Fastpacking the Alta Via

I was well overdue a visit to the Dolomites, and a friend and I attempted to do most of the Alta Via 1 over four days (although my buddy has a proper job so had to bail on me for the last day and a half).

Day 1 – Lago di Braies to Rifugio Fanes -20km, 1500m ascent – 6 hours

We stayed overnight near the airport after a late flight, and had a taxi pick us up at 7am, so we were at Lago do Braies, had inhaled coffee and toasted sandwiches and were ready to head up the trail at 9.30. There had been a huge early snow dump the night before and the snow was down to 1800’. The first two hours were a lovely steady slog up to Rifugio Bella where we stopped for two coffees and some apple strudel.

After that we froze as we crossed a windy high valley with some snow coming down on us but we warmed up a little heading down to Sennes Hut and then warmed up even more heading down the steep road to the Perderu Hut (where I slid down the steep road and smashed the back of my phone in my pocket :-)). More coffee at Perderu and then we were fortified to head up the 500 m ascent to Fanes hut. The snow started to come down again as we arrived. The Italians really shouldn’t call these huts – they are pretty lovely hotels which are up in the mountains

We had hot showers, stretched and then had a lovely dinner of spetzl, salad, meatballs and cake, lights out at 9pm

Day 2 – Rifugio Fanes to Passo Giao – 20km, 1700m ascent

Breakfast was an enormous buffet spread at 7am with warm rolls and chocolate croissants. We headed out with full stomachs and had a swift warm up with the steep climb up to Fanes. It was then a lovely stroll along a high valley enjoying the sun hitting the mountains. We turned off the easy path and picked our way through snow and ice up to the Forcella del Lago at 2480m – a narrow notch in a long rock face. We hoped for an easier trail on the other side, and instead found a steep descent of switchbacks (a feat of engineering) – and the first few hundred metres had treacherous frozen ice. We crabbed our way gingerly down the hill, and i felt a bit like we were in the ice luge. We reached the bottom near the lake with relief

We looked up the other side of the valley to the Refugio Lagazuoi – 700m above and slowly meandered up the hill. The last km was quite entertaining – howling winds, lots of ice, and powdery snow up to our knees. We were happy to arrive at noon and find a spot at a table inside to scoff down Wiener schnitzel and fries, two coffees and a Diet Coke each. Yum

We decided to save our knees and take the cable car down to the valley – although it was bitingly cold waiting for the car. But we warmed up on the easy stroll from Passo Falzarego to Refugio Averau (with a little bit of scrambling), where I had an amazing hot chocolate.

From there it was supposed to be an easy 50mins down to Passo Giau, which entailed a little more butt sliding and picking down through the rocks and scree than we anticipated. We arrived at the very warm Passo Giau Hotel at 4.30 for hot showers. We had a divine dinner (fried potatoes and eggs and speck for me, and goulash and dumplings for my buddy) and passed out.

Day 3 – Passo Giao to Passo Duran – 27km, 1750m of ascent

We skipped a section today to ensure we could make our exit transport…. So had a leisurely breakfast at 7.30 and then took a taxi to Staulanza to begin the hike up to Rifugio Coldai – it was remarkable how much warmer we were starting ar 1700m. The route for the day was an entire loop of the Civetta – one of the most wonderful rock formations in the Dolomites. We ascended in the sun past the ski fields up to Refugio Coldai for a well deserved cappucino… before traversing the over to the lovely Coldai lake trying not to get blown off our feet

The route for the rest of the morning traversed the shaded side of the Civetta with great views down the the valley on our right and the rock on our left. Around noon we emerged from the shade and wandered through pasture before dropping down to the lovely Refugio Vazoler for another ‘light’ Italian lunch (polenta and fried cheese for me and eggs, speck and fried potatoes for my buddy).

