Hiking the Translagorai 25 years later

A couple of weeks ago I went hiking the Translagorai, an 80 km-long trail that traverses the whole Lagorai mountain range in the Alps. The route takes place in a mountain environment where the anthropic pressure is reduced, especially compared to the more famous nearby Dolomites destinations. There are very few managed huts, most of which do not offer overnight stays, and relatively few bivouacs (emergency huts, usually dislocated in the most isolated areas along the hike). These characteristics make the Translagorai very attractive to those looking for wild hikes to be travelled in complete self-sufficiency with tent, food, etc. There is rich evidence (remains of barracks, trenches) dating back to the First World War. Translagorai is a brutal, wild, restless, and beautiful route reserved for well-trained, experienced mountain hikers.

I did the route 25-ish years ago with a couple of friends. A tent, some food, super-heavy backpacks, and off we went, up and down the ravines. Overall, it was a great experience that also destroyed us. I have fond memories of those days when

the grass was greener, the light was brighter, with friends surrounded, the nights of wonder.

I never thought I would go back and do the route again, especially not at 50. As the saying goes, however, never say never. My nephew, to whom I somehow passed on my love for wilderness, asked for advice on an exciting route to take with a friend. I sent him a long email with a series of proposals for two-three day tours. In the end, I made the mistake of mentioning the Translagorai as a more brutal but satisfying alternative. I certainly didn’t expect them to choose it; I added it more as a comparison than anything else. Yet, they were so excited about the prospect of venturing out on that route that I couldn’t convince them otherwise. A little apprehensive about the difficulties they would face (they don’t have much experience) and sensing untold fears during the preparation chats, I ended up hinting that I could accompany them if so they wished. I expected a polite refusal. Why would two twenty-somethings want to spend four days alone in the wilderness with a gruff fifty-year-old? To my surprise, they immediately said yes, and with great relief, I think. I was part of the team. I couldn’t believe it. Twenty-five years later, I was going back, and I only had 48 hours to prepare.

Granted, we met more people than I expected or remembered, but other than that, the route has remained pretty much unchanged. Back in the day, we didn’t follow the official, high-altitude course, which always stays on the crest of the Lagorai range. This time we did, and I found it even more beautiful and satisfying. I suspect I’m more fit today than I was in my youth, which might explain how I could happily follow these two young war machines for four full days, high and down the trail, like there was no tomorrow. The two boys impressed me beyond belief. If I provided some help, I think it was because of the mountaineering experience, but sure as hell, they did not need help with motivation and performance. When I made my first trip there, I’m sure we suffered much, much more pain, and we were about their age. Hiking equipment has improved tenfold since the mid-90s, but today backpacks are still heavy. Mountains, they certainly didn’t flatten at all. We slept in tents and ate our food, usually camping by some small, beautiful mountain lake or mountain pass. That, also, hasn’t changed. I am happy to report that Translagorai is still the king of badass wilderness routes in the Alps. Go there only if you are ready, however, or it will tear you apart.

If you look closely, you can see me standing between our two tents pitched in the clearing. This pic was taken by the war machines, who climbed the fork 200mt above the camp just to “see if we get signal.” Yours truly, overlooking the glacial valley some 1000 meters below Lago Brutto, one of the many beautiful small lakes along the route Another campsite. We were supposed to spend the night in a First-World War barrack along the route, but when we got there late in the evening, it was in such poor conditions that we decided to continue another hour, then detour a little to reach a small lake, past a mountain fork, which the map showed as a possible pitch site. Situations like these is why you want to have someone experienced with you.

Subscribe to the newsletter, the RSS feed, or follow @nicolaiarocci on Twitter