After a long hiatus of solo-travelling I finally took the opportunity to take one week off and spend time in the Dolomites
This trip will somehow always be linked to the missed opportunity to lead my first photography workshop. But the disappointment over the cancelled workshop was quickly given away for the anticipation of a solo hiking and photography trip to the Dolomites.
A plan was quickly been made. I would do the night drive to the first location looking forward to a a calm sunrise. After that I would drive to my "base camp" in Cimolais. It's my father hometown village and I have the opportunity to stay in an old house that belongs to my family. It's right in the heart of the national park in Friaul. In the meantime I know this area quite well. I've spend my childhood vacations there and I had been there during my adult time a few times. Famous locations like the Tre Cime, Lago Federa and Lago Sorapis are just about 1 1/2 hours away and the region around Cimolais offers its own scenic gems. This trip was not supposed to be a lazy photography trip where I drive right next to the scene in the afternoon. It was supposed to be an adventure. And it was. I slept two days in my car, one time in a bivouac and one time in a tent. Only three times I slept in a bed. I hiked several thousand altimeters, carried a 12 kg backpack and all of that with a torn meniscus as it turned out later.
In addition and that is the most gratifying thing about this trip, I did it despite two back surgeries, a knee surgery, and a nerve damage in my spine. There was a time where I rightfully doubted that I was ever being able to do such a trip with a heavy back pack or sleeping in a tent or car. It took some time, hard work and help from physiotherapists, as well as mental help from family and my partner. But in the end it all payed off.
At my age and at this point in my personal and professional everyday life it s not easy to feel nothing but happy at times. I guess there a more and more people out there that can relate to this. You are feeling good and you feel thankful for what you have but the times where you can basically cry out of joy are rare to say the least.
There is something about the moment where you are about to reach the top of a mountain. After an exhausting climb and the photo location at sight there is this moment where you let loose. This happened to me only two times over the last 3 years. At the top of the Lago Sorapis and the Campanile di val Montanaia. I've seen even more beautiful places and I've witnessed moments with my family where I was filled with proud and happiness but I think it needs that physical effort to feel what I felt on these two occasions. It literally brought me to tears.
After a 10 hour drive and two hours of sleep I was almost late for the sunrise at the Passo Giau. I chose that location first as it was on my way to Cimolais. On my last trip together with my old friends we chose the Lago di Braies as our first location. We also arrived in the morning and we also had beautiful conditions, but the main difference between those two places are that I was all on my own on the top of the Passo Giau. I remember to see these weird scene of women in wedding dresses, hipster in ponchos and all posing for their selfie at 5:30 in the morning.
At the Passo Giau was no distraction at all. Just me and this beautiful scenery. And there were more views that I could handle at first. On top of the pass you'll have a 360° view on the the most beautiful peaks of the Dolomites. Nuvolau, Averau, Marmolada, Tofane, Cristallo ...
And damn I was one lucky bastard. I witnessed one of the most amazing sunrise panorama to the east, I had gorgeous sidelight on the Passo Giau, alpenglow on the peaks in the west and even some pink clouds over the peaks in the south. Despite two hours of sleep in the car I couldn't ask for a better start into my trip. I spend about 1 1/2 hours at the location also scouting for other possible compositions and looking for wildflowers that would make for a nice foreground. But by the middle of May and at this altitude the hills are still covered in snow. I haven't planned this far yet but 6 days later I would return to this exact location and this time the snow was melted and suddenly there were the most beautiful wildflowers to be seen.
But for this morning I called it quit and took the drive downhill to Cimolais. Even the times I drive in this region give me pleasure every time. You'll drive though valleys filled with morning mist and rays of sunlight, tiny and beautiful mountain villages and lots of churches. In fact no matter how small an Italian village might be you can be sure it has a church and a lawn soccer field. I arrived at about 8:30 a.m. in Cimolais. For me entering that village is like going through a door that leads you back to your childhood memories and takes you to a place where everything seems simple. And I kept it simple. Right in front of our home recently opened an alimentari. It's the smallest kind of supermarket imaginable. Mostly local food with some essentials that everyone needs. I bought a salami, a self made butter and cheese and some panino. It does not take more to make me happy. After breakfast I took a shower (even living simple has limitations) and a nap. I wasn't planing on going to another location that day but I was feeling so full of energy that I hit the road again for a 1 1/2 hour drive to the Lago di Misurina (first stop) and then to hike up to the Tre Cime and the Cadini di Misurina. Here I faced the first and only disappointment .