Fortified we wandered down the 4wd track back to 1400m and parted ways as one of us had to go back to work :-). Sending him down the road to a taxi, I continued up the hill – grunting up 600m to Forcella del Orso – a very sketchy scree traverse which had me on my hands and knees at the top. Amusingly there was a cabled section on the next climb to Forcella del Campo which was entirely unnecessary. After crossing the pass, I annoyed about 30 hikers by passing them at speed – I was in a groove, and I stopped briefly at the Refugio Carestiato to hydrate and the wandered down to Passo Duran, arriving at 5pm. The digs weren’t flash and there was no hot water left in the shared dorm shower but dinner was substantial and delicious

Day 4 – Passo Duran to La Pissa – 30km, 1400m, 2700m of descent

The final day required doing three sections of the AV (9-11) which most people do over three days…. And I had to get there fast enough to be on time for the 4.30pm bus back to Belluno. The guidebook said it would be 12 hours of walking. Ok. The nice folks at the Rifugio arranged for me to be able to eat breakfast at 5.45 am (I hid the key to the restaurant as I locked up and left) and I headed off down the road with my head torch on at 6am. By 6.30am there was enough light to see and it was a spectacular and gentle climb up to the Forcella Moschesin with amazing views of the rising sun hitting the cliffs.

But the best section was the technical grunt between Refugio Pramperet and Cima de ziti de mezza – which had the second best views of the trail (after lagazuoi) but without the crowds. There was an exposed scramble, but it felt easy as I watched seven ungainly Spanish hikers clamber over it first with their unwieldy poles …. Which really boosted my confidence.

The 700m descent down to the Rifugio plan do Fontana was a knee buster with some chained sections on the steep grassy slope. Sadly I arrived at 11.40am before the kitchen opened so I had to settle for sandwich and cake.

The next section was the final 12k of the day – largely through forest with a stop at the Rifugio Bianchet for a lemon soda. It was mostly a lovely stroll but the last 1km down to the road was a steep rooty mess and by this time my knees had done 2600m of ascent already. Ouch. I was delighted to see the bus stop at 3.45pm.

This trail is perfect for new hikers – there are a few slightly technical sections but nothing overwhelming. I am more in the style of truly back country hiking (with my tent) but there is something to be said for these wonderful hut me with delicious mountain food and hot chocolate. I reckon I will be back next year to do the Alta Via 2

Belluno, September 20, 2022

Additional info

The new Cicerone guide for the AV1 is pretty good.

I travelled very light – c. 3kilos of gear. The Rifugios are very fancy.

Enter and exit via Venice airport is the easiest. And then we took a private transfer to Lago di Braies to avoid losing a day on the bus. I got a bus back from La Pissa to Belluno and then a train to Venice as I was not in a rush.

Apologies for typos, this blog is tapped out on an iphone with my thumbs

Dawdling around Durmitor

After the epic mountains of Bosnia, I was very keen to check out the durmitor national park across the border in Montenegro (having hiked the lovely southern Prokletije mountains in Montenegro last year when doing the peak of the balkans trail). I flew to Podgorica and rented a car to drive to the mountain town of Zabljiak. I arrived on a Sunday so had to overnight in town as the store was closed and I needed gas for the stove. I had an excellent Balkan dinner of pork kebabs and went to bed early

Day 1 – to Lokvice with an out and back to Bobotuv Kuk – 1100m ascent, 14k (guidebook said 8 hours took 6)

Up at 6.30, I had my supplies ready, figured out my gas stove converter (it is impossible to buy screw top gas canisters here so I have bought a kovea adaptor for the pierce-able canisters) and had bought my park ticket by 7.30. I headed off from Ivan do, detouring down to the black lake.

The first slog up to Lokvice was lovely but a slog with a full pack and extra water. The path meandered through trees and I had a lovely dog follow me up to the glacial cirque at Lokvice. Two shepherds try to sell me beer, but I took shelter from the wind to make a coffee. It was bitterly cold. To lighten the 13kg in my pack, I pitched my tent in one of the many depressions above katun Lokovice which had a spectacular view out over the cirque.

