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High Season at the Dolomites


High Season at the Dolomites

The Dolomites are a special mountain range and UNESCO site in the Alps of northeast Italy. They have a lighter colour from the rest of the Alps, due to their limestone mineral composition. The peaks formed under the sea, as evidenced by the many ancient ocean fossils found there now. A fact which really baffled scientists until about the 1800s.

I had been considering spending all summer in the “Pale Mountains". Mostly to enjoy the cooler air of higher altitudes, and only continue eastwards after the summer’s temperatures became more tolerable. Some friends I’d met along the way had told me that Dolomites were the most beautiful mountains in the world. So my expectations were high, which is often a mistake.

The peaks are in the somewhere.

The first couple days were rough. Soaking rain, fog blocking all views, camping in a heavy lightning storm, and a strange situation that required the assistance of local police. But that's a story for later - more on this (kind of) in the next post.

I could’ve taken the easy way from Bolzano via Bruneck along the dedicated bike path without many climbs. Instead I chose the scenic route. Via the alpine village Selva, crossing the barren Passo del Sella, over a windy Passo Pordoi, stopping for a shower at Passo Campolongo at a fancy hotel spa, camping on the top of Passo Valparola. Climb after climb.

Next to my campsite on Passo Valparola.

By the time I got to Cortina d’Ampezzo, I was in the mood for something different. I went to the ski lifts to find out if they accepted bicycles. The man looked at all my luggage and said I could go up, but the way down was along the ski slope, which in the summer was a steep gravel road that would be a challenge to come down on without a mountain bike. Not really recommended. I explained that my trip isn’t really about the ride per se, as much as experiencing beautiful places. I was happy just walking the bike down if need be.

His recommendation changed. “In that case, go. It’s amazing up there, just go.” He asked a ton of curious questions about my trip. He was one of those cool people whose eyes light up with visible excitement when I say how long I’ve been on the road and where I plan to go. Almost always such people have been dreaming of something similar but haven’t found the time, so they are full of admiration for adventurers doing what they do.

Every mountain should have ski lifts for bicycles!

So after a ski lift ride up one mountain, a 400m descent (where I did indeed come close to falling down on loose gravel a couple times), and another ski lift ride, I was on Monte Cristallo. It was the most peaceful place I had found in the Dolomites so far. I settled down to shoot some time-lapse of the sunset by a little pond, showering under a tree, and enjoying the night. He was right. It was amazing. I laid out only the sleeping bag for the night, and woke up soaked in morning dew.

This little pond was my favourite thing in the Dolomites.

Ultimately I had to change my plans of staying in the Alps for a month or two. The desire to rest and the fear of heat were overcome by a need to keep moving and my dwindling bank account balance. The Alps were expensive, so it was better to cycle towards cheaper countries in the east before I’d get myself into financial trouble.

Plus most of the beautiful places people recommended to me were full of people. As you should know by now, I’m not a fan of crowds or the high season, so it would be a challenge to find places I could enjoy fully in August. I was on my way to Lago di Braies, “the most beautiful lake in the Dolomites”, as I’d been told. But then I read closer recommendations that said it was a great place for photography, but you better get there before sunrise, before the literal busloads of tourists arrive. When I hear that, I lose interest. I’m sure it’s pleasing to look at, but the rush of people everywhere is a such a turn-off.

I would rather take a less impressive photo in a place where I feel at peace and connected with the landscape, than my best photo ever while surrounded by the chaos of mass tourism.

I miss the wilderness of Lapland. I think I need to go find some quieter countries now.

Here they are, the majestic Dolomites.