Three-day trek around the Catinaccio Group (video)

LET’S GO!

When the alarm rings, around 5 am, I already have my eyes open, almost wide. Valentina sleeps quietly next to me. I can’t, I’m agitated and impatient to hear the phone ringing and announcing the exact time I set last evening.
It is amazing how our body and mind anticipate important occasions before anything else does it. On any other morning, it would have been even hard to find the button to turn off the alarm. Not this time, I already have my finger ready.
I struggle to wait and when the phone finally shows the exact time, I turn off the alarm even before it starts ringing. The backpack is ready since yesterday, I just have to store the last things I left next to it. I have my breakfast, I wash myself, I get dressed and I’m ready to go. After these long months, after having drawn and redesigned tracks and routes, now we go. After a long wait, my destination is once again that one: the Dolomites, a place that lives and beats within me every day.

TOWARDS THE CATINACCIO GROUP

This time, however, I have in mind a different tour than usual, a bit unknown. I want to go into the heart of the Catinaccio, a group that I have known in the past, but not yet so well.
I hiked those paths only twice to date, both to reach the juncture of two via ferratas that develop along the ridges of the group: the first time I reached the top of the “Catinaccio d’Antermoia”, the highest peak, starting from the Passo Principe hut; the second time I climbed along the route of the “Ferrata Laurenzi”, on the Molignon massif.

I have a route in mind, but I’m still ready to change it anytime. I certainly know that it will be a three-day trek: I will spend the first night at the Alpe di Tires hut, while the second at the Antermoia hut. The former has always had a symbolic meaning for me: here my mother discovered that she was pregnant with me now 33 years ago. The other, on the other hand, is in my opinion one of the most beautiful mountain huts in the Dolomites: located at the entrance of the Vallon d’Antermoia, between imposing rocky walls and typically lunar landscapes. A secluded and almost hidden place, which at the same time protects its intimacy and the clear blue waters of its little lake, perfectly nestled in the shadow of these peaks.

As starting point, I set the Passo Sella on the map, on the border between Val Gardena and Val di Fassa, between the provinces of Bolzano and Trento. In truth, the possible routes could start from many other points around here, along these valleys: from the Val D’Ega for example, or from one of the many villages at the foot of the group in Val di Fassa, or even from the “Alpe di Siusi”. The position of the Catinaccio, exactly halfway between South Tyrol and Trentino, allows you to explore it through different tours and routes, in several days or through single daily excursions.
As mentioned, my starting point is Passo Sella, at the height of the very last hairpin bends that reach the Maria Flora hotel at the top.
As always as soon as I get here, I get out of the car, walk a few meters on the meadows that line the road, stop, take a deep breath and look around: the beauty of this place has few equals, surrounded by legendary peaks that, one after the other, give shape to this extraordinary piece of land.
I feel good, reborn. I want to go, walk, explore.

STARTING/FINAL POINT: Passo Sella
DURATION: 3 days, 2 nights
LENGHT: 34 kilometers
DIFFICULTY: medium
WHERE TO SLEEP: Rifugio Alpe di Tires, Rifugio Antermoia

DAY 1: FROM PASSO SELLA TO ALPE DI TIRES HUT

The destination of the first day is the Alpe di Tires hut, just below the “Denti di Terrarossa” group, halfway between the Catinaccio Group, the Alpe di Siusi and the Sciliar massif. As soon as I reach the gap just below Col Rodella, my goal remains in front of me for the whole route, in the distance.
The Sassolungo and the Sassopiatto on my right, the Marmolada in front, the Odle and the Cir Group in the background, just behind me. I take the path “Friedrich – August – Weg” and immediately in front of my eyes there is the Catinaccio, the rose garden (“Rosengarten” is in fact the German definition of “Catinaccio”) of King Laurin. The chest where, according to legend, the king of the dwarves hid Similde, the beautiful daughter of the King of Adige, with whom he fell madly in love. That’s where I’m headed, to spend three days in the heart of this wonderful Dolomite group.
The route is gorgeous: a panoramic trail that cuts the grassy slope at the foot of the Sassopiatto, until it reaches the homonymous hut at an altitude of 2.300m. We are on the route of the “Alta Via delle Dolomiti n.9”, different from all the others because it does not follow these ridges from south to north, as it happens in most cases, but from west to east.
The first day runs light, without difficulty. It is the ideal opportunity to savor the pleasure of walking between these rock walls, severe and majestic, silent guardians of remote times and able to teach us, today more than ever, the value of time and patience.