I then summoned the energy to begin the ascent of Bobotov Kuk – Montenegro’s highest summit – with the dog in tow all the way to the pass. The walk was lovely albeit with quite a lot of scree and boulders. The last grunt up to the pass before Bobotuv was bitterly cold and windy and I had no feeling in my fingers. The views from the pass were nice but the peak was shrouded in mist (and had been throughout my approach, so I decided to head down after taking in the view.

It was a nice meander down and I got back to my tent for a hot late lunch around 3pm. There were only two other tents nearby. The shepherds skulked by around 6pm to ask for a camp site fee, and I told them firmly the rangers had told me payment wasn’t necessary, so they buggered off without complaining (the rangers had said no such thing but I am well versed in scams) . The nice Croatian guys camped in the next depression paid 10 euros and got no receipt.

The weather forecast was for minus two but I survived the night fine in spite of only having my summer tent with me (I had a winter bed roll and quilt) and mercifully the wind dropped when the sun went down

Day 2 – over to Skrcko Jezero 900m ascent, 12k (guide book said 5.5 hours and it took 5.5)

I woke up at 6 and was delighted I had shed some layers over night and I hadnt been cold. The forecast said it was zero degrees but it didn’t feel like it out of the wind. I read the papers, had coffee and then headed out through the sheep who were blocking the trail at 7.30am.

The route was advertised in the guide book as ‘moderate’ and unsigned but obvious on the ground….hmmmm. Off I went and the trail was easy navigating around the side of the cirque, and I actually surprised myself by doing fine on the steep scree – I hate scree. And then I climbed past a bluff and the guidebook said ‘the path to the pass should be obvious in the grass from here’. Um no. The guidance was to stay left of the scree and bluffs but the gpx trace seemed to lead me through the steep bluffs with painful drops. Not good. And to top it off I was blimmen freezing as it was only about two degrees. Oh well, I had a word with myself and decided to keep trying to find a route I could both go up and down (never go up or down anything where you can’t retrace your steps as then you have no escape route). Persevering for a while and scrambling up a few rockfaces I eventually got to some grass from where I could see a safe route across to the pass. Phew!

The views from Tronj pass to Bandijierna and the fangs of Zilpi and the backside of Bobotuv Kuk are stunning and I was all alone. I didn’t hang about though as the wind was blasting through and it was freezing

The route down the other side met the main trail from Sedlo to Surutka so it was reassuring to see markers and some people and I stopped for lunch at the lovely Zeleni vir lake at 11

The route to Skrcko Jezerco (lake) took me a full two hours versus the signposted 90 mins. It involved scree, bouldering, three chained sections, two steep scrambles (one of which I got wedged in coming down as my backpack is wider than me). However the walk was amazing -Samar has these lovely folded rock formations and it is stunning. I arrived at the hut at Skrcko lake around 2pm and pitched my tent by the little lake and had some tea and fruitcake. The guidebook said the 8k would take me 5.5 hours and it did. Blimey – I guess it isn’t much trail here and a lot of rock hopping

I then wandered down to skalala to see the waterfall (which had no water). I met two Dutch hikers who had no map and asked me for directions. They were very stressed after the route down from plananica and were looking for the shortest route to a road without gaining any altitude. I sent them down past skalala which my notes says is sign posted and hits a road in 8k. As I was heading back to the tent pitch, I was amused to see two hikers near my tent at 4ish when I got back…. I heard them again 45 mins later on the hill behind my tent (where there is no trail) and then again 45 mins later back in the basin and clearly lost. By this time two other hikers had arrived and pitched their tent up 100m away on the other side of the lake and they gave the lost hikers some directions. But it was 5.30, two hours of daylight left and even for very fit people with good navigation I thought we were at least three hours from the nearest road. I hope they took the wise option and stopped in the hut for the night which had blankets and water – better to be hungry for a night than lost and hypothermic in the bush. Oh well – moral of the story – have a map on your phone and extra supplies

