The Dolomites - Alta Pusteria

Getting there

It was a long trip from Chamonix, where we had just completed the Tour du Mont Blanc, to The Dolomites. Two buses to get to Aosta, plus five changes of train (not to mention an extra day stranded in Aosta due to an Italian train strike) to eventually arrive in Toblach, not far from the Austrian border. We had passed through Verona, where we looked for the two gentleman. They were certainly not at the railway station, where a hot and flustered crowd of Italians on holidays struggled to get on the overcrowded train. I had earlier spent over an hour standing in the aisle as we crossed the plains of Milan - and that was first class! July is probably not the time to be in Europe.

A quiet street in old Aosta

Storm clouds build up over The Dolomites

Church of Santa Maria in Aufkirchen

Roman arches in Aosta

Part of the old Roman forum - Aosta

Still, we arrived, if somewhat late, and checked into the apartment that we had rented in the quiet little village of Aufkirchen (or Santa Maria), just outside of Toblach (or Dobbiaco). Welcome to Südtirol, the German speaking part of Italy, an officially bilingual region, and for which reason most names that I mention from now on will have their alternative in both languages. My high-school German is going to get a workout after all - it would certainly serve me better than my non-existent Italian.

View of Toblach and the Sextner Dolomites from the village of Aufkirchen

Apart from language deficiencies, we were well set up, with a comfortable and well-equipped apartment, friendly hosts and a spectacular thunderstorm to welcome us to The Dolomites that evening.

We were already looking forward to the next week, discovering a different part of The European Alps, even though it was July and we would be sharing the experience with a horde of holidaying Europeans.

Before the storm (view from our apartment)
However, The Alta Pusteria (or Hoch Pustertal) region caters well for the many walkers attracted to its marvels - tracks lead like lacework across the landscapes and a network of buses can take you to any number of start points or or pick you up from end points. Armed with a multiday bus pass, you can design your own walks, which is what we planned to do - a series of day-walks of varying length to wind down from our hard 12-days on The Tour du Mont Blanc, time to relax a bit while exploring the many different facets of this amazing region.

Walk 1 - Rotwand / Croda Rossi (8.5 km - 420m ascent - 710m descent)

The early mists hung low in the valley giving the landscape an ethereal quality - making us keen to start our exploration of this part of The Dolomites. For this we had chosen a shortish walk in a group of peaks known as the Sextner Rotwand, a chance to get close to the towering formations without any serious climbing. As was to become a ritual, our day started with a 1½ km walk down a quiet road to Toblach from Aufkirchen, but with views like we had over Toblach in its lush green valley to the rugged peaks of the Sextner Dolomites it would be a very pleasant way to start each day. By the time that we had sorted out how things worked (or didn't on a Sunday), it was already 10am and already very hot, when we caught the local bus to Bad-Moos and took the telecabine up to the start of the walk at Rotwandwiesen / Prati di Croda Rosa, a grassy plateau high above the valley floor.

The green meadows of the Rotwandwiesen

Start of the track beneath the Sextner Rotwand

At 1900m, the air was a bit cooler, as we headed off across the lush green meadow of the Rotwandwiesen, yet another wildflower wonderland, to find the start of Route 100. This track led us quickly up to a low rocky prow above the plateau with impressive views back over the Sextner / Sesto Valley, framed to the east by the green-capped mountains bordering Austria and to the west by the rocky bastions of the Dreischusterspitze / Punta del Tre Scarperi and its neighbouring peaks. For the first time we began to appreciate the sheer vertical scale of these mountains.

Panorama of 3092m Elferkofel and 2698m Einserkofel

From the viewpoint, we followed the narrow ridge even higher to take in views further up the Fiscalina Valley cutting in from the south-east. After a steep climb, the track left the ridge to sidle upwards across some quite exposed sections (for me), followed by a a set of steep wooden steps to reach the high point of the track at 2150m. Here the views had expanded to take in the bluff spires of Elferkofel / Cima Undici and across the valley the route up to Rifugio Locatelli beyond the dark bulk of the Einserkofel / Cima Una. All this sweeping around to the Dreischusterspitze. an amazing amphitheatre of rock in which to enjoy our lunch. The only thing that spoiled it was the realisation that big cumulus clouds were starting to build up quickly.

