Hiking in the Dolomites, Epilogue

Thanks for reading this series of posts.  I wanted to say a few final words.

First, about the location:

EntireTrip

I’d been to Munich many times before, but everywhere else was new to me.  I loved everything about northern Italy—the scenery, the hiking, the people, the mix of cultures, the food, the wine, and even the fact that everything seems to run just a few minutes behind schedule. Smile

Second, let’s talk about gear.

I don’t usually talk much about clothes on this blog, but a few items were so good I want to call them out:

All were both comfortable and functional, which is what you want in travel wear.

For photo gear, I had to trim weight because I would be carrying it all on my back for many miles.  This was different than last fall’s trip to Alaska, where the biggest consideration was the weight limitation for the charter flights to and from Lake Clark.  Once I was at the lodge in Alaska, I never had to carry my gear very far.

In years past, I would have carried all Nikon full-frame gear—I was seriously considering bringing a Nikon D810, 17-35mm f/2.8, 24-120mm f/4, and 80-200mm f/2.8.  But, as I’ve expanded my Fujifilm mirrorless collection over the last couple of years, the lighter weight Fujifilm X-T2 seemed like a better alternative.  The weight difference between Nikon and Fujifilm in body and equivalent lenses was about 4 pounds.  For the entire, fully-loaded photo backpack, the Fujifilm system allowed for a sizable 20% reduction in weight.

I also don’t think I was giving up anything in terms of image quality.  The Nikon has more megapixels, but the Fujifilm is an excellent camera, too—especially for landscapes.  I’d still choose the Nikon over the Fujifilm for sports or bird photography, but I wasn’t doing any of that in Italy.

The next consideration was how to carry all my photo gear, including my tripod, and the things I’d need at the mountain huts—toiletries, rain coat and pants, an extra layer for warmth, extra camera batteries and memory cards, a pack cover, etc.

After a little research, I found that a backpack I already owned would be a good option, the Lowepro Fastpack 350.  It has a lower padded compartment for camera body and lenses, and an upper compartment for whatever you can stuff in there.  One major downside of the pack is that there’s no consideration for a tripod.  I attached my tripod by putting the feet into the small mesh pouch on the side of the pack, and attaching a small bungee cord to the pack’s top handle, and wrapping it around the top of the tripod.  This worked well enough, though it wasn’t entirely secure.

I also wished that my pack had a rain cover.  To make up for that, I bought the REI Co-op Duck’s Back Rain Cover – 40 Liters, which I used several times.  It was a worthwhile investment.

For camera gear, I carried:

All of the gear was used extensively.  Total weight, including the pack, was about 17 lbs.

_DSF6618

I want to give a plug for the Really Right Stuff BXT2 plate.  Up until a couple of weeks before the trip, I was just planning to use a generic Wimberley plate for the camera.  The one annoying thing is that you have to remove the plate to get to the battery compartment.  I went ahead and bought, with a few days to spare, the BXT2, which is constructed in a way where you can still access the battery without taking off the plate.

There was one interesting little feature to the BXT2 which I initially considered a gimmick.  The plate has a slot and a magnet to hold an Allen wrench in place.  When one of the other photographers asked, “Hey, does anybody have an Allen wrench handy?”, I was able to immediately pull it out.  The gimmick is actually a pretty handy feature that I grew to appreciate.

You’ll note that I chose to bring a pretty small tripod—maybe four feet tall at its maximum.  There were several times I’d wished for my larger tripod, but there were many more times I was glad that I wasn’t carrying the extra weight.  (My large tripod weighs almost double what my small tripod weighs.)  One thing that helped me cope with the small tripod was the X-T2’s bidirectional tilt-screen display.  I didn’t have to kneel down to look through the viewfinder; I could tilt the screen up in either portrait or landscape orientation, and compose more easily standing up when I wanted to.

I did have one gear failure near the end of the trip.  On the morning of the hike to the Locatelli hut, I noticed a small 1” tear along the seam of the upper part of the backpack.  By the time I got to the hut, it was 3”-4” long, and by the end of the trip, the tear was about 5”-6” long.  The backpack wasn’t really designed for two camera bodies, so it probably suffered from having the extra weight.  It sufficed to get me home, but I’m going to have to replace this backpack now.

_DSF6619

Finally, I want to give a plug for Kerrick James and KJPhotoSafaris.  Jen and I have done several photo trips together, and we’ve kind of outgrown the “photo workshop” experience.  We self-organized our trip to Alaska’s Lake Clark National Park last year, and Jen’s family has self-organized many trips to Africa through the years.

