Sometimes beauty is just behid the corner (a rather big corner...)
Ever since we started climbing, val Montanaia and it's Campanile have had a certain importance in many of our evening talks and in many projects.
So when thinking of where to go for a sunday hike, Taddo's idea to try and reach the Campanile just seemed like the perfect one.
To try and reach val Montanaia, though not technically hard, is certainly not an objective that is there for the taking, especially not in winter, when the road from Cimolais to the rifugio Pordenone is closed to traffic, making it necessary to find a way to cover the over 13 km between them, to then start the hike up to the Campanile. Val Montanaia lies in the Parco Nturale delle Dolomiti Friulane, the eastern fringe of the Dolomites, by Italian standards it is quite remote, as most places are usually easier to reach, while by dolomitic standards it might as well be in Antarctica. There are no buses, no cableways, no ski resorts, no fancy chalets and almost no people. There is, on the other hand, no lack of wildlife, peace, roads covered in verglass, beautiful mountains and time to think.
Cima Sboada and Monte Ferrara
Of course we did not know this yet. We discovered all this beauty one step after the other while walking up, hoping to reach the object of our sunday project.
The Dolomiti Friulane are remote, but certainly not hard to reach, as it took us about two and a half hours from Trieste to reach the parking lot where the closed road starts.
By just after 9 am we were ready. We had decided to take bikes with us, hoping we could cut down on the time the long approach would take, and make the return easier. A phone call to the park authorities had reassured us that snow was present only at an altitude of over 1500 meters, and that apart from minor snowfalls and small avalanches there was nothing to be worried about.
So we took our snowshoes, tied our poles to our bikes and left.
While down in the planes, all the region was covered in thick fog, the sky above us barely had some clouds, and the more we went ahead, the more the sky was became perfectly clear.
The entrance to this world is along Val Cimoliana, running along the Cimoliana creek. It's a pretty tight entrance, with many bends and curves that immediatly cut you away from the rest of the world. On both sides are big steep walls of rock made darker by the vegetation. The only noises you hear are the rush of the water, the sound of drops finding their way through the stone, and occasional rockslides and ice crumbling down the sides of the valley.
A cuve to the right brought us on to a bridge, where finally we had our first taste of what lay ahead. The first dolomitic peaks just seemed so close, it looked like we would have been there in minutes.
First taste of dolomites is cima Cadin di Toro
Along the road, just a bit ahead, a second surprise. A secondary valley on our left gave us a view of Cima dei Preti, the highest peak in the area, covered in snow and sun. Had we been lazier we could have stopped there and still had our satisfaction for the day.
Cima dei Preti appearing in the valley
Soon the road passes right under a rock face and becomes littered with pieces of stone and rather big rocks that evidently keep falling straight on to the road. We hurried through this part of the road, that is the tightest and darkest in the valley, and soon the bed of the Cimoliana openes and the valley becomes wider. The road took us through the forest, where we had to deal with large amounts of invisible ice on the road that took it's toll in the form of several falls and dangerous sliding.
Deep in the forgotten Dolomites
One last push uphill, untill the course of the cimoliana changes, and the valley turns from north to east, and we were forced to leave our bikes and go ahead by foot, as the road was covered in snow and ice.
This part of the valley is very wide, and you finally see you are in Dolomites. All around us were beautiful peaks and towers sprinkled in snow. A big difference compared to the more “commercial” peaks to the west is the wild nature that surrounds these mountains. There are no smooth meadows or trimmed vegetation. The rocky peaks just shoot up vertically from the tangled and wild vegetation that is not of a bright and friendly green, but has a hue to it that makes you feel you are merely a visitor, allowed here by chance.
Soon, completely in awe due to what we were seeing we reache the bottom of the steep valley leading up to the Campanile.
From the bottom you cannot see much, but a small portion of the Spalti di Toro is enough to make you understand you have yet to see the true beauty of these mountains, and that it will require a lot of your strength to be rewarded by them.
A particular of the Spalti di Toro
The way up
A quick pause to drink some water and eat some fruit, as we were really tired by then, and up we went.
The trail follows the bed of the creek, sometimes crossing over it's big rocks and sometimes on the snow to it's side. We kept walking until the snow was everywhere, and beginning to get deep enough to put our snowshoes on, and not much after that we finally saw the top of the Campanile to out right. It is a very rewarding sight, as it seems to be hiding from view until the last second. At every bend you are sure it will be there, you can already see yourself stopping to admire it, but it is never there. Then, when you are tired, annoyed by it's playing with you, when you just feel like concentrating on the next step, just as perfectly as nature can arrange things, you look up there it is.
At this point we were puzzled on where to go, the trail seemed to go up a steep gully full of rocks and ice straight to the base of the Campanile, while from our point of view a less direct but easier route, in perfect snow right in front of us would be a better option, so we took this second way up.
The gully before it became deep and steep Right under the Spalti
Soon, after a very steep traverse we were wading in snow that was knee deep in the best case, while often we were in it to our waist. In a mixture of cursing and admiration for what was around us we made our way up toward the feet of the Spalti di Toro walking along an avalanche and sinking deep.
Eventually we were at a level with the Campanile that was bathing in the sun, so we started traversing to the right, crossing other two or three gullys and avalanches befor we were finally at the feet of this huge steeple.
Finally, almost there
The Campanile di val Montanaia lies between two amazing groups, the Spalti di Toro and the Monfalconi as if it were on a stage in a theatre, surrounded by a public of stone.
Spalti di Toro
Every angle makes it look like a different peak, and it is hard to imagine it rises 300 meters above this hidden paradise where it stands.
It was incredible to be there. The snow was intact, no traces anywhere, the sun was warm, right in the face of the Monfalconi, while the Spalti were slowly entering the shade, and the sky was of an amazing blue.
We stayed there just enough time to have a snack, take some photos and compliment each other and nature for this wonderful day.
Campanile Campanile from another angle
The way down
We then headed down, as the sun disappeared, and we were satisfied to see the actual trail wouldn't have been easier than the route we chose, just a bit shorter maybe, but steep and with deeper snow, one last challenge, but soon we were back on our tracks, having completed the circle around the Campanile.
We reached the bottom of the valley at dusk, and as we walked to the bikes we were able not to use headlights, as the moon was shining on us and leading our way.
One last snack before jumping on the bikes, and after one more hour avoiding ice and holes in the road we were back to the car.
A long way back
A beer in Cimolais was our earthly reward, but obviously the most important reward is having been there.