Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Civetta + Lightning

This is kind of a fun one, and it's also the last post from Italy.  We're finally getting through the backlog that this trip created; only a few more posts and then we'll resume stateside.

As I was drifting off late one night in Alleghe, I saw a flash, and shortly thereafter, heard a boom.  After a few more of those, I grudgingly dragged myself out of bed and hauled camera and tripod out onto the balcony.

As previously noted, our balcony had a direct view of the northern end of the Civetta group, and we've already seen it in all sorts of light.  This night, however, we'd get something different.

The thunderstorm was producing lightning a couple miles to the northwest, and I couldn't see any bolts, but every strike lit up Civetta in a ghoulish glow.

I'll do some photo-geekery in advance here so you know what you're looking at.  The next four photos are all equalized to the same exposure settings, so you get to see Civetta dark and then see exactly how much the lightning added to the scene (I was playing around with different shutter speeds, ISOs, and apertures, hence the need to equalize).  They're also white-balanced to the same value, so you can see the eerie color of the lightning on the rock face.  Both of these adjustments are evident in the trees that I've conveniently left in the lower right corner; they appear exactly the same in these four photos.  Also, I'm still not entirely sure how I got this focused.

Civetta, dark

And then...


A few minutes of empty frames go by, and then...


A few more minutes of darkness, and then...


I'm really in love with the shadows and colors on the rock.  Good stuff.

I thought the show was over, so I packed up, and then it was apparent that the storm only quieted down to move a bit closer.  Thoroughly ready to be back in bed, I again grudgingly set up and waited for more strikes.

And waited.

And waited.

Finally, in the middle of one of the exposures, there was a near-direct hit.  It was a classic FLASH-BANG run for cover type of strike. 

When the exposure finished and showed up on the camera's screen, it was nearly entirely white.  Shit.  I pulled as much exposure out as I could (hint: LOTS) and set it to the same white balance as the previous photos.  If you've got any doubt in your mind just how freakin' blue lightning you go.


I nearly didn't post this last bit; the photo is on the bleeding edge of recoverable.  However, I still think it's cool, so there you go.

As noted, this concludes the Italy posts.  Arrivederci, Alleghe, Dolomites, Civetta, and Italy.  Next post is from Amsterdam!  Also, Happy Halloween.


Monday, October 29, 2012


We took a morning excursion to the nearby city of Belluno; it was time to escape the mountains for half a day and get a change of scenery.

Unfortunately, it was Sunday, which meant that the entire place was closed, except for the cafes and whatnot around the city center., pastries, and a wander was about all we'd get to do.

Storefronts along the street

Ancient gate with ivy

Plastered ceilings


Wasting away the morning at the Enoteca

Neglected bike; I loved the "headlight"

Even though we didn't get to experience everything Belluno had to offer, it was still cool and a nice change-up from another lazy morning in the mountains.  And then we promptly retreated to the mountains, where we belong :)


Friday, October 26, 2012

Monte Civetta

This is the photo I withheld from the last post.  It's from our overnight at Rif Tissi, and that's the illustrious Phil Glenn serving as model.  I believe it deserves to stand on its own, and I hope you do, too.

Soaking in the view (click for -much- larger)

This is a setting that's hard to beat.  To call it a "special place" doesn't even begin to do it justice.  For scale, that's a 3000' rock wall Phil is looking at...

Photo geeks: this is ~80 stitched photos at 40mm.  Final image size is enough to print it the size of the side of a building.  Any takers?


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tissi Overnight

So after our near-epic circumnavigation of Civetta, we decided that we wanted to do an overnight at Rifugio Tissi.  Teetering on a lower peak high above Alleghe and just across a small alpine valley from Civetta, it represented a high shock and awe payoff for a relatively short hike.

We get the whole group together (minus Nenad, whose immune system is protesting from 5 hours of cycling every day), and ride the gondola to the top of the ski resort, which puts us within a couple hours of striking distance of the rif.

Rifugio Tissi and its view to the E.  I'm standing on the edge of a 3000' drop to Alleghe.

This rif, like the others, serves dinner and breakfast, along with all-day pastries, coffee, beer, and wine.  In short, it's heaven.  Rates are reasonable enough; it's 24Euro to spend the night, but the full menu about doubles that.  It seems like a lot, but the convenience of traveling with nothing but a bedsheet goes a long ways.

Mountain housecat; no known predators

Dinner is hearty, filling, and fun.  As the light turns from "afternoon" to "photo," we escape outside for a couple of sessions, winding our way through the small herd of cows that the family running the rif farms.

