The first day of the long awaited holiday in the Dolomites. After having seen pretty peaks from the window before going to bed, I eagerly pulled back the curtains. And I was slightly disappointed. Instead of the same peaks, I was greeted by low-hanging clouds and a light drizzle. And when I say low-hanging clouds, I mean that they were basically at ground level. Sighing, I looked at James over my shoulder. He was in good spirits, and I decided that a little rain wouldn’t ruin my first day on holiday. I took a deep breath, set aside the little damper that had been put on me by the weather and we started to pack up our things.
When stepping outside after a good breakfast, my mood improved significantly. The light rain was just fading out and it was quite warm. After passing through the cute village of Niederdorf (or Villabassa in Italian) in South Tyrol, we branched off into the woods and slowly ascended a little. The clouds lingering in the tree tops made quite dramatic scenes. Little houses appeared here and there on hillsides. Small winding paths, colourful wildflowers on green meadows and spider webs with raindrops caught in them added to the scenic views. In the distance, a few peaks appeared every now and then in between moving clouds.
After passing through the little village Schmieden, we crossed a pasture with cows on it. True to the South Tyrol flair, they had big bells around their necks that jingled every time they moved. Back in the woods, we soon came to a small river. From then on, we followed this little river to the end, just not on the same level. While we steadily ascended a little, the river stayed at ground level and we could hear it in a little gorge below.
After meeting just one group of hikers on our way, Lago di Braies was a bit of a shock. First, we saw a parking lot on the other side of the river. Quite a few cars and even coaches were standing there. The shoreline was packed with tourists slowly strolling along.
Nevertheless, the lake was beautiful with different emerald colour shades. Usually you would see mountains rising high up into the sky at its shore on the opposite side. However, in the given weather conditions the peaks vanished in the low hanging clouds. A little wooden house build on stilts served as a boat rental, with cute rowing boats moored at the wooden dock. Further along the lake, a little chapel appeared in between trees. Just as I had set up my camera and tripod to have an extensive photo session, the rain set in again and cut it short. Well, I still took loads of photos, so maybe it just reigned me in a little.
Our original plan for the return journey was to hike along the lake a bit and then follow an incline into the surrounding mountains called “Apostels”. We intended to pass along a saddle at 2500m and then loop back down into the woods and to Niederdorf. At the lake, a sign said something about closed paths due to landslide and rockfall. The sign wasn’t quite understandable though, and the only bit of path marked on the map was a stretch along the shore. As we intended to branch off before that, we didn’t give it too much thought and started to make our way.
We walked along the emerald coloured lake for a little while, before leaving the shore and starting an incline through woodland. Soon, the forest path turned into a scree slope and got steeper. It wasn’t long until we met the first unexpected difficulty. A landslide had taken away bits of the path and replaced it with loose boulders. On top of the boulders was a snow cover that had not yet melted away in the spring sun. The slope was steep, so I chose to scramble across this difficult patch on all fours.
Afterwards, the path got better again. It was fairly even now and led along the steep mountain face of the Apostels. On the other side of the path there was a steep drop down to the lake. Being in the clouds, the vision wasn’t overly clear. We could only imagine the view of the lake you’d have from up there on a sunny day. But for the time being, we could only see white clouds surrounding us. We couldn’t see far ahead, far up, far down or far back. In fact, we couldn’t see very much at all.
As we walked on with caution, we crossed a little stream down the mountain. Somewhere up on the Apostels, we heard the sound of falling rocks in some distance. For the moment, that didn’t worry us too much. That could always happen in the mountains. Eventually, we were forced to turn back. A very recent landslide had taken away a huge chunk of the path and left a 5m wide and 2m deep gap. The incident must have been very recently. The rain had not yet washed away the browner colour of the soil from the inner layers exposed. There was no way around this gap. Considering the state of the path, it would have been an act of negligence to try and climb down and across.
While discussing the situation, James and I heard some more falling rocks, this time a little closer. Considering the weather conditions with lasting rain, the state of the path in front of us and the falling rocks, we decided to turn back. Just because the rocks we had heard falling were away from us at the moment, didn’t mean it couldn’t happen where we were standing. The rocks of the Apostels seemed to be in a lot of movement, and we didn’t want to be caught in a landslide. Now aware of the conditions, I became increasingly nervous. We stayed close together while carefully making our way back again.
Only when we had passed the patch of snow again and were back on the more stable scree slope, I felt more comfortable. My heartbeat slowed down and the adrenaline rush slowly disappeared. Usually I love a good adrenalin rush, but this had not been an enjoyable one. When we had got back down to the lake again, it turned out that the path we had been on was in fact closed due to imminent danger of landslide. Not that this needed more confirmation, but the sound of yet more falling rocks far up on the Apostels dramatically underlined this realisation.
We just took the same route back that we had taken on the way to Lago di Braies. The rain slowly got lighter and faded out into a drizzle. We finished off our day with a hot bath and a lovely 3 course dinner.