Today’s hike was a longer route, taking me higher through the Catinaccio, past the turquoise Lago Antermoia and finally descending down into the verdant Val Duron in the shadow of the Sassopiatto/Plattkofel.
But first I had the magical sunrise at Grasleitenhütte to enjoy: The morning light landed on a low flying cloud in the mouth of the canyon, diffusing the sky with a magical rose glow.
After a friendly breakfast conversation with a couple from Salzburg, I hiked back into the cavernous chamber of the Catinaccio. Today I would hike up the steep wall opposite from my climb down yesterday, up to Passo Principe and then beyond into the Antermoia area.
The slope was essentially just loose rock and gravel, so finding the exact trail was hard (painting rocks doesn’t work so well if the rocks are continuously sliding down). It was a rigorous and exhausting start to the day. Skies were clear, but fortunately the area was still in shade for this haul. Watching the shadow line inch closer and closer to my path was all the motivation I needed to keep moving...
At the top of Passo Principe is a “wild west”-looking rifugio built into the side of the cliff, called Grasleitenpasshütte, or Rifugio Passo Principe (during today’s trek I actually crossed province lines from South Tyrol to Trentino, and Italian became more prevalent than German.)
Passo Principe looks down over the Catinaccio on both sides of the pass, with views of dusty stone formations in all directions. Across from it looms the highest peak in the Catinaccio, Catinaccio d’Antermoia (Kesselkogel) at 3,004 meters.
From Passo Principe, I hiked farther up and around the Antermoia peak to Passo d’Antermoia at 2770m. In the midst of this barren, parched environment were snowbanks still standing on the pass, the only clue that we were actually very high up.
From the pass, I descended slightly into the Vallone d’Antermoia, a high-elevation valley resembling a desert canyon. As I made my way across the spare, chalky landscape, it felt as if I was on a deserted planet. Not a soul was in sight, and signs of life were limited to the occasional bird.
After a long traverse through this valley, a thin blip of turquoise began to appear on the horizon. Eventually Lago d’Antermoia came into sight, a small but dramatic lake that could almost be a mirage in the sweltering sun.
I hung around the edges of the lake for a bit, taking pictures and enjoying the view and then continued past it to the charming stone Rifugio Antermoia with blue and white shutters. It was lunchtime now, so I took a seat on their porch. As with other stops in Italy, I marveled at the incongruous joy of sipping a cappuccino with a panino at over 2,000 meters and on top of such a barren terrain.
If there was one downside to Rifugio Antermoia, it was that their bathroom water was non potable and they charged me to refill my bottle… the first hut that had done so.
After lunch I followed the trail past the rifugio to the final outcropping of the Catinaccio formation. Looking out, I could see the Platfoffel/Sassopiatto amphitheater ahead surrounded by green valleys and ridges below me. I had emerged from the lunar desert!
I started my descent quickly because there were some dark clouds in the sky to one side and I didn't want to get stuck in a thunder storm. The first leg was a zig zag down a large, open rock slope. At the bottom a sign directed me to the ridge above Val Duron, the valley where my next rifugio was located.
As I dropped into the trail heading down to the valley, I was suddenly surrounded by lush vegetation and greenery. The trail wove down between tall bushes and wildflowers, and bees and other insects buzzed all around me. It was beautiful going but the steep and continual downhill started to tweak my knee again. The hiking poles were a life saver.
Eventually, I emerged at a footbridge over a bubbling stream running down the center of the valley. Kids were swimming and people were lounging about. I washed my face and hands and took a look around. Behind me I could see the cathedral peaks of Catinaccio formation I had come from, and on either side the steep valley walls were covered in tall pine trees. The rest of the path followed the center of the valley to the rifugio.
Midway between the bridge and my hut, I came upon a strange little farm stand: the yard around it was full of odd sculptures such as carved wooden utensils, old military artillery overflowing with flowers, and tree trunks carved into people, with branch arms and pronounced buttocks. Interesting…
Passing through the lawn of oddities, I walked about another 20 minutes down the valley before arriving at Rifugio Micheluzzi, where I stayed the night.
Micheluzzi was styled like a traditional mountain chalet, and in the late afternoon when I arrived it was bustling with day hikers (access was relatively easy coming from the nearby Val di Fassa). Sitting in pastoral fields of tall grass and flowers, it was a very different scene from the parched moonscape I had eaten lunch on.
Inside, this was another rifugio that felt like a cross between a mountain hut and a bed and breakfast. There was no shared dorm, so I had my own room, which felt a bit more like a hotel room with a standard bed. I was unsure whether I was still supposed to use my own sleeping sheet.
I was shocked that by dinner time, almost everyone had cleared out! The only people eating in the dining room were myself and two older German women. Rather than combine us like most of the other huts did, they sat us each at our own tables making for a very silent dinner…. but it was still delicious! I had spaghetti bolognese, goulash, panna cotta and local red wine.
After dinner, we all went out back to watch the sunset over the Catinaccio at the top of the valley. It was one of those sunsets that came in two phases: a traditional, pretty sunset followed by a surprise after-effect where the whole sky turned blood red. After exchanging a little small talk with the German women, I turned in for the night to gear up for my last day(!) of hiking in the morning.