We were half way through our Dolomites trip. It had been great so far, especially the via ferrata that we had done the day before. That was going to be a tough act to follow.
Today was our transfer day. We would leave our base in San Candido and move to Cortina d'Ampezzo for the rest of the trip. San Candido had been great. Our hotel was very nice. The village was in a beautiful green valley with a backdrop of rugged peaks. Nice shops and restaurants were conveniently close by. The bar had been set high for the rest of the trip.
The day was off to a good start. When I woke up and looked outside there were perfect blue skies. That was certainly better than the past two days. No wondering if the weather was going to be good or bad for our hike. After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and loaded ourselves and our luggage into a van for the drive to the trailhead. Iris followed separately in her car.
About half way between San Candido and Cortina, just after crossing the Passo di Cimabanche, the van dropped us off to begin our hike. Marco, Regina, Randy, Sandy and I started up the trail while Iris drove her car three quarters of a mile further down the road to another trailhead which was where we would come out at the end of the day. She parked her car there so it would be waiting for us when we finished our hike. Then the van picked her up and drove her back to the original trailhead that we had started from and dropped her off. Now we were set up for a through hike. After all the shuttling, the van continued to Cortina to drop our luggage off at the hotel where we would be staying. Iris had to hustle to catch up to us since we had a head start. She didn't have to hustle very hard though as we were content to take our time and hike slowly after our big day yesterday.
We were hiking through woods, which meant that there were no views although it was pleasantly cool in the shade. We passed a pretty stream cascading over green moss-covered rocks. Sandy and I pulled out ahead although we were hiking at a leisurely pace. Randy and Regina were moving even more slowly. Although we were climbing steadily the grade was very easy and it was nice hiking. After about two hours of hiking the trees began to thin and we came out of the woods and into open meadows near a pass. About that time Marco caught up to us. The three of us hiked together while Iris was back with Regina and Randy.
To our right was a spectacular view of a mountain we had seen before, the Croda Rossa d'Ampezzo. We had hiked below its red cliffs on our long traverse on the afternoon of our second hike. This time we saw a different aspect as we were looking at the mountain from the other side. It seemed even more impressive. Perhaps the view really was better or perhaps it was the bright blue sunny skies that just made it seem better.
We got a chance to talk with Marco while we continued to the refugio. Although working as a hiking guide sounds like it would be a fun job, his schedule was really tough. Since it is seasonal, he tries to get in as many trips as he can in about six months. Most of them are for CustomWalks, but some he does independently. He had just finished a week long hut-to-hut hiking trip the day before our trip started. He basically came off the trek, went to San Candido, and started our trip the next morning. He lives in Tuscany, near the town of Lucca, but said that he is only home about six days out of six months during the tourist season. Since he has a young son, it is tough for him to be away from home that much. He did call him every night and talk to him, and showed us some videos of his son that he had on his phone.
He also told us about the Tuscan Mountains hiking trip that he put together and leads for CustomWalks. Ok, he was actually trying to get us interested in signing up for a trip next year. I have to admit that it sounded like a great trip and we were very interested, especially Sandy who would sign up to go to Tuscany anytime. He said he really liked doing the trip and that it was nice because he was close to home. He said that he has been getting more of the Vespa trips that CustomWalks does because no one else is willing to do them. He admitted (I hope his boss isn't reading this) that he doesn't like them either but takes them if he has to. He did tell some funny stories about people who had signed up for the trips when they hadn't even ridden a bike before, much less driven a motor scooter. Of course those stories are only funny in retrospect. We told him that he didn't have to worry about us because that would not be our kind of trip.
From the pass the trail continued gradually down hill toward our destination, the Malga Ra Stua hut. When we reached the hut we found a shady spot on the patio and settled comfortably. The rest of our party caught up with us soon and we had a nice lunch sitting on the patio. It was a beautiful sunny day with a pleasant temperature and a nice breeze. We took our time and enjoyed the food, drinks and mountain views. I don't actually remember what I had for lunch that day, but I am going to bet that it was spaghetti.
Once again we had a decision to make about what to do for the afternoon. There was a jeep road that came up to the hut so it was possible to take a taxi down to the highway. Or we could hike down. This time there was no long, extended traverse. It was pretty much a straight descent into the valley. Randy, Sandy and I all chose the hike. Regina wasn't feeling quite as ambitious today so she opted for a taxi. We had done three straight days of hard hiking and she was ready for a little bit of a break after a tough day doing the via ferrata. Plus she had more distraction from her work. Sandy and I were both completely clear from our jobs on extended breaks during the summer. Randy was retired. But Regina has a high level position. She's the chief legal counsel for Marriott Europe. Although she was on vacation she was still doing conference calls for work early in the morning and in the evening, so she wasn't able to focus all her energy on the hiking.
Although it was tough, eventually it was time to get moving again. To make it worse, while we were getting ready to start hiking Regina was ordering another drink on the patio. She was going to give us about an hour head start since the taxi ride down would be fast.
I was in the hut for the usual "just before we start again" bathroom break when I saw that they had tshirts for sale. I asked someone if they had it in XL and of course they had to go looking. Finally they gave up and went to get someone else. Eventually the second person found where they were kept. After that much effort I figured that I had to buy one. Now I had my tshirt but it had taken quite a while.
As I rushed out to join everyone I ran into two Americans who we had met on the trail on one of our previous hikes. I stopped for a moment to say hello. They had noticed that we were with a group and started to ask me questions about CustomWalks. I gave them a solid recommendation. I told them that Sandy and I had done several trips with them and thought that they are really good. the people said that they would look into them for their next trip.
By now everyone had been waiting for me for quite a long time. Sandy gave me a "where have you been?" I quickly decided that maybe I didn't need to mention my tshirt shopping.
"I ran into that American couple that we were talking to on the trail the other day. They wanted to know about the tour that we were on. I told them all about CustomWalks."
Marco wanted to know if I had recommended them.
"I said that you guys were great. I told them that they definitely should book one of your scooter tours."
Marco rolled his eyes. "I suppose that you told them to request Marco."
"That's exactly what I told them. I said that you were the best, buddy."
We only had to hike a short way before we came to the edge of the drop into the valley and could see the highway far below. We had great views in all directions, dominated by the huge mass of Monte Cristallo. The trail started to descend, gradually at first, then getting steeper. Eventually it got really steep, with loose dirt that meant that you had to take every step very cautiously so you wouldn't slip. The views were fantastic all the way down, but it was hard work and slow going to keep in control and avoid falling. No easy downhill stroll at the end of the hike. The steep descent to the valley seems to be a trademark of Dolomite hikes.
Finally the slope started to ease off and we were into easier walking in the forest again. It was cooler in the shade, and now we did have that pleasant "I'm tired but it's pretty easy to the end" part of the hike. Finally we reached the trailhead where Iris had positioned her car that morning. Regina was waiting there for us. She had timed the taxi ride just right and had arrived only a few minutes before we did.
Five of us squeezed into the car while Marco had to walk back up the highway to the bus stop. I volunteered to ride in the hatchback so there would be room for Marco too but Iris wouldn't hear of it. Probably a good thing as it took longer than I thought to get to Cortina and it would definitely have been uncomfortable. As it was, we were crammed in pretty tightly. We were all glad when we reached our hotel and could climb out of the car and stretch.
It had been a great day. The weather had been perfect. The hike was scenic, although we were getting spoiled and I would have charactized it as "not as fantastic as the day before". And while a lot of work, especially on the descent, it wasn't nearly as long or as hard as our previous hikes.
Now it was time for us to check into the hotel, get cleaned up, and then head in to explore Cortina.