Phil soaks in the view

Phil shows off

The wind on our exposed little spire grows as dusk falls, so the others retreat inside and I stay for some fun.  I start by setting my tripod up literally 2 inches away from a 3000 foot drop with pitch black nothingness as my guide for safety.  Warning: three photos I like a LOT are next.

Overlooking Alleghe and nearby villages

The moon, risen earlier, begins to overwhelm the night sky with its cool light, and I start losing the ability to form coherent sentences.

Looking S past Civetta

Looking N past Civetta and Rif Tissi

The cold finally gets to me and I retreat inside to listen to the wind beat the windows of our dorm room together all night.  I drag myself out of bed well before breakfast, catch some more good light, and slink back up the hill, again winding my way through the cows.

Still windy in the morning

Lovely view before breakfast

We get kicked out shortly after breakfast, but that's OK, as it's yet another glorious day in the Dolomites.

Last up close look at Tissi

The valley between Tissi and Civetta is small, wild, and filled with massive chunks of rock that peeled off Civetta over the years.  The view from directly underneath a 3000' rock wall has a way of making one feel very, very small, and that's a good thing to do every now and then.

Rocks beneath Civetta (click for larger)

New resident of the greater Civetta area

Murphy strolls through a field full of wee pebbles

We take our time getting back to Rif Coldai and the trailhead; we had hurried the day before.  The opportunity to spend extra time in this stunning country is our payoff for having hurried even more seriously through it on our circumnavigation.

A long string of hikers dwarfed by the rock wall (suck it, Instagram)

It has warmed nicely by the time we get back around to Coldai, so we relax for lunch and a dip.

Naked man, chased by dog

Disapproving man, watching naked man, chased by dog

Phil has fun with Coldai's grocery cart

From Coldai, it's a quick blast back down the hill to the gondola, so our primary goal becomes beer at the bottom of the hill, followed by a nap.

This is -really- a great life to settle into...

However, I have a confession to make.  There was a photo from the evening session that deserves its own post, so I've held it back, and all seven of you will simply have to wait.  So until then, spend a moment during your day to take a deep breath of the outdoors, have a glass of wine, and make your next day better than the last.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Rif Tissi

This is a teaser for the next couple of posts.  Long story short, we hauled the entire crew up the mountain to spend the night at Rifugio Tissi, a stunning hut that basks in the glow of Monte Civetta.

Rifugio Tissi, dwarfed by Civetta (click for larger)

The next two posts could be pretty cool, kids.  Also, sorry for the week of radio silence.  Life intervened.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Dino Rocks

On yet another lazy-ish day, we decided to go on a little day trip to a nearby feature pointed out on the map.  The map alluded to it being some sort of dinosaur-related archeological site; this was mostly inferred by the cartographer's use of a little purple cartoony T-rex to mark the site.

It was a short hike from the top of Passo Staulanza along a pretty good trail.  My first clue that there wasn't actually anything interesting dinosaur-related was that there were no fences or barriers or signs at the site.  I don't know what I was actually expecting; perhaps a velociraptor encased in tiramisu, half-visible as it writhed in incapacitating mascarpone?

What comprised the attraction was a single (large) rock that had some (ostensibly) dinosaur tracks across it, created by something roughly the size and speed of a running iguana.  In any case, it wasn't even impressive enough for me to take a photo.  Call me a jaded traveler, but I didn't want to waste any film :)

Far more interesting to me, though, was a vein of super-red soil with super-white rocks tumbling out of it.  I briefly risked life and limb to access the small slope, and then spent a few minutes freaking out on it with the camera.

There was also a cool nightstand-sized rock that looked like a scale model of the entire mountain range.  The other sides of the rock were perfectly smooth, and the top surface was created when the rock was split in half, and kinda looked like a cold grilled cheese sandwich pulled apart.  In any event, it was awesome.

Scale model

Disappointed by the lack of dino-ness, we retreated to the ever-present cafe at the top of Staulanza and eradicated our sorrows with beer, sandwiches, and cake.  Ahhhhh, consolation!


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Faces of Civetta

Our apartment in Alleghe was pretty ideally located.  Literally steps away from everything we could need (coffee, wine, pizza, gelato, bread, fruit, veg, meat, beer, beach, Wi-Fi), we were also graced with a balcony view that left little to be desired.

Below are four photos of one wee end of the Civetta group, taken within a space of about 12 hours, all from the balcony.  I was amazed by how much the rock's character changed throughout the day as the sun traversed the sky.  This cycle repeated itself fairly regularly, every now and then interrupted by clouds or mist or wine.

Civetta, afternoon

Civetta, evening

Civetta, first stars

Civetta, morning ain't seen nuthin' yet.  We've got some more facetime with this imposing mountain in some upcoming posts...


