We thought the Dolomites could not get any better, but somehow they did on Day 3. After our huge Day 2, we slept in a bit later and got on the trail at 8:55 after another stellar breakfast.
Day 3 began with a steep 2,500 foot climb up something that only vaguely resembled a trail. As the climb leveled out, we began seeing ruins from WWI strewn across the mountain. Over the next few hours we saw decrepit forts, trenches, and kill windows tunneled through the mountains.
At the top of the climb we approached a cliff that offered huge views towards the south and the areas we would be hiking through over the next few days. This vista made what we had seen so far pale in comparison, which was hard to believe. We saw the jagged, white classic peaks on of the Dolomites, the Pelmo massif in the distance, and even further away the Marmolada (highest peak in the Dolomites).
After gawking at the scenery, a clif bar break, and talking with some Italians about how we were from America, we started a long stretch along the ridge. We soon had an option to drop down into the valley or continue on the high road along a rock field at 2,400 meters. I lobbied hard for the more difficult high road, and Jen agreed against her better judgement. The first stretch had lots of climbing up scree fields, but it soon was all worth it.
Our Rifugio for the night was right by Cinque Torri (5 towers). Along the ridge we had a great view of Cinque Torri and all of its surrounding mountains. As we worked our way along the ridge, we saw these amazing WWI "kill windows" carved into the 3,400 meter mountain that rose just to our left. These were perfectly square and evenly spaced windows carved from tunnels in the mountains. I would not want to be an invading army with someone waiting to shoot me from those tunnels!
As we continued along the ridge, we were treated to our first views of Cortina, which we had passed through 3 days earlier. While hiking along the ridge was tons of fun, it was time to get some food! After a steep descent, we arrived at Rifugio Dibona around 1:30pm.
This was by far our best lunch stop on the whole trek. We sat in their outdoor terrace enjoying the spectacular scenery. My gnocci and Jen's polenta and cheese were also most welcome after a long morning of hiking. Sadly, we eventually had to leave to get back on the trail.
We descended down through a forest section to 1,700 meters only to have a 2,000+ foot steep climb up to Rifugio Scoiattoli. We eventually made it back up above the treeline to the Cinque Torri rock formation and nearby rifugio. After a very long day, Jen was initially less than pleased that I had not booked the Cinque Torri rifugio and opted for the one further away. Lucky for me, Rifugio Scoiattoli was only another 15 up the trail and was well worth the extra hiking.
It ended up being our favorite rifugio thanks to the 360 degree views, nice private room, and top notch food / wine / beer / coffee. Later that night we found out it was a holiday for some saint, though we never got clarity on exactly which one. This meant that all through the mountains the rifugios and towns would light huge bonfires. It was incredible to stand on top of a mountain with a huge bonfire and be able to see about a dozen other bonfires that spread out for miles and miles across the mountains. Think the lighting of the signal fires in Lord of the Rings. As we all stood around the fire, they passed around homemade grappa, which I have to say was really good! It was a great cap to another epic day.
Morning a Rifugio Scotoni
I had thought we would be going up the trail to right, but we instead shot straight up the mountain on a "trail" towards the top left of the picture
Oh man that looks steep!
This is the "trail" we climbed up
Looking down from partway up. You can see Scotoni way down in the valley.
After the initial steep section the trail leveled out. These are the first WWI ruins we saw.
Getting even higher up now and looking back from where we came
Reading maps is tough work
We had so far been hiking in the Fanes - Sennes National Park. This sign marked where we crossed over to the Cortina D'Ampezza national park.
These flowers looked like the bluebells we have in Virginia and grew right out of the rocks.
Almost to the top now
This is where we crested the ridge and had our first big view of the Cortina D'Ampezza section. We could see a lot of our route for the next few days.
Looking down from that ridge. This is a ski area in the winter.
Way up high is Rifugio Lagazuoi, which is where our book recommends you stay on Day 4. It was only 11am though, and we were planning to cover a lot more ground!
We were starting to traverse the ridge and had nice views to the north
More views north
Now looking south at some of the classic jagged peaks of the Dolomites
This is where we cut left up the rocks to the high road
A WWI trench
This was what the trail looked like on this section
Looking down at a WWI fort. This area was one of the key strategic locations in the war.
In the middle is Cinque Torri (5 towers), and you can actually see our Rifugio to the right. We still had a long way to go though. We would go left for a while, descend all the way to the valley floor, climb back up, and traverse right.
The ridge dropped off steeply to the right
This is the trail as it traversed along the mountain
Our first view of Cortina and the surrounding mountains
Jen making her weay across the ridge
Cortina towards the left and Cinque Torri towards the right. You really can't beat this view.
We went along the ridge for a little while longer and then dropped steeply to the right down to our lunch spot
Getting close to lunch now!
Jen had no time for my lollygagging
Ah yes! Finally lunch.
Now this is what I'm talking about. Best lunch spot ever.
After lunch we descended down through the forest but still could see the mountains through the trees
We both liked this trail, and it offered some nice variety to the higher altitude ridge hiking
Way in the distance in the middle of the picture is a saddle we would hike through tomorrow, though we didn't know this at the time
Cinque Torri was getting closer, but it was still really far away!
All the way down to the valley floor. Now let's climb all the way back up!
The mountain in the clouds is the one we hiked around along the ridge at its base
We took a wrong turn towards the top of the climb up to Cinque Torri. Fortunately we stumbled upon the site of an ancient landslide, which opened up a gap that provided incredibly views of Cortina.
More amazing jagged peaks towards the south
Jen and I by the landslide
Wow. Pictures just do not do this justice.
Little bit steep!
I think Jen was ready for this long, long day to be over
Cinque Torri Rifugio overlooked this field
Looking down at Cinque Torri. Sadly we still had a bit further to go.
We would cut through this valley the next morning towards the peaks in the distance
Jen was happy that the end was now in sight. Rifugio Scoiattoli was not too far behind me.
Another look down at Cinque Torri
And then victory!
Rifugio Scoiattoli had the most incredibly 360 degree views. This was looking north towards the mountains we hiked through in the morning to get here.
Looking at Cinque Torri from Scoiattoli
The views just never ended!
Way to the top right is Rifugio Nuvolau. We were quite happy to not be hiking up there.
We were quite spoiled at Scoiattoli
The bonfire where much grappa was consumed