A Day at the Italian Dolomites: Le Tre Cime di Lavaredo in January

posted in: Italy, UNESCO | 2

Two days ago I was on the phone with my best friend telling her about our little adventure at the Dolomites and at the end of it she says, “Why don’t you write about this on your blog?!” Of course, I was already planning on it, but she inspired me to do it ASAP. I figure you guys will get the same kick out of it as she did.

Apparently, we were missing the frigid cold temperatures and huge snowfalls of Ohio too much (um, NOT) that when we planned our trip to the Dolomites, we knew it HAD to be during the winter. In retrospect, I still can’t decide whether this was the wisest choice or not.

Our problem was that the Dolomites are huge, shared equally among three provinces (Trentino, Südtirol, and Belluno) and it was hard to decide exactly which part to visit. Of course, we ended up staying in the Südtirol part, about an hour or so away from the highest peak of the Dolomites, Marmolada. Jaime, however, wanted to go see Le Tre Cime di Lavaredo, one of the most beautiful and well-recognized peaks of the Dolomites.

So on Saturday morning, we woke up extremely early, dressed up in our best snow gear, and drove almost two hours to Lake Misurina, which I had read was the starting point of the hike to Le Tre Cime. Now, I don’t know if this just happens to me, but it is so difficult to find reliable information on places to visit in Italy. Sometimes they don’t have a website, or if they do it’s not very good. Sometimes they have a bad phone number or email. This was no exception. We didn’t know if they did guided tours (it is the middle of winter after all and I was scared the mountains covered in ten feet of snow wasn’t the safest thing), if we could rent snow gear, nothing. All I had been able to find out from scouring the blogs was that you drive to Lake Misurina, then you can take a toll road to the Rifugio Auronzo and start a hike from there, so that’s what we were planning to do.

When we arrived at Lake Misurina, first of all, there was no lake. Or actually, I think the lake was buried under a ton of snow (I just googled it, and yes indeed it was buried under snow). Also, another fun fact of Lake Misurina, provided by Wikipedia, the particular climatic characteristics of the lake make it particularly helpful for people who have respiratory diseases. Anyway, back to the story.

This is Lake Misurina in the summer. Image provided by Wikipedia
I coincidentally took the same picture. 

Thankfully, the lake is surrounded by little hotels, a market, an Italian bar (different from the American bar, if you didn’t know), and a store with gear to rent or buy. So we rented snowshoes, had a caffè and were ready to start our hike.

Then came the first unexpected roadblock. Literally.

As described in the blogs I had read there was definitely a road that you can take to the Rifugio Auronzo…in the summer. In the winter, the road gets covered in snow and they just close it down and let people ski or sled on it. No biggie, we thought, we’ll just walk to the Rifugio Auronzo. Can’t be that far. In case you were wondering, physical maps of the place were something we had yet to encounter. Below is a picture of us at the start of the walk.

We put on our snowshoes and walked…and walked…and walked. We walked 1.3 miles according to my phone until we reached a little wooden hotel. Perfect, I thought, we made it to Auronzo.

Our little hotel, 1.3 miles into our walk.
Picture of me standing next to the snow for reference. 


This was just a random hotel. We asked a guy that seemed knowledgeable and he pointed us down a path that he said would take us to Le Tre Cime. We asked a few people on the path and they confirmed this.

Up until this point, those 1.3 miles were flat land, so it wasn’t a big deal. But after we started on this path, we started going up the mountain. At first, we were in high spirits. Not too tired, the views were amazing, and we still figured it couldn’t be that far. After about an hour and a half of seeing people sledding downhill (having a blast) and snowmobiles racing past us carrying 6 people at a time to the top, we started getting irritable. We were the only….dumbies (I’m thinking of a much stronger word, but I won’t say it) actually walking up this mountain. Well, us and another couple we saw along the way but they were walking much faster than us. I google mapped our location and realized we still had 2.3 km (1.42mi) to get to Rifugio Auronzo (which is only the starting point for the trail that travels all around the Tre Cime). According to Google Maps, it would take us 32 minutes to get there walking (of course, Google Maps doesn’t know we have these stupid snowshoes tied to our feet and are walking on a road buried under 10 feet of snow).

Picture about halfway through, before we realized we had about 2.3 km to go.

