It was 1pm, and we had completed the first half of our day in the dolomites. In order to complete the second half - a hike up to another rifugio in the group of peaks known as the Tofane, we first had to drive for a while. Apart from the chance of those in the vehicle getting a little woozy (sorry, Stephanie), it is always wonderful driving through the dolomites: excellent pavement, fun twisties, and - of course - beautiful views.
First we drove east, along strada provinciale 347 towards the town of Agordo. Along the way, at the height of land at Passo Cereda, we stopped to take a quick look at a gathering of classic Alfa Romeo automobiles. They were driving through the mountains as part of the Club Alfa Dolomiti's 18th "tour delle Dolomiti".
There were many excellently-preserved specimens, including several instantly recognizable designs that typified the flamboyant Italian automotive styles of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Well, instantly to me, I guess. Even the relatively pedestrian Alfa Giulia sedans had a certain flair to them.
After enjoying scenery - both automotive and landscape - of Passo Cereda, we continued east, descending to the spectacle-making town of Agordo. Here we stopped at the grocery store to stock up on hiking snacks. We then made our way north, past the town and lake of Alleghe, notable for a massive 1771 landslide that formed the lake and inundated the original iteration of the town. Continuing north on exceptionally twisty roads, we made our way up and over scenic Passo Giau, dominated by the impressive prow of rock known as the Ra Gusela.
We were now fairly close to our destination - the high peaks of the Tofane Group, centrally located near the large town of Cortina D'Ampezzo. The rifugio we were planning to stay in for the night was a short hike up from a car park on the southern slopes of the group, perhaps 15 or so kilometres from Passo Giau.
Unacceptable Mountain Traffic
Unfortunately, we were quite held up on the final bit of our journey. We caught up to a large, full-sized Dutch touring bus (from the company http://www.ruijsreizen.nl/), slowly lumbering north down the road from Passo Giau. It wasn't so much that it was going very slowly - it was that it was so oversized for the narrow mountain road that it often had to cross over the center line (making it difficult for oncoming cars and also to overtake). Moreover, the many hairpins on the road were barely navigable by such a long-wheelbased vehicle, and it essentially had to take up the entire width of the road, inching around the tightly-spaced corners. Even cyclists were backed up behind this thing. Shame on this company for clogging up the road with this large vehicle. A much smaller truck/bus would have been reasonable. This was not.
Dibona Parking Lot
Finally, we managed to get by the big bus, and resumed normal forward progress. Soon we were driving up a narrow side road to a large parking lot near another mountain hut, the rifugio Dibona. From here we would take a wide mountain path up to a high pass, in which was located the Rifugio Giussani - our destination. The only problem was, it was nearing 5pm, and if we were going to enjoy our half-board dinner, we would have to arrive before a certain time.
I wasn't sure exactly what that time was, but it could theoretically be as early as 6pm. That meant we had not a lot of time to get our butts up there.
Valon de Tofana
From the parking area, the hut was about 3 kilometres away and 1750 feet (550m) above us. We decided that it probably wasn't wise to risk injuring Roland's ankle with a mad push for the hut. Instead, we chose to split up; I would go ahead at a brisk pace, hopefully arriving before 6pm to secure our rooms and our dinner spots, and Jenn, Stephanie and Roland would continue up at a more sedate speed. This would not be the first time I've had to make a dash to a hut in the dolomites. I distinctly remember doing it a few other times in the past.
Fortunately, the path from the Rifugio Dibona parking lot to the Rifugio Giussani (path 403) is a wide, graded affair. Other than competing against gravity, there was not much to think about as I sweated my way up the Valon de Tofana. Soon I was high enough up to notice thin patches of new snow here and there - a remnant of the early winter weather that had hit the dolomites a few days before.
Approaching Forc. Fontananegra
My progress up to the pass at the top of Valon de Tofana (called the Forcella Fontananegra) went better than expected, and I approached the height of land only forty minutes after starting out. As I was coming around the corner, I noticed a cluster of alpine buildings off to my left, and my first thought was great - I've arrived in good time. Looking a bit more closely, however, something seemed strange. The place had no people around it, or going into it, or coming out of it. It also seemed a touch shabby, as if regular upkeep wasn't being done.
Ex Rifugio Cantore
A faint marking on an outcrop of bedrock up ahead pointed to the rifugio Giussani - in a direction opposite to the structures I was looking at. It was then that I realized that this was a ruined, abandoned rifugio that I had noticed some time back on our topographic maps. This could easily fool the others, I thought, and I decided that once I "checked in" to the correct rifugio, I'd run back down to meet the others and ensure they didn't go off track.
I rushed onward on path 403, and in five more minutes, after following the trail's weaving course through a field of huge boulders, I arrived at the rifugio Giussani. This was more like it - clean and tidy, with people sitting outside, the sound of a running generator, and periodic ingresses and egresses.
Sweaty and a bit disheveled, I entered the rifugio and presented myself at the front desk, where I introduced myself on behalf of our four-person group. Happily, it turned out that dinner was at 7pm, meaning that the others actually had quite a bit of time left to arrive (it was only 5:45pm at this point), and I needn't have rushed up here after all. Of course, that's all fine to say in hindsight. We did the prudent thing, and it turned out to be not necessary - c'est la vie.
In any case, after registering and securing the key to our private room, I headed back down the trail to the others. Sure enough, they had done exactly what I had guessed they might, and I could seem them starting to walk towards the abandoned rifugio. I called over and told them that the real rifugio was over this way. However, since we now had time until dinner, we figured we might as well explore these old spooky ruins.
Abandoned Rifugio Structures
Abandoned Rifugio Structures
Abandoned Rifugio Structures
Passo Fontananegra (and therefore, rifugio Giussani) was substantially higher than Rifugio Velo della Madonna (almost 800 feet higher / 250m), and further north. As a result, it was colder and snowier, and we were glad to retreat to the rifugio's warm, comfortable interior. We settled into our bedroom, then made our way down to the main dining area, where we chatted and awaited the 7pm dinner time. The place was substantially busier than had been the rifugio Velo della Madonna, but even so, it was not close to full capacity - proving once again that the mid-September shoulder season is a good time to visit.
Dining Room, Rif. Giussani
After another excellent alpine hut multi-course meal (complete with wine and sparkling mineral water), we retreated up to our room for a nice early start to sleep. Tomorrow, much as today had been, would be a composite of multiple mountain walks and climbs stitched together by driving.
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Hike to Rif Giussani - click map to view
Hike Data - Rif Dibona to Rif Guissani
* : +/- 75 feet