in Sappada. All the houses were well maintained and cared for in this picturesque town

It was about 1300 before I set off again to do the other half of this double day. I walked down to the valley floor where I met the Piave river again. It had grown considerably since I left its source just 5 hours earlier and was now a small river. I crossed it on a bridge by a local sawmill and then headed into the forest up the Enghe valley. It was dry and dusty and the air was full of the smell of hot pine. The path I was on, the 314, went up the west side of the river on a forest track. The trees had been selectively thinned here by harvesters so the sparse forest offered little shade for a couple of km. It was only when the valley narrowed that the forest old growth reappeared. The conifers were mixed with beech now which dappled the light and kept it delightfully cool. After a good hour the track vanished and forked into two routes, one continuing up the valley up to the Oberenghe Pass and the other, Path 315,  climbing a steep side wall to the hanging valley above and on to the Elbel Pass. I had to take the latter. 

I stopped for a pause at the bottom where there was a cool rivulet and prepared myself for the 500m climb. It was up a small path which was always obvious in the long lush vegetation on each side of it. It wove its way up the steep hillside going between the trees and shrubs. Near the bottom it passed a shower of a waterfall pouring off an overhang into a clear pool. On and on it climbed and with each 100 metres the vegetation changed from spruce to fir and eventually larch. The views north down the valley I had just come up and on to Mont Righile and its massif, which I had come over earlier this morning were tremendous. At last the gradient eased as I finished climbing the main valley wall and entered the lost world of the hanging valley. This was a Shangri La of scattered larch and lush pasture, with many plants still in full flower with an abundance of speices. I ambled up the path which wove through this karst landscape beneath towers of limestone peaks as I gently closed in on Passo Elbel, 1963m. At the pass I now looked over into the forested upper reaches of Val Pesarina far below in the District of Fruli. 

05. Looking north back down the fertile hanging valley from the Passo Elbel pass, 1963m. The valley below is the Val de Enghe and the mountains in the background are the ones between the tart of the AV6 at Rifugio Sorgenti del Piave and Sappada town, which I came over in the morning.

With weary legs I started down the other side which was initially steep as it made its way to a junction beneath a huge rock buttress in the upper firs. From here the path traversed east across the hillside alternating between fir forest and grassland. Sometimes the route was broken by a deep ravine, where heavy rains had produced a torrent which ripped a furrow in the hillside. Often these ravines are difficult to cross, especially if recent. I have noticed over the last 20 years they are getting more severe as global warming produces heavier rains. In a grassy glade by an old ruined shepherds house, path 315 came to an end as it met path 201, which came from the valley floor up to my goal for the day, namely Rifugio Gasperi. I had hoped it would be an easy saunter up through the forest but previous rains had obliterated the old path and a diversion had to be made which dropped 100 metres before crossing the stream and climbing back 100 metres. I was getting tired now, but someone had made a series of wood carvings of comical people and they were placed at nearly every bend. There were about 10 in all. The quality of the carving were not great but the representations of each were provocative and thoughtful; almost like a Banksy artwork. 

The path eventually reached a crest and I could spy the white wall and red shutters of the Rifugio Gasperi through the trees on the other side just a few minutes away. There were only 2 other couples there, both very friendly and the hosts Simone and Rebecca. Simone was a creative intellect and I suspect he made the carvings and he also was involved in a schools project in Nepal. Rebecca was beautiful and spoke great English. The were both local Fruilians and made me feel very welcome. That evening they made me Frico, a local dish of fried potato and fried cheese. I tried to write but was too tired so listened to the hosts and other two couples chat, trying but failing, to join the pieces of the conversation together in the strong Friulian dialect. Just as I was going to bed another couple arrived. They were from San Marino. They still had their Via Ferrata harnesses on having come over the path 316 from Sappada, during which darkness had overtaken them. I was astounded to hear they had come from Rigugio Sorgenti dei Piave also and were indeed doing the Alta Via 6.. They had also done a double day, but said it was too much. I agreed it was, and inwardly decided to cancel my double day tomorrow and just go the Rifugio Fabbro instead and Rifugio Giaf the next day. 

06. The friendly Rifugio Gasperi at the end of the second day. It was owned by the CAI and run but Simone and Rebecca.

Day 02. 04 Sept. Rifugio Gasperi to Rifugio Fabbro. 12 km. 4 Hours. 590m up. 580m down. I did not need to get up early but dragged my tired limbs out of bed at 0700. No one else was up so I sat in the empty dining room looking out of the window down to Val Pesarina far below and browsing books. Simone came through at 0730 and made me coffee and a breakfast of cheese and bread. He then phoned Rifugio Fabbro and arranged a place for me. I eventually left at 0900 by which time the perfect blue skies of the day were now perforated by cloud. I left the friendly Rifugio, walked over the rise and then started the descent down the new path, enlivened by the carved wooden statues, until it crossed the stream and reached the clearing with the ruined shepherds house where yesterday’s the path junction was. 

I now took path 203 across the hillside heading west through forest which had been greatly affected by a storm some 10 years ago causing many windblown trees. Pretty soon I came to a great grassy clearing where brown grass grew tall in the hot summer, ungrazed by cattle or sheep. It was an old pasture belonging to the Casera Mimoias, which now lay in near ruins at the west end of the pasture. I went into the shepherds house which was still just habitable with an intact roof but all the dairy building’s roofs had fallen in leaving just the walls, which would soon crumble. It was a lifestyle of yesteryear when these dairies were the lifeblood of the region producing their artisanal cheeses. 

After the dairy the path 203 joined a forest road which had recently been rebuilt and enlarged to allow for the harvesting of the forest. I followed it down as it gently traversed the valley side and then climbed it gradually as it rose up to the gentle saddle of Forcella Larvardet. It was not an inspiring walk as the pilfering of the forest was wholesale in places, resulting in areas of near clear fell. It was not the usual practice in perhaps Scandinavia or other places I have seen in the Alps where 50 per cent of the trees are taken allowing the remainder to nurture the area and allow some natural reseeding. Even where the trees had been cut 10 years ago I could see no seedlings coming through the debris of smashed branches and smaller trees which were left behind in the pillage. Luckily only a third of the forest had been felled and two thirds remained.  

At the Forcella Lavardet the untarnished forest returned and I had a gentle shaded saunter down to the Storta valley some 2 km away. Here there was an old dairy, Casera Campo, whose pastures had been given over to a small herd of donkeys and Shetland ponies, who sheltered in the shade under a copse of fir. The main house of the dairy was being restored and the dairy buildings were still intact and under a good roof. It was easy to imagine the pastoral lifestyle here which perhaps left only 30 years ago.  To the north of the Casera Campo dairy were steep massifs each side of the Val Frison which flowed to the north draining all these lands west of Forcella Lavardet down to the Piave river. I could see a large Rifugio further down the valley which was the club hut of the Feltre Alpine group.

I continued west of this tranquil oasis glade and reentered the forest for the final leg of the day. It was a long climb up a newly improved forestry track which climbed through a series of hairpins in the forest for a good hour to reach Rifugo Fabbro. The forest here was also being harvested although not in the same wholescale manner as previously and in the areas which had been felled some 20% of the trees were left standing. These would be vulnerable to storms and could well become windblown later. This again was not a particularly interesting walk due to the track and the forest felling, but there were some views and interesting plants and flowers. 

I reached Rifugio Fabbro at about 1300. It was on a minor road which linked the district of Fruili and Belluno. Being a Saturday it was busy with sports cyclists clad in lycra with massive thighs, padded bottoms and bulging crotches, motorcyclists clad in leathers with skinny legs and great bellies and gentile couples out for a short drive and walk combo. All were eating here as I arrived and the place was busy and staff barely coping. I found a quiet corner and ordered 3 rolls of cheese and tomato and a litre of water. I then wrote for the next 3 hours. During this time a group of hunters arrived. however from what I gathered they had given up the thrill of the kill and now were just content to find their quarry, which was blackcock. a bird in the grouse family. There were about 20 hunters in all and perhaps 20 setter dogs which lived in specially adapted vans. The hunters were great characters, loud and macho and dressed to the nines in camoflage. They could not find anywhere to sit so they just sat amongst the lyca clad cyclists and started to smoke and shout to each other. They soon had a few tables to themselves. The average age was about 60 but there were some youngers ones amongst them. One had the whole array of a male blackcock tail feathers sewn in his Friluian felt hat. Although they were characters they was not an intellect amongst them. The very also spending the night at the refugio. 

I had just finished writing at 1700 when the couple from San Marino arrived. I had to share a room with some 20 beds in it but there was only the San Marino couple and myself in it, and at opposite ends. The hunters took the rooms on the floor beneath but they were quiet after dinner and went to bed early  The Rifugio had free hot water showers so I washed my clothes and started to charge all my batteries. The only thing dissaponting was the dinner. When I mentioned I was vegetarian they lazily produced a large slice of fried cheese and a dollop of polenta. While the carnivores got 2 large courses, one of which was vegetarian anyway. I badgered the for more food which I grudgingly got, but it would be enough to sleep on. I will get my revenge at breakfast and gorge myself if there is a self service.

Day 04. Sept 05. Rifugio Fabbro to Rifugio Giaf. 20 km. 7 hours. 890m up. 1250m down. We all had a 0700 breakfast which was a lively affair with the 20 odd hunters. They had already been up for a while preparing their beloved setters for the days tracking. I ate with the San Marino couple and then left soon afterwards at 0730. I went past the vans with the setters who were beside themselves with excitement at the anticipated scent and track, and walked to the Sella Ciampigotto pass. The original route of the AV6 now went down the road for 3 km past a series of hairpins. Perhaps when the route was conceived 50 years ago this road was a track. There was an alternative which headed down the small valley to the south on path 337, but it was not marked on my map and I missed the start of it. It would be a far better alternative now than the 3 km on the road which was partially redeemed by being quiet in the morning and through forest. 

