The absolutely fascinating part about the Sexten Dolomites, however, is that the Drei Zinnen are not alone. There are Paternkofel / Monte Paterno and Zwölfer / Croda dei Toni as well and as you see from the picture below all can be found very close to each other, more or less across a large plateau.
I'm afraid that I have written about this before - but before World War I the border between Austria and Italy ran directly across the "ridge" of Drei Zinnen. So when the war broke out the surrounding plateau became the scene of some of the severest fighting in the whole alpine front. To the west of the Sexten Dolomites the flat topped Monte Piano/Piana, which blocks Höhlenstein Valley, was half taken by the Italian Alpini, half by the Austrian Kaiserjäger. The mountain itself is not more than 1km wide with a hollow in between the two summits but here some of the heaviest fighting took place. Today it can be experienced in an open air war museum.
To the east of the Drei Zinnen Plateau in, on and around Paternkofel tales of heroism were spun. Today you can witness them when climbing through the pioneer caves to get to the summit. Many of you will probably have seen the famous view of Drei Zinnen through one of the openings.
But this was meant as a trip report - not a history lesson. My genes (almost all of my family were/are teachers) must have got the better of me....
As many of you might have come to know we spent this September's vacation in Lesachtal Valley in southern Austria. Weather always is a problem in the Alps so that when waking up on Sept 23rd and seeing lots of clouds in the neighbouring Carnic Alps we decided to have a try elsewhere. Since the Sexten Dolomites were 20km to the south-west (as the crow flies, 45km as the car drives) we decided to have a try over there. The weather report called for better weather coming in from the west which confirmed us in our decision. We decided on the northern part of the mountain range - not only because we hadn't been there before - but also because the region is far less frequented than the central part around Drei Zinnen. And lemme tell you: experiencing this brouhaha will certainly turn you off!
You have to cross the border from Austria into Italy and after the Schengen treaty the border crossings in Europe are sorry sights. The customs houses are abandoned - the speed limit has increased from 10km/h to 60km/h. The only lively place is the border filling station since in Austria the gasoline taxes are substantially lower than in Italy. You get quite a lot of border traffic just to fill the tanks.
Sexten (Sesto in Italian) is located very near to the border. At Innichen you have to turn into the Sextenbach Valley and just before you reach the village there is a side road into Innerfeldtal (between the two maps). This was our destination since it runs through the Sexten Dolomites from the north with the Haunold / Rocca dei Barranci Group to the west and the Dreischuster / Tre Scarperi Group to the east. We wanted to hike to the end of the valley and then do a loop around Morgenkopf (compare the maps).
To cut the weather story short - it was far from perfect but it rained only for 15 minutes. That was enough, however; for me to put on my rain- and windstopper and when I took it off again - I dropped my camera into the nearest puddle - almost dropping my pants as well - since I had had to loosen my belt. People came by so that the camera had to suffer. Fortunately its casing was tight enough - otherwise there wouldn't be any pictures to this TR.
As planned we hiked out to the end of Innerfeldtal, enjoying our views towards the Haunold and Dreischusterspitze Groups. At the end we decided to circle Morgenkopf clockwise and started climbing the eastern side (between Morgenkopf and Schusterplatte). Looking backwards we had a great glimpse of both groups
When we finally got on to of the plateau which leads towards Gwengalpenjoch Pass, which was to be our turning point, our breath was taken away for the first time! Here the northern part of the Haunold Group was on full display as can be seen from the picture below.
But more was to come. We lost our way - which we always do - started too quarrel and before we were aware of it we reached our turning point at Gwengalpenjoch Pass. And here we encountered the view you saw on top of this trip report - vis à vis Drei Zinnen with the Rienztal Valley and the Drei Zinnen Plateau in between. No picture, really none, can give you a proper feeling for what you actually experience face to face of these limestone monoliths! The sheer size cannot be captured on film or chip. Just try to imagine that the north faces of two larger peaks are 1000m or 3000ft high! 1000 vertical meters! You will be awed by this rocky presence and certainly will feel your human insignificance.
We took our lunch break in the path and later headed in the direction of Schwalbenkofel to start our descent on the other, eastern side of Morgenkopf. A last look at Drei Zinnen and Paternkofel and down we went into the gap between Schwalbenkofel and Morgenkopf.
The descent actually was a ferrata - a well protected climbing trail through a steep rocky gully. No serious problems but definitely easier to ascent than to descent. My camera dropped dead - all the batteries were down - and the last picture I took as I turned the corner of Morgenkofel was this one of the Dreischuster / Tre Scarperi Group.
The remainder of the hike went along the tracks of Innerfeldtal which we had ascended earlier that day and we were happy that we had decided on this tour in the morning.