We’ve been hiking for five days in the rain. Reportage on Translagorai trail

Must-to-read reportage about five days full of adventures on the Translagorai* long Alpine hiking trail in the Dolomites. The authors are two locals with a big love to outdoors, non-touristic experience, ecology, responsibility, and a written word, as well as photography.

Elisa Bessega and Leonardo Panizza
Photographer and writer from the city of Trento, Dolomites, Italy

It’s eight o’clock in the evening, the sun is setting and I’m tucking my feet into wet socks before I put them in my frozen shoes.

The old stove could not dry anything in just over half an hour. I look around and I feel like I am in an abandoned building inhabited by some homeless people. Garbage is thrown in the chest of wood, some stove, a cot with worn clothes piled up, four liters of grappa on the shelf. How did I get here?

They are at Malga Lagorai, the nerve center of a redevelopment project that involves several facilities useful for those who make the trekking of over 80 kilometers from Passo Rolle to Panarotta, in Trentino. This is the third day that we advance in the pouring rain and after 44 kilometers we are forced to abandon. With the frontal, we walk towards Ziano, 8 kilometers on a forest road to meet a friend who will take us home.

A Thousand Square Km of Forests, Stone, and Lakes

When Elisa wrote to me saying she wanted to be Translagorai trekking, I didn’t think I would regret my choice to take part in this adventure. I have been going to the Lagorai for several years to climb, do summer hiking, ski mountaineering, and I have always wanted to do this trek that runs through the chain in its entirety.

Five days in complete solitude in the only mountain that in summer is not assaulted by tourists. There are very few shelters among the rugged porphyry rocks, very few points of support. There are no spectacular views of the Fassa Dolomites, there are no cable cars or shuttles. Only a few bivouacs and huts (Translagorai rifugios), scattered over more than a thousand square kilometers of woods, stony areas, many lakes, and everywhere the signs of the wars.

While I’m walking cold and soaked on the shores of Lagorai lake to go down to the valley, I hate Lagorai, because there is no refuge where I can warm up, because many of the structures are so spartan that they are unusable, because it’s a place that tests you all the time and because September seems to be autumn. At the top, we saw the first snow of the season and in the bivouac dedicated to Nada Teatin we decided to abandon the route at high altitude because it was too risky and we went down to the valley.

It Could Be the Last Years of Lagorai as We Know It

There has never been a rush to do the Translagorai, it has always been there waiting in silence, but for some time now there has been talking of redevelopment and redesign of the entire area. The discussion involved a large number of insiders and mountain enthusiasts. The logic seems to be always the same: to exploit a natural area to tame it, to make it more accessible to everyone. It could be the last years of Lagorai as we know it, I said to myself, and I decided to take part in Elisa’s project and leave.

A few weeks in advance, Elisa started drying soups, couscous, and energy bars to be completely independent and try to have less waste and weight to carry in her backpack. At the end of the drying process, we have 1.5 kg of supplies that take up very little space to divide for three nights and four days.

I am so happy when I load the backpack: with a tent, sleeping bag, mattress, bread, some sausages, and some cheese bought in Predazzo, I am under 15 kg in total.

With the use of public transport and a lucky hitchhiking, we reach Passo Rolle, the day is beautiful, the clear sky typical of the September days fills our sight. Antonio, who picked us up in Predazzo is a local, tells us how he lived the crazy night of October while the storm cut down the trees and brought the valley to its knees. We greet him happy with the passage and we start walking.

The Sensation of Being Swallowed by a Living Being

As we move away from the road I feel the sensation of being swallowed by a living being, first the wood that breathes, then the unmistakable stones that make the Lagorai a sacred place, a pavement of some strange temple where nature reigns supreme with its beauty and difficulty. At the Colbricon refuge we talk to the girl who serves us our last coffee before total solitude, she is sunny, she tells us about the unlikely encounters that can be made in Lagorai, people with five liters of water on their backpacks, people in slippers.