When the road got to the side valley of Val Larga a forest track forked off to the south. I took it and almost immediately met the bottom end of the previously mentioned path 337 which came down from the pass and looked well used. The track now crossed the stream on the valley floor and started a sustained hours climb up through the firs with the occasional zig-zag. It helped warm me up on this cold morning, as despite it being clear blue skies the firs were tall and it was dark on the forest floor. The track reached a large clearing with cow bells telling me I was approaching the dairy Casera Doana. I passed over the electric fence and went into a huge pasture. There were perhaps 100 cows there altogether grazing peacefully on the lush, emerald green grass in the morning sun. The pastures were dotted with a few large trees. At the north end of the pasture was the dairy itself with a splendid and well kept shepherds house and two rows of barns, which were in great order. It was a joy to see this honourable lifestyle still persisting against all the odds. It made me euphoric to see that this ancient culture was still thriving.  I spent a while at the dairy, taking photos and exploring the buildings. There was no one about but it was obvious there were people in the large solid two storey house.

07. The working dairy of Casera Doana. There were perhaps 200 cows here and their milk would have been tirned into an artisanal cheese. Most of these dairies were built 100 years ago but many are now abandoned.

From the dairy the AV6 now followed the path 336 on a grassy level track which contoured across the hillside through the larches. It was a delightful km and the views to the west were stupendous. I could see north to the Sexten Dolomites and the mountains I passed through last year on the AV5, and I could see the mighty massifs of Marmarole and Antelao which I also went through last year on the AV5. It was a sublime hike despite it being a bit muddy due to the cows hooves churning it up. Towards the end of this stretch the path 336 dropped down through firs to the saddle of Passo dei Landro. I looked forward now to the descent down the spine of a ridge into the valley far below. However it was not to be. The path almost vanished and it was steep, uncomfortable underfoot and frequently blocked by windfall trees. It was a knee jarring 45 minutes down the ridge where I lost the path a few times where fallen trees created diversions. The juniper and stunted firs gave way to larger firs and eventually beech as I carefully picked my way down. It was with some relief when I at last reached the prominent track 207 which contoured round the ridge. 

08. The remote Casera de le Fede dairy is now abandoned as a dairy and its pastures used by Casera Doana. In the background is the peak Monte Pupera Valgrande, 2513m.

It followed track 207 for a very easy saunter through the beech forest for 2 km which was a delight after the descent down the ridge. The cool air and dappled light of the beech forest and the gentle path was over almost too quickly when the path morphed into a track at a cluster of cabins, mostly made from converted haylofts. The track now veered south and morphed into a small road which was lined with these cabins. At one cluster there was a small chapel which I think the Pope visited some 20 years ago. I could soon hear the roar of motorbikes and cars as the minor forest road approached Passo Della Mauria. There was an abandoned Rifugio here which looked like it had been boarded up for 20 years and a small cafe which was closed and perhaps only open on busy holidays. I had the feeling that the hamlet of Passo della Mauria’s best days were behind it, and it did not invite me to linger. 

I still had another 5-6 km to go and thought it would take me two hours so pushed on rather than rest. Initially the path was on a beautiful grassy track through firs but it petered out at the first of the great stone chutes coming down from the jagged peaks of Mont Cridola far above. These stone chutes were perhaps 200 metres wides and in heavy rains would start to flow down taking all before it depositing another 1000 or so tonnes on the main valley floor below. I crossed this chute and then contoured the hillsde for half an hour to reach ther next gouge in the mountain which was filled with stones. Crossing this I started on the final stretch round another ridge. The path, number 341, climbed steeply up through a beautiful beech forest with a grassy floor for a good half hour. I noticed a few cyclamen coming through the mast on the forest floor. In some places the corms were on the surface. This last climb was taxing though and it was with great relief that I saw on the map the path now contoured round the hillside to arrive at the Refugio Giaf. 

The first thing I noticed about the Refugio was it young cosmopolitan and extremely friendly staff. About 10 twenty somethings worked here, mostly serving the days trippers and climbers during the afternoon rush. The staff seemed interested in Scotland and everyone spoke great English, even one guy from Rome who parents were originally from Sri Lanka. I got a small room to mtself, had my usual lunch of 3 cheese rolls and a bottle of water. I then wrote in the afternoon and chatted to a few of the staff before the San Marino couple, called Elena and Nicolo arrived. We ate our supper together and agreed it was a great days hike but the descent from Pssso dei Landro was testing, especially for them without a map or GPS gadgets. Luckily the weather remained great all day as coming down that ridge after Passo dei Landro would have been slippery in the wet.

Day 05. Sept 06. Rifugio Giaf to Rifugio Tita Barba. 11 km 5.5 hours. 1320m up. 910m down. There were only 5 hikers staying at Rifugio Giaf and we all had breakfast at 0700 but then we all had a leisurely start. I was the last to leave at 0900. It was a a beautiful morning and it had rained in the night yet again. The jagged towers to the west of the rifugio were clear but mist was already starting to swirl around some of them. The path today was initially a simple one up the valley floor for 600 metres to a pass and then down a valley on the other side for 700 metres. The climb up from the refuge was not steep but it was sustained with no let up. It was just vegetation which changed as I slowly climbed. Initially the path went through thick tall firs which got smaller and then changed imperceptibly to spruce and then from the half way point onwards larch and then dwarf pinus mugu. It was only when I got to the sparse larch and small pine did the views open up of the huge slot I was in. On each side the walls rose verticall for many hundreds of metres to row upon row of jagged spires. There were new plants I had not seen before like a ragged flowered diantus scattered in the gravel of the valley floor near the top. 

As I approached the top of the pass, called  Forcella Scodavacca at 2043m, it was just a sea of boulders and small stones which filled the valley floor. The pass itself was quite gentle compared to the huge walls on each side which hemmed this sea of stones in. There was a path junction at the top with one route going up steeply to a saddle on the lofty Mont Cridola to the north and the other a continuation of the path 346 down the other side. I took the latter and pretty soon I reached the first of the larches and then into the firs soon after. It was a mixed descent with some steeper parts but all in all it was quite pleasant. On the other side of the valley I was descending down into rose a forested hillside with a clearing at the top. This was the dairy at Casera Vedorcia and I knew that just above it was the tiny refuge of Tita Barba. The path went down and down until it reached the beach forest where it became much nicer and easier underfoot, as the beech mast covered the limestone tufa chunks found amongst the conifers. This lovely beech forest continued for a couple of km until I was spilled out onto the idyllic grassy meadow by the dairy of Casera Pra de Toro where there was a dairy.

09. The idyllic Rifugio Padova is a great lunch break on Day 4 from Rifugio Giaf to Rifugio Titi Barba. The pass centre right is the Forcella Scodavacca, 2156m, with Mont Cridola, 2581m, to the left of the pass.

At the bottom of the meadow was the charming Rifugio Padova. This was supposed to be a overnight stop on the AV6, but it took just 3 hours to get here and it was not yet midday. I stopped here for lunch and had cheese and lettuce rolls sitting on the balcony of the picturesque rifugio. I sat behind a pillar and enjoyed the shade from the sun. As I sat a relaxed I suddenly noticed the enormous mountain massif which had unfolded on my descent. It was a wall of some 30 peaks which stretch about 5km from end to end. This massif was called the Spalti di Toro, the Wall of  Thor. I had noticed it last year when I traversed the Marmarole Massif on the AV5 and it looked impressive from there but it was mesmerising from here, with awe inspiring peaks all strung out in a row. A traverse along the ridge line would take weeks going up and down the numerous and very sharp peaks. Just as I finished lunch Nicolo and Elena arrived. We chatted a bit before I started off on the second half of the day.

The path now went up the west side of the meadow to trees where all the cows were sheltering from the heat of the midday sun. It then started a easy climb up and over a large knoll covered in beech trees. The route was peppered with wooden carvings, some were of a very proficient craftsmanship but they did not have the mischievous artistic flair of the ones below Rifugio Gasperi. At the top of the large knoll was a sweet log cabin with red shutters. The descent down the other side in the beech wood was warm and humid but within 20 minutes I had reached the river where there was a log bridge and a glade called Valle with yet another delightful log cabin. 

10. The working dairy of Casera Vedorcia is one of the nicest in the Dolomites with small haylofts and cabins dotted about this pasture. The wall of peaks to the east are the Spalti di Toro (The Bastion of Thor), with the highest peak being 2548m

From here the route of the AV6 went steeply up the wooded hillside for nearly 500 metres. Despite it being in the forest the heat of the day had even penetrated here and it was hot labourious work as I plodded up for well over and hour. The forest remained spruce and fir for the whole climb. Eventually I broke through into a glade and a bit later then onto the edge of a large pasture dotted with picture perfect log cabins all with window boxes. At the bottom of tis pasture was the functioning dairy with it main shepherds house and 2 rows of barns. About 40 cows all sat in the shade of one of the barns, their black noses shiny and wet, and chewed their cud as I went past. It was really something from a postcard especially with the backdrop of the Spalti di Toro range across the valley. At one of the cabins in Vedoricia there were about 20 men all sat at a large table. They all had full moustaches and Fruilian hats of felt and many also had felt breeches on. It looked like an annual gathering of the local worthies. I asked one where the Rifugio Tita Barba was as I suspected this was it and it allowed me a closer look at the gathering but it was up the hill about 15 minutes away. 

The Rifugio Tita Barba was a private refuge and it was not run by the CAI mountaineering club of Italy which most are. It was small but perfect. I sat almost ontop of the ridge with the most perfect view to the Spalti di Toro. I have heard it said it offers the best sunset views in the whole of the Dolomites when these mountains get an orange hue in the Alpenglow. The Rifugio itself was perhaps the most charming I have ever stayed at. It was two storeys of wooden logs which glowed brown with decades of sun. The stairs were external in covered balconies adorned with red geraniums. I would not be surprised if it featured in many calendars. The older couple who ran it exuded warmth and were very helpful. I managed to get a small phone signal buy wandering through the woods to the ridge but it was not enough for data. However, the spot had a great view to the west over the Cadore valley with the river Piave far below, and then across to some giants of the Dolomites on the other side including Pelmo, Antelao and Marmorole all of which I have trekked around. The views from this charming delightful Refugio were really second to none. 