View back over the Val Fiscalina

Track beneath the 2169m Burgstall

The steep face of the 2939m Rotwand

To continue on route 100 would have taken us down into the Fiscalina Valley (which we planned to explore later), so having enjoyed the views, we doubled back to the top of the prairie to pick up route 15, heading around the eastern flank of the Rotwand. We climbed gently for a while on the very rocky track as it took us over a blocky slope of long-fallen rocks beneath the Rotwandkopfe before starting a long gentle descent around the bulky cliffs of the Burgstall / Castelliere.

The route beneath the cliffs of Burgstall and the dome of Rotwand

The jagged eastern face of the Rotwand

Crossing a grove of larch beneath Burgstall

Rocky path through the firs

The sky to the north was becoming very dark and the first faint rolls of thunder broke the still silence as we rounded this point to enter some beautiful larch forest, climbing over a rocky spur to head south towards the face of the Rotwand and its neighbouring spires - a jagged line of towering rock. The track then led us out of the larch forest to cross a broad scree bowl directly beneath the spires. The peals of thunder were echoing off their rock faces and the rain began to fall - this open scree slope was not a good place to be at such a time, though fortunately the rain was not very heavy. By the time that we reached the forest again it was already lightening up, and we descended through a lovely rock-garden and past an old World War One bunker to enter the thick fir forest of the lower slopes.

A rock garden on the eastern slopes

One last backward glimpse of the mountain

The hotel at the Kreuzbergpass

The winding track led us down to the Kreuzberg Pass / Paso Monte Cruco, with its hotel and bus stop. The latter was of most interest as we arrived just in time to catch the bus and head back to home base. It was a great introduction, both to the landscapes of the Dolomites and to its weather, with a propensity for afternoon thunderstorms - something we might need to take into account when we do a longer and higher walk later in the week.

Walk 2 - A lazy day at the Pragser Wildsee (9 km - 310m ascent - 310m descent)

It looked like the high pressure cell was going to hang over Europe for at least the rest of the week, which meant hot days, blue mornings and, most probably, cloud build up and thunderstorms in the early afternoon. Today we were feeling a bit lazy, so planned a shortish walk around a different group of peaks further west. It was also the site of one of the most beautiful lakes in the Dolomites - the Pragser Wildsee (or Lago di Braies).

The exquisite turqoise water of Pragser Wildsee framed by the 2810m Seekofel

Our walk from Aufkirchen to Toblach was followed by a bus trip from Toblach to the luxury hotel at the head of the lake. The place was packed with people and it became clear that it is a very popular spot. When we wandered down to the lakeshore we understood why - a long body of vividly turquoise water backed by the massive rock face of the Seekofel (Croda de Becco), and framed on either side by The Apostels and the Schwarzberg. Around the edge fir trees reflected in the still waters - exquisite!

A little chapel on the Pragser Wildsee

Reflections in a still reach of the lake

Track beneath Die Apostels

At th esouthern end of the lake

Wildsee (wild lake) is probably a misnomer for this lake - fine as it is, it has been tamed for a long time, with carefully groomed paths around its shore line, large hotel and even a little chapel showing the domination of the human species over nature. Still, this didn't detract from its beauty and we joined the masses in walking the perimeter - first passing a still reflective inlet and then traversing beneath the sheer cliffs of the Apostels to reach the southern end of the lake. Here the fair Nello found a shady, quiet spot on the lake edge and declared it time to sit and just enjoy. I wandered for a short distance up one of the two side valleys cutting in on either side of Seekofel - on a glaringly white scree of chunky broken dolomite where scattered stunted larch struggled to stay upright against the inevitable downward movement of the rocks - before succumbing to temptation and joining Nello on the shore watching the play of light on the lake surface and the odd brave soul having a swim in its cold waters.