Then we seem to fly, we often turn to see the Pale di San Martino, the Catinaccio, the Marmolada, the panorama is endless, we can even see two of the Three Peaks of Lavaredo in the distance. Elisa asks me to stop to take some photos, the panorama is really remarkable. At the Aldo Moro bivouac, we meet two young people, they have the step of someone who has milled many kilometers. They tell us that they have traveled the Translagorai for hiking in the opposite direction to ours, they have reached the end while we are only at the beginning.

We continue past Cima Cece, the highest of the group and the characteristic tooth on which runs a very exciting exploratory climbing route. After eight hours of almost uninterrupted walking, we stop at the bivouac Paolo and Nicola, dedicated to two boys who died on the walls of the Sella, just over twenty years old. The bivouac is very comfortable, well-insulated, functional, equipped with the right comforts. While we heat some water to rehydrate the dinner we look at the starry sky and see the Valmaggiore.

Shepherd’s Dream: a Small and Modern Cheese Factory

A few days before departure, at malga Lagorai, we met the shepherd and his cows. He explained to us that they are spotted, white and red, able to produce more milk than the alpine browns that would be native. He has always used the room adjacent to the malga to produce cheese at high altitude but for this year (while it is about to be modernized thanks to the redevelopment project) he cannot process the milk and is forced to take it downstream. From next year he will be able to have a small modern and renovated dairy. It is easy to see the happiness and hope of being able to exploit it for many years to come.

Just above the casera will be built a room used as a bivouac for those crossing the Translagorai. The girl that works to the agritur Valmaggiore has calmly explained to us that if they will be they to have to manage it will be surely a loss. To the moment they make only lunches and to start to cook suppers would mean having to turn on the generator also in the evening for very few covered and having to organize the supply of food in a more massive way. Making this detour from the route at altitude, among other things, makes you lose a lot of meters of altitude difference and makes no sense for those who travel the Translagorai. Hikers in this area can count on several points of support: malga Moregna, spartan but functional, the Coldosè bivouac, brand new five-star bivouac, and the bivouac Paolo and Nicola, where we sleep blissfully until the alarm clock.

The next morning we are up at five o’clock, we have to take advantage of the very first part of the day because it is expected to rain. In fact, we arrive at the Coldosè bivouac after a few hours with our clothes soaked. The water increases and reluctantly we decide to stop for a day.

In the next stage, there is no bivouac with a stove, so it would not be possible to dry our clothes.

Management Have Nothing to Do with Translagorai Bivacos

Bivouacs are usually places of passage, a bit like the shelters years ago that were places from which to start your explorations. This function has changed over the years and now the shelters are the arrival point for most mountain visitors. The refuge is therefore a sort of filter that blocks most people to drink spritz and eat fish dishes, while for a few it remains a very useful point of support to start the “conquest” of new peaks.

The same is happening for bivouacs. In Lagorai more and more people are using them to spend their days there, making it difficult for those who want to walk for several days to stay overnight. Rebuilding mountain huts to make us managed bivouacs has nothing to do with the crossing of the Lagorai, is perhaps an attempt to make a grip on the only attraction of the area to justify the investment and economic income for a handful of companies, encouraging the proliferation of mass tourism, less autonomous and attentive and more affordable for everyone.

Let’s be clear, one of the attractions of the Lagorai is its harshness, the difficulty to walk it, the possibility to live sensations that in many mountains, like in the city, have no more space. Loneliness, fear, the feeling of the limit imposed by nature, the need to choose, are situations that are increasingly difficult to experience. And while one is willing to fly over this lack in spectacular places like the Dolomites, one would not be willing to do so in a chain that does not present equally aesthetic views. The Lagorai is ruthless and deserted, but precisely in this characteristic resides its attraction, it is not a mountain that you can sell or tame too easily.