As soon as I reach Passo Duron, the last steep part of the climb begins, in front of the “Denti di Terrarossa”, easily identifiable by their unique appearance, able to perfectly explain the origin of the name. It is the last effort of the day before seeing, unmistakably, the red roof of the Alpe di Tires hut, located on the saddle that separates the Val d’Ega from the Val di Fassa and, consequently, South Tyrol from Trentino.
I put in order my things and prepare for dinner which, as always in the mountains, arrives very early. Eating at 6:30 pm is unusual if you are used to the rhythms of the city. But here there are very few elements that recall the city. On the lawn in front of the hut two marmots chase each other without fear of being seen. The weather, in a moment, changes suddenly, spilling a strong stream of water on the ground. The temperature is cool, the thermometer shows just under 10 degrees, a wonderful thought to the idea that there are at least 20 more at home.

After dinner I check the map and, above all, the weather report. Unfavorable conditions are expected for the following day: low clouds in the morning and possible thunderstorms just after lunchtime. Going up, I also noticed the presence of a good amount of snow. I imagine that at higher altitudes there is even more, given the position of certain gullies and their reduced exposure to the sun.
I consider all of this in my reasoning and I decide that my route, at this point, must change. I originally thought of leaving from the Alpe di Tires hut to reach the “Passo Principe” and then the Re Alberto hut, under the Vajolet Towers, before returning to the Antermoia hut. Too long given the ground conditions and the weather forecast. I should make some changes. With great regret I decide not to reach the Re Alberto hut and to lengthen only the first part of my stage: I will reach the Passo Principe hut going through the Val Ciamin and the Bergamo hut. Afterwards, I will directly reach the Antermoia hut.

DAY 2: FROM ALPE DI TIRES HUT TO ANTERMOIA HUT (through the “Val Ciamin”)

So it is.
The next morning I wake up early to have breakfast and get ready. Better to leave early. I don’t know the trails that descend from the hut towards the Val d’Ega, but I immediately understand that my new route, modified due to the conditions, is full of charm. I throw myself headlong down the slopes of the wild Val Ciamin and I am immediately enchanted. To increase my amazement, the weather and low clouds that reduce visibility. In this way everything is made even more magical and solemn. I am surrounded by vertical rocky outcrop, which become even more impressive due to the humidity that bathes the dark and deep rock. The Rio Ciamin occasionally stops to dive among the rocks, along steep waterfalls. Large patches of mountain pine and some easy equipped stretch follow me along the trail which, at the height of the “Buco dell’Orso”, above the “Bagni di Lavina Bianca”, meets a detour. I leave the trail n.3 to take the variant B, which quickly goes up through the “Vallone del Principe”, towards the hut of the same name.

First, my route meets another step: the Bergamo hut. The impact with this place is extraordinary, favored by the movement of the clouds which, approaching it, make it glimpse only a moment to hide it again immediately afterwards. I stop fascinated to admire this extraordinary manifestation of nature and to contemplate the beauty of a hut that, surrounded by this atmosphere, makes its original function of protection and support for anyone who passes there even more clear to me.
I go in for a greeting. The owner, busy at the counter, hands me a cappuccino and a slice of freshly made Saracen cake. He sits at the next table and, speaking with a marked South Tyrolean accent, asks me about my tour and my destination. Outside the clouds slowly envelop the hut. There could be nothing better now than being in here. I stop for half an hour, chatting and laughing spontaneously. By greeting me, he offers me a grappa, a simple and typical gesture of those who live in these places. Obviously, I accept with great pleasure and toast with him.
I regain strength, in my heart and mind. I am ready to leave.