But Kerrick’s trips are different.  First, Kerrick and Julie are genuinely nice people who are pleasant to be around.  Second, Kerrick is a top-notch, working photographer.  As such, he’s learned to be a problem-solver… “The weather’s terrible, so here’s what we’re going to do to make the most of it.”  Third, it feels more like we’re all collaborating.  Kerrick shares his valuable and experienced perspective on the scenes before us, but he is also keenly interested in our own points of view and the images we’re able to create.  It’s very much a feeling that we are all teaching and learning together.

So, if you’re an intermediate to advanced photographer looking for an active photography trip, check out KJPhotoSafaris.  You’ll end up in a great place with great people.

Thanks to my friends, new and old, that were part of this trip.  Thank you for being teachers.  Thank you for the camaraderie, and for the bad jokes occasionally punctuated by a good one.

Hiking in the Dolomites, Part 7

Okay, time for the home stretch.  We spent the night in the ski village of Cortina d’Ampezzo, host of the 1956 Winter Olympics.  We began to disperse back to our regular lives.  James and Marina left soon after we got to Cortina.  In the morning, we bade farewell to Jake and his family.  The remaining five of us, Kerrick, Julie, Mark, Jennifer, and I caught the morning bus to Venice.

ToVenice

From there, we left Mark at the airport, and Jen and I took the Alilaguna Water Transport to the city.  This took about 90 minutes.  Pro tip:  We could have, like Kerrick and Julie, taken the bus to the train station, taken a shorter trip on the water, and saved about an hour.

ToBisanzio

In Venice, I shifted gears to street photography instead of grand landscapes.  I had been told that Venice is a maze, and that’s an apt description.

Here’s an infrared shot from the Pont dell’Accademia, reached after crossing a bridge we probably shouldn’t have, and then making many, many wrong turns trying to find our way back to our hotel.  So many paths dead end at the water, and you have to backtrack and try another path.

(Click any image to enlarge.)

_DSC6490

Once over the bridge, we walked a bit further and passed through the famed Piazza San Marco.  Here’s an infrared photo of Basilica di San Marco.

_DSC6496

After arriving again at the hotel, I attempted one of the greatest challenges of the trip:  how to send a postcard back to the US.  Italian Post Offices close early afternoon, so it was too late for that.  To buy stamps at other times, you have to find a tobacco shop.  That’s not hard.  The hard part is having them sell you the right kind of stamp.  (If anyone needs a stamp that’s only good for mail to the rest of Europe, let me know.)  I asked at the hotel, and it took a good 15 minutes looking things up on their computer for them to come to the conclusion that the stamp I was sold was indeed not the stamp I needed.  They then sent me to find a street vendor, many of whom sell postcards, as well as private mail stamps.  So I bought one of those stamps—and oh, by the way, you can only send your postcard by way of their mailbox.  I’ll let you know in a few weeks if my mother got her postcard.

That evening, Jen and I met up for one final dinner with Kerrick and Julie.  It was a great ending to a great trip.  The next morning, we all began our trips home.

Here’s a collection of some of my snapshots from Venice.  Thanks for reading.  I’ll have one more post after this where I talk about my photo gear.  Stay tuned.

_DSF2005

_DSF1968

_DSF1962

_DSF1963

_DSF1987

_DSF1984

_DSF1988

_DSF1993

_DSF2004

_DSF2064

_DSF2011

_DSF2017

_DSF2049

_DSF2048

Hiking in the Dolomites, Part 6

The Tre Cime de Lavaredo are the three mountain peaks that are the highlight of the Tre Cime Natural Park.  (In German, they are called Drei Zinnen.)  From the end of the road at Rifugio Auronzo, we began our three mile hike around Tre Cime to Rifugio Locatelli.  The hike took us up to 8000 feet, to a saddle between Tre Cime and the nearby Monte Paterno (Paternkofel), where we had lunch.  The trail descended from the pass back down a few hundred feet, before ascending again to Locatelli, back at 8000 feet elevation.  Temperatures were in the 50’s, and it was somewhat windy.

TreCimeHike

Shown below, the Locatelli hut, with the Torre di Toblin behind it.

(Click any image to enlarge.)

