June 29, 2017

Puez-Odle Altopiano

This is an incredible hike, just continuous non-stop jaw-dropping scenery from start to end.  It was my absolute favorite day of an amazing trip.  This loop hike is located in Naturpark Puez-Geisler, which is part of the Dolomites World Heritage Site.  It starts and ends in the ski town of Selva di Val Gardena.  We parked in a pay lot along the main street, then walked uphill along Streda Dantercepies for about half a mile before reaching the base station for the Dantercepies cable car.  There was no queue, so once we secured our one-way tickets, we stepped into a small cable car for the speedy ride up.  There is an elbow in the line, but we stayed in the cable car through the mittelstation, all the way to the end of the line. 

riding up the Dantercepies cable car
Upon disembarking, we looked at some map boards, then set off along the wide, easy path toward Jimmy's Hutte. 

hiking the path toward Jimmy's Hutte
alpine aster (Aster alpinus)

Frankie tried out all the features on the small playground outside Jimmy's Hutte, then we began the climb on Trail 2 toward Passo Cir.

playing near Jimmy's Hutte

The climb was steady, but not difficult, with switchbacks weaving among outcrops.  We had an awesome moment when a bunch of crows popped over some boulders, caterwauling above us, and Erwin cried out spies of Saruman! 

low clouds covered the mountain tops

As we climbed higher, we entered the low clouds that obscured the peaks, and had to stop and don our pack covers. 

photo by Erwin

At what looked like the crest of the pass, we entered a little sub-valley of spires and pinnacles.  It was raining pretty hard at this point, and the few other hikers near us started retreating. 

photo by Erwin

We pressed on, making the final short climb to Passo Cir, which was completely socked in.  Erwin was a bit depressed about the spectacular views we were missing, but I couldn't contain my exuberance.  There is something eerie and magical about hiking in the clouds.

round-leaved penny cress (Thlapsi rotundifolium)
descending from Passo Cir
We found the path forward, and continued, descending slightly down the scree slope and emerging below the cloud line.  We passed the intersection with Trail 12, which provides a bail-out option, descending back to Selva through Val de Chedul. 

Rhaetian poppy (Papaver rhaeticum)

Val de Chedal

We stuck with Trail 2, which curves around the head of Val de Chedal, then makes another short climb up to Passo Crespeina.  Back in the clouds, to Erwin's despair.  Our trail book* waxed poetic about the views from these passes, but we had to make due with what we found.  This was not the least bit hard for me... what a place to be!

starting the climb to Passo Crespeina
looking back
Passo Crespeina
From Passo Crespeina, the trail descends slightly and begins the traverse across Puez Plateau, dipping down slightly to wrap around Lago di Crespeina and a flock of sheep, then rising again to more undulating table lands approaching the next pass.

descending to the Puez Plateau

the trail descends toward Lago di Crespeina, then climbs again on the other side

Lago di Crespeina

stemless carline thistle (Carlina acaulis)

Forcella de Ciampac offers dramatic views down into a glacial valley, even on our rainy day.  The trail dips slightly into the crest of the pass, then climbs back up onto the plateau with the assistance of wooden stairs. 

approaching Forcella de Ciampac

Then it is an easy, relatively flat meander around the head of Vallunga to Rifugio Puez.

photo by Erwin


Ah, sweet lunch!  At our slow pace, it was definitely a late lunch, but the staff were more than gracious about accommodating us.  Even though my first two choices weren't available, I enjoyed my spaghetti aglio e olio and insalata mista immensely.  The restaurant was fairly empty.  This was likely due to the weather more than anything, as we'd seen very few hikers since Passo Cir.  The gentleman proprietor from whom I purchased two postcards on our way out was very kind to Frankie, giving him a sticker and patch, and then chasing us down when we inadvertently left his hiking stick behind.  It's possible that they may not see many young kids here.

photo by Erwin - Frankie and I are on the deck
Leaving the rifugio, we picked up Trail 14 to descend into Vallunga.  The wind was fierce, and with the chilly temperatures, we had to stop to add all our remaining layers.  Winter hats and gloves would not have been inappropriate.  As we dropped lower, the wind dissipated and we warmed back up, shedding layers again.

we were blasted by ferocious wind gusts as we approached and entered the valley
The descent is relentless, dropping over 3,700 feet.  It is also spectacularly dramatic -- walking below the valley headwall, passing through herds of sheep, surrounded by alpine wildflowers and the most unbelievable views.  Infused with joy.  At one point, we saw two chamois bounding down the slope, zigzagging with flabbergasting speed down the steep jumbles of scree.

photo by Erwin

photo by Erwin

edelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum)
Kerner's lousewort (Pedicularis kerneri)

dragon mouth (Horminium pyrenaicum)
As we got lower, we passed through a zone of dwarf pines. 

dwarf mountain pine (Pinus mugo)

It was raining again by the time we finally reached the flat-bottomed valley, a surreal place with jagged spires rising into the mist.  I felt like I was walking through a painting. 

photo by Erwin

Cows grazed in the downpour, some seeking shelter under trees, their bells harmonizing with the falling rain. 

Finally, we passed the sign marking the edge of Naturpark Puez-Geisler, and followed a small road back to the outskirts of Selva di Val Gardena.  Where the Streda Val intersects a larger road, a footpath marked Trail 14 continues straight across the fields, and we followed this charming path all the way back to Streda Dantercepies, and then made the short walk back downhill to our car.

Frankie was moving a bit slowly toward the end of the hike.  He was understandably tired, but cheerful, vehemently denying his exhaustion, ecstatic with pride at having completed such a long hike.  His new record, for the third time on this trip!  The book* had listed the hike at 9 miles, which we'd felt sure Frankie could handle, based on the ease with which he completed previous hikes on this trip (Wank, for example, was over 8 miles).  However, I ran the MapMyRide app on my phone, and it showed the Puez-Odle Altopiano as totaling 11.1 miles with over 1,800 feet of elevation gain (including the short walk to the base of the cable car, but not the ride up; hiking up the Dantercepies route would add both mileage and significant elevation gain).  There is potential for GPS drift to skew the mileage, but I reviewed the track log pretty carefully, and there were no strange spikes or diversions.  Consequently, I think the measured mileage is pretty accurate.  Examining the track log revealed that the mileage from the top of the cable car to the exit point of the Naturpark Puez-Geisler was almost exactly 9 miles, so I think book mileage simply doesn't include access.  Either way, this was pretty damn impressive for a 6-year old!  Frankie wanted me to send messages to family bragging about his hike, which of course I did.  I am so proud of this kid!
* The book we used was Gillian Price's Shorter Walks in the Dolomites: 50 Mountain Walks, published by Cicerone.  "Across the Puez-Odle Altopiano" is Hike 31 in this trail guide.
** Another resource that was extremely useful in planning this hike is the account posted by the Earth Trekkers.  Check out their trip report for helpful logistics and to see the amazing views we missed from Passo Cir and Passo Crespeina. 

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