Monday, October 8, 2012

Civetta Circumnavigated

So Alleghe sits at the base of the Civetta Group, one of the monstrous sections of the Dolomites.  Of course, there are hiking trails, and beyond that, there's a network of rifugios, mountain hostels that allow one to link up huge hikes with no overnight gear save a bedsheet.  They have beds, food, and beer, also known as the holy trinity of surviving in the mountains.

We figured we'd spend some time in the rifs (short form), but also realized that we wouldn't have many days to while away hopping from rif to rif.  Furthermore, Civetta seemed manageable to blast around in a day, even though the books showed it as a 3-day hike.  Hahahahaha.  So we decided to do it as a day trip, assess the various rifs, and decide where we'd spend a night later on in the trip.

We are aided by a gondola ride from Alleghe up to the main network of trails higher up.  Waiting for the gondola to fire up also gives us a later start than we'd be accustomed to, and we are somewhat justified in feeling nervous for letting the sun get so high before setting off [foreshadowing!].  Fortunately, it is a banner day.  Party on!

Looking E from Civetta across what seemed like all of Italy

Trail distances are a little spotty 'round these parts; as best as I can put it together, this is a ~12-mile hike.  Our first waypoint is Rif Coldai, a scant hour or so into the hike.  We blow right through it and continue along the east side of Civetta.

Rifugio Coldai, perched cliffside

The trail along the east side has some exposed bits, but nothing too awful.  However, the going is a little slow nonetheless and when we finally make a right turn up Forcella delle Sasse, the sun is precariously far along its path.

Murphy surveys the E side of Civetta

Long slog (lookit Ethel!)

We top out the pass and get a view down into the basin of the same name: Van delle Sasse.  This is a throwback to a different era, geologic processes exposed for the inquisitive to marvel at.  The character and composition of the rock changes; water has washed chasms away, and visible in other areas are massive uplifts and folds.

Van delle Sasse...ridiculous

If not for the fact that we're the furthest away from home at this point, I'd be tempted to call it a day and while away the light exploring this basin.  It now ranks high on my list of special places.

Continuing on through the hot part of the day, we saddle up to a huge descent to the next rif right about the time we both run out of water.  It's been something like 6 hours since we've seen any, so we go into ultra-conservo mode and slowly start to overheat.  Thankfully, we cross a pristine stream about 10 minutes before we reach Rif Vazzoler, and I chug mountain water as though giardia is nothing more than a TV chef.

Mountain shrine at Vazzoler

Vazzoler is something of an oasis for us.  We load up on pastries, beer, and chocolate (and water) and move on with renewed spring in our step; we've got some ground left to cover!

Murphy makes friends

Continuing on towards Rif Tissi, we finally come around the west side of Civetta and are greeted by an in-your-face view of the rock walls that are barely visible from Alleghe.  This mountain is a monster, and the boulder battlefields we hurry through are an indication that the monster throws hissyfits every now and then.

Not your average trail view

It's apparent to me that Rif Tissi is where we should return to; it's perched at the top of a sharp knob with a commanding view of both the valley far below, but also the entire west wall of Civetta.  Noted and on we go; the sun ain't stoppin' for us.

Rad trail signs

Gimme my camera back!

It's now late enough in the day that we don't stand a chance of making it back to the gondola before its unfairly early closing time; this also presents us with a choice of return routes.  Instead of looping all the way back around to Rif Coldai and descending to the stopped gondola, we can exclude the ~500m section of trail between Lago di Coldai and the Rif and descend directly towards Alleghe on a trail marked "dificil."  Having the goal of making the gondola erased also gives us the opportunity for a dip in Coldai.

Lago di Coldai

Coldai reflecto

It turns out that the Italian version of "dificil" is to be taken a little more seriously than the American version; the piles of mountain goat carcasses should have been a clue.  Within about 100m of turning down this alternate trail, it becomes apparent that we're in for a wild ride.  We're actually descending a dry waterfall, lowering ourselves bodily down loose cliff faces.  My overwhelming sensation is "thank Faust it's not raining," and perhaps one of those words was different.

Peering down to Alleghe from the death trail

The bonus is that we get treated to a rather special view of the valley, and the light is RIDICULOUS.  I balance precariously to fire off a few photos, wondering if the rescue/recovery crews will know how to properly process RAW files.


On a later day, we get to observe this atrocious trail from a nearby peak; you know you're in for a treat when it looks scary from miles away...

The thin red line

We just barely avoid the official definition of an epic day by finishing minutes before we'd need headlamps.  The crew picks us up at a lower gondola station and delivers us graciously to the pizzeria.  Turns out our little 12-mile hike was more like 20, and the 11 hours we spent on the trail ensured that we'd be licking our wounds the next day.

Reeeeediculous hike, though!


Past Detritus