Winter Dolomites January 2006

Helen Rose Hill Diary

Photo: Dolomites. On our first Christmas away from home, we decided to spend it in Dobbiaco in the Dolomites. The Dolomites are a range of mountains in the north of Italy on the border with Austria. They are very spectacular with limestone spires and include the Via Ferrata where it is possible to scramble safely with the help of fixed metal ropes and ladders. However, in winter time the area is well known for skiing both downhill and cross country. I have never been on skis in my life and was not attracted to downhill skiing but cross country sounded more appealing so we booked a week of cross country skiing for beginners.

Photo: Peter. Dobbiaco is a pretty little town at the foot of the Dolomites at an altitude of over 4,000 feet. When we arrived, there had been a good dump of snow the previous week making for good skiing and walking conditions. The hotel was warm and comfortable, essential with temperatures of -16 centigrade some mornings. The journey was interesting with an exciting landing at Innsbruck airport approached though a narrow valley flanked by high mountains and then a bus journey over the Brenner Pass in thick snow. Ski instruction started the following morning in the Stadium graduating onto the tracks. I lasted three days with instruction in the morning and cross country skiing in the afternoon but I was so bruised from the falls and aching muscles that I decided to have a day off to walk and take some photographs. Meanwhile, Peter continued skiing but on the fifth day had a spectacular fall and broke his ankle. Beware of becoming too confident on downhill cross country skiing! During this time, we had clear blue skies and lovely snow surrounded by gorgeous scenery. It really is a winter wonderland.

Photo: Frances.Fortunately, there was a walking group based in the hotel and I joined them on Christmas Day. We travelled by public bus to Pragser Wildsee where we walked to the frozen lake and over part of it and up in the forest to the Grunwaldhutte. It was closed for the winter but we retraced our steps to the hotel at the north of the lake for hot chocolate. We were due to meet the ski groups for Christmas lunch at Moserhof in a beautiful setting. We managed the rendezvous albeit a little late after a lovely walk in the Pragser Valley. We had a pleasant lunch and walked on following the ski tracks to Niederdorf arriving in time to have a beer before the bus arrived for Dobbiaco. Although this area is in Italy, German is widely spoken and most residents appeared to be bilingual. Towns etc are known by German and Italian names.

Photo: Hutte. On Boxing Day we travelled by bus to the Sporthotel in the Prags Valley and from there by private taxi upwards through the snowy woods to the Hotel Hohe Gaisl and started walking on the track to the Durrenstein Hutte. The altitude here was 6,500 feet and it was noticeably colder. We were to climb the Strudelkopf peak and return to the hut for lunch as there was a long walk down to the bus back to Dobbiaco. We started the walk in deep snow as the track was covered and sank deeply into it. Fortunately, after a short time the track was consolidated and the walking was much easier. There were regular stops for photos but it was clouding over and we did not get views of the Drei Zinnen, the most famous peaks in the Sexten Dolomites. We climbed higher but in the time available did not reach the top as that would have meant cutting short lunch and that would never do! Most of the walkers liked a leisurely lunch in the huts accompanied by wine. After lunch, we followed the track down to Schluderbach. The main problem on this winding descent track was the number of people on sledges who failed to warn us as they speeded down the track towards us. Some did warn us by shouting ?achtung?. We reached the bus stop in time for the bus back to Dobbiaco. The week was enjoyable and maybe.

Photo: Xmas Logs. I shall make another attempt at cross country skiing when I forget the falling but it is a lovely area to walk in and I hope to return this year in summer to tackle the Via Ferrata again.

Coming attractions; Cairngorms, Arran and New York

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Thanks to Frances Rickus for the photos

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