As I pulled on my dried-sweat hiking shirt on the last morning of my journey I knew the time had come to re-enter civilization. Today I would hike up the opposite wall of Val Duron and walk around the base of the Sassopiatto (the amphitheater-shaped mountain I’d seen from many angles) to the road at Sella Pass, where there was a bus stop that could take me back to Bolzano.
Breakfast at Rifugio Micheluzzi was incredible. The buffet featured two different pies and some of the best coffee I’d had. When I told one of the younger staff I was from Boston, he asked if that was near Pittsburg. It made me sad to know that Pittsburg was his reference city…
Setting off, I continued down the valley road beyond Micheluzzi in search of the path up the valley wall to the base of the Sassopiatto. This was not a well trafficked or marked trail, and I was afraid I’d already missed it by the time I found it much farther down the road than I expected.
The trail whisked me up into dense pines. Being at a lower elevation in a valley, I hadn’t expected this would be a hard climb. Wow, was I mistaken! It seemed like the trail must have been at a 45 degree angle! I was practically climbing with my poles, setting goals of reaching each corner before stopping for another breather. What I came to realize was that often the lower section of these mountains was the steepest, similar to the bottom of a funnel.
After zig-zagging through the forest, the trail eventually crossed a beautiful meadow, offering views back across my last few days of hiking. Still, the path pushed upwards. At the top of this trail was a small rifugio called Rif. Pertini. I got the sense this trail was probably only used by the staff to bring up supplies (and judging by the tracks, they had some kind of ATV).
After a couple hours of heavy labor, I reached Rif. Pertini under bright sunlight. It was a scene of bucolic relaxation: families were laying out on the lawn enjoying homemade snacks, a hammock was strung between craggy rocks, and a zip-line let children fly seemingly over the horizon.
I was beat, so I collapsed in the hammock for a solid break. Looking down, I spotted more edelweiss!
The circular path around the Sassopiato, Frederick August Way, was mostly level with the mountain wall on my left as I travelled around it. It was very popular with families because it had easy access from Sella Pass, where I was headed.
The steep ascent up had re-triggered my knee pain, and something about my break on the hammock seemed to have locked it up. Hobbling along with my poles, I felt embarrassed passing all these young families energetically embarking on their easy day hikes. I wanted to tell them all “I’ve been hiking for eight days, ok!”
After a half hour or so, I came across another restaurant closer to the pass called Frederick August Rifugio. This place was bustling and had creative outdoor seating overlooking the awesome view beyond. I sat down for lunch on a carved tree-bench draped in animal fur.
Once again, the food was delicious: fig ravioli with cranberry sauce followed by apple strudel. After eating, I walked the last stretch and finally looked down towards Sella Pass, paved roads, cars, buildings and all other signs of modern life. I could tell a lot of the smooth fields here were ski slopes in the winter, and chairlift equipment crisscrossed through the view.
Across the Sella Pass, a whole other world of Dolomite peaks and cliffs stretched on forever. What a region!
As I got closer to the rest area with the bus stop, I noticed the bus was already there, and had to race as fast as possible to get there before it left (the schedule was something like every hour, so I didn’t want to wait). So much for last lingering looks at where I’d hiked!
Fortunately I made the bus, which proceeded to drive down to Val Gardena, a beautiful valley in the shadow of the Sassopiato and to the north of the Seiser Alm (the elevated meadow I started on). Val Gardena is home to a string of quaint alpine villages, and I was changing buses at Ortisei/St. Ulricht, which gave me a chance to walk around and explore it.
St. Ulrich had fresh air, colorful buildings and picturesque steeples set against a backdrop of mountains. It reminded me of a slightly larger version of a village I had once visited in Austria, Hallstatt. After wandering around with some gelato, I got on another bus for the final journey back to Bozen/Bolzano where I would stay the night, before a train ride to the Venice airport the next day.
As I arrived in Bolzano, I realized how much of a difference elevation makes: down here it was over 90°F! I checked in to Hotel Feichter, which was perfectly located close to the train station but also right on the edge of the pedestrian center. It was a quiet hotel with simple rooms (no AC) but very friendly and helpful staff. Because I had to leave early the next morning before breakfast, they left me a bag meal to take with me.
After a glorious shower, I took a stroll through the town and had dinner at one of the many outdoor restaurants (“Pizza Tiroler” with prosciutto, onions and some form of alpine cheese). Bolzano didn’t have any one large attraction to bring hordes of tourists, but it was a very atmospheric and enjoyable city with a beautiful church, endless pretty alleyways, a university and infinite outdoor restaurants and cafes. It seemed like the whole city was outside in the evening, and just felt like a great place to live.
After a gelato in the piazza, I went back to Hotel Feichter for a final rest before all the trains, planes and buses would bring me back to Massachusetts the next day. It had been a great adventure and while I was ready to head home, I was already feeling nostalgic.
Farewell, Alps & Dolomites!