The Ascent is Slight and the Air is Thin

Day 12. 2 July 2006

Sunday. With every night, I sleep better and better, but I still hear the seven o’clock bells without fail. Today is our second day off (not that we did much work yesterday) and it is clear and bright and just the kind of day to go into the middle of the dolomites. Taking to the rattling Alpago Rugby team ‘rust bucket’ bus we drive down the valley, onto the BIG road and to Belluna – and under Belluna – before driving north into the mountains to Allegne – one of the most important areas in this region for skiing.

From the town on the edge of Lago di Allegne we take a cable car and then a chair lift up 1922 metres to Col dei Baldi where the air is clean, and the alpine meadows are lush and brimming with flowers. From our vantage point in the sky the landscape below has the appearance of a golf course; lush meadows marked out with paths, and the ski-runs through the trees like driving ranges. We have a snack lunch at the mountain chalet of café-latte and pizza before setting off dow to climb up further into the dolomites.

On the easy path down to C. va di Piccia I lose my footing on a water culvet and slide, seemingly in slow motion, down to the left, badly cutting and grazing my shin and forearm. It’s not too serious though, and leaving my arm exposed to dry clean and clot naturally, I fall into line with Sarah-Jane to ascend Coldai; rising steeply out of the greenery like an enormous chimney. As the others move off up the hill like mountain gazelles, we take a more leisurely pace, taking in the views and admiring the wild flowers. We come up with the chorus lines to a song:

The ascent is slight
And the air is thin.

Further up the steep sides of Coldai, as the pitched and edged path winds itself steep, we see a Marmot – on sentry duty – perched on a rock calling out its warning. As we approach the snowline, the refuge at Col dei Coldai looms into view. The grey, red-roofed, three-story building perched on thee edge of the cliff – and just beyond, Lake Coldai. Choughs circle above us and swoop down for food; or even – looking down at my blood red elbow – carrion.

Two hours to climb the 200 plus metres we lounge about by the lake side, or up on the ridge looking down to Alleghe, eating cherries and chocolate. On the snowline, Sarah-Jane takes photographs of me getting theatrical with the snow. As we begin to wander down, Andy and I circumnavigating the lake, finding a vantage point from which to see the summit of Civetta, clear and near, and yet the same height as Snowdon from this point. We work our way round the lake and back to the ridge above the refuge. As we meet the group again we discover Sarah-Jane picking herself up having fallen on her knees, and Kat too hass joined me as one of the fallen ones.

At three o’clock we begin the descent, heading down the mountain, reaching the café-bar an hour and a quarter after Sarah-Jane has met and chatted to some more native Italians.

Sitting outside with glasses of wine, and the mountain behind, Jenny identifies me as drinking more than say, and Sarah-Jane as eating more than she says. It’s all lies, obviously.

Realising that, it is the last cable car at five o’clock and chairlift at five-thirty, and not the other way round as we first thought, we leave, and negotiate the pointless barcode reading turnstiles that are situated in the middle of a non-existent fence, and take the chairlift and then the cable car down the mountain.

At the bottom we decide that it will probably be too late to cook dinner when we arrive home so we shall make a return visit to the Lamosana pizzeria. As an insurance policy we decide to get food anyway, but upon walking into town discovers that the Coop is closed. We do have a gellato though, before heading sout, on the only road out of the dolomites.

A few kilometres out of Allegne, the truth that this is the only road into and out of the dolomites hits us. It is Sunday evening, and the roads are packed. We move forward as a speed not recognisable on any speedometer, which is no small achievement given the van in which we find ourselves. At Agordo we give up and park up with a last fire of the determination on the part of Andy, in the narrowest of narrow spaces, and realise that we are now the reason for the stop-start slow traffic. There is a fair on today, and it is the patrons of this crossing the cobbled street and milling around the stalls that make for such long delays. We buy some fresh, organic brown loaves from a baker who charges by wight on old-fashioned scales before retreating to a street side bar for a drink.

When we leave the traffic is flowing much better, although as we enter Belluno we do find ourselves behind a very slow, very drunk man, in a Fiat Panda that moves from the middle of the road to the rumble strips along the edge with almost beautiful curves. When we finally overtake he is sat to one side with a very broad, very happy smile on his face, slumped in his seat. On a busy mountain road we are followed in our overtaking by a dozen more cars and bikes, now no longer convinced that it was the van of the Alpago ruby club holding up their journeys.

Back at the nursery school we have half an hour to shower and change before we dive down to the Lamosana pizzaria where Janet joins us. The pizzeria lady remember us, and our liking of black olives on tutti pizzas, and our choice of red wine, prosecco and a mix of sparkling and still mineral water.

Vera, her sister and friends drop by and get talking to Sarah-Jane who is soon invited out on a pub crawl roudn the local villages. As she heads off with the girls, Janet returns with us to the school for coffee and Carol’s tiramisu.

Day 13: Flora, fauna, and television crews…