Looking back over Schwarzberg and the lake from the scree slopes

Larch colonising the rocky scree

A meadow in the aptly named Grunwald Valley

Even earlier than yesterday, the cloud began to build up above us, so we headed on up the other valley. It was very different in character, a long green valley of mixed fir, larch and pine climbing gently westward. We had barely entered it when the first peals of thunder rang out and soon after the rain started - heavy enough to drive us under a thick fir, sitting like garden gnomes in our ponchos beneath a dripping tree.

Can you spot the waterfall?

As we waited for the rain to clear, other walkers scurried down the track in all manner of wet weather gear (or none) from further up the valley. We were not yet ready to abandon the day and when, 30 minutes later, the rain eased, we continued upwards past a thin silvery waterfall in a notch of the rock walls to our left, to reach the large open pasture of Grünwald Alm and its small buvette. It seemed a good idea to have a beer here, taking in the pleasantly damp surrounds as raindrops pattered on the large sun umbrella above.

The Grünwald Alm

The track up the Grünwald Valley

Time for a coffee stop

Tranquil scene on the Pragser Wildsee

A curious grey-pink light after the rain

Toblach sparkles in the afternoon sunshine

The rain eventually cleared, but now it was time to head back down the Grünwald Valley. Above its fir and larch, the wet dolomite of the rock towers took on a slightly pinkish tint - a different mood entirely to the morning. Reaching the lake, we completed the loop of its shores along a broad gravel track and caught the bus home.

By the time we got back, the rain and dark clouds had moved on and the village of Toblach was sparkling in the late afternoon sun. The Pragser Wildsee had offered us a very different landscape to that which we saw yesterday, but it was still one of the valleys and slopes - now it was time to explore the high trails.

Walk 3 - Val Fiscalina to Rifugio Auronzo (14.5 km - 1340m ascent - 460m descent)

The plan for today was to do a crossing of the Sextner Dolomites from Val Fiscalina (Fischleintal) to the Val de Ladio (Hohlensteintal), which proved to be a bit too ambitious. Our start was dictated by bus timetables, so we wandered down the road from Aufkirchen, taking note of the somewhat cloudier morning sky, and caught the bus from Toblach to the Hotel Dolomiten in the Val Fiscalina, in time to be heading up the valley by 8.45am.

Viewed from beyond, the valley is hemmed in by the rock walls of Punta Tre Scarperi and the Rotwand, and its head is dominated by the massive pyramid of the Zwolferkofel - a superb setting. With the strange tricks of perspective, the Zwolferkofel had all but disappeared when looking up the valley from the Hotel Dolomiten, hidden by the now greater mass of Cima Una.

Heading up the valley toward 2698m Einserkofel

The legendary giant twins

In the Val Fiscalina

The route up the valley was broad and almost flat, passing beneath scattered fir, and we soon reached Rifugio Fondo Valle. Looking up at the sheer rock face of Einserkofel (Cima Una) over a 1000m above, we noticed a whitish scar high up, which a sign informed us was where 60,000 cubic metres of rock fell down in 2007, smothering the valley in a blanket of white limestone dust - only three years ago, something to bear in mind as we zig-zagged steeply up the old scree directly beneath the peak. The climb had well and truly started.

View back down the Val Fiscalina from beneath Einserkofel

By the time we reached a broad shelf high above the floor of the upper valley, the sun was over the crest of the Rotwand and we were grateful for scattered firs that grew there. The views back over the lower Val Fiscalina and beyond were superb. The path climbed steadily upwards on a rocky trail - we were encouraged onwards by the increasingly closer views of Croda del Toni (Zwölferkofel) at the head of the valley, until we crossed one last rocky knob and there it was in all its 3094m of splendour - a massive pyramid of rock rising out of the scree to dominate the landscape.