In the Cities are Born the Solutions to Live Together

We have been standing still for a few hours and there is no lack of things to do, there is wood to cut, we order and clean some pots and cups, we remove the mattresses and clean the wooden floors, we fill the water tanks at the source. The bivouac must be kept by those who live there even for one night, it is something that lives with the people who occupy it. There is no need to manage the bivouacs, rather educate those who use them.

Staying still, getting bored, and making contact with problems that struggle to emerge in everyday life, the Lagorai is also this, the possibility of estrangement, to meet lonely places and get to know each other. The silence, the fatigue, concepts that in the daily chaos seem to be distanced through continuous relationships, technologies that often distract, deceive, here they find space.

The Lagorai offers few distractions, it may be boring, monotonous, harsh, but it is there to tell us how nice it is to return home because the city deceives and distracts but it is there that ideas and people meet and find new solutions to live together.

At the end of the day, we find a beer in the pantry and we drink it with immense pleasure watching the rain falling for hours. In return, we leave tea bags and self-produced bars well-sealed and sleep dry and warm.

In Search of Freedom, Like the Bear M49-Papillon

The next day we anticipate the alarm clock, we have a long way to go, the weather seems to get worse. We leave at four o’clock with the fronts and go down into the woods, lowering the altitude we enter the territory of exploration of M49-Papillon, the bear that has been beating the area in search of freedom for a few days. Our paths cross by chance and I wonder if we are not looking for the same thing after all.

The morning proceeds quickly, the forest is cold from the rain of the previous day, we walk in the wet grass and when the first light of dawn reaches us we are already well advanced. Around us, big black clouds are swirling and the fog rises from the valley. In a very short time, we find ourselves in the middle of a downpour, given the absence of thunder and lightning, there is no risk, except to fall on the suddenly slippery stones. Two hours underwater and we stop at the Teatin bivouac. It is a natural shelter in the rock, there are only wooden planks that close the entrance of what is a wet and cold cave. I put the spare and snuggle in my sleeping bag to warm up, after drinking some hot broth I fall asleep with the ticking of the water in the pans to be washed.

After half an hour we are trying to plan our next moves. There is the possibility to spend the night there, without a stove, continue on the ridge with short passages equipped with a lanyard or go down to the valley. The forecast for the next day is even worse, with snow falling up to 2000 meters. Despite everything is against us we try to continue, after two hours of the ridge there is the possibility to go down to malga Lagorai and there we are sure there is a stove. Going slowly within four hours we can be dry.

We Have Been Walking for Five Days in the Rain

We put our clothes back on soaked and ice cream, seal our backpacks well and throw ourselves out into the rain. We walk in silence, concentrated, Elisa’s camera stops working because of the cold. Near Cima Litegosa we see some white spots, it’s snow.

I take it in my hands, we are witnessing the first snowfall of the season.

Arrived at the crossroads for the mountain hut we decide without even talking to each other that we will go down, spending a night in a tent in these conditions is just not possible, and continue on the ridge has become dangerous. We are completely soaked and we walk on paths that have become water drainage channels, the worst thing is having to pass through the tall grass that makes clothes stick to the body and continues to lower the temperature. We keep coming down with a great need to get to a dry place.

It’s five in the afternoon and we’ve been walking for ten hours now in the rain. When we see Lake Lagorai we are shaken by a shiver: more water. Luckily the hut is close by and on the door we are greeted by some goats, donkeys, and two little lambs that have taken shelter under the canopy. When we enter we find ourselves in a very different place than the Coldosè bivouac. It seems to be in an abandoned house for a long time but there is an old stove. The wood is mostly wet but we still manage to light a faint fire. Elisa is blocked by the cold and tiredness while I am trying to keep active so that I don’t feel my clothes are still wet. Let’s put the spare dry and eat something warm.

We Are Like Raindrops That End Up in a Big Lake

Then the cell phone rings, it is Giovanni a companion of many enterprises who, without many words, proposes to pick us up in Ziano di Fiemme. From where we are it is another three hours more or less. Everything is well traced in a wide forest. After a short consultation, we decide to take the road downhill and for one last time, we put our wet clothes back on. It is dark and it continues to rain.

