Alta Via 1, Day 1 end, Rifugio Biella

The day started out like a Seattle drizzle that just got worse as the day progressed. I couldn’t even see the Dolomites for which I traveled across the globe to see. (The latitude of the Dolomites is very near that of the Seattle area.)

Due to the rain I realized I had made a big mistake not taking some gloves that could keep my hands warm even when saturated by rain and slush.

The trail was well marked but I could not see any landmarks due to the clouds. GPS tracking was showing I was on the right trail heading in the right direction.

About 3/4 the way up the mountain came my first brief cable assist on the trail. The cable assists are simply floppy hand rails that you would find on stairs. You put one hand on the cable and one hand using a trekking pole to climb and steady yourself.

The key was not to look down and will my cold wet numb hand not to not let go of the safety cable. I was thankful I got past it. An easy success was what I needed to prepare me for what was ahead.

Note the cable on the left next to the “stairs.”

So I slogged up the grade catching my breath every 25 ft or so. I was very impressed with how fast the German and Italian trekkers zoomed past me. I did ok for a 61 year old man not in prime condition.

The rain kept getting worse. My overpriced Gortex rain jacket did its job. I opted not to wear my rain kilt because I didn’t want to overheat. I wanted to run cool, which I did, but not lose control of my fingers. All I could do was plod forward and let my pants get wet.

Then came another run of cables that formed steep switch backs using 1 foot wide ledges in smooth slick rock. With a 30lb pack, poor dexterity in my now numb fingers and a driving rain I was not happy. Not happy at all. Did I mention that I was not happy? (No pictures because I didn’t want to risk damage to my smartphone or camera.)

Nothing like a little anger to trump fear and bring focus and strength. I obviously got past it.

Some people think I’m smart. I have them fooled.

I was relieved to make it to the top of the pass. I had just climbed 3,000 ft in 4 miles. At the top was this very peaceful icon of Mary. She seemed to be pointing to the refugio off in the distance.

As I entered the refugio only one word came to mind: Pandemonium. There were about 20 trekkers in the entry way all dripping wet in grid lock because of their backpacks in a narrow hall all speaking at once in some languages I did not understand. I decided to stand out in the peaceful drizzle. 

Finally things calmed down as trekkers were processed. Seems like many did not have reservations and that was causing the backup.

I couldn’t get my backpack off. My fingers were numb and I couldn’t release the clips. There I stood dripping, blocking the hallway like the others had. A kind lady saw my problem and did the releases for me. I thanked her profusely.

As I was stowing my pack I couldn’t help but notice a little room with a large porcelain hole in a tiled floor with foot treads on either side of the hole with a water tank on the wall. There was also a shower head over it. I had to set that vision aside.

I was assigned to dorm room 2 which had 4 bunk beds. I trudged up the stairs looking forward to getting into some dry clothes. I was half unpacked when a 20-something year old woman looked at me upset and was speaking Italian so rapidly that I could not understand a single word. A man nearby in the hallway said, “wrong room.” I said “scussi,” and went downstairs to resolve the issue.

The clerk then assigned me to room 12 on the third floor. So I went back to room 2 gathered my pack and loose things and moved upstairs.

It looked like all the folks without reservations were assigned to the sardine room (thankfully not my room).  At least they were out of the rain and could get a hot meal and a glass of wine.

Sardine room: Sleeping side by side with strangers

So I got settled in, hung out all my wet gear and changed into dry clothes and a fleece sweater.

Then two women showed up at my dorm room door as surprised as I was. I told them I was just assigned this room and that there must have been a misunderstanding. They went back down and came back up the stairs and said it was mixed room. I went back down stairs and the young woman assigning the rooms simply said “mixed room” and chuckled.

The women each were married and graduated from Humboldt State University in the late ’70s. They knew about about Katy’s Smoke House owned by Sue’s Grandmother. My bunkies… Had some great conversations regarding what one called the sacrificial 50ft swath of filth known as the California Pacific Crest Trail and proper wilderness management. Shared our dog stories too.

We negotiated privacy issues and all was well. The window would be kept wide open for ventilation.

Note the picture below of our dorm room and the signage. This was the women’s dorm room.

Dorm room for women (donne)

The Refugio served the most delicious slab of polenta I have ever tasted with a slab of seasoned grilled mozzarella cheese.  This was local ladin cuisine.

The refugio was very noisy. The rain did let up so I was able to go out a few times to get fresh air and take in the scenery.

Zoom in to see the Mary statuary on the pass

I decided I was not going to use the so called toilet hole in the floor thing.  I can handle and even appreciate things beyond normal American experiences. This was over the line…  Until 2 am and nature called.

Not to be too graphic, but you squat over porcelain hole. Visualize acrobatics and yoga in a very small enclosure so you don’t soil yourself and your clothing. And what about that shower head over that hole? Doubles as a cold water shower or bidet? Don’t want to know. Just don’t touch the valves. Ever.

2 thoughts on “Alta Via 1, Day 1 end, Rifugio Biella

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