3094m Zwölferkofel at the head of Val Fiscalina

Track across the upper Val Fiscalina

An alternate view of Zwölferkofel

The climb, however, did not stop here - turning westward to traverse the slope across from Croda del Toni, we made a steep zig-zagging ascent of a rocky outcrop on which perched the Rifugio Comici / Zsigmondy. Our shirts were saturated with perspiration by the time we reached the refuge, 770m above our start point. Even at 4 euro a glass, the orangina on the terrace overlooking this amazing landscape was worth it.

Zwölferkofel dominates the skyline

We didn't stay long, as there was still another 300+m of climbing to do. We set off, heading quickly upwards through a glaringly white landscape of jagged dolomite outcrops, crossing small flats of flower-filled herbfields, and winding up through the alleyways and twisting rocky tracks in this surreal landscape - the shape and setting of Croda del Toni and its neighbouring peaks gradually changing with our progress.

A rugged landscape of limestone blocks

The build up of cumulus clouds that drifted by created patterns of light and shadow that only contributed to the stark beauty of our surrounds, while the cooling breeze that accompanied this was a welcome relief for the climb.

Rifugio Comici / Zsigmondy Hütte

Flower-speckled herbfield above Rifugio Comici

Panorama of the Hochbrunner Schneid from below the Fiscalina Pass

Track up to the Fiscalina Pass

Cresting the Fiscalina Pass, an entire new aspect of the mountains suddenly appeared as we looked out on to a long ridge leading up to the bulky mass of Patternkofel and Passportenkopf. A short traverse on a path cut into the steep rock slope brought us to Rifugio Pian de Cengia, tucked into the ridge and overlooking the broad valley that swept away to the south. It was a good place for yet another lunch with a view.

Approching Rifugio Pian di Cengia / Bullelejoch Hütte

The Punta dell'Agnel

Southerly view from the ridge near Pian di Cengia - the route down

Alpine choughs

Sunshine on an unknown mesa

Climbing a little bit more to reach the narrow crest of the east-west ridgeline, we were greeted with one of the best 360° panoramas that I have seen - deep valleys to the north and south framed by the majestic rock towers of The Dolomites.

Northerly view form the ridge near Pian di Cengia

The sheer walls of Passportenkopf

We left the ridge to descend southwards into the upper Val Cengia, passing remnants of World War One bunkers on our way down to the pale green Lake Cengia - looking tiny beneath sheer orange-tinted rock walls. In the distance, for the first time we could see the edge of the iconic Tre Cime (Dreizinnen), its summits hidden in the cloud layer.

Panorama of the upper Val Cengia

Lake Cengia

From Lake Cengia, we descended even further to cross the upper reaches of the Val Cengia - its green herb-fields ending abruptly as the cliffs dropped off dramatically into the deep valley below.

A final steep climb for the day up a stony road around the base of Passportenkopf, brought us to just below the saddle that separated Passportenkopf from the Tre Cime.

Dark clouds over the meadows of Val Cengia

The mountains beyond

Cloud starting to lift off Tre Cime

The incredible setting of Rifugio Lavaredo

For the first time since we arrived, the sun won the battle of the sky - there was no thunderstorm or rain and the cloud cover decreased. In front of us, free from its misty crown, lay the huge pillar of the easternmost of the Tre Cime, and dwarfed below it at the base of a broad scree slope, the stone buildings of Rifugio Lavaredo - we were starting to get a pain in the neck from looking upwards.

The eastern pillar of Tre Cime (Dreizinnen)

Chapel at Lavaredo

Rifugio Auronzo on its balcony

Looking down the Val d'Auronzo far below

For the first time today, we were amongst the crowds of walkers - Tre Cime is, without doubt, the top attraction in the Sextner Dolomites, largely because it is accessible by a relatively new toll road (a debatable issue for those who believe reward should be commensurate with effort).