The pass up to Tre Cime and Cadini di Misurina was closed for cars. That meant that I would need to hike up additional 6 km and hundreds of altimeters with a torn meniscus just to get to the point where I normally would park my car. Not to mention that I would be to late for sunset. So I made the decision to commit to a whole new location. The Lago d'Antorno is in between the Lago di Misurina and the Tre Cime. If you are lucky and it is wind-still you'll get a nice reflection of the south side of the Tre Cime in the lake. It was a waiting game but after 2 hours I got the conditions I needed. Most of the light on the lake was gone, but the sky was full of drama and the peaks of the Tre Cime were reflected by a little pond beside the lake. On my way back I also managed to get a descent shot of the Lago di Misurina. Although this might be a better sunrise location. With the Tre Cime and Cadini di Misurina being cancelled for this trip, as the pass would be opening up in June earliest, I could concentrate on the locations I haven't been to before. And it gave me something to look forward. There has to be a next trip and it will be including the triple peaks in the Dolomites.
I took the second morning off and spend the night in bed. The weather forecast was better than expected so I decided to go for my most anticipated hike and photo location of the whole trip. The Campanile di val Montanaia is well known to me as it was part of my childhood ever since and I've been several times up to the Belvedere di Capnaile di val Montanaia (basically a viewpoint from 1/3 of the way up to the peak) but never to the peak itself. It takes a 30 minute drive right into the heart of the national park. After 5 minutes into the park there was no cellphone service available anymore. For the next 24 hours I was gone. Damn that felt good. The hike starts a the Rifugio Pordenone. After that you'll walk straight upwards for the next 2-3 hours and you will leave behind nearly 1.000 altimeters. There was fresh water along the way so I don't had to carry too much water. But my backpack was heavy enough. About 12 kg of clothes, camera equipment, food, and other camping stuff. I planned to stay overnight because I knew of a bivouac that was available at the top. This was the first real adventure for me on this trip. I haven't been up to the peak and I just knew of the bivouac
(Bivacco Perugini 2060 slm) from photos and my brothers stories who has been up there before. It's about 2*2 meters small but provides up to 9 beds. I was the first one up there who also planned to stay overnight. After me only a group of 4 other hikers planned to do that as well. This became another part of my trip that I will remember forever. I met only a few people but those rare occasions where I met and talked to people it was an enrichment. Those 4 were all Italians and only one of them was speaking English but the exchange felt more rich and meaningful than one hour of bullshit talk between native speakers in daily life. I was glad that I met these people and I had no problem spending the evening and night together in the bivouac with them. We had a great meal together, drank wine, grappa and prosecco and even celebrated a 33rd birthday on the top of that mountain.
And then there was the photography side of this trip. The conditions could have been a little better but the scene was so amazing anyway that it was a pleasure to look for compositions and as the light and weather were ever changing up there I was in photography mode pretty much all the time. Over night we really got soaked in in fog and of course that also made up for moody images. In the morning I went on taking photographs but it took some hours for the sun to appear above the peaks. Minutes before I packed my backpack to start my return two other hikers reached the top of the mountain. They were from Austria and again I had one of the more profound talks recently. I don't share details but I couldn't but feel lots of respect for that couple. It turned out that they stayed also in Cimolais and so I gave them a tip where they could have a nice dinner in the evening. Over the next few days I met them 2 times in that place and shared another fine evening with them.
After my return I spend the rest of the day at home in Cimolais, already making plans for the next day. So after a good night rest I drove to my next location.