11. The fabulous Rifugio Tita Barba which has been privately run in the same family for 90 years. The current custodians Daniele and Anita are the third generation. It has some fabled views over the Spalti di Toro to the east and to the west are a few giants of the Dolomites, namely Pelmo, Antelao and Marmarole, just across the Cadore Valley.

The food at Rigugio Tita Barba was fantastic, with large helpings. Nicolo and Elena had meat and it they got 3 different cuts each, a steak, a pork cutlet, and a sausage. I had a huge helping of barbequed courgette, fried cheese and polenta as well as a rich bean soup. We chatted in the evening with Piero, who both worked at the Rifugio and was a professional commercial product photographer. However he also did landscapes in his spare time and published a coffee table book on the Spalti di Toro range and this refugio. There was vast array of grappa and I had the one infused with the pine cones of the dwarf pine, Pinus mugo.    

Day 06. 07 Sept. Refugio Tita Barba to Casera Laghet de Sora. 8 km. 4 hours. 700m up. 670m down. Daniele, the host, told us of a different way to get to Casera Laghet de Sora which was slightly longer than the traditional route but much more varied and with great views so the 3 of us decided to take it. We left the peaceful glade where the cabin sat and headed south contouring along the ridge. There were fantastic views east across the valley to the wall of about 30 peaks which made up the Spalti di Toro. It was idyllic hiking and the mixed spruce and larch forest was easy underfoot. At one point I saw a cabin perched on a side ridge overlooking everything and it must have had a wonderful view. After about 2 km the path forked with the official route going towards the perched cabin and on to Forcella Spe, while our route, the path 355, continued south up a small pass lined with dwarf pine called Forcella Pian del Laris. 

13. On top of the Forcella per Vedorcia, 2234m, looking NE. Rifugio Tita Barba is over the shrub covered ridge and to the left while the mountains to the right are the Spalti di Toro range seen end on from the SW.

From the top of this pass there was a great view south across a bowl of scree and grass surrounded by smaller peaks and sloping gently to the west where it drained down to the Piave in the Cadore Valley. Across on the far side of the gentle bowl we could see the path contouring across the hillside before climbing more steeply to Forcella Vedorica. It was the lowpoint on a ridge which was full of gullies of crumbling friable rock. It took a little less than an hour to reach the pass with the last section up quite steeply on loose gravel and rock. The view from the top was more gentle than what I was expecting and there were very few Dolomite towers. The concentration of them around Spalti di Toro was now out of view. Of course in the distance there were massif upon massif across the Cadore valley and even up to Cima Toni at the start of the AV5. To the immediate south was a large scree and grass filled bowl and I could see two herds of sheep grazing in the middle of it. Down in the depths of the bowl a stream sparkled in the sunlight and there was a small stone shepherds cabin. It was only a 200m descent down to the cabin past one of the herds of sheep and we got there in 20 minutes. A small herd of donkeys grazed in the meadows around the cabin and they came over to greet us and were keen for attention. They had no fear of humans despite being up here alone as the shepherds cabin was locked. This large deep bowl was called Casera de Cavalet and it was quite idyllic. It was a bit of a Shangri La and quite remote. Each of the 3 paths to the valley had to come over a pass to reach it. 

14. Coming down from Forcella per Vedorcia towards the pastures around the bowl of Casera Cavelet. Here sheep are left to graze the mountain slopes for the summer months.


There was a path to the SE of the bowl over Forcella Val dei Frate. It was only a 200 metre climb so it looked more daunting than it was. We found the marked path and started heading up. After a little bit, just before the small rock filled valley we were walking up got pinched by a buttress, where stopped for lunch. The walls of Cima Sella mountain rose steeply to our north right beside the path and I was looking for my favourite flower, Campanula morettiana, on its cliffs but I could not see any of the flashes of purple which gave it away. Suddenly a chamois bounded down the rocks and onto the gravel. It looked at us briefly before continuing to bound effortlessly down to the bottom of the valley, up a grassy gully and then up between the outcrops on the other side. It made it look so easy. Soon after we reached the pass and could see down to the deep bowl on the other side where the small cabin Laghet de Sora was. 

15. The grassy bowl of Casera Cavalet where there is a small shepherds stone cabin for summer use. In addition to sheep on the pastures there were also about 15 donkies. The pass, Forcelle del Frate, over to the Laghet de Sora cabin is in the middle of the picture behind the shrub covered knoll.

The descent was steep and across loose gravel. The path, which was not well used, zig-zagged down it but occasionally a torrent had washed it away which made it tricky. As we descended we did not take our eyes off the path as every step had to be sure, but occasionally when we did glance up there was a tremendous view to the east across the Friluian Dolomites on the other side of the enormous Cimoliana Valley, which cut a bottomless gash in the landscape just beyond the cabin. It was only a 300 metre descent from the pass to the cabin but it felt much longer. I was glad it was dry as I think walking this in pouring rain would have been slippery. We passed a stream just as the gravel ended and we veered to the south over steep grassland, where the path was surprisingly small and hidden under the 30 cm high grass. We passed a small patch of snow in a north facing gully and then reached the cabin in the bowl.

It was quite idyllic and simple and was made of stone and lined with old browned wood panelling on the inside. It was the old shepherds house from when this pasture in the bowl was grazed. It was now run by the CAI mountaineering club of Italy who also maintained it. At one end of the cabin were two rows of 4 mattresses, one above the other, and at the other end a table and window. The bowl we were in was really a hanging valley and the cabin was almost on the lip of it as it descended steeply just after the cabin down to the Cimoliana Valley. After relaxing in the afternoon sun on the grass outside I went in and wrote at the table, While Nicolo and Elena went off to get water. Once finished I went up the unmarked and abandoned path to the south towards the Forcella Val del Drap pass to see its condition, as I had heard much about it and none of it was good. By the time I got back two Italians had arrived. They were both scout leaders on an exercise. We all ate together but the conversation was largely in Italian with Elena translating the odd bit for me. I was tired after dinner and went to bed early as I wanted to to the Val Drap pass tomorrow.

16. Looking east from the Laghet de Sora cabin early in the morning. Across the unseen canyon of Val Cimoliana are the peaks of Turlon, 2270m, (centre), and Cima dei Vieres, 2310m, (right) in the seldom visited Clautane Dolomites

Day 07. Sept 08. Laghet de Sora to Casera Lodina. 16 km. 9 hours. 1280m up. 1570m down. A scout masters alarm went as 0600 so I hopped out of bed and stated boiling water for my freeze dried breakfast. I was packed and ready to go by 0640. I said good bye to the San Marino couple Nicolo and Elena and we hugged each other. We had eaten together and chatted in the same Rifugio now for 6 days and had become friends. I will miss their easy warm company. It was a clear morning but as I walked through the grass wet with dew, mist started to form. I walked up the outcrop behind the cosy house on the unnumbered and unmaintained path, which was sometimes barely visible in the long grass. After climbing for 20 minutes the path reached a grassy bowl called Pala Anziana. The towering mountain of Cima Laste whose top was lost in the mist rose from the upper edge of this bowl, and grassy outcrops descended steeply into the valley from the lower edge making the Pala Anziana a grassy shelf. 

17. Crossing the Pala Anziana in the early morning while hiking from Casera Laghet de Sora to Forcella Val del Drap. In the misty background is the Spalti di Toro ridge

As I walked across it I disturbed a large herd of perhaps 30 ibex. They were very confident and only moved out of the way slowly. I also disturbed 3 chamois and they ran off with exceptional speed taking huge strides across the grass bowl to the lower edge. They then leapt through a boulder field and sprinted down a steep outcrop. I was amazed at there agility and hope they did not injure themselves. At the end of this grassy bowl was the boulder field and then bare rock. There was a deep ravine across the mountain side here and I had to climb up to find a way round it. After the ravine the faint path descended to a stone chute which came down from the pass. I gingerly picked my way down the steep grass and boulders until I reached the stones. I noticed a few ibex had gone another way and were already on the stones and looked at me with contempt as I cautiously descended. Once on the stone chute I had to cross it towards the pinnacle which formed the other side of the stone chute.The way directly up to the pass was blocked by slabs so the faintly marked path had to climb, quite steeply in places, and I had to scramble up using hands, for 10 metres to reach another stone chute which led to the pass. The mist had risen enough now I could look south and see the passes of Forcella Caciatori and Forcella Compol. Both looked prohibitively steep, loose and dangerous and I could see why the AV6 no longer goes this way officially. Indeed people told me the path was “cancelled” and abandoned. 

18. A female Alpine ibex (Capra ibex) on the rocky bowl just north of the steep scramble up to the Forcella Val del Drap pass, 2290m.

My mind had already been made up but this confirmed it. The hardest and most dangerous part of this section between me on Val der Drap pass and Bivacco Gresselin was unseen on the south side of Forcella Campol. Instead I decided to go down some 1300 metres into the Cimolais Valley, walk down the road in the valley and then climb some 1200 metres to Bivacco Greselin where the AV6 resumed.  Since the AV6 was contrived 50 years ago there have been some morphological changes to the mountains here which has essentially rendered this section impossible to mere mortals, and the official way goes from Laghet de Sora down the Val de Frassin on path 390 to the main Cimolais valley and then up to Bivacco Gresselin. Rather than go back I knew there was a route down the steep wild valley on the south side of the Forcella Val de Drap pass. Initially it was a slope of grass and stones between cliff and a large snowfield which was the remnants of a once proud glacier. The path was steep but not steep enough to slide if you lost your footing. It descended 300 metres to the bottom of the snowfield and then crossed the rocks at its snoot. This was where the route up Forcella Cacciatori went and it looked fiendish and out of the question. 