Day 3 back to civilisation -12k and 800m of ascent, 4.5 hours

I had an excellent sleep – my new exped pillow is a game changer (weighs a punishing 200g versus 60g for the last one but I sleep so much better). I was awake and brewing coffee at 6.30am and fully packed and heading out by 7.20am. I meandered down to the lake and then headed up the path to plananica. The path in my guidebook was no longer on the official signage (an alternate route via meded was signposted) but I thought I would see how it was . Well the path was obvious on the ground although the waymarkings hadn’t been repainted for a few years, but it was tough – steep, narrow path, watching every foot step and a bit too terrifying to stop and look around. (My vertigo worsens with age). I kept my head down and took it steady and was at the top of the 650m slog 2 hours after leaving camp – so I definitely deserved a coffee and some double cream Oreo’s (a new delicious discovery in the Voli supermarket .

The rest of the route back to civilisation was a lovely meander through a high valley and some lovely pine forest. The high valley surprised me with some lovely wild horses and some less lovely enormous bulls (I am scared of bulls). I was listening to oasis as I passed so I serenaded the bulls hoping my voice would keep them at bay. I was enjoying the singing and hadn’t seen anyone since leaving camp three hours earlier, so kept singing until I ran into six day hikers – I feel sorry for their ears.

I meandered back into town and found a hotel for a shower and had a big lunch and then a nap

Zabljiak, Montenegro, September 13, 2022

Additional info

The cicerone guide to Montenegro was good, albeit a little out of date

Parking is fine at Ivan do – I left the car there for three days no prob (near the rangers office)

There are very few water sources which are reliable (lokvice, Zeleni vir, skrcko and Jablan) so prep accordingly and take enough receptacles to carry what you need (I had 2x 3 litre cnoc water bladders)

Check the mountain forecast. Normal September temps are 15-25 degrees, I had 0-15 degrees. Worth checking and packing accordingly

It’s two and a bit hours drive from Podgorica airport (lots of cheap flights from London) to Zabljiak.

I didn’t find screw gas for the jetboil but did find piercable cartridges which worked with a kovea adaptor – at the Voli supermarket in Zabljiak (open mon- sat 7am- 10pm)

Jaunt around Jordan

Hubby and I had planned a lovely winter sun holiday to Jordan in December 2021, but Steph got covid just before we were supposed to leave. Having paid all the deposits, we managed to salvage most of the cost, and we are off for a very hot September week.

Floating in the Dead Sea

We had a meandering first day, up late as we were 2 hours behind local time. After a hearty buffet at the Opal airport hotel, we went back to the airport to pick up a car and sort a sim card (details below) and then Steph drove us out to the Dead Sea. We stayed at the luxurious Kempinski which had unbelievably friendly staff and a lot of local families staying. We spent a couple of hours down at the sea, mudding myself up for a dead sea treatment and then floating in the water. We then migrated up to the pool at the hotel and drank mocktails and ate by the pool. Staff bought towels, water and fresh watermelon. It was a tough day. I don’t usually have such lazy holidays. We rounded out the day with an enormous Lebanese dinner (we ordered sagely but the portions were nuts) and a wonderful sleep.

Discovering Dana

After a large buffet breakfast at the Kempinski we meandered down the Dead sea highway stopping sporadically to take photos. Everytime we got out of the car we sweltered, so we would retreat swiftly to the AC after a couple of minutes. After some spectacular desert scenery we arrived at Feynan Village – the gateway to the Dana Biosphere. We were staying at Feynan lodge – an expensive eco lodge at the bottom of Wadi Dana, accessed via a 4wd road that required us to get a lift with a local bedouin. The lodge was a delight – excellent vegetarian food, lovely rooms, very friendly staff. The only downside was the lack of electricity, no aircon obvs (it is eco), and a relatively weak fan. In 43 degree heat, that meant we spent the afternoon lying down trying to acclimatise, and occasionally getting up for another cold shower. We roused ourselves at 5pm and did a 6.5km round trip stroll up wadi Dana, meeting the local Bedouins and their goats….. and then returned to the lodge as the sun went down. The vegetarian dinner was incredible (and i am not a keen eater of vegetables). Then we went upstairs and lay on mattresses while Ali talked us through the stars, and I saw Saturn and her rings through the telescope

