Back in the autumn I spent a couple of weeks travelling in the Italian Dolomites, some of the most beautiful mountains in Europe. I’d planned the trip at this time of year as late September/early October is when the trees are starting to turn golden and when the tourist season has passed leaving the trails and many of the more popular locations empty.
Getting to the Dolomites is actually pretty easy, you just pick up a rental car at Venice airport and then it’s a two hour drive north into the mountains, and by early afternoon we were passing through the town of Cortina d’Ampezzo on our way to our first destination. I’d planned to stay a couple of nights at the rifugio on the shores of Lago Federa on the Croda da Lago trail, which meant a bit of a hike up through the forest to get there. We parked the car in the lay-by next to the road and transferred the stuff we’d need for the next couple of nights into our backpacks. The rifugio has comfortable mattresses but doesn't provide bedding so we had our sleeping bags with us, clothes for a couple of days, and of course all my camera gear and drone. It’s a beautiful walk up through ancient forest with views out over the surrounding peaks.
We took our time as it’s quite steep in places, and after getting up at 4am to get to the airport we were pretty tired. It’s a 400m ascent across a 6km hike, and after about an hour and half we had climbed to the flat plateau between peaks where the alpine lake of Lago Federa is situated.
It was close enough to sunset for me to find spot and get some shots before we headed over to the Rifugio at the lake’s edge. After a warm meal we went straight to bed and quickly fell asleep after such a long day. The next morning I was up for the sunrise and heading around the lake to find a shooting location. I wanted to get something different from the more obvious lake reflection shot from the water’s edge and so scrambled up the slope beneath the cliffs to get above the trees where I could see some of the surrounding peaks as the sun came up. It was a lovely place to spend some time watching the colours of the sky change and then the sun sweep over the trees.
The light was wonderful and on the way back I kept stopping to capture more images of the golden trees being illuminated by early morning light before eventually getting back to the hut to get breakfast.
We spent the day hiking around the area, sitting under the trees in the beautiful forest and exploring the local trails. It really is a wonderful area and one I’m really excited to bringing a workshop to next year as it’s a location that almost no other workshops visit. I spent the evening at the edge of the lake shooting the sunset and then once again the next morning in the same location where I was treated to a wonderful sunrise as mist rose up the valley and swirled around the peaks.
After breakfast we packed up and headed back through the forests, down the trail to where we’d left our rental car parked 2 days previously. I’d been blown away by Croda da Lago, it really is a spectacular location, and while we’d hiked up through the forests it also possible to access it via a 4x4 alpine taxi. When I bring the workshop here next year we’ll be travelling up from Cortina to shoot the lake at sunrise in a comfortable Land Rover making it a much easier experience and allowing us to save a lot of time and energy.
After getting back to our car we headed into Cortina for lunch and then struck out west across the high passes of the Dolomites towards Val di Funes. There are some stunning roads on this route and the passes across the mountains are particularly incredible. We headed across Passo Falzarego and then Passo delle Erbe, where the peaks of Peitlerkofel loom over the eastern end of Val di Funes.
It was at this point that the weather turned. There was lots I wanted to see in the area, and from our base in Gufidaun I’d planned to photograph the churches of Santa Maddalena and San Giovanni as well as the high alpine plain of Alpi di Suisi, so we’d planned to stay for 3 days but in the end we had pretty terrible conditions which meant the peaks of Sassalongo were perpetually covered in cloud while I was there, and I never really saw them.
I had a little bit more luck with the churches, but not much. The beginning of October saw Oktoberfest in full swing around the valleys and the village of Santa Maddalena was the location of a Spekfest and completely surrounded by all the paraphernalia of the festival. The weather also didn’t play ball, so on the two sunrises I went there to shoot it it was made invisible by thick fog. With the iconic church of Sa Giovanni I only had the opportunity to shoot it unsubtle afternoon light, but even then it’s a lovely location beneath the peaks of Sass Rigais and Furchetta.
After three days and the weather refusing to lift we moved to our next base in the neighbouring Val Gardena. I wanted to shoot the peaks of the Odle/Geisler group from Seceda, and for this I’d arranged to stay in the comfortable Almhotel Col Raiser on the shoulder of the mountain a few kilometres from the top of Seceda. When we parked our car in the valley at Santa Cristina it was still foggy and raining but the cable car up to the Col Raiser slowly saw us rising above the low lying cloud that was filling the valley. The hotel itself was lovely with views from our room of the incredible peaks of Sassalongo, which I'd been unable to see from Alpi di Suisi on previous days, rising above the cloud right infront of us.
We took spent the afternoon taking it easy in the hotel before I set off for the top of the Seceda to shoot sunset at the peak. The walk up the steeply sloping glass slope ascends a little over 400m before reaching the the sheer drop over the cliff which overlooks the Val di Funes, where we’d spent so much time in the previous days. While the walk is perfectly doable it does take quite a while and for future workshops here we’ll do the ascent from the valley by 4x4 alpine taxi, taking out the lung busting walk up the hill and the need to descend back to the accommodation in the dark. On my first night there I shared the top with a Canadian photographer who’d planned to spend the night sleeping at the chair lift station at the top, he didn’t have a tent and at 2500m I’m pretty sure he must have been quite cold. The sky was pretty clear that evening as it turned out, and the best shots were of the alpenglow after the sun had gone down and the peak was glowing with reflected light. The views pack across to the neighbouring Sassolongo and of the cloud filled valleys were also lovely.
Heading back to the hotel in the dark I managed to get a bit lost and ended up going further down towards the valley than I intended, passing beneath Col Raiser ridge before realising I’d gone too far, and then having to climb back up again. Still, that night I slept like a log in the incredibly comfortable room after the effort of making the steep climb. Sunrise the next day wasn’t particularly interesting, and I spent the day with Teresa exploring the different trails around the Seceda and putting together footage for the X-T20 video.
That evening Teresa decided to make the climb to the top of Seceda with me, and this time we found a shorter, but no less steep route to the top. At the peak this time I met a fellow Fuji photographer Julius and his girlfriend Oya and while the sky above the Odle/Geisler peaks wasn’t much better than on the previous evening we were treated to some amazing sunset colours in the opposite direction to the west.
It's always nice to meet new people when out shooting and we passed the evening in good company before setting off back down the slope again, and on this evening we made no mistake and got back to the hotel without any problems. After another good nights sleep we had breakfast then caught the cable car back down into the valley to head back across the high passes to the east and our next destination around Tre Cime.