19. The last scramble up Forcella Val de Drap, 2290m. From here the route goes across the stone filled couloir to a diagonal gully with a patch of grass on top. It then clambers up the ridge to get to the pass. The south side is not so steep.

From the snout of the snowfield the feint path continued down steeply no back on the north side of the stream. In places it was very steep and I had to downclimb, but there were many dwarf pine branches to hold onto, and they are immensely strong. A couple of times I thought the path was blocked when I approached the edge of an outcrop but there was always a route down. It took perhaps just half an hour to do the first part of the descent beside the snowfield but this second part took a good hour and much caution. At last I got to a huge fan of stones at the bottom of a debris chute from the mountain above and the path slowly curved round the edge of it so half an hour before depositing me in the dwarf pine forest While the faint path treaded a route through these shrubs it was slow work and I often had to force myself past busy green foliage and the end of strong boughs. At last the faint path merged with the official route the others had taken and it was now an easy saunter down through beech on a track for half an hour to leap across the river in the main valley and reach Pian Fortuna and the road end where there was a parking place. I was glad I had given it my best to go the old way of the AV6 but it was now obvious to me why the official way had been rerouted.. 

The Val Cimoliana valley is really a huge canyon some 1000 metres deep with a heavily braided river flowing across the flat bottom through channels in the sea of white stones which it had carried here. I started down the road at the bottom of this canyon and marched down it for 5 km. There were very few cars so I did not feel too humiliated walking down the road. The landscape was quite awe inspiring with huge walls rising up each side. Occasionally a side stream would cascade down a steep valley and join the crystal clear torrent. Down and down the valley road I strode hoping to get this section over with when I reached the Punta Compol bridge. I was told there was a Ranger Station, there but it was just a small ticket booth in a small cabin and it was closed. It was a shame as I wanted to ask the rangers about the state of the path up to Bivacco Gresselin and also the path I would take tomorrow round the side of Mont Duranno, as I had heard a path in the Mont Duranno vicinity was now also impassable. However, with no one about I optimistically assumed it was another path which was damaged and turned west to start the 1200 metre climb up to Bivacco Gresselin. 

As soon as the slope started I could feel my legs grumble and the in the heat of the day I could feel a sweat building. Despite going through beech woods it was warm and humid. I climbed a couple of hundred metres and then stopped for lunch on the empty track. After lunch and by good fortune I met an experienced mountain walker who was coming down from Bivacco Gresselin having spent the night there. He spoke great English and said I was fortunate not to have tried the two difficult passes of Cacciatori and Compol as they were impossible now. He raved about Bivacco Gresselin, and the ibex there, and the mountain views but warned me the path between the Bivacco Gresselin hut and Forcello Duranno Pass had been badly damaged by this years heavy snowmelt and rain. All the stones had been swept off some steeper slabs leaving just bare rock covered in a scattering of gravel. He said it was possible to traverse the slabs carefully, but that if I slipped and fell I would not be able to stop and would go over cliffs. It was not what I wanted to hear. He suggested I go up to the old shepherding house of Casera Lodina for the night and then go to Forcello Durano tomorrow to join the AV6 after the damaged part. After we parted company i walked for another half hour and got to the junction for  Bivacco Gresselin or Casera Lodina. On the sign post was a notice saying the path 358 was “dismisso” or cancelled due to the damage between Greselin and Forcello Duranno, which confirmed what the man said. 

I did not want to get into a pickle in a remote location or even get stuck on some difficult ground so convinced myself that as the path was closed then the official route of the AV6 had also changed and the path to Lodina and Forcello Duranno to pick it up again was the new official route. Plus it was 450 metres less I had to climb today and my legs were already tired. So I took the path to Casera Lodina to spend the night in it. The path up to it climbed for about an hour through a beech forest. The trees were tall and thin and it did hot feel as homely as other beech forests but it provided shade. Eventually it brought me to the edge of a large pasture with tall ungrazed grass. At the bottom of the pasture was a trough and a pipe rammed into the hillside where a spring was. A cool trickle spilled off the pipe into the trough. I was thirsty and drank 2 litres at the trough and then filled my 3 litre pouch. It was a stroke of luck as often shelters here have no water in the vicinity in the early autumn. The Caseras Lodina, which was an old shepherds house when this pasture was used, was just 10 minutes up the hill. 

20. Looking down into the Cimoliana Valley from the stone cabin of Casera Lodina which is some 800m above the valley. In the distance is Monte Pramaggiore, 2478m.

It was a bigger building than Laghet de Sora and had a large main room and a small bedroom with 6 beds on 2 sleeping platforms. I had the whole place to myself. Once I upacked I went out to see the remarkable view. The Cimolais Valley I had just walked up from was some 800 metres below. Across the other side of this valley were very craggy and inaccessible mountains with no chink in their ramparts. However what really interested me was how near the most difficult side of Forcella Compol was and I could see the grassy bowl in with Bivacco Gresselin sat. I could also clearly see the route from Bivacco Gresselin to the Forcello Duranno pass. From my viewpoint both, especially the former looked impossible and I am grad I am here and not at Gresselin with the broken dangerous path to do tomorrow. I wrote in the evening as it got dark and could feel the cold envelop everything. However in my duvet jacket and sleeping bag I was warm. It had been a long day physically and also mentally on some of the passages around Forcella Van del Drap. It had also been a long day philosophically with I struggled to justify not doing the original path and reconciling that with the practical and dangerous hazards which have developed since the AV6 was first construed. However the new official route of the AV6 around Cima Del Preti and Mont Duranno is much more feasible and after seeing the hazards of the original route in these parts I can accept it. 

21. Looking east from the pasture above Casera Lodina to the cabin at the foot of the meadow. Beyond the Cimoliana Valley below are the rarely visited Clautane Dolomites capped by Cima dei Vieres, 2310m

Day 08. 09 Sept. Casera Lodina to Erto. 16km. 7 hours. 740m up. 1510m down. I slept very well on the bare foam mattress on the wooden platform upstairs in the total dark with the shutters closed. So well I did not hear the mice downstairs who knocked my water bottle off the table and gnawed through the top and also made a feast from the rubber coating of the GPS antenna. There was nothing but plastic in their meal as I had hung the food somewhere inaccessible. Perhaps this was their revenge. When I woke at 0700 and went downstairs it was a beautiful day. The sun was just coming up and there was an alpenglow on Mont Duranno which was pink. In the meadows, which would soon sparkle with dew drops three deer were grazing about 200 metres away. They knew I was here but seemed unperturbed by me. I boiled water for a freeze dried breakfast and then set off at 0800, by which time the sun was not only drying the dew in the meadow but starting to illuminate Cima del Preti and the impossibly steep descent the AV6 used to take.

23. Cima dei Preti, 2707 from the ridge above Casera Lodina cabin. The old route of the AV6 came over Forcella Compol, 2438m (centre right) and then down the steep slabs in the couloir below it. The Bivacco Gresselin is on the grassy shelf to the left

The path was quite faint as it zigzagged up the meadow towards the ridge line. It was a clear morning with not hint of mist forming on the peaks as had been the case for the last few days. It took a good hour for me to force my tired legs up past a few ruined shepherds houses in this extensive meadow and on to the pass at the top called Forcella Lodina at a little under 1900m. The day was warm, the terrain was gentle and interesting and all around me huge mountains were clear in the early sun. It was perfect hiking conditions. At the Forcella Lodina the path forked with a branch called 374a heading down to the SW and eventually ending up in Erto in perhaps 3 hours and a branch to the north, called 374, which I took. My path would climb to Forcello Duranno and meet the AV6 again after all the difficulties of the damaged 358 path after Bivacco Gresselin. It promised to be a pleasant climb. 

22. A young Salsify, Tragopogon porrifolius, in the karst landscape on the ridge above Casera Lodina on route to Monte Duranno.

Although the path markings were feint and the path was seldom used it was quite intuitive where it went and I never lost it once. It went across rich grassland and limestone outcrops. The whole ridge was covered in small sinkholes where potential streams disappeared into holes in the karst landscape. There would be no water here as any trace of water would immediately vanish underground. It was obvious where the holes were and I never worried about them, although if I slipped into one I would cause damage to a limb or two and struggle to get out. As with most limestone areas the vegetation was verdant and rich. There were many flowers although most were past their best. I saw on purple star shaped flower, almost like a pink edelweis but much more delicate, which I had never seen before. 

24. Three Chamois, Rupicapra rupicapra, on the southern ridge of Mont Duranno. These Chamoise are incredibily agile and can sprint down rocky outcrops taking huge leaps.

Well after the last of the scattered larch I entered the realm of the marmot and there was a large colony above the 2000m mark. their shrill cries pieced the calm morning air as the sentry spotted me and warned the others. They also alerted 3 chamois which leapt up the hill with some effort. I noticed they were quite plump and had obviously fattened up on the summer grass ready for the forthcoming lean winter. The chamois made it to the top of a crag and then perched there and watched me go by. The path now made a rising traverse to the east as it went round a side ridge and climbed slightly. By the time it came back I noticed I was on the backside of the knoll the chamois were on and I surprised them. They took off down the hill with great leaps moving incredibly fast as the sprinted down steep grass and outcrop. I saw the path ahead near the top and then continue round to the Forcella Duranno pass the other side of series of small peaks called Cime Centenere. It looked easy until I reached the first peak.

25. Mont Duranno, 2668m, from the south above Casera Lodina cabin. On the right out of the picture is Cima dei Preti and Bivacco Gresselin. The small trail I am following goes actoss the middle of the photo to reach the grassy shelf where the Ibex were on Forcella Duranno.

