After breakfast at the Schlernhaus, I shook hands and exchanged hugs with the group of Frankfurt hikers I’d been hanging with for the last two nights as we each were embarking on different routes from here on out. My route would take me along the top of the Schlern plateau and then up into the Rosengarten/Catinaccio formation that had lit up with the spectacular alpenglow effect the night before.
The first portion across the top of the Schlern plateau was a relaxing stroll. The skies overhead were blue, but there were light, fast-moving clouds around my elevation, parting and obscuring the views ahead, below and to each side.
Soon I reached the edge of the plateau and descended down the other side into into a trough between it and the wall of the Rosengarten. Ahead of me in the middle of a saddle on the horizon line, I could see the red roof of my lunch destination shining in the distance: Tierser Alpl/Alpe di Tires. This was unlike any other hut or rifugio I’d come across and was strikingly modern, with a metal exterior, wind power and lots of glass.
It only took me about two hours to get here, but of course I had to sample their fares, so I enjoyed some Kaiserschmarren, a delicious pancake/omelette-like dish chopped up and covered in powdered sugar and lingonberry sauce, and an Aperol spritz.
Now it was time to make the steep climb up the wall of the Rosengarten to Molignon Pass. Across from Tierser Alpl the trail disappeared into the rocky wall, with only some metal hand rails and ropes to mark the path. It turned out the rock was pretty easy to scramble on, although the rungs definitely gave me added confidence.
After reaching the top of the initial climb, I was already in a different environment: I was entering the barren rocky world that towered over the pastoral rolling hills below. Looking ahead, the trail zig-zagged upward, eventually revealing the sweeping sand-like saddle of the Molignon Pass guarding the entry into the deep inner amphitheater of the Rosengarten.
The path downwards was exceedingly steep and the scale hard to describe. I felt like an ant zig-zagging down a giant sand dune surrounded by towering walls of stone. Suddenly, I heard hustling behind me and jumped out of the way to dodge a trio of dudes running down the cliff carrying mountain bikes on their backs! In my exhaustion, I was not enthused.
Millions of years ago, the Dolomites were a tropical seabed and today’s dramatic pale peaks make up a fossil archipelago of what was once an enormous coral reef dotted with atolls.
Walking in the high elevations between their towering peaks, it was easy to imagine myself on the beach (or the moon!). Underfoot were massive slides of sand and crumbled stone, giving the impression of being in a giant sand globe. Looking carefully, I was even able to find a couple of sea shells!
The same clash of tectonic plates that formed the Alps pushed the Dolomites into the air, and retreating glaciers from the ice ages further carved their valleys. Looking around, the relationship of the imposing stone peaks to the piles of crumbled rock and sand at their base was a striking reminder of the ongoing process.
Once I had reached the bottom of this inner chamber of the Rosengarten, I looked up to see the equally imposing climb to the facing Passo Principe. Thankfully, I would not make that climb until the next morning. Today, I would take a side exit towards my next hut, the Grasleitenhütte, perched dramatically over the deep ravine exiting this formation into a valley.
As I followed the path out of the Rosengarten chamber, the ground became more fertile while sloping steeply into a deep ravine to my left. Suddenly, I heard clanging bells and looked up to see a dog chasing a group of goats all over the hillside! Looking beyond them, the Grasleitenhütte glowed yellow right on the edge of the ravine.
Similar to Neue Regensburger in Austria, this hut was small, picturesque and family-run. It featured ambling animals, a dining patio on the edge of the cliff, rubber crocks for footwear, and hammocks above it all to rest in and enjoy the best view on earth.
Although steep and grueling, the hike from Alpe di Tires had only taken me about another two hours, and it was still early afternoon. There was a high knoll marked by a flag on the path past the hut before it descended into the valley, and I decided to hike up and check out the view. It is hard to describe the feeling of having hours to kill with nothing to do other than lie on the grass and look out at such unreal scenery.
It was the start of a relaxing and homey afternoon. After spending some time in their perfectly placed hammocks (and watching the kids use the metal roof as a slide), I took an ice cold shower and went to the dining room to eat. I met an Australian couple hiking with a baby, a Belgian-American family, as well as a solo hiker from Czech Republic who proposed a round of schnapps to celebrate the 4th of July. There were no fireworks but the desserts were pretty great.