_DSF1594

On the side of the Monte Paterno, we saw some climbers on a Via Ferrata (Italian for “Iron Road”).  These are hiking and climbing routes that have a cable, fixed to the rock every few meters.  You wear a harness with two carabiners.  As you reach one of the iron stays in the rock, you unclip one carabiner and reattach it to the cable on the other side of the stay, then follow with the other carabiner.  Thus, you are always attached to the cable.

Many of the Via Ferrata in the Dolomites are left from World War I.  The Dolomites were a major battleground in the war between Austria-Hungary and Italy.

In the photo below, you see a couple of people on a fairly flat, easy section of Via Ferrata on Monte Paterno.

_DSF1602

We continued on to the Locatelli hut.  This is a much larger hut than the Resciesa hut we stayed in earlier—I’d guess they have room for over 100 people.  But note that they only have one shower, and it costs €5 to use it for six minutes.  (None of our group bothered with a shower that night.)

Many dayhikers come for lunch or dinner in the cafe.  Along with a lot of people, we saw a few dogs of all sizes on the trail.  Here’s a photo of a beautiful Bernese Mountain Dog.

_DSF1613

That night, the barometric pressure began to rise, and we set our alarms in hopes of clear skies for night photography.  We got started a little bit late, so this turned into a bit of night photography combined with pre-dawn photography.  Here’s a time-lapse sequence showing the transition from night to twilight.

We returned to bed for an hour of sleep before heading out for sunrise.  Here’s one of my favorite infrared images of the dawn light hitting Monte Paterno and the Tre Cime.

_DSC6473

We returned again to bed for another hour of sleep before breakfast, and then began our hike back to Rifugio Auronzo, where we waited for our taxi that would take us to Cortina.

_DSF1803

Up next, Cortina and Venice.

Hiking in the Dolomites, Part 5

(This is my 100th post on this blog.  Thank you all for reading.)

The morning of July 1, we left Selva/Wolkenstein for Lago di Dobbiaco.  I kind of think of this as a rest day between our weather-challenged hike from yesterday, and the 8000-foot-elevation hiking of tomorrow.  We also swapped out our guides–trading Hayden for Jake, who would be with us until the official end of the trip.  Both guides provided by AlpineHikers were excellent.

As we drove over to Dobbiaco, we saw many bicyclists preparing for the following day’s Maratona dles Dolomites, an 85-mile bike race with nearly 14,000 feet of elevation gain.  (The winner averaged 18.6 mph.)  Nearly 30,000 cyclists apply each year for one of the 9,000 starting positions.

ToDobbiaco

We checked into the116-year-old Hotel Baur, which sits right on the lake.

_DSF1455

(Click on any image to enlarge.)

We walked around the lake, then I settled on a view facing south for most of my images.  We played around with reflections, and slow shutter speeds as the water flowed over a dam at the north end of the lake.  Here’s an infrared photo from late in the day.

_DSC6433

Here’s a group shot of all of us on a bridge near the hotel.

_DSF1516

The next morning, we drove into the Tre Cime Natural Park and began our hike to Rifugio Locatelli.  Stay tuned for more.

ToTresCime

Hiking in the Dolomites, Part 4

The next day—June 29 if you’re keeping score—we took a taxi down to the ski village of Ortisei.  We spent a little time walking around the town and enjoying time at a cafe near the Hotel Adler before taking a funicular up into the mountains.

ToOrtisei

From the top of the funicular, it’s about a mile traverse (light blue route below) over to Rifugio Resciesa, where we’d stay for the evening.  Unfortunately, I fell ill with intestinal pain that afternoon, so once I got to the hut, I just rested.  As I look for a silver lining to being sick, the afternoon views were hampered by a whole lot of clouds.  My body chose a good time to demand rest.

The Resciesa hut is one of many different mountain huts scattered all over the Alps.  It’s a combination bar/restaurant and guest house.  The Resciesa hut is one of the smaller huts, with room for about 40 people.  We had a room of bunk beds for all eight of us.  Some rooms are larger; some smaller.  There were two showers and two bathrooms shared for everyone at the hut.  I was pretty pleased with the experience, and people who had been at other Alpine huts agreed that this was among the nicer ones.

Resciesa

The next morning, the weather and my health had both improved.  I decided to hike the approximately one-mile loop from the hut, to the peak, and then over to a small chapel.  (This is the darker blue route on the map above.)  The temperatures were in the 50’s and windy.  I’d typically wear three to five layers of clothes to maintain comfort.