The path which had been on the east side of the ridge went round the first peak on the west side. The path had here had been damaged by torents which had swept much of it away leaving bare rock covered in thin gravel in places, and all on a steep slope. It lasted about 100 metres but I had to scramble along some sections moving very carefully. Once round this most southerly of the peaks the path returned to the east side and contoured easily again without difficulty. It went past a deep cave where there was lots of animal droppings. A bit further I saw a person which surprised me. He was a ranger and was looking at me with binoculars. He was a surprised as I was. However, there reason he was here was to observe a herd of about 30 ibex. It must have been them who used the cave. 

26. One of the big buck Ibex on the grassy shelf just to the south of Forcello Duranno pass, 2217m. These are very powerful animals weighing perhaps 250 kg with horns which are almost a metre long.

We spent the next hour pretty much at Forcella Duranno observing them. They were very confident and barely moved unless we got closer than 3-4 metres. One of the large males never once stood up for the whole hour despite us being with 5 metres. There were about 5-6 bucks gathered here grazing peacefully. A couple of the males were immense and the ranger said they were about 400 kg which I could scarcely believe. I thought 200 kg, perhaps 250 at a push and with huge curved horns which must have been a metre long. Certainly if one charged and caught you with its horns it would break a limb and sent you flying. I always tried to have a boulder between myself and the bucks although they would no doubt leap the boulder with aplomb. It was not doubt my best Ibex experience to date and quite a privilege to be so close to these magnificent animals. After an hour here myself and the Ranger, who was about my age and spoke no English, went on the short distance to the pass itself. Here there were a group of perhaps 10 females and their kids from this year. They were a bit more wary and the kids soon disappeared onto exposed ledges and looked at us from their perch. We lingered here for about 10 minutes also. 

27. The Ibex at Forcello Duranno pass were very confident and were barely disturbed by my presence. In the background is Mont Duranno

28. A few of this years Ibex kids which are already 6 months old and very sure footed on the steep cliffs around the Forcello Duranno.

I quizzed the ranger about the path over Forcella Compol and also the other path from Bivacco Gresselin to where we stood but he could not enlighten me much or even point out which of two possibilities was Forcella Compol pass. It mattered not both options looked very steep and exposed. As for the path from Gresselin to where we stood it seemed to have vanished and I could not make out a feasible route. It also looked hard and dangerous, so I felt justified I had made the right call and I am sure the official AV6 route will never return to these two sections. Where the female and kid ibex were was where I rejoined the AV6 on top of Forcella Duranno, Far below I could see Rifugio Maniago and I craved a cold drink there. I went down first and I was surprised at how steep it was for the first 200 metres. It was virtually a scramble down a gully for 20 minutes, indeed when we were further down at the bottom I looked up and wondered how we managed that. It was certainly psychologically easier with two. At the bottom of this steep scramble the path zig-zagged for another 500 metres down a good path soon reaching the dwarf pine and then the larch and firs where the rifugio sat. The whole descent took a bit more than an hour. 

The Rifugio was a disappointment, not the building which was picturesque and in spectacular surroundings, but the couple who ran it were unfriendly and apathetic. He looked like a dirty wizened biker and sat outside with a glass of wine and a cigarette at every opportunity while she hobbled about with stiff hips dishing out the food he had cooked, The food was awful and the prices were very high. I felt I had eaten half a loaf of fried bread by the time I left. As I finished the ranger arrived and he sat at another table and the host went over to him with his wine glass and cigarette as the two knew each other. Before I left I said good by to the ranger and ignored the grizzly, grumpy host. 

From the Rifugio Maniago it was a easy descent to the small town of Erto. Initially the path went through the beech woods, bisecting a rough track until it reached the floor of the Zemolda Valley at a flood plain covered in white rock debris from the mountains above. It followed this plain of stones for about a km before the path left the track in the valley and climbed slightly to reach another track. It passed a couple of picturesque old shepherd’s casera which were now restored. Soon afterwards it rejoined the lower track which had continued beside the river and reached the parking place at Rifugio Casera Mela. It was perhaps 90 minutes from Rifugio Maniago and I am sure would have been worth holding out for for lunch here. 

I now followed the tarmac, concrete and dirt road for an hour from Rifugio Mela as it descended to Erto. There were a few hairpin bends initially before the road followed a sensational ledge cut into the cliff face for a good 2 km, high above the valley floor. If a car plunged of this it would have freefallen for 100’s of metres before smashing into the rocks below. A few cars passed me and they were driving very gingerly. Finally the road descended into Erto on a series of hairpins. I followed them down path the newer residential path of the town to the new hub with its few shops and a pizzeria. I checked my phone and saw I had a message from Luca Volata who stayed here. He was climber and alpine guide I had contacted earlier about the possibility of him guiding me over the dangerous Forcella Compol and Mont Duranno sections but he was busy at the time. However, he was in Erto now in the lower old town and said he would meet me there. 

Luca was the epitimy of a young alpine guide. immensely strong for his size with a unique power to weight ratio. He was cool and savvy and would have been trustworthy in the mountains. He had climbed in Scotland and the Himalayas and knew a friend of a friend in Scotland. He explained he could not help me earlier as he was on a rescue which had taken nearly 24 hours for someone stuck in a canyon. We chatted for about half an hour while his friend, Valintina, made up an apartment she rented out a few doors away in the old town. It was perfect. I said goodbye to Luca and Valentina, went into the apartment and put on my gadgets to charge. Then I went to the small supermarket and got food for the first 24 hours of the next stretch and loads of yoghurts and milky drinks. Back at the apartment I peeled off my stinking cloths and washed them and then had a shower, the first for 5 days. I spent then evening writing and just popped out for a pizza in the upper town before returning. The lower older town where i was staying was very quaint but many of the houses were in poor repair, while others had been done up. 

Before he left I spoke to Luca about tomorrows route. The official route goes beside or actually on a main road. I am sure when the AV6 was contrived 50 years ago this was a rural track but it is not now. The official policy is to take a bus, but that distracts from the fluency of a journey of foot. It pollutes it. I had seen on the map there was an alternative from Erto on the hiking path 903 up and over Cornetto mountain to Casera Feron, a private and locked shepherds house. From there it would be a steep 500 metre climb over 3 km on an unmarked local path through woods to Casera Frugna, an open cabin, where I could spend the night, or continue down to the AV6 and meet it as it came up the Cialedina Valley. Luca confirmed all the paths were OK and visible and agreed it would be a much nicer route. 

Day 09. Sept 10. Erto to Casera Frugna. 16 km. 9.5 hours. 1860m up. 1110m down. Because I stayed up until 0130 writing and publishing to the web  I was tired in the morning when I woke at 0700. Nonetheless I got up and had a huge breakfast from everything I bought from the shop yesterday and then made up 4 large rolls which would do me for two lunches over the next two days. My clothes had pretty much all dried on the balcony and so by 0900 I was good to go. 

I wanted to avoid walking on the road so initially I found the path at the bottom of the old part of the village which led down to the vast stony river plain below. It was a small path, overgrown with nettles and easy to miss. It only took 10 minutes to arrive at the sea of white stone. I then had to hop across the Zemola stream, which would not have been easy after heavy rain. I searched for the path up to the hamlet of San Martino but could not find it so decided to continue up the Vajont valley for a km, cross the Vajont stream which was the same size as the Zemola and find a track up the other side to the very small road. It was a fascinating walk up the stones on the Vajont valley floor looking at the product of so much erosion and rainfall which had carried all these stones from the mountain tops down to here. Just down the valley was a lake and I am sure it will be gone in 100 years, filled with stones. 

There was a much bigger lake, built up behind a very large and tall dam to provide power to the industrial area of Longarone in the Piave Valley below. However one fateful night some 50 years ago after heavy rains a large section of the mountainside slid into the lake. Something the hydro engineers had been warned about. It caused a tsunami in the lake which spilled over the dam wall and rushed down the steep valley towards sleeping Longarone. It caused  biblical devastation and killed over 2000 people. Today this dam still stands but it does not hold any water back.

29. On the floor of the Vajont Valley below the small town of Erto. The ridge in the middle is the route up Cornetto to the stone cabin of Casera Cornet near the summit.

Once I made it onto this minor road I followed it east, passed through a couple of tunnels and over a high bridge over the stream coming out of the Vajont gorge and found myself at the foot of the climb up path 903 to Casera Cornet and then down to Casera Feron. It had taken me an hour to get here but I had avoided walking on the main road.  A sign said 6 hours to Casera Feron which was a bit worrying as it was just half way today. The climb was quite relentless and almost 1000 metres up the ridge of Cornetto mountain, which is a fin-shaped mountain between two deep valleys. The path went up the spine of this fin. The main redeeming feature of the climb was the forest. Somehow a beech forest clung on to the sides of and crest of this mountain and it was soft and gentle in its shade. Occasionally the conditions were too rugged for the beech as it was too dry and rocky, and then pine and shrub took over before the beech returned. In one of these dry sunny arid sections I saw a small adder, quite light in colour with a black diamond pattern down its back. It was only 20cm long and had warmed up enough in the sun to wriggle off quickly.

After about 3 hours climbing the spine of Cornetto eventually leveled off and broadened out a bit and I came to a large grassy meadow with the odd scattered larch tree on it. There was a ruined dairy, Casera Cornet, here which had been built in 1923 as a “social cooperation” project. The shepherds house was restored and had been turned into a mountain shelter with beds. I went in and saw it was the same as Lodina. I think many of these dairies I have been seeing were built 100 years ago as part of a national project to increase food production. Now nearly all are in ruins. There was a picnic table here with the most marvellous view so I sat in the sun and ate my lunch. To the north across the deep valley rose Mont Duranno and Cima del Preti, the two high steep mountains which had caused me and the AV6 to divert from the original route. It was quite idyllic sitting there in the warm sun with the breeze gently waving the long grass but I had to move on eventually. 

