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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Snowy Landscapes above the Tree-Line in the Dolomites, Northern Italy

This is the third in a series of gallery posts from our five day, hut-to-hut snowshoe trip in the Dolomite Mountains (they call them the Dolomiti) of Northern Italy, almost to the Austrian border.  My last two posts had photos from the first cloudy, snowy days, and then one sunny day.  (See links at the end of this article)

We were thrilled to get one more day of sun for our fourth day of snowshoeing. We went up a little higher this day, so it was all snow and rock; no trees or bushes in sight.  We weren't all that high up - maybe 2300 meters (7100 feet or so), but there had been a lot of snow and wind over the last few days.  In a lot of places, we were crunching over the hardened crust of snow that had managed to resist hours and days of howling winds, as you can see in the photo below.

snow mountains Dolomites Italy spectacular large format color photograpy snowshoe outdoors adventure travel wilderness pristine solitude silence beautiful

It was a little steep every once in a while.  The wind produced some nice sculptures.  If the photos are too big for your screen, you can try pressing the "ctrl" key and the "-" (minus) key, one or more times, to shrink the page.  You can also click on any photo to bring up a light box slide show view, but then you won't have the descriptions.  

snow mountains Dolomites Italy spectacular large format color photograpy snowshoe outdoors adventure travel wilderness pristine solitude silence beautiful

I like the gray sky in the photo below.  It makes it seem like a storm is looming over the horizon.  Hazy clouds did come and go all day, but never took over the whole sky, thank goodness.  The temperature was a bit above freezing.  With foot warmers in our boots, down gloves, and good, light, windproof jackets, we were never cold, except if we stopped moving for too long.  My hands did suffer quite a bit from taking off my gloves to take photos every five minutes.  I will definitely find some of those cool gloves that flip open for picture taking before my next winter trip!   

snow mountains Dolomites Italy spectacular large format color photograpy snowshoe outdoors adventure travel wilderness pristine solitude silence beautiful

As with the other days, we only saw a few other people the whole day.  A group of about eight other people on snowshoes passed us going the other way.  They're visible on the trail, which really helps provide a sense of scale of this vast ice and stone amphitheater of the gods! 

snow mountains Dolomites Italy spectacular large format color photograpy snowshoe outdoors adventure travel wilderness pristine solitude silence beautiful

In the center of the photo below, the group is still visible as some black dots on the trail, to the left of the big hill.

snow mountains Dolomites Italy spectacular large format color photograpy snowshoe outdoors adventure travel wilderness pristine solitude silence beautiful

This lonely, tall rock in the dip between the two mountains is called the Sentinel.  It must be pretty big to be this visible from a mile or two away.

snow mountains Dolomites Italy spectacular large format color photograpy snowshoe outdoors adventure travel wilderness pristine solitude silence beautiful Vick Fisher copyright 2016

The wind must have been intense at this saddle point.  More cool wind-sculpted snow in the foreground.  You can see the layers of snow left by many snowstorms during the season.  

snow mountains Dolomites Italy spectacular large format color photograpy snowshoe outdoors adventure travel wilderness pristine solitude silence beautiful Vick Fisher copyright 2016

An even wider view of the area.  If you look closely, the group is still visible as a few black dots spread out along the same trail. 

snow mountains Dolomites Italy spectacular large format color photograpy snowshoe outdoors adventure travel wilderness pristine solitude silence beautiful Vick Fisher copyright 2016

On the way back, we passed this great formation of layers of orange rock.  A living geology lesson, with all the layers of sediment tilted onto their sides.  I read that the Alps and Dolomites gained their altitude as the African tectonic plate (continent-sized slab of rock) slid north, crashing into the Eurasian tectonic plate, around 30 million years ago.

snow mountains Dolomites Italy spectacular large format color photograpy snowshoe outdoors adventure travel wilderness pristine solitude silence beautiful Vick Fisher copyright 2016

Before the mountains were formed, these thick slabs of sediment were a seabed.  This is why there are millions of coral fossils embedded in the limestone rock throughout the high altitudes of the Dolomites.  These immense orange slabs of rock, which were originally level layers of coral and sediment deposited and solidified on a sea bottom, were very gradually bulldozed sideways and upwards by a land mass from the south slowly forcing itself northwards.  The snow helps highlight the separate layers, as only the snow in the cracks has managed to resist being blown away by the wind.

snow mountains Dolomites Italy spectacular large format color photograpy snowshoe outdoors adventure travel wilderness pristine solitude silence beautiful Vick Fisher copyright 2016

Finally, coming back down to where the trees can breathe again.  This is a sentimental view for me, because we are looking back over where we hiked for the last day and half.  We can see at least three different valleys, and maybe twenty miles in this photo.  Halfway through our third day, we emerged into the white area at the upper right of the photo.  The long day involved hiking most of the distance we can see, and more. They tell me there's a lake under that low, flat area in the middle with no trees.

snow mountains Dolomites Italy spectacular large format color photograpy snowshoe outdoors adventure travel wilderness pristine solitude silence beautiful Vick Fisher copyright 2016

More in the mid-field of the photo, you may be able to spot a refuge, Rifugio Fanes, which was where we stayed one night. There are actually two "rifugios" just across the valley from each other down there.  The other is Rifugio Lavarella, which we stayed at the night before.  Both very nice places, with good food, and a staff that spoke about four languages - Italian, German, English, and an old local mountain language called Ladin.  I was amazed to hear they still have their own language in this day and age.  

I hope this gives you some idea of how spectacular the views were on our Dolomite snowshoe adventure.  If you decide to go, sorry no guarantees can be made, weather-wise.  I'd say it worked out pretty well for us, because the heavy snow of the first couple of days gave us beautiful scenery for the last few days.  

Click these links to see more snowy Dolomite mountain photos from our hikes the day before, and the first two days.  

Some may be interested to know that some of these photos were taken with a (pretty expensive) point-and-shoot camera.  At the time we got it, reviewers said it was the best point-and-shoot : the Sony RX 100 III.  I have to say, it produces photos with quality equal to my Canon DSLR with professional grade lenses, so it's pretty amazing.  From reading lots of photography talk online, it seems a lot of serious photographers have gotten this camera as their convenient, casual camera.  


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