From the Bergamo hut to Passo Principe the trail continues to rise, the effort is now accentuated by the presence of snow which has completely erased the traces of the trail, covering the whole gully. However, the progression is not difficult, the signs of those who have passed before are evident and the snow is soft enough to continue without problems.
I keep going up.
I am alone in the heart of the Catinaccio Group, surrounded by the highest peaks, accompanied only by the sound of my footsteps in the snow and the deep sound of my breath that seems to get lost in the fog.
I reach the Passo Principe hut, where I stop for another greeting and a cup of coffee. The trail leading to “Passo Antermoia” just above is clearly evident, along the snowfields. However, I ask the owner for information and I take this opportunity to have a chat. At one of the tables a little further on I recognize a group of hikers who spent last night at the Alpe di Tires hut, just like me: they must have hiked the trail that I had in mind originally.
I go on, following again the signs in the snow. I have to get to my destination before the weather gets worse. I go over a new stretch of snow up to the pass and, in just over an hour, I find myself first at the crossroads with the “Ferrata Laurenzi” and, five minutes later, on the shores of Lake Antermoia. I have arrived.

I contemplate for a few minutes this splendid body of water nestled among the still snow-covered rocks and I take advantage of the fact that I am alone, a rather rare occasion. The hut is in the back and since the weather is changing I decide to reach it quickly.
The absence of any signal on the phone offers an additional opportunity to fully enjoy this place: a cup of hot tea in front of a book is the best way to spend time while outside a new shower of rain falls violently. At dinner I meet a group of Tuscan boys and a couple from Monza who ask me for advice on the road that leads to Passo Principe. In a short time the conversation moves to other topics and accompanies us until the evening.
I put my nose out to enjoy the silence that surrounds the hut. Breathe. Spending an evening in a shelter at 2.500m, surrounded by low clouds that hide the peaks above, is a unique experience to be lived at least once in a lifetime.

DAY 3: FROM ANTERMOIA HUT BACK TO PASSO SELLA

The third day comes quickly, too quickly. My trek around the Catinaccio ends today. I have to go back to Passo Sella, my starting point.
Once again, I wake up early and leave immediately after breakfast. Today the clouds leave more space to the sunbeams and at the time of departure the Antermoia hut is kissed by the first light of the morning.
I go down the trail that leads back to the Micheluzzi hut to turn, a little earlier, into the Val di Dona. Along these wide and gentle grassy slopes I continue my descent, surrounded by the continuous and unmistakable whistle of the countless marmots that populate this beautiful valley. I stop and respectfully try to admire them more closely: some are more fearful, others let themselves get a little closer. I had never seen so many of them together.
After passing the gap that divides the Val di Dona from the Val Duron, I reach the Micheluzzi hut where my descent ends. I extend my gaze beyond the hut to identify, in the distance, the unmistakable silhouette of the “Denti di Terrarossa” group and think of the route I walked. Only the last climb remains, in the direction of the “Malga del Sassopiatto”, where I rejoin the trail traveled two days before walking towards the “Alpe di Tires”.
The sun comes and goes, today is quite hot. I go back trough the Pertini hut where some workers are working to ensure that it can be reopened as soon as possible. The last kilometers in front of the Marmolada are light and become a way to travel inside the memories of these three days already.

THE VALUE OF THE MOUNTAIN

I have been waiting for the moment to be able to walk again along these trails. Every single day of frustration and impatience spent at home, just waiting for the moment to go out, has been vastly rewarded by these landscapes, by the magic of these places and also by the effort made to reach them.
The mountain is there to remind us every time to be patient and to give time the value it deserves.
Yet I, already now, can’t wait to come back here.