30. The old dairy on top on Cornetto. Many of these dairy were built 100 years ago to produce cheese. In most the barns (left) have been abandoned and collapsed but the shepherds house (right) remains

The path now became much more indistinct as it headed south along the level spine of the ridge which was broad here with extensive pastures separated by copses of larch. In the next pasture was a fountain of water which poured into a trough. It was almost at the ridge line so it must have come from aquifers in the knolls on each side. After this meadow the path started its long descent. Initially it was on a small constructed drove road, perhaps built in the same social project to get the animals up in spring, but it had fallen into disrepair now and in many places the tufa blocks shoring it up to make a level path had collapsed. There was just a small tricky meadow in a saddle which the path climbed up to slightly where I got confused. The forest and shrubs were reclaiming the pasture and the path was lost, but I could see it went to the saddle so I made my way there wading through long grass. It then went along the ridge a bit passing to the west of a craggy summit called Gialinut before it started the descent down the south side of the ridge. 

This descent was steep for virtually all of it 600 metres. It plunged down the spine in a beech forest of tall thin straight trees, all racing for the sun. The descent was relentless and at least as steep as the ascent. The path was difficult to follow and it was only the occasional red paint flash on a tree which showed me the way. It switched between small zig-zags on top of a steep buttress to zig-zags in a gully with the occasional bit of steep grass. The path especially in the gullies was lost under a deep layer of beech mast, sometimes 30 cm deep, so coming down it was almost like skiing in deep powder snow. Saplings were sprouting everywhere but I am sure very few would make the canopy. Down and down the path went with my legs getting weary of the strain until at last I spotted through the dappled light of the beech a grassy meadow below, which was Casera Feron. I took the brakes off and jogged onto it, arriving just beside the old shepherds house, now restored and converted into a locked house, and the pouring spring which ran into a trough. It was warm here on the edge of the forest in the still air, but the spring water was beautifully cold.

It was 1600 when I left here with just 4 hours daylight left to climb up to the tiny cabin at Casera Frugna. The map showed there was an indistinct, unmarked path so I knew it would be a challenge despite what Luca said. However, I soon saw a sign which said “Casera Frugna. Path 902. 1 hour 40 min”. I could not believe my luck. But it was pointing into a thicket of intertwined scrub. I went round the scrub but could find no sign of the path at all on the other side. I had the route on my GPS but when I followed the GPS I could see no path on the ground, nor flashes on the trees. I pushed on nonetheless and realised there was no path in reality so just continued following the GPS . After half an hour it took me towards the Frugna stream. Then the route crossed a very steep landslide areas to get down to the stream bed. There seem to be tracks here and there leading me down but I think they were deer tracks as I don’t believe many humans go here, perhaps a few each year and they would be hunters. Once in the stream bed the route went south up the rocks for a good 300 metres. I was assured here with the occasional red spot on some of the bigger boulders that there probably was a path here once, now long abandoned. The GPS now showed a climb up a very steep narrow gully from the streambed to the forest on the west side of the Frugna stream and I was delighted to see a few red paint spots here also on the rocks. It took 10 minutes to struggle up this short steep loose gully to reach the beech forest. 

31. Looking south from Cornetto towards Col Nudo, 2471m. In the near pass on the centre left is Casera Frugna. The route to it goes up the valley on the left and then up through the beech forest. There is no path for this section but the beech forest is easy to push through.

Now in the beech forest again the route became easier save for the windblown beach to go round. Then all of a sudden I found myself on a path marked with frequent paint marks on the trees. Now we are cooking on gas I thought, as I followed the constructed path for perhaps half a km until it just vanished. I searched for it but it just stopped and I was now back with just the GPS indication on my device which led me up the hillside into a bowl ringed with towering cliffs. This cannot be right I thought and I searched the area for about half an hour for a route onwards. The GPS route and the landscape did just not agree. With time moving on I had to find another way. I still had over 400 metres to climb and it would be getting dark in one and a half hours.

I gave up on the GPS route and tried a different tack. I followed a deer path back to the east side of the Frugna stream and then climbed up the steep bank into the beech woods again. For nearly an hour I clambered and heaved my way up through the beech woods climbing rapidly. I could see I was along way off the GPS route, but prayed I would not meet a line of crags blocking my current freestyle route. There nearly were some impenetrable cliffs but there was always a way through them up some steep bank between outcrops. After a good hour I eventually intercepted where the GPS route should have been and followed it. Apart from a couple of sporadic paint marks on old trees there was not any indication I was on a path again and it was the same as the freestyle route. In a clearing near the cabin I surprised a fox who dashed off with just the white tip of its tail rising above the tall grass. As I homed in on the cabin I left the GPS route again and trusted my instincts and got there just a light was beginning to fade.

The cabin was awesome. It was just a 4 metre by 4 metre log cabin constructed from heavy logs and timbers so it could be submerged under heavy snow in the winter. I went in and it had 6 bunks, a small table and a stove. But there was no water in the vicinity and no indication in the cabin as to where there might be some. I looked for 10 minutes but realised it was to be a dry night. I returned to the cabin and lit the fire and had a roll and chocolate bar. I tried to write but was too tired so went to bed at 2100. I hung all my food up as Luca had told me it was a mouse year and they were prolific in the forest, just as there are lemming years in Scandinavia. However, I left my slippers on the ground and when I woke in the morning I noticed mice must have entered the cabin and taken chunks out of them. 

32. The tiny cabin at Casera Frugna is about 4m times 4m and has 6 bunk beds and a stove. However there is no water nearby, especially in the autumn.

Day 10. Sept 11. Casera Frugna to San Martino. 13 km. 8 hours. 1190m up. 1870m down. I woke at 0700 is the tiny cabin in the quiet woods at 1538 metres altitude. Without water all I could have for breakfast was another roll, which were going stale anyway. I was away by 0900 and headed south for a few hundred metres on the path 902 over the Forcella Frugna and then down into the mixed deciduous forest. The path was quite steep but nothing like yesterday’s descent down Cornetto, and it was obvious where it went, unlike the 902 on the northside of the pass which was lost. I noticed the forest here had a lot of sycamore in it also and in places they dominated. The east face of Col Nudo, grey and vertical towered above me to the west as I descended and I looked ominously at it knowing I had to go virtually all the way up there. The path zig zagged down for about 500 metres altogether which took a good hour. Occasionally I could see clear cold water tumbling down a gully under Col Nudo’s cliffs but it was too difficult to get there. I hoped the rivulet did not vanish underground into a sinkhole or under thousands of tons of boulders. I was in luck because as I neared the bottom the rivulet appeared again to flow over bare rock just where the path crossed it.

I went up to find a small cascade and drunk heavily sitting under the shade of a willow. As I relaxed and drunk more water I noticed a small caterpillar was descending from the willow above on a tiny tread it was producing as it went. I wondered what was the purpose of its descent as it looked deliberate and it was constantly looking about with its head. The forest floor was no place for a caterpillar and I had seen a large plump green caterpillar writhing on the pine needles as it was being bitten by hundreds of forest ants each a hundredth of its size. It would soon be killed by the injections of prussic acid and then carried off to the nest. However this smaller caterpillar never got to the forest floor as it stopped its abseil short and just hung there swinging in the breeze. Then a strong breeze blew it onto the branch of a neighbouring willow of a different speices with larger more succulent leaves. This small caterpillar then detached itself from it thread and moved off towards a leaf. I wondered if the whole operation was deliberate or just a fortunate mistake.

At the bottom of the descent at about 1000m altitude was a very rough shelter, called Casera Gravuzza which would perhaps allow 4-5 to cram in and sit. It was not waterproof or clean enough for an overnight stop, although it must have been nice in its heyday as it had a now rusted stove and stolp pipe. It was beside a track which 4×4 cars could drive to. I now joined path 965 which came up this track and over the Passo del Valbona pass on Col Nudo. The path went straight up the valley through the willow and sycamore shrubs while the track went up in zig-zags. After the path crossed the track about 5 times the track stopped and the path carried on up a moraine ridge covered in dwarf vegetation and wild flowers. To the south of this lateral moraine was a large snowfield in the shade of the Mont Teverone. Ahead of me at the end of the moraine were some crags with a cave in them and then a very steep grassy couloir which went all the way to the summit ridge very steeply. It looked difficult and exposed but I hoped the path was good. However, at about 1400 metres the path left the moraine ridge and headed north up the steep side of the valley. 

33. The very steep path up the south side of Col Nudo. At this point the path leaves the moraine and goes to the right, clambering up the crags and through the dwarf pine bushes to the notch on the centre right.

Initially the climb was up through steep vegetation, but here the path was obvious and well marked. However at about 1500 metres it came to a series of rock outcrops overlooking the main valley floor. They were not that exposed due to the dwarf pine growing between the path and the precipice but they were steep and in 3 places there were cables to help you scramble up. This steep section lasted for about 200 metres before the path then traversed NW up across the valley side through more dwarf pine. Below the pine I assumed there was a line of cliffs. The path through the pine scrub soon took me to a steep grassy slope and the now barely visible path went straight up it for 200 metres. To my east were huge bare limestone slabs, steep enough so if you fell and tumbled on them you would not stop, so I kept to the grassy slope which was equally steep. At last at about 1900 metres the grassy slope eased as the path reached the lip of a large bowl. I though this looks a good place for ibex and right on que spotted a herd of 10, all females and young. It was a beautiful saunter up across this relatively shallow grassy bowl, still full of flowers to the Passo del Valbona pass at 2130m. Ahead of me up the ridge on the north side of the pass was Col Nudo itself rising another 300 metres. It looked reasonably easy to climb it from the pass up a shallow slope of grass and outcrop and then bare rock, none of it steep or exposed. 