Track around the base of th Tre Cime

A curious afternoon light

From Lavaredo, it was but a short flat walk around the base of the scree, passing the three (or four?) pillars of Tre Cime to reach the large and rather colourless Refugio Auronzo, more hotel than refuge, with its huge car park for the multitude of day-trippers who drive up here. Over a coffee, we took stock of our walk and realised that, if we continued as planned, we would not be down in time to catch the bus back to Toblach. We decided to abandon the crossing and call it a day at Tre Cime - it seemed appropriate to end on this highlight and, in fact, we were already in a state of sensory overload from the incredible landscapes that we had passed - no point blowing a fuse. There was enough time to complete this walk at the end of the week.

Walk 4 - The Karnische Hohenweg (16.5 km - 660m ascent - 1390m descent)

It was time for something completely different. After three walks amongst the dolomitic rock formations, we decided to seek out new rocks and do a ridge walk on the schists of the Karnische Range, just across the valley from Sextner Dolomites, yet so different geologically and also geopolitically - today we would walk (be it ever so briefly) in Austria. Our usual bus trip to the start point brought us the the Sexten-Helm telepherique, which took us up over 900m above the valley floor - that was a climb that would have sapped a lot of energy on this hot summer day. At 2060m, though, the air was cooler and there was a pleasant breeze.

High above the Sesto Valley

We found the route, a wide gravel road that led gently upwards from the telepherique station, curving around the slope through green flower-filled alpine meadows, the valley below with the villages of Moos and Sexten, backed by the impressive silhouettes of the Sextner Dolomites, patches of cloud sticking to their peaks.

Panorama of the Sextner Dolomites and Sesto Valley

Passing Rifugio Gallo Cedrone (Hahnspielhütte), we reached a point where a zig-zagging footpath attacked the steep spur full-on to climb up to the old abandoned hut on top of Monte Elmo (Helm). We were now on the ridge-line of the Carnian Alps - sloping down to the east was Austria and sloping back to the west lay Italy.

The hut on Monte Elmo (Helm)

Austria to the left - Italy to the right

A short descent later and we joined up with the Karnische Höhenweg, a long distance track that follows this undulating ridge-line, weaving in and out of Austria and Italy, depending on which side of the ridge the track followed. The views eastward looked down deep into the valleys of Austria, while westward the jagged outline of the cloud-topped Dolomites dominated the horizon. It was perfect ridge-walking.

Climbing up past a shallow alpine lake, we reached the Austrian refuge (by 10m) of Sillianhütte and took a break, along with a bunch of other walkers - from the number of "Grüss Gotts" received in greetings, a lot of these had come up from the Austrian side.

Panorama of Rotwand and Dreischusterspitz from just above Sillianhütte (on the right)

A small alpine lake in Austria

Close up of Dolomites from the Austrain border

The track continued to climb up the bare green ridgeline, sidling past the rounded dome of Hochgruben to climb steeply once again up to the more pronounced peak of Hornischegg, passing old World War One bunkers just below the summit. At 2550m, it was the high point of our walk and it was time for lunch - "would you like to eat in Italy or Austria?" asked the fair Nello. "Austria" I replied, so we stepped two metres over and enjoyed our sandwiches to the sight of cloud shadows rolling across the rugged eastern versant of the Carnian Alps.

Panorama of the Austrian versant of the Carnian Alps

The track up to 2550m hornischegg

Old Word War I bunkers

On the Karnische Hoheweg

One of many tiny lakes dotting the ridge

Austro-Italian border marker

Leaving the crowds behind, we descended the peak to follow the ridgeline and border for a bit longer, before finally farewelling Austria and starting a long descent back into Italy. The track wound slowly around a large, schist-rubbled bowl and then dropped steadily westwards as it followed the slope of a lushly green side valley. Ahead lay the superb panorama of the Sextner Dolomites - Rotwand, Zwolferkofel, Tre Cime, Tre Scarperi, Haunold - a jagged line of sheer rock walls.

Alpine rhododendrons

Cattle and horses having a siesta

Across the meadow to Dreischustersoitze

The road back in to Italy

Locals enjoying the sunshine

In the shade of the firs

At the bottom of the valley, we had to detour from the path as a herd of bell-janging cattle had decided to use it for a rest place, to cut across several hairpins in the track to reach the Klammbachhütte, a combined farmhouse / restaurant.

