The first hour or so of walking was pretty uneventful - perhaps a little boring, in fact.
At around 11am or so, we [unexpectedly] emerged from the trees and into a large, open area. Immediately to our left stood a very interesting and rustic-looking stone building. It had an unusual cross-shaped slit in its attic, and at first we thought it was a church of some sort. But the closer we looked, the more it seemed like a residence.
We rounded this building and saw another interesting historic-looking building. Then another, and another. It seemed like there was a little village of these rough-looking structures.
Interesting historic buildings
The trail we were following led up directly through the cluster of buildings. The more we saw of them, the more we realized that we had happened upon a very special little place. We had no idea our trail would include this interesting bit of local architecture and culture. Looking more closely at my topo map, I saw that this little place had a name. The same name as the valley, in fact: Soi.
Most of the buildings were nearly entirely made of stone - even the roofs were made of overlapping stone slabs, using a rough dry-fit no-mortar construction. Ewart would have been proud!
As we walked upward through the beautiful flower-filled meadow between the houses, we noticed that no one was about. The places, though very old-looking, seemed in a reasonable state of repair, so likely they weren't abandoned. Was this some sort of weekend or summer-season only type of place? Perhaps this had at one time been a fully operational little town, but over the course of time people migrated away and it became a place of weekend refuge?
Beautiful mountain hamlet of Soi
No matter the story of this strange little open-air mountain-pasture hamlet, it was very scenic and very enjoyable to behold. At the upper end of the buildings was a nice little water trough with a fountain of water spilling into it. A nearby sign in Italian proclaimed: Se venite col cuore e la mente puri come quest' acqua che vi rigenera, siate i benvenuti. Signed, "Il caps". I understood italian well enough to get the meaning of this, which was "if you come with a heart and mind that is pure, like this water that will regenerate you, you are welcome [to it]". Not sure who "Il Caps" is, though.
A bench and table were positioned not far from the water trough. Seemed like a great invitation to stop for a lunch break and a nice drink of cold mountain water!
Weather improves slightly
Although we had feared rain when we had started off on our hike, dry conditions were still with us. As we sat and ate and drank in the little mountain hamlet of Soi, the sun actually started to break through the clouds, prompting us to put a bit of sunscreen on. Hopefully this trend would continue!
Nicely cooled off, hydrated, and satiated, we headed off, following the white-red-white markers upward out of Soi and into a pine and conifer forest. It wasn't long, though, before we emerged into a higher meadow with yet more old stone houses. This was another smaller mountain-pasture hamlet called "Jra" (not sure how that is pronounced exactly, especially since Italian doesn't officially have a 'j', but I'll guess it sounds something like 'ee-rah').
The trail also wound upwards through the grassy surrounds of this little place. Someone had even recently mowed the grass along the track of the path as it wound between the buildings. Nice touch.
Final meadow before forest
Jra passed by quickly, and soon we were again in deep and shady forest. We had now come to the point where the trail began getting down to the business of surmounting the multi-thousand foot valley wall above, and it began to climb diagonally up the slope in long, remarkably well-constructed switchbacks. The length of each switchback seemed ruler-straight, with actual buttressing and stonework to keep the grade as even as possible. The footing was mostly very nice springy forest-floor, with occasional sections where there was a smattering of small scattered rocks and pebbles.
Things were going quite smoothly as we ascended this great bit of trail. Soon, though, we heard the distant rumble of thunder, and not long after, the hazy and warm conditions gave way to a chill shadow. When it became clear that we weren't going to escape getting wet (or rather, that we were soon about to get wet), we stopped under the shelter of the boughs of a particularly large tree and pre-emptively put on our raingear.
Climbing through the mist
The thundershower was fairly modest and didn't last all that long. However, in its wake it left a cloud clinging to the mountainside upon which we were climbing. The forest was transformed into a ghostly, silent, misty place - without, seemingly, even a breath of moving air.
Climbing through the mist
Climbing through the mist
This ghostly interlude of cloud didn't last all that long. Within about twenty minutes we started to climb above it, and we began to get glimpses of forest slopes further away and rocky crags and walls above. We were starting to climb out of the forest itself, too - little open meadows became more frequent and the trees themselves became smaller.
The trail changed in character - the length of each switchback got narrower and narrower, until we were turning back and forth multiple times in a minute. We were climbing the steepest part of the valley wall, just below the rim.