I knew there was cave just after the pass which had been adapted as a shelter with a wooden sleeping platform and the roof was lined with wooden planks. There was even fresh water at the back of the cave. I had expected to spend the night here at 2100 metres. However, the cave was not as romantic as it sounded. Water had been dripping on the sleeping platform for the last 20 years since it was built and large parts of it were damp and rotten. The water supply was a very infrequent drip into a stainless steel washing up bowl and the whole place had a musty damp smell. I lingered here for about half an hour and drank some water but as it was just 1630 decided to go down the other side of the pass and camp somewhere. I started down and got to a junction in 15 minutes where the alpine AV7 crosses the more gentle AV6. The AV6 now carried on down the valley across stony grass slopes for an hour until it got to Scalet Alta, on the edge of the treeline, I think there was once a casera dairy once sited here but could see no sign of it now. 

From Scalet Alta the path plummeted into the beech forest. As I entered it it was a bit like coming home for I knew in the forest I was safe. However the path was steep and slippery in places and I slid a couple of times. I descended quickly for 400 metres, passing a tiny fountain and wooden trough before I eventually reached a grassy track. There was a curious ruin here with a stone floor inside a circle of large stones. there was a portal formed by two larger upright pillar shaped stones and opposite it across the circle was a crucifix and alter. I assumed it was a seasonal place of worship for when the dairies were at full use 100 years ago. Just beyond this makeshift church perhaps half a km down the grassy track was Casera Vernal, an abandoned dairy whose house and barns were still intact and under a roof but on the road to ruin. 

I now realized I could reach the hamlet of San Martino before nightfall, and I might find a spring or fountain in the hamlet and some flat grass to camp. So I followed a series of forest tracks and then a tarmac road for an hour initially through the forest and then across some alps which were being used for hay. Occasionally I passed a barn and the smell of manure filled the air. This was very much a working cultural landscape now. It was on a large plateau called Alpago, squeezed between the Col Nudo ranges to the NE and the lake Lago de Santa Cruce to the SW. There were a string of hamlets across this picturesque idyllic landscape. I passed a couple and told them I might camp if there was not accomodation in San Martino and they warned me there were wolves in the area. As the light was fading I wondered into the hamlet of San Martino and filled my bottles from a fountain. Many of the houses were empty, some were old farms, now in mothballs and others were clearly restored as holiday homes. There were plenty of places to hide a tent. However I spotted a balcony of umbrellas which was clearly a cafe so went to ask if they were serving. 

What I found was a complete surprise. Despite two old men drinking on the balcony giving the impression it was a local cafe it was in fact an upmarket restaurant. Yes they could feed me and yes they had rooms upstairs, but they were expensive. She showed me the room and I realized why they were expensive at 90 suros. They had just been built to a very high standard. One bedroom had a sauna in it as part of the en suites. I took a room and was soon washing my clothes under a hot shower with expensive soap. It was a beautiful room indeed. I then went down to the restaurant which looked like it was full of rich urban folk who had come up here for the weekend. Indeed I think this is the market which the hotel and restaurant were going for. It was perhaps only 90 minutes from Venice, Verona, Udine and Vicenza to come here to the quiet, cool, rural charm of this idyllic landscape. I think many of the houses here might be bought by such urban folk. Dinner bed and breakfast came to 120 euros which was twice a mountain Rifugio, but there quality warranted it. Besides I had been in 3 free stone houses or log cabins in the last 5 days. I slept very well on the soft clean mattress without fear of mice eating my belongings. 

Day 11. Sept 12. San Martino to Rifugio Semenza. 14 km. 5.5 hours. 1280m up. 130m down. The hotel, Locando San Martino, gave me a large breakfast and I ate it all. Upstairs my clothes were drying in the morning sun which was flooding onto the balcony. After breakfast I went upstairs to write in the sumptuous room with ample power points. By 1100 I was done and said my goodbyes to the helpful owners and staff. They had invested a lot of money in the building and I hope it pays off for them, as I am sure a lot would be borrowed money.I stepped into the sun and wandered down the street with my camera to hand. The church lay on a knoll and was surrounded by a field with a few cows, their heavy bells gently knocking in a rhythm as they plucked the lush grass with their mouths. The lower part of San Martino was newer and more affluent than the traditional quarter above the hotel.

I walked down the minor road with virtually no cars and within 15 minutes I had reached the village of Funes. It was very similar to San Martino but I did not see a shop, cafe or any accomodation. in another 15 minutes I reached Irrighe which was a carbon copy of Funes. I was just taking a picture of the church when a small angry dog rushed at me from a courtyard. I was just about to defend myself with a hiking boot when the rope went taut and the dogs head stopped but its body kept moving. It was a scene from a children’s comic. Even more amusing was that the rope knocked over about 4-5 pots of geraniums which tumbled down the steps and smashed. When the owner dashed out I think she was about to blame me for the carnage but I just walked off with “ganasher” still agitated and straining at the rope. 

Once I had passed these three villages the road contoured around the hillside passing a few more hamlets. They all looked down to the Lago de Santa Croce and the fertile plains around it from their tranquil elevated perch. There were some larger villages on the next tier of settlements a bit further down the hill like Chies de Alpago and Tambre but they were not nestled in the forest and hayfields with their backs to the mountain of Col Nudo, which dominated this whole amphitheater. Some of the houses were for sale while others had been done up as holiday homes with stylish architectural features like panoramic windows. These latter houses all had substantial fences defining their plots, which the original rural houses did not. It was a nice walk as I sauntered through this landscape with a rich rural heritage. It was not hard to imagine what it would have been like 50 years ago when all the grass fields were cut but hand and the dried hay stored for the winter. The road was not busy except for fiat pandas doing 30 kmph and older couples on electric bicycles. 

34. The villages of San Martino (distant), Funes (middle) and Irrighe (nearest) are all high up on the Alpago, a rural plateau between the lake Lago di Santa Croce and the mountain ridge of Col Nudo

As I homed in on Agriturism Malga Pal, marked on the map as Agriturism Malga Cale, I passed a small restaurant selling local produce at Casera Cale. There was a track on the map here which ran parallel to the road so I took it for a kilometre. I passed a field with 3 dhzo (half yak-half cow) in it, all hiding from the sun in the shade of a large spruce. They must have come from Nepal or the Messner Mountain Museum near Longarone. It was an idyllic track and despite being shaded was warm. Blackbirds foraged in the wild raspberries as their fruit was ripe. The path eventually reached Agriturism Malga Pal and met the minor road again.

Initially the Malga Pal seemed hectic and I thought of forgoing lunch and moving on. All those Fiat panda cars had been coming here and the place was full of Sunday lunchers. Many seem to do a small perfunctory walk to work up a appetite and justify the visit to the restaurant. All the tables were full and the staff seemed stressed. I noticed a table inside and took it. I had no need to sit outdoors under an umbrella. I was outside all day. Eventually the owner came and took my vegetarian order. I could see the stressed chef, already at breaking point, throwing his hand up in exasperation as she took it through. It was just latin drama as she prepared the meal herself in a few minutes and appeared with beans, cheese and tomatos and slices of bread. She kept out of the way of the main bustle and we chatted. She said there was 2 metres of snow here in the winter and 6 metres just a few km from here, where I was walking up to next. They had 4 bedrooms and were open all year apparently. As I left she insisted I have a large glass of grappa made with her own honey. It was like a spirit version of mead and quite sweet.

After lunch I had to climb 1000 metres, firstly up the Val Salatis valley until it petered out into a large bowl on the north side of Monte Cavallo and then up the end of the bowl to a pass near the summit ridge. The route up the valley was on a pleasant track with a path frequently cutting from one hairpin bend to the next. It was a mixed forest and easy walking. After a good hour the track reached a dormant dairy at Campitello, which was built in 1929, probably as part of the social project I saw with other dairies. A little later it reached Pian de la Stele where the snow reached 6 metres. There was a small stone house here which would have been fine in an emergency as it had a fire place and lots of wood nearby. There was also a table and a sleeping platform upstairs. The valley up to here had been a delight but although it was just 1400 metres the vegetation and landscape looked more like 1800 with plenty of larch and willow scrub. 

After the stone house the path climbed into the largely conifer forest and rose quite quickly. I though the 3 hours on the sign to Rifugio Semenza would easily be enough. However at about 1600 metres the path started to undulate terribly and never made any upward progress for a couple of kilometres until it reached the bowl at the head of the Salatis valley called Valle Sperlon. It started to rain now so I stopped to put my jacket on for the first time this trip. At the entrance to the bowl shaped Valle Sperlon were a herd of female Ibex, perhaps 20 in all. They were quite nervous and jogged up the hillside. I now started climbing the long path out of the bowl to the pass at the top. It was a climb of about 300 metres and there was an abundance of flowers each side of the path as I climbed. However what I really found fascinating were the black salamanders. They had come out now the rain was on and I must have passed at least 100. They were slow and clumsy and no doubt easy prey, but I think they secrete a poison through their skin to deter predators. They kept me amused all the way to the pass. I wondered what they did in the winter when the ground froze hard under the snow. Surely they too would freeze into a kind of hibernating semi frozen torpur kept alive by some natural antifreeze. The salamanders were prolific all the way to the top of the pass at 2030 metres. When I got there the rain ceased and the sun returned. 

Just beyond the pass was the Rifugio Semenza. It was quite an alpine refuge with perhaps 30 beds in two dormitories. There were only 2 people there, the 60 year old host, Nadia,  who was once married to Franco Perlotto, a legendary Italian climber who now manages a Rifugio in the Grande Jorasse by Courmeyeur, and I, who had a whole dormitory for myself. The host hardly spoke any English, nor me Italian but she made a great meal for me and then sat and read a book in front of the stove while I wrote, eventually getting to bed at 2130.         