Lago Federa should be my next trip. It was another 1 1/2 hour drive from Cimolais to Cortina d'Ampezzo. From there you can chose to go into 3 different directions. One leads you to the Tre Cime and Lago di Misurina, one leads you to Passo Giau and another one leads you Lago Federa. In May, when there is almost no tourism in this region, you can park directly by the start of the hiking trail. Packed with my 12 kg backpack I went onward and upwards. The scenes during the trip were amazing. You can see beautiful mountain ranges and even famous peaks like the Cinque Torri. It takes about 2 hours to get to the lake, but let me tell you that even the way alone is all worth it. There were at least 3 composition that I want to photograph in the future with the right conditions.
As I reached the top I could already see the Croda di Lago. A few minutes later the scene opened up and I was suddenly standing right in front of the lake. It was breathtaking. The scene presented itself with such a huge contrast of deep blue in the sky and white clouds and snow. Around there was the freshest greens and all of that was reflected in the lake. Amazing! I wandered around the lake and tried multiple compositions. And it got better and better. Behind the main subject there was a big meadow with a river flowing by and in the background the Croda di Lago. There were so many possibilities to shoot that for almost an hour straight I just kept on shooting. Of course I knew that I probably wouldn't use a single frame as the light was just to harsh but I wanted to get a feeling for the best compositions for golden hour. In between I was looking for a good place to set up camp. It was the first time for me doing wild camping. Another adventure that I was looking forward to. I found an ideal spot, set up the tent and had a quick meal. It was during that peaceful moment when I realized again that I was there all on my own. I had this beautiful place all for myself. I enjoyed every minute of it. The golden hour shooting was so much fun as it almost lasted an hour. At blue hour I returned to camp and got ready to sleep. The noises at twilight were one of the most exciting experiences on the trip. It was like everything came to life during that short period of time. When it turned dark, also the noises went quiet and I fell asleep. I got up again at midnight. I'm not really into astro shooting but I wanted to frame this experience in a picture. Unfortunately it was very cloudy so I wasn't able to shoot the stars but I like the outcome anyway as the snowy peaks and the illuminated tent gave depth to the scene.
Honestly I was all satisfied with what I got on that day I had no wishes for the morning. But I was rewarded again. But first I would like to write down that I really enjoyed the night in the tent. It was a little cold as the temperature dropped to about 0° but it was definitely something that I will do again. I woke up at 5 a.m. and the sunrise followed shortly after. The scene was unbelievable. You could have put it in any fantasy movie and even in the Lord of the rings movies it would have fitted perfectly. I managed to get another panorama shot (actually 7 shots) and was already in love with how the morning turned out so far. I was actually on my back to camp as I stumbled over this particular scene. An old tree trunk with a whole in it stood in the right direction for the sunrise. I immediately felt that I found something original and if I would not mess it up I could produce a keeper. It was probably the most demanding scene I ever shot. The focal and dynamic range was very high. I had to focus stack and bracket the shots but it went pretty well. The edit was a nightmare but I'm pleased with the results.
After this successful shooting I packed up my tent and all the other equipment and went back mostly downhill to my car.
I got back home at 11 a.m. and again I only used my home in Cimolais only to cook a meal, take a shower and sleep in a bed. I actually had two more days to spend, but as the Tre Cime and the Cadini were still not accessible I made the decisions to visit the Passo Giau again. As it was on my back to Germany, I also decided not, to travel back and forth, but instead shoot the Passo Giau and the Cinque Torri at sunset and then to take another night drive back to Germany. With a heavy heart I left Cimolais, already thinking about my next visit.
As I reached the top of the Passo Giau I had still plenty of time before sunset. I was scouting around to find that the snow has melted and the hillside were covered in colorful wildflowers. Also the sky looked very promising already. And as I started to take pictures I thought why hiking to Cinque Torri for sunset, not knowing if the weather stays the same and if it would deliver good light. And also would have to travel back to my car after sunset which would take 1-2 hours again. And as I really liked the compositions around the Passo Giau I just stayed. It was one of the luckiest decisions I've made. I had 2 hours of good to phenomenal light but as the golden hour was supposed to happen clouds came in. That would have meant that if I had gone to Cinque Torri the conditions would have been disappointing. Up to this point I haven't edited the pictures from that evening but I know that some of the frames will be keepers. At 8:30 p.m. I drove my car back to Germany.
It was hand down one of my most favorable experiences, a real adventure and something I will not ever forget.