32 minutes became about another hour and a half. We stopped a million times, ran out of water, started shedding layers of jackets because we were sweating, and prayed that we wouldn’t collapse of exhaustion. The only thing that kept me going was the promise that at least this Rifugio Auronzo had a restaurant (or at least some warm hot chocolate or something) and that we could always take a snowmobile downhill and not walk it again.

Jaime about to keel over. 

One of our many 5 minute breaks. 

Finally, at around 3 pm we made it to the top. We kicked off the snowshoes and we were just about ready to eat an entire cow. Only problem: Rifugio Auronzo was closed. CLOSED!

Yep, you read that right. The damn place closes during the winter!

The only thing open was a tiny hot dog stand. Well, at least there was something right? Jaime looked worried though, because a tiny hot dog stand can only mean one thing.

Jaime: “Accetta carta? (Do you take credit cards?)”

Of course not. And leave it to us to run out of cash and not replenish our wallet. Silly Americans, you’re in Italy!

Me starving. 

Jaime fished out a couple of coins that was just enough for the last two bottles of water the guy had (I swear, I’m not making this stuff up, we really have that much bad luck) and we tried to enjoy the views, which were outstanding.

Since we had gotten there so late in the day and the sun sets so early, we ended up being one of the last people at the top. The hot dog guy came out of his little stand once he had no customers and gave Arya a sausage (I’ll be honest, I was a little perplexed that this guy was willing to feed the dog for free and not the humans) and Jaime managed to find another 4 Euros in coins to buy 1 hot dog that we shared. Once we took some pictures, we were ready to go back down before it got dark. So where are those snowmobiles?

Arya’s new best friend.

Come on, you know what’s coming.

Nowhere to be found. The last ones had gone down sometime when we had just arrived at the top. How does the hot dog guy get down? He sleds.

I was fuming. I put on my snowshoes again, ready to walk the whole way down again and hopefully make it before it was pitch black. We have a saying in spanish, “Para abajo todos los santos ayudan”, which literally means “all the saints help when you’re going down” (meaning it’s much easier to go down than to go up) and I sure hoped it would be the case today.

I guess the hot dog guy took pity on us or Arya endeared herself enough to him, that he gave us another alternative: take two of his sleds and go down. He assured us we’d be there in 15 minutes. So he gave us an empty coal bag (yes, really) so we can stick our snowshoes inside and the plan was for Jaime to sled down with the bag and I would sled down with Arya pulling me.

This turned out to be the funnest part of the whole day and the only reason I don’t regret the entire day. Arya had never pulled anything before and I had the sneaky suspicion that, Siberian Husky instinct be damned, she wouldn’t pull the day you actually wanted her to pull. I was wrong though. As soon as I slid down just a little bit, she started running to keep up with the sled, then running in front of the sled and pulling. I swear, that dog ran at least 30mph, if not more. It was so exhilarating.

Fifteen minutes later, just as the guy had said, we made it down to the tiny hotel from the beginning of our trek, where we had to leave our sleds. Poor Jaime had a harder time than I since he had to carry the coal bag and also pull himself through the flat parts of the mountain since there was no Arya to pull him through the whole thing.

But after that whole mountain, the 1.3 miles of flat land we had left to our car was cake. Even through the million things that went wrong, I count the day a success just because of those last 15 minutes.

So, to summarize, here are some lessons learned, which hopefully might be helpful to you guys if you ever find yourself in the Dolomites:

1. It’s beautiful in the winter, but don’t be a hero. If there’s a way to do something in a motorized vehicle. Do it. Save the walking for when it’s necessary.

2. We didn’t actually get to see the front of Le Tre Cime, unfortunately, but maybe we’ll just have to take a trip in the summer like sane people :). I saw people in the Internet complaining about the toll you have to pay to drive up the road to Rifugio Auronzo, but after walking it, I can assure you, the toll is worth every cent.

3. Snowshoes aren’t that helpful. Sledding is always better.

4. Before this, I had a dream of someday doing the climb up Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. No more.

5. Huskies are the best dogs ever. And also, a tired dog is a happy dog :).

The view from the top. 

2 Responses

  1. Brianna DePauw

    What a Story!? I just found your page through the Fresh Face Friday Blog Hop! I’ve been to Italy 2 times & would love to go back. I’m excited to follow along and read more of your adventures! -Bri