Day 12. 13 Sept. Rigugio Semenza to Vittorio Veneto. 32 Km. 11 hours. 780m up. 2650m down. I managed to get Nadia to give me breakfast at 0700 as I had a huge day in front of me. It is something of a challenge to finish the last day of the AV6 in one day rather than split it into two. Nadia pointed out where I was going and I could see the Pian Del Cansiglio, a natural agricultural hollow still sleeping under a blanket of mist, while everything else around it was bathed in the early morning sun. On the other side of this shallow hollow, perhaps 3 km across, was the gentle ridge of Pizzoc, the half way point. I said goodbye at 0730 and set off down the stoney alpine path which clung to a self on the west ridge of Mont Cavallo for half an hour before descending down onto valley floor covered in gravel and alpines, with a few scrub. The path then crossed the valley floor and climbed gently up the SSW ridge of Mont Cavallo to reach a small notch in the ridge called Col del Cuc. The path crossed this ridge here and then dropped down through shrub and larch to reach the ruined Casera Palantina, which was once a small dairy, but was now collapsing. There was a major intersection of paths here, with the AV7 intersecting here amongst others. There were still a few salamanders about, enticed by the morning dew. 

At Casera Palantina it was time to say goodbye to the mountains as the path now descended into the large spruce trees on a small path which made a comfortable descent down the shallow ridge for about 2 hours as it descended from Casera Palantina at 1500 metres to the small hamlet of Canaie at 1100 metres. As the path descended it grew in size and the spruce was replaced by beech. It was a gentle soft path and I made great time storming down enjoying the soft embrace of the beech woods, with a bit of fungi and wild flowers to keep my interest on the forest floor. Some 3 hours after leaving Rifugio Semenza I was already in the hayfields around the 3 houses of Canaie. 

35. The Forest of Cansiglio covers much of the Alpago plateau. It is a ancient forest with some old stands of trees. Different species cover different areas depending on aspect, soil and altitude. Here is a stand of spruce

I passed a young man cutting the winter’s firewood and we got talking. He pointed out the the next bit of the path was closed and pointed to the sign “Senterio Chisiu”.  He reiterasted “Disaster” “Catastrophe” explaining there had been a landslide due to heavy rain and the path was blocked with rock, soil and fallen trees. he said don’t take path 922 for more than half a km and then keep straight ahead on a tractor road in the forest and it would take me to a minor road, marked as D on the map, which would lead me to Campon. I looked at the map and what he said all made perfect sense, and it was perhaps a bit shorter. I thanked him and set off across the hayfield and into the spruce and fir forest. I found his tractor track easily and followed it for another half km through a forest. This spruce forest could have been the stage for a Grimms fairytale, such was the stillness of the forest and the venerability of the trees. Once I reached the road I saw it was little more than a forest track and closed to cars. I only saw 2 people in the whole hour it took me to get to Campon and they were two very elderly mushroom gatherers with old wicker baskets. Campon was a small hamlet, of perhaps 6 houses lost in the forest and trying to survive by selling forest products like carvings or local produce. The cafe here had closed long ago and its sign faded. 

36. Willow gentians, Gentiana asclepiadea, thrive on the forest floor and at the edge pf glades. It flowersa relatively late in the season so bees are attracted to them in the autumn.

The dark forest of silent spruce and fir trees continued for another hour on the next stretch of road from Campon to Mezzomiglio. It was all part of the Forest of Cansiglio and much of it was protected with enclaves of Natural Reserves. Once all of Europe would have been covered in this type of forest but now just fragments remain and this was one of them. It was special to wander through it, as this type of landscape is in our cultural DNA just under the skin and it where our forefathers gathered nuts and firewood, but it was also heartbreaking to realize that even this remnant was under constant threat. Again without a car passing me I wandered for an hour through this fairytale forest until I emerged onto a bright pasture and fumbled for my sunglasses. All around me in the NW were sharp mountains where the AV 1,  3, 4 and 5 all finish in the Belluno Dolomites. While behind me, to the NE was the huge natural amphitheatre of the Alpago with its gleaming villages in green pasture or forest. All set against the backdrop of the vast Col Nudo to Mont Cavallo ridge, a jagged wall of perhaps 25 km in length and all of it around 2000 metres high. A few hundred metres into the meadow was the Agriturismo Malga Mezzomiglio. 

I stopped here for a bread and cheese sandwich and some sparkling water. It was their own cheese and very strong and salty. I am not sure if they would have accommodated walkers, but I think they would have. I had been going for 5 ½ hours now and thought I was making good time, but when I opened the cumbersome map up fully on the flat table I realized I was just half way. If I was to break the journey, this friendly place would have been the place to do it. I ate my meal with a sense of urgency and then rushed on. This hurry soon vanished into the sand as I started the next stretch which took me south across browning grazed meadows where the Malga’s dairy cows grazed in pastures surrounded by trees. It was an idyllic setting and it reminded me of Mid West American ranches. There were even strong horses here, chest deep in a pond grazing the reeds. After half an hour I had passed through this meadow and a gate which took me into another natural Reserve. It took me two hours to wander through this jewel of a beech forest. The trees were just starting to develop their autumnal colours and in the glades I could see a few leaves fluttering to the ground in the breeze. The trees were tall and erect and the canopy was high above me, perhaps 30 metres above. Under this canopy was a cool, soft, gentle world where I felt at home, much more so than in the spruce and fir forest of the previous section. At 1600, 2 hours after leaving the dairy of Malga Mezzomiglio I reluctantly left the beech woods and was thrust into the high grasslands of the Pizzoc area. 

37. A horse in a pond at Malga Mezzomiglio eating the reeds. The dairy here has about 200 cows and their milk is made into an artisanal cheese for sale in the shop or resturant

There were quite a few small stone cabins here, perhaps remnants of pastoral days. But they had all been modestly restored so they maintained their charm. A bit further was a new, small Agriturismo business selling local produce and catering to walkers, and to the east of the AV6 path was the Rifugio Citta di Vittorio Veneto. I am sure I could have got board and lodging at one of these two, but now I had the bit between my mouth and was steeled for the near 1500 metre descent to the Venetian Plain and the end of the AV6. I passed a curious area just after the new Agriturismo business where the hillside was covered in netting to catch and ring passerines. There seemed to be some signs proclaiming a scientific nature to this project, with a picture of a wren, and a small modest stone cabin nearby for project volunteers to stay in. I hoped it was all well meaning. A few metres further and the descent started. 

39. The town of Vittorio Veneto on the Venetian Plain is a great place to finish as the mountains also finish here. There are plently of B&Bs or small hotels in the town. Venice is 2 hours away on the train or bus.

Initially the track went down a grassy meadow on a track of loose gravel and stones. I twice fell on my bum as my feet skidded from under me on the unstable ground. After 500 metres of descent it went into a forest where the path underfoot was not so dry or loose due to leaves and twigs which had mixed with the gravel. The path continued to fall for another couple of hundred metres where cyclamen were rife. I stopped to collect a few corms and also some hazelnut seeds, to add to my alpine plant foraging of the day. I was making good progress and could sense I was closing in, but then the path levelled off and even climbed in many places as it undulated along the Serravalle ridge. It was obvious from the map it would do this but I never paid it any attention until now when my descent was stalled. At last I started the final descent to the town which I could see far below. It took a while to get there and it seemed the sun was going down quicker than I was. With tired legs I eventually came to the Sant’ Augusta church on the hillside 200 metres above the town and overlooking it. There was a rough cobbled road now that descended in zig-zags down the ridge. At each hairpin there was a small chapel built, 6 in all. After the last chapel the steep cobbled road made a series of small neat switchbacks which spilled me into a small square beside a large church. It was the end of the AV6, all 190 km of it was behind me now. It was almost 2000 hrs and getting dark and I had been walking for 11 hours and was tired. 

39. The town of Vittorio Veneto on the Venetian Plain is a great place to finish as the mountains also finish here. There are plently of B&Bs or small hotels in the town. Venice is 2 hours away on the train or bus.

There was no question of doing anything else other than finding a bed and a pizza that evening. I looked at my phone and saw there was a medium range hotel some 500 metres away. it was called La Residence da Caterina. I had a fumbling italian conversation with the hostess who said there was a room and set off. Eventually I found it and she showed me to a small bungalow in a garden. It was a super room, with a fridge and cooking facilities, and only 40 Euro. She explained to me where the pizzeria was just round the corner. I had a fungi pizza and a couple of beers and headed back to the hotel where the sweet old hostess met me with a can of beer as a celebration. I drank it and then was too tired to anything, even shower, so I had a dirty dive. 

40. Venice is a ideal place to explore after 2 weeks in the Dolomites for a couple of days. There is the main island with 5-6 other interesting islands around it.

In the morning I made some superb coffee in the hexagonal steam expresso maker in the kitchen and wandered round her beautiful garden. I then walked to the train station where a bus took me to Conegliano. Here I got the train to Venice Santa Lucia  during which time I arranged 3 nights in my favourite bed and breakfast beside the lagoon in Murano away from the bustle of Venice but a short boat ride from it. At Sant Lucia I got a 3 day water bus ticket and hopped on the number 3 vaporetto boatbus and was at the B&B, Casa Sulla Laguna, half an hour later digging out my dirty clothes for the hostess to put in the machine. 

42. Some 5 km north of Venice is the island of Burano which is famous for its lace and colourful houses. It is about a hours boat ride north of Venice or half an hour from Murano

The AV6 had been a great journey. However there was no via ferrata passages on it and compared to the AV5 which I did last year it was quite pedestrian. Had the two half days each side of Bivacco Gresselin been feasible it would have definitely put a different flavour on it. The unofficial variation to avoid the main road from Erto to Cellina by going up and over the beautiful Cornetto mountain to Casera Feron and then off piste to Casera Frugna definitely improved the route, but cost me a lot of energy. It was longer than the other Alta Via routes I have done with even more elevation gain than the Alta Via 2. I am now primed to do the short but very alpine Alta Via 7 in a coupe of years time. 

The final statistics for the Alta Via 6 including the extra day at the beginning walking from Sappada to the Sorgenti di Piave is:

12 Days in total with 83 hours walking. 192km. 12940 metres up. 14040 metres down.

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