Oh Madonna! Hiking in the Brenta Range

Thanks to a few vacation days bridging the gap to a long weekend, it was time to travel a little further away. We wanted to travel to Italy to Lake Garda for climbing and enjoyable Italian weather. Meeting up in Innsbruck, we started the task of reloading cars. We didn’t have exact plans but prepared for everything possible.. I had 2 tents (either huge or tiny), sleeping and bivy bag, climbing gear, hiking gear, slackline, a bag full of clothes for whatever activity and assorted shoes 🙂 We started driving towards Italy talking about our different possibilities deciding on a few days in Arco for rock climbing and via ferrata. Arriving in Arco pretty late, we didn’t know if Caffetrentino would be open considering that it was off-season. We walked through the beautiful little village on the streets which have become very familiar to me this summer. I had promised Andy that he would get a taste of the world’s best “Spritzz,” served there. I saw Carlo and some others working which was a good sign. After our Spritzz, we drove the narrow curvy street up to the parking lot of the Castello d’Arco. We pulled up to a spot to camp in the van. Andy said “Happy Birthday” and gave me a tin. I discovered an entire birthday cake he had made inside. No one other than my mother had baked me a cake before! After finishing nearly an entire quarter of the cake, we got ready to sleep. I had also packed the inflatable mattress I use for visitors at home. That made sleeping a whole lot more comfy. We started the next day at Caffetrentino as habit calls for. I ran into a climbing friend having a coffee and said hello. It was Stefan, a friend from Salzburg who I had been to Arco with several times in the Spring. We sat at the next table and Stef and I were able to catch up a little. After coffee, we drove to the top parking at Nago and set the camping chairs for breakfast in the sunshine. There were several bikers who were pedaling up the hill drenched in sweat. We cheered them on, which always led to a grin and a slightly faster pace on their behalf. After breakfast we started the athletic part of the day. Hiking to the section we wanted to climb, we passed Stef and Reini again. They were climbing with a guy Andy actually knew, it never ceases to amaze me what a small world it really is! We started off there too and began with some easier routes to warm up. It was a beautiful day with bright warm sunshine. At home it was miserable weather, making Italy that much sweeter. After a few hours of climbing, the sun was starting to set and we were starving. We packed up and headed back to Arco for some pizza and Spritzz before retiring for the night. We were greeted with amazing weather early in the morning. We got a piece of pizza and strolled around the town a little. Arco offers a quaint pedestrian zone with small houses lining both sides of the street which is just wide enough for a car and a bicycle to pass at the same time. There are lots of little shops that just bustle with business on the ground floor of most of the houses.
We wanted to travel to Madonna di Campiglio that evening to hike to a hut for a few days of solitude in the majestic Dolomites. As we were leaving, I saw my old climbing coach and pull up… I opened his door saying loudly “what do you think you’re doing here?!” Startling him severely, his face was mortified until it sank in. He jumped out for a hug and then pounded me for scaring him. Approaching Madonna, it dawned on me that I had no clue of where the parking lot was. We saw a sign towards “Rifugio di Brenta” and tried our luck. The road lead through a residential section turning into a forest road which led narrowly through the woods. We found a fairly level spot to park  and enjoyed birthday prosecco and the starry clear evening. It was a cold night regardless of the fluffy down winter sleeping bag. The next morning it was actually warmer outside than in the bus. Andy set up the camping chairs in the sunshine and we had birthday cake for breakfast. Packing our backpacks required lots of pushing, cramming and squishing to make it all fit. We hoisted the packs and set off for the winter hut facing the Canalone Neri, that I had climbed a few months back. Andy had never really been hiking before and if this trek doesn’t make you fall in love with the mountains, nothing will. The Brenta range offers spectacular panoramas of Gothic looking massive rock faces and snowy peaks. It is awe inspiring to stand in front of 1000 meters high of rock. It makes you feel so small, it is truly amazing. The climb begins with steps fashioned with logs in a nice wide path leading through the forest which was filled with deciduous trees already changing colors. It reminded me of the most beautiful time of year growing up, New England in full Fall bloom. We passed the Refugio Casinei at 1850 meters and stopped for some water. The hut was closed for the season so everything was very quiet and still there. We followed the rocky trail narrowing way down and winding around the steep rock cliffs. We reached the winter hut we would spend the night in quickly. You can see the Canalone Neri perfectly from this huge ledge. I showed Andy, still pretty proud since the face is intimidating. We wanted to set up camp and make some dinner. The only way into the hut, is to climb a ladder and through the 2nd floor window. Inside, you have to climb down another ladder to the window on the first floor you can open. That’s the “door.” We cooked up some noodles polishing off two servings each. While we were cooking, 2 climbers arrived and set up camp, followed by a father and son shortly thereafter. It couldn’t have been very late, maybe around 7pm as we finished eating. It was quite dark out with only had the light of the half moon and stars. We took a little stroll before retiring for the night. As a chronic late sleeper, I love how nature resets your internal clock. I think the artificial lighting and distractions trick your body into staying up later. We climbed up the ladder to the upper floor to settle in. It was pretty chilly but beautiful the next morning. We found a boulder in the sun to have breakfast on. Andy fed pieces of bread to some mountain jackdaws flying around the cliffs. As we were leaving, Andy saw a furry, white, little animal scurrying around. It had a black tipped tail and kind of looked like a ferret. We got a picture, I’d love to know what it was for an animal: tell us if you know! After breakfast, we hiked to the Alimenta Hut. It’s near a well-known via ferrata called Via Bocchetta, which I was curious about. We hiked on a rubble path made of the fallen rocks. It was steep and imposing, it made you feel small beneath the high walls of rock. We reached the Alimenta hut which was also closed. The fog was filling the valley towards Madonna. It was a spectacular view. After a snack we continued along the path to the Bocchetta trail to the start of the route before returning to “our” hut. The weather predicted a worsening, with snow by Thursday. We chose to hike straight down tonight since we still had some energy. Shortly thereafter the fog rolled up, along the valley even filling in the dip between the hut and the Cima Tosa. The Brenta range is famous for its thick pea-soup-like fog which envelopes you within a matter of minutes, at times. We were hungry and made dinner before the descent. Along the trail, we saw a fantastic sunset off on the horizon, behind a glacier far, far away. It was breathtaking! We had made good time and our eyes adjusted well to the darkness making it possible to reach the van without the headlamp. We spent some time rearranging the van since it looked like a gear bomb had gone off. Andy set the chairs for another round of birthday cake and skygazing. Patch-work quilted clouds only let the moonlight pass like stitches on a quilt. While we were finishing the cake for breakfast the next morning, a couple came to the van asking if we really were from Bramberg (ad on the van for the ski school). The husband asked about a man he had gone to school with. Typical small town, everyone knows everyone and Andy knew the man the couple was asking about. Again, small world! We drove home though some beautiful countryside stopping in Bolzano for a little sightseeing and lunch. Near Austria on the highway, we were suddenly in the middle of a full out blizzard. The wind was strong swirling the snow around like crazy. We expected it to let up towards Innsbruck but it kept on, the whole way to Augsburg. It had been quite a temperature shock going from +25° to below freezing within the matter of a few hours. It was a great closing of the climbing season and a surprising greeting by the coming winter season!

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