A jagged Dolomite skyline

The route now turned northward to traverse the pastures and enter a beautiful and welcome section of larch forest (the valley air was becoming still and hot). It soon started to descend rapidly, passing from larch into tall fir forest and, with glimpses out to the Dolomites beyond, was a very pleasant section to walk in on a hot day.

Entering the larch forest

The track then joined a gravel road which, on leaving the forest to wind its way around chalets on steep grassy slopes, morphed into a quiet sealed road to emerge high above the village of Moos. From here the views down the Val Fiscalina and its surrounding jagged peaks were simply stunning. It probably would have been a good place to finish the walk, but unfortunately a bit more road-walking along the valley slope with one last descent via a combination of sealed road, short-cuts across hairpins and steep footpath saw us emerge at the base of the telepherique in Sexten.

Panorama from above Moos - Val Fiscalina framed by Rotwand, Einserkofel and Dreischusterspitze

What a beautiful walk it had been, not only a different landscape, but seeing the Dolomites from a distance gave a very different perspective to these mountains. We felt happy that we had managed to find four walks that revealed so many different facets of the area, but, with only one day left, it was time to revisit one of them. In the end, the choice was not really difficult - tomorrow we would head back into the dramatic heartland of the high mountains.

Walk 5 - Tre Cime Circuit and down to Lake Misurina (16.5 km - 470m ascent - 1070m descent)

It was our last wander down from Aufkirchen to Toblach to catch a very full bus to the start of our walk at Rifugio Auronzo. For our last day, we planned to finish the crossing that we had started a few days ago from Val Fiscalina and which ended at the refuge. Before doing this, we would do the famous circuit around the iconic Tre Cime formation. For the first time a lot of cloud had greeted us when we awoke, so much that when our bus arrived at the refuge, we were completed fogged in - not a thing to be seen.

We retreated into the refuge for a coffee and waited - within twenty minutes the first rays of sunlight penetrated the cloud barrier and within another twenty minutes, the cloud began to break up from below, revealing the ethereal and misty forms of the Tre Cime pillars. We set off.

Looking south toward the Cadin Group

The cloud lifts to reveal the pillars of Tre Cime

Sunlight breaking through the cloud

We went against the tide of walkers by setting out in a clockwise direction, crossing a rocky terrain to reach the Col di Mezzo, looking out across the bare flat top of Monte Piano, the site of trench warfare between Austrian and Italian troops during the Great War. This whole area was a strategic battleground. Reaching the col, we were suddenly confronted with yet another sweeping panoramic view - not only the hazily backlit and cloud-capped Tre Cime to the east, but the brightly sunlit faces of the Monte Rudo (Rautkofel) massif and the lone mesa of Torre del Scarperi (Schwabenalpenkopf) across the deep Valle della Rienza to the north, followed by a long saddle between sunlit Sasso di Sesto (Sextnerstein) and the shadowy western face of Monte Paterno - breathtaking.

The flat top of Monte Piano - a WWI battleground

Crossing the scree above a gorge framed by Bullkopfe Group

A backlit view of the Tre Cime

Traversing a steep scree slope that dropped off into a deep ravine, we slowly moved around the western edge of Tre Cime, through an undulating and jagged landscape of limestone rock, low scrubby pine and pretty lakes set in their rocky hollows.

Looking over Val rinbon otwards the pass with Rifugio Locatelli (can you spot it?)

Alpine lake beneath Tre Cime

The fair Nello spotted a group of rock-climbers part way up the 600m almost vertical rock-face of the central pillar and we watched for a while as they slowly and nervelessly inched upwards. Pushing on, we reached the low mound of Col Forcellina and dropped down the scree on its far side. For the first time the pillars of the Tre Cime vanished from sight - a chance for the other peaks to strut their stuff, without this show pony stealing the limelight.