As we go down into the night I think of the sorrow caused by the renunciation. What we set out to do was not a great undertaking, of course, but crossing the Lagorai without leaving a trace, using only dried food in autonomy wanted to be a message, a demonstration of the fact that it is possible to move to respect the vocation of the places without distorting them to chase miserable economic returns.

Arriving at the car we realize that Giovanni is the first human being we have seen for days, the mountain is made of peaks, times, performances, debates, but also of friends willing to sacrifice themselves to make a failure less tiring and we hope not to be the last to live it like this.

What the Hiking Translagorai Trail Has Taught Us

In the darkness of the forest, we speak aloud, to avoid the encounter with M49-Papillon. We ask ourselves: are we doing the right thing? Would our experience have changed if there had been shelters? We would have been drier, that’s for sure, more comfortable, we wouldn’t have had great doubts about the route to take, but even if they had allowed us to reach the end of the 87 kilometers, what would have changed?

We would not have experienced an authentic mountain, which requires constant ability to choose independently, to be flexible, and ready to give up.

The mountain is not something to be bent in order to satisfy one’s will, it must not have just happened. The extreme control of natural environments gives us the impression of being invincible because we can do exactly what we planned. But renunciation teaches us that after all, we are just raindrops that end up in a big lake. We must accept our smallness, our fragility with tenderness, and not loose the will to try again. The Lagorai also teaches us this.

Once again we realize how harsh and raw life in the mountains is, but how much more it can teach us, new generations because it is in the chaos of the city that ideas meet but it is in the solitude of the Lagorai that we manage to grasp them to become aware of them.

* Translagorai is a long Alpine hiking trail that runs along the entire Lagorai chain in the Italian Alps, in eastern Trentino, for about 80 km and about 5000 m of positive height difference from Panarotta ski resort upstream of Vetriolo, a hamlet of Levico Terme, to Malga Rolle, near Passo Rolle and then close to the Pale di San Martino.

  • The route takes place in a mountain environment where the anthropic pressure is reduced, especially when compared to the more famous nearby Dolomite destinations. The environment is, however, rich in evidence (remains of barracks, trenches, finds) dating back to the First World War, as well as you can pass through pasture areas near mountain huts.
  • There is no official route of the Translagorai, although the route tends to follow the ridge line between the end points of the chain that sees, in the eastern part from Manghen Pass to Rolle Pass, the presence of some equipped trails (E321 Sentiero Alpinistico Attrezzato Don “Martino Delugan”, E349 Sentiero “Achille Gadler”), none of which, however, requires climbing equipment. There is not even a subdivision into “official” stages, but generally the route is traced by the hiker according to his wishes, times and obviously ability.
  • There are few refuges, some of which do not offer overnight accommodation (Sette Selle, Passo Manghen, Cauriol, Laghi di Colbricon), and relatively few bivouacs (Mangheneti, Nadia Teatin, Forcella Coldosè, Paolo e Nicola, Aldo Moro). You can find a route maps in the community of Tabacco topographic hiking maps of the Dolomites, as well as on other sources such as Visittrentino, Visitvalsugana.it, Outdooractive, Strava and other. Some photos could be found in Instagram.
  • The scarcity of infrastructure is also evidenced by the only intersection with a road open to car traffic along the entire route. This happens at the Manghen Pass, about halfway along the route, from which a Translagorai is often started in a reduced form, travelling only on the eastern part (even if at a higher average altitude than the western part and with a greater difficulty to travel).
  • These characteristics make the Translagorai, as well as the normal daily excursion on the Lagorai, very attractive for those who are looking for wild trekking, possibly in complete self-sufficiency (tent, food, etc.).

This is the translation of the original publication in Altitudini.it on 18.10.2019.

Text and photo © Leonardo Panizza (Facebook, Instagram) and Elisa Bessega (Facebook, Instagram).