On my way up, I took this infrared photo of the Resciesa hut in the lower left, with the Langkofel Group of mountains in the distance.  There are still plenty of clouds around, but at least we could see for miles around.

_DSC6283

Click any image to enlarge.

It’s pretty common for hikable mountains in this area to have wooden crosses at their summits.  Here’s an infrared view of the cross above the Resciesa hut.

_DSC6288

And a closer look from my regular camera:

_DSF0848

I turned around the other way, and took this panorama.  The Resciesa hut is on the far left of the photo, and the chapel is to the right of the sign near the middle.

_DSF0849

In the late morning, we left the hut and started a traverse eastward.  The plan was to get a better perspective on the Geislergruppe, also to our east.  We would then take a trail down to the middle station of aerial gondolas ascending up to the Seceda ski area.  We could then take the gondola down to Ortisei, where we left the day before.

LeavingResciesa1

A typical lunch for us was a lunch sack prepared by our guide containing snacks and an always-excellent sandwich prepared that morning from local cheeses, meats, and vegetables.  On this day, it was more of a “build-your-own” affair.  Here’s a photo of our guide, Hayden, with the lunch preparations spread out under his tarp.

_DSF1196

We had lunch near one of the peaks above the funicular station.  We spent quite a bit of time there making time lapse videos.  Here’s an infrared time lapse of the Geislergruppe, to our east.

I would love to tell you that the rest of our day was uneventful.  But it was not to be.

The weather turned again.  Soon after we left our lunch spot, it looked like we might have a brief shower.  We put our rain covers over our packs, and donned our rain jackets.  Most of us had rain pants with us, but none of us felt like it was going to be necessary to put them on.  We were wrong.

The sleet started first.  Some called it hail.  The temperatures dropped to around 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  Then rain mixed in.  And then thunder.  If it weren’t for the thunder, we might have stopped to put on our rain pants.  On the map below, our travel route enters from the upper left, and we headed due east.  We were originally aiming for the intersection of trails just right of center.  With the rain, we debated going on to the Rifugio Malga Brogles a bit further on the trail to wait out the rain and sleet.  But it was the thunder that convinced us that it was time to exit the mountain as quickly as possible.

We went off trail, heading down an embankment to take us down below tree line to pick up the return trail.  It was steep and slippery, but it was the fastest way out of danger from possible lightning.  Once we got to the return trail, the hike finally met its promise of being uneventful, except for the part about being soaked.  The thunder stopped; the rain abated.  The temperatures rose as we descended.

LeavingResciesa2

We made it to the cable car and descended to Ortisei to catch the bus to continue our journey.  We stayed overnight that night in Selva (known in German as Wolkenstein).

ToSelva

Coming up, a visit to Lago di Dobbiaco, and on to the highlight of the trip, Tres Cime.

Hiking in the Dolomites, Part 3

The next day, we took the bus to the end of the road, and went for an approximately 7-mile hike near Santa Magdalena at around 2000 meters elevation.  Here’s the trail we took, hiking from east to west:

FirstHike

As I mentioned in my last post, the weather turned overcast with a low ceiling, and a nearly constant threat of rain.  The good news is that it didn’t actually rain much—a couple of passing showers that lasted only minutes.  The bad news is that we had to imagine what the scenery looked like:

_DSF0301

(Click on any image to enlarge.)

Once again, I turned to my infrared Nikon D300 to find elements of drama in the larger scene.  On this trip, I used the versatile Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 lens for all of my infrared photos.  This shot is using a focal length of 65mm (35mm equivalent of 100mm) at f/5.

_DSC6193

Another approach to photographing with uncooperative weather is to focus on details, such as this flower.

_DSF0300

I believe this is a Phyteuma orbiculare.
Common name: Round-headed Rampion

The weather improved marginally as we neared the end of our hike, descending to Santa Magdalena to catch the bus back to the hotel.  The mountains were still in the clouds, but we could at least appreciate more of the scenery.

_DSF0381_HDR

The next day, we hiked again for about five miles in the same area, heading more east:

SecondHike

The weather was slightly improved from the day before—the ceiling had lifted ever so slightly, and we saw some blue sky as the day progressed.

Here’s my favorite infrared photo from the day, with the brooding clouds hanging just at the top of the peaks.

_DSC6236

As long as the sky was cloudy, we could switch our focus to scenes that don’t include it.  I photographed these waterfalls with a 1/3 second exposure at f/22.

_DSF0603

The photo below is a 1/10 second exposure, also at f/22.