View down the Valle della Rienza

The jangling of cowbells drifted up from the grassy flat below, as we steadily descended to the meadows of the Val Rinbon. Passing the recumbent cows, contentedly chewing their cuds, we then climbed steeply up and out of the valley, regaining all our lost height to reach Rifugio Locatelli, set on a saddle in the heart of the Sextner Dolomites, with 360° panoramic views.

Cow grazing beneath Schwalbenkofel and Schwalbenalpenkopf

Rifugio Locatelli

The classic view of the 3003m Tre Cime formation

Here are the classic travel brochure views of the Tre Cime formation - though always more spectacular in real life than in print, as the pillars began to free themselves of the last vestiges of clinging cloud. The refuge is a magnet for day-walkers and we met up with the crowds, mainly doing the circuit in the opposite direction.

The fair Nello raises the flag (Italian of course!)

View eastwards from Rifugio Locatelli towards Altensteinspitze

Looking across from the saddle we could see two routes heading southwards across the steep scree beneath the jagged ridge of Monte Paterno - the narrower high road and the broad low road - we took the high road, with its better views and mild adrenalin surge on the slightly more exposed passages past rocky outcrops.

One of the great alpine panoromas - the dark pyramid of Paternkofel next to the Dreizinnen (Tre Cime)

The whiteness of the scree was tempered by a scattering of yellow poppies, as the path led us out to the saddle between Passportenkofel and Tre Cime. As we approached, our view of the formations narrowed to a set of overlapping pillars.

Yellow scree poppies

Steep crossing beneath Paternkofel
In fact, all along our circuit, although we were surrounded by the same landscape, the changes in alignment and perspective of different peaks created a series of very different vistas.

Skyline near Rifugio Locatelli

Admiration for Tre Cime

View back from the Patern saddle toward the 2617m Sextner Stein and Rifugio Locatelli

At the foot of Tre Cime

As we descended the saddle to pick up our route of the other day near Rifugio Lavaredo, the southern face of Tre Cime was now in full sun, highlighting its orange tints. To fully appreciate this facet, we wandered out to a grassy meadow between cliff edge and rock pillars and admired the formations over a slow lunch. Now should it really be Tre Cime? From Rifugio Locatelli, there are clearly three pillars visible, but from here , four, five maybe?

The jagged profile of the Cadini Group

Tre Cime (or Cinque Cime?) - who cares - it's just plain magnificent

Time was getting on and we needed to complete the crossing, so we followed our footsteps of the previous day back to our start point of Rifugio Auronzo and then headed on down an old Great War mule track. This took us steeply through a rocky valley beneath the formations of the Cadini group of peaks. We crossed the sealed vehicle road to pass through a beautiful section of rock garden, before entering the pleasant shade of larch and fir.

Descent from Rifugio Auronzo

A brilliant limestone rock garden

Parting (and very different) view of Tre Cime

Nearing the bottom and wanting to avoid a roadside walk, we started to follow a series of red spot-marked trails that traversed the dense fir-covered lower slopes. However, deciding that they were going to lead us straight to the witch's house, we detoured down an old disused ski-lift track and then a very steep footpath to emerge at the shallow, reedy backwaters of Lake Misurina - a very tranquil setting beneath the rocky peaks. Following the shoreline around to the main body of the lake, with its Grand Hotel and even grander backdrop of mountain and forest, we declared the crossing completed.

Mountain stream on the old mule track

The reed beds of Lake Misurina

Cloud reflected in Lake Misurina

The paastel-green church in Toblach ....

The beauty of alpine lakes

It was a great final day in the Dolomites, revisiting the magnificent formations of the higher parts and reminding ourselves of the beauty of forest, meadow and lake that accompany the spectacular rock formations.

.... with its ornate baroque interior

With a bit of time to spare before the bus arrived to take us back to Toblach, we celebrated in Italian style, with a gelato on the shore of the lake. The bus on the way home was standing room only - in fact, as we entered the full-on holiday period, the Dolomites themselves were becoming standing room only. It was time to move on, filled with pleasant memories of one of the most spectacular mountain regions that we have visited.