Wandering through Wadi Ghuweir

The best hike in Jordan (apart from around Petra) is apparently the Wadi Ghuweir. I was not keen to do a huge 25k hike in the heat, so Steph and I valiantly got up at 5.45am and headed out at 6am. The first 5 k was pretty boring until we hit the wadi proper. But once in the wadi, and then the steep sided canyons, it was blissfully cool in the shade and with the running water (which our feet were submerged in much of the time). The walk isn’t possible in the winter given the danger of flash floods. It was an amazing and pretty easy hike (with a few hand scrambles required). The only downside was the plentiful rubbish – tuna cans, empty yogurt pots, and a very dead decomposing smelly donkey. The return trip to Feynan, once out of the wadi was a sweltering 5k in the 40 degree heat, so more cold showers were had on arrival. Then we had lunch and lay under the fan.

We went out again for the sunset hike (an easy 3k return) hosted by the lodge with six other guests, loved the views and had some sweet arabic tea before returning for another epic dinner and a good sleep

And heading on to Petra

We are having a relaxed (husband) paced holiday, so we had a leisurely breakfast and then drove slowly down to Little Petra. The scenery is stunning, and while half the road was excellent and well engineered, the last 10km to Little Petra from Feynan was very reminiscent of kiwi back roads (potholes, gravel, windy and narrow). We had a lovely wee stroll around little Petra – which had very few tourists and no hassle.

A short drive and then checked into the lovely Movenpick Hotel in Petra (quite an impressive upgrade from the dorm room in the grubby hostel I was in when I last visited 25 years ago).

We decided to have breakfast before heading out, and made it to the park at 6.30 am. Petra has a lot more hustle and hassle than when I was last here, but it was still a lovely experience to walk down the Siq and see the treasury. We then headed up to the Monastery (apparently a 90 minute hike up but took us 35 mins) and enjoyed the views and tried to ignore the legions of overdressed millenials posing for insta perfect moody shots – I can’t quite figure out how people were managing to walk in some of their impractical shoes and dresses.

It was hot so we stopped frequently for iced tea. After looking around the tombs on the east cliff, we hiked up to the high place of sacrifice and then (with the assistance of an enterprising local teenage girl) found the look out point down to the treasury (which was accessed via a mildly sketchy path). After 16km we had had our fill of touts by then, so clambered down the ‘private’ trail back to the treasury and headed back up the Siq to the hotel for lunch and a nap.

It only costs another £6 to buy a two day ticket for Petra, so we went back for a second day. We got into the park at 6am and wandered around the tombs some more before walking up the Al Kubtha trail to look down over the treasury (this was the best viewpoint). We hung out for 45 minutes playing with the local cats and chatting to other tourists, and then meandered back to the hotel to make it in time for the huge buffet breakfast at the Movenpick (which we felt we had earned). While Petra it is probably over-visited, if you are happy to go early and go off trail and use Gaia GPS you can avoid the bulk of the tourists. It was a nice place to revisit

Pampered in Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum is renowned for the desert and rock formations, and also for an abundance of sleezy touts and grubby tent camps with less than clean shared facilities. It was the last night of our holiday (apart from a night near the airport in Amman) so we lux’ed it up and stayed at the nicest camp in the region – only six tents – and it was lovely. We met Ibrahim at the visitors centre and he took us around the Wadi to the main sites. We then arrived at Discovery Bedu for a blissed out 20 hours. The service at is divine, and we were pampered from cool towels on arrival, a lovely fire pit, the best food we ate in Jordan (zarb lamb, chicken, veges and salad, with um ali), and a stunning sun set. Two fantastic ladies from New York were the only other guests, so we drank wine and gossiped about politics and enjoyed the stars. We had a lazy next morning – coffee at 7, a divine breakfast at 8, and then a morning nap before heading back to Amman to stay near the airport for our flight home.