_DSF0640

If you haven’t figured it out by now, one of the themes of this week was to find different ways to photograph something interesting while having challenging weather conditions.  This led us to time-lapse photography.

Here’s a very short video of sixty time-lapse frames.  Each frame was taken 3 seconds apart, and the video below speeds it up by 36x.  I’ll have a few more examples like this in later blog posts.

Next up, an afternoon in Ortisei, on our way up to our first mountain hut, the Rifugio Resciesa.

Hiking in the Dolomites, Part 2

The next morning, Jennifer and I took the train from Innsbruck down to Bolzano, Italy.

This part of Italy is called the Südtirol in German and Trentino/Alto Adige in Italian.  For a thousand or so years before the end of World War I, this area was part of Austria-Hungary and its predecessor states.  The primary languages in this area are German, Italian, and Ladin.

ToBozen

_DSF0109
View from the train to Balzano

Once in Bolzano, we met the rest of our party.  The trip was organized by our friend Kerrick James, a professional photographer and Ricoh Imaging Ambassador (Ricoh owns the well-respected camera brand Pentax).  See more about Kerrick at Ricoh Imaging Ambassadors, KerrickJames.com, and KJ Photo Safaris.  Kerrick’s fiancée, Julie, joined us, along with three other photographers who had traveled with Kerrick in the past.  Also joining us was our guide, Hayden, from our outfitter, AlpineHikers.

_DSF0113Statue of the poet Walther von der Vogelweide in Bolzano

For the next three nights, we stayed at the Hotel Kabis, in Val di Funes.  Before we piled into a waiting taxi van, I ran to the grocery  store and picked up an excellent €8 bottle of wine to take with us, a Lagrein from Kellerei Bozen.

ToKabis

That evening, the weather started to turn.  The partly cloudy and warm days were giving way to overcast skies and threats of rain.

When that happens, I turn to my infrared camera.  I have a Nikon D300 that I’ve had converted to infrared by LifePixel.com.  (I encourage you to use that affiliate link if you’re interested in converting or buying an infrared camera.  I get a small credit towards a future conversion.)  The conversion process removes a filter in front of the camera sensor, and replaces it with one that only passes infrared light.  The resulting images can bring out dramatic skies and landscapes.  The image below, from the cemetery at Pfarrkirche St. Peter, is an example.

_DSC6176 v2The cemetery at Pfarrkirche St. Peter in Villnöß

Next up, hiking around Santa Magdalena.

Hiking in the Dolomites, Part 1

From June 23 to July 5, I was in Europe, mostly hiking and photographing around the Dolomites, in the Alps of Northern Italy.

I met my friend and travel partner, Jennifer, in Munich.  She and I have been on several photography trips together—Utah, Alaska, Vermont, New Mexico, Hawaii.  Once we got to Italy, we would meet our friend and pro photographer, Kerrick James (http://kerrickjames.com/ and http://kjphotosafaris.com/) and a few others for the remainder of the trip.

But first, we spent the day in Munich.  We stayed at the Hotel Torbraü, near Isartor, and not far from the Marienplatz.  Despite advertising itself as the oldest hotel in the heart of Munich (since the year 1490), it was quite nice and convenient.

_DSF0045Hotel Torbraü

_DSF0044Marienplatz

After lunch, we met my friend, Rahman, and toured parts of the city that I’d never been to before.  We finished with a walk around part of the Englischer Garten, before returning to the hotel to get an early dinner and some much needed sleep.

The next morning, we departed by train for Innsbruck.  I’d been to Vienna, Graz, and Salzburg before, but never Innsbruck, and this was a convenient halfway point between Munich and our starting point in Italy.

_DSF0078Central Innsbruck

_DSF0070Griffon at Rudolfsbrunnen.  The statue behind, from 1863, commemorates the 500th anniversary of Tyrol joining Austria.

We had a difficult night’s sleep at the hotel, the Gasthof Weisses Rössl.  It was a warm day in Innsbruck, and the hotel was not air-conditioned.  Further, the windows did a better job of keeping the warm air in, and the cooler air outside out.

_DSF0081Hotel of the White Horse.

Still, the rooms were nicely and interestingly done on the inside.  Here’s a photo of one of the walls.  To the left of the television is a wall with a plexiglas front, with the gap filled with salt.  To the right, a similar panel, with the gap filled with peppercorns.

_DSF0096The Salt and Pepper Walls

Next stop, Italy.  Stay tuned.