The fourth day of our honeymoon remembered….
The sun rise and mist give the mountains a blueish tint in the morning. Susan watches from our hotel balcony as young backpapers pour out of the buses and remembers when European youths carried simpler leather rectangular backpacks. Susan needs a sleepsack to stay in the rifugio so we visit the sporting goods store next to the hotel. Susan is unable to communicate “sleepsack” in fractured German even to the staff member who speaks English, but when Liam mimes sleeping the woman leads us right to the sleepsacks. In the town square next to the church the Friday market is set up where we stock up on apples for the hike. One of the vendors wears a Tirolean hat much to Liam’s delight. At the bakery, Susan says “drei” when she means “zwei” so we end up with three pretzels and three rolls. There are worse things.
We ride a free shuttle bus to the Seiser Alm Bahn, the cable car which will carry us 800 meters higher in elevation to the town of Compatsch in the Alpe de Siusi. Aboard the gondola, a friendly couple from Stuttgart — the first of many middle-age German couples we’d encounter — point out the ruins of a 500-year-old ruins of a castle. They also tell us about the Haflingers, the stocky horses specially bred to perform hard work in alpine meadows. In Compatsch we are greeted by the sight of a Haflinger standing by a cross so still we weren’t sure if it was live or a model. Liam decides it’s a representative of “Haflingers for Christ.”
We walk through the town and begin our hike on the wide paths across the meadow of the Alpe di Siussi. The grade is gentle as we amble across the meadow, but the limestone peaks loom ominously in the distance. Along the way we encounter paddocks of Haflingers, grazing cows and sheep, and a barnyard with free-range bunnies. The cowbells and sheep-bells add a gentle tinkling music to the meadow which can be heard clearly even at some distance from the animals. We stop at the Saltnerhutte, a rifugio that only provides refreshments for hikers. We enjoy the strudel and Susan quaffs a mug of fresh milk. Beyond the Saltnerhutte we cross a ravine by way of the Tschapitbrücke , a beautiful and award-winning wood bridge. After the bridge we begin the ascent of the Sciliar (in Italian) or the Schlern (in German). Despite the steepness of the slope, the trail follows gentle switchbacks which are much less exhausting than the vertical ascents of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Around each bend is a beautiful view of the Alpe di Siussi or down into the valley as far away as Kastelruth. Changing light and angles have dramatic affect in altering the view.
More hikers appear to be descending than ascending so we offer many a “Gruss Gott!” all the way to the top. Near the end of the hike, Liam’s ability to say “God’s greeting” in German apparently convinces another hiker that Liam can actually converse in the language. The man says something that could mean “You gauche Americans wear shorts while hiking,” or looking at Liam’s Mets’ cap, “You root for a piss-poor baseball team,” or perhaps he said “The Schlernhaus is around the next bend, good luck!” We soon spotted our night’s lodging known as the Schlernhaus/Rifugio Bolzano, which sits dramatically on the mountainside, its peaked roofs giving it the appearance of a chalet. We check into the hutte and stow our bags in our room and head out again to complete our ascent of the Schlern to its highest point: Mt. Pez. The views from 2562 meters are astounding. We can see the across Alpe di Siussi and out to other mountain ranges for miles around. The tinkling of sheep-bells rises even to this lofty height, but otherwise the peak is soothingly quiet. On a nearby plateau someone arranged rocks in the shape of a hand so it looks as if a giant mountain climber is reaching over the cliff edge. Archaeological remains found on Mt. Pez show that it was a sight of sacrifices in prehistoric times as well as witch hunts in the Middle Ages.
We return the hutte for supper, and at the family-style tables we join a German couple. They are friendly at first, but as more German-speakers arrive we begin to feel a bit shunned. The food is good and filling, and nothing is more satisfying than a glass of weisebier after a day’s hike. The hutte-master offers a German Scrabble game — the “Z” is worth a mere 3 points, while vowels with umlauts are worth 8 points each — but we are too tired to play. We head off to our room to crawl into bed. As a bedtime story, Liam shares the Legend of Mt. Pez. On moonlit nights at the stroke of midnight, the peak of Mt. Pez creaks open, and from the yawning chasm out shoots large pieces of candy. For a moment Susan is fooled into believing this to be an actual legend, but only for a moment.
Full photo album from Day # 4: Hiking the Alpe di Siusi and Seiser Alm.