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Alta Via 1 - Day 1

I was looking forward to going on another hike this summer. My girlfriend Diane had joined me during my previous two trips, and I had planned to go together again. However, like a true US citizen, she didn't have enough vacation days for even a short trip. Surprisingly, my friend Koen was interested in joining instead. He had joined during my first cycling trip, which had scarred him so much that he had never wanted to do anything remotely similar. As he didn't have much hiking experience, I had tried to find a route that was not too difficult or remote, but still pretty. Eventually, we settled on the Alta Via 1 or "high route 1", a roughly 120 km route through the Dolomites in Italy. Our way would pass over many mountain peaks, and the total elevation gain would be over 7000 meters. There would also be multiple mountain huts and other people, which I wasn't a massive fan of. However, the low risk would allow me to carry as little gear as possible. 

The week before our departure had been one of the warmest weeks on record in Italy, with temperatures often exceeding 40 and even 45 degrees Celsius. Fortunately, the weather predictions were improving, although there was a high chance of rain. Koen still didn't own hiking shoes or a tent and was planning to bring all sorts of unnecessary items, like a hairbrush, gloves, and toilet paper. With only a few days left, he got all the required gear, and we were ready to go.

As I was flying in from New York, I left the evening before and arrived at 9:00 in Venice with a good amount of sleep deprivation and jet lag. As Koen would not arrive for a few hours, I already bought tickets for the bus that would take us to the Alps. I hadn't seen Koen in almost two years, so we first had to celebrate with a few beers when he arrived. It was 11:00 in the morning, after all. After waiting three hours for the next bus, we almost missed it. The high temperatures already felt unbearable. 

The bus slowly made its way up into the mountains. We still had to find a gas canister to heat our dinners. We had to transfer twice to a different bus. That gave us a few minutes to run into every store and ask for gas canisters. Fortunately, we found one eventually. The combination of no sleep, alcohol, the high elevation, the moving bus, and the smelly couple beside us made it hard to keep my breakfast inside. Somehow, paying for the last bus with cash or credit cards was impossible. You had to install an app, open an account, link your bank account, and pay online. Eventually, the bus driver told us to get on and pay later. 

Finally, we arrived at the Alta Via 1 (AV1) starting point, near a beautiful lake. We still hadn't figured out how to pay for the bus, but luckily the driver didn't seem to care. We took a photo in front of the hotel next to the lake, and joked that it would be used for our "missing" pictures if our hike went wrong. My backpack weighed only 11 kg, including my camping and cooking gear, a camera, clothes, and food for six days. That felt a lot better than the 28 kg I had started with on some of my other trips. It was already 19:00, and I had been awake for 30+ hours, so we planned to find a place to camp quickly.

hotel lago di braies
hotel lago di braies
lago di braies

The route around the lake was beautiful and involved some climbing over wooden ladders and plateaus. There was no place to camp next to the lake, so we just continued walking. It took about 45 minutes to arrived at the official start of the AV1, on the other side of the lake. The route went straight up a mountain, and the entire area consisted entirely of barren rocks. There were no flowers, streams, or level areas to camp. The sun was also still out, and it was hot. An hour of climbing later we still hadn't found a place to sleep , and it slowly started to get dark. The route continued to meander up the mountain and became steeper and steeper. 

After 1.5 hours of climbing, we decided to take a quick break. It was almost dark now, and we were starting to get tired. Koen wanted to turn around and camp next to the lake, but that would involve more than an hour of walking downhill in the dark and over loose rocks. It would also mean we would have to climb all the way up again in the morning. I preferred to keep going and, in the worst place, sleep on the trail. The map didn't show any flat sections along the route, but there would be another trail joining ours that seemed slightly more level. To get there, we had to climb for another half an hour, including over some sections with a steel cable installed for support. It was almost completely dark now and a thunderstorm was starting in the distance. Koen did not like the sight of that and told me he didn't want to ever be on a mountain in a thunderstorm. Little did he know what kind of weather awaited us the rest of the trip..

We reached the intersection with the other trail some time past 22:00. We had no choice but to try to follow that and find a place to camp. Our trail had been too steep and narrow to sleep on safely. After about five minutes of climbing, we fortunately found a small patch of green that was at least somewhat level. We quickly pitched our tents and made dinner. I told Koen not to pitch his tent on a slope, but he said he could easily sleep on a 45-degree incline. The thunderstorm in the distance was getting worse, and we hoped it wouldn't start raining as we were lying in a bowl high up the mountain. 

We quickly fell asleep.

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