Hiking in the Dolomites, part 5: Lago di Sorapis

2018-07-27 16.29.58-227 July, 2018: Before we left the Dolomites, we had one more chance to do a proper hike, and we didn’t want to miss it. We chose Lago di Sorapis; a lake rumored to be quite pretty at the top of a ~5.5k trail. I knew no more than that, and hadn’t looked at any pictures (and I’m glad I didn’t, as the unfolding views and the lake at the end were much better as a surprise… and I’m not sure I would have gone if I had seen pictures of the trail I’d have to cross to get there). 

It took us a little while to find parking near the trailhead, and a little longer to find the correct start to the trail, after a few false starts (there are a couple different routes to reach the lake: path 215 is the recommended choice). Eventually we struck off in the right direction, and headed up through some lovely green meadows:

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Before getting up to the exciting parts, the trail passed a few bunkers left over from WWI, which I immediately wanted to explore. They’re remarkably well hidden — some are designed so that they’re only visible from below, like this one:

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Bunker? What bunker?
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Oh, THAT bunker.

And others are built deep into the natural cliff, with only the entrance and air/shooting holes visible if you know where to look:

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These mountains were a death trap for invading armies.

I poked my head in a couple, but didn’t want to waste time as we weren’t sure how long the hike would take. On the way up the trail crossed a few rock slides and streams, but nothing too difficult. Eventually we broke through the tree line and the views over the valley got spectacular. But we also noticed some very forbidding rain clouds heading our way, and got out our rain gear just in time:

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I have a feeling we’re about to get wet…

Luckily the showers didn’t last long, and gave the benefit of beautiful cloudscapes when they moved along. It was also fortunate that the rain had stopped before we reached the most terrifying parts of the trail, though it had left the rocks a bit slippery.

When I say “the terrifying parts of the trail”, I don’t think I’m being overly sensitive. Are you aware of via ferratas? I really want to try one eventually, but I didn’t quite manage to talk myself into it on this trip. A via ferrata (Italian for “iron path”) is a section of trail that blurs the line between hiking and rock climbing. They were developed earlier, but used the most to help soldiers navigate the difficult terrain in the Dolomites during the first world war. They consist of chains bolted into the rock over sections of trail (I’m using the word “trail” very generously here). In the modern-day method, you traverse a via ferrata using a climbing harness with two very short ropes and clips. One of your ropes is always attached to the chain or cable on the rock, and you unclip the back one and move it forward as you progress. That way you’re always harnessed to the rock, so that you won’t fall if you lose your footing.

Sometimes a via ferrata is along a particularly narrow part of trail (sometimes just footholds across a rock face) with a sheer drop, and other times they’re vertical up a cliff to help you climb it.

This trail wasn’t a true via ferrata because you’re not expected to clip in, but the trail is narrow and tricky enough in some sections that there is a steel cable placed for you to hold on to — and believe me, I gripped that thing for dear life. The trail was narrow, the cliff next to it dropped for what seemed like miles, and in sections the incline was extremely steep. Oh, and did I mention that it had just rained? I think I did. Boy, those rocks were slippery. At one point there was a passing place cut into the rock where I could stand safely back from the edge and take a picture in each direction, so here’s an idea of what this section of trail is like:

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I came from there!
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And had to keep going there!

Wow that’s a long way down. In any case, I didn’t die (of a fall or a panic attack), and eventually the trail normalized back into a standard mountain hiking route. I tried very hard not to think about the fact that I was going to have to come back down the same way later, and we headed on to the lake.

We stopped off at the rifugio at the top of the trail for the bathrooms, then headed over a small rise to the lake. When we came over the top of the hill, I stopped dead in my tracks, and I swear my mouth dropped open. I could not BELIEVE the color of that water; I’ve never seen anything like it. It was a perfectly turquoise, mirror-smooth lake with a ring of white stone, grass and wildflowers, and grey peaks all around. It was spectacular.

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How is this a real color?!

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We took a bunch of pictures and clambered on the rocks partway around the lake, but I was about done with narrow rock faces so we didn’t go very far. We had a picnic on a rock overlooking the water and relaxed for a little while, and then it was time to head back down.

On the way back we saw a gorgeous rainbow, and beautiful skies and mountains, which were a nice distraction from the still-terrifying narrow sections of the trail, and eventually we made it back down to the wider section and I could breath properly again.

On the way back I insisted on ducking into one of the cliff bunkers, but I only made it a few feet in before I was dissuaded by some strange sounds back in the dark. I’m not sure if it was an animal that had made the bunker its den, or perhaps a human with the same idea, but either way, I don’t think it wanted to be disturbed. My nerves were pretty well frayed by this point, so I beat a hasty retreat and we continued on to the car, and back to dinner and the blood moon eclipse mentioned in the previous post!

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