I had been staring at photos of the Val Gardena area for the past year, so to be there felt absolutely surreal. My first two trips to the Dolomites centered around exploring Cortina, Alta Badia, and Tre Cime de Laverado, but HOLY WOW, who knew the real jewel was Val Gardena?!?
Day 1 Val Gardena – Exploring the Puez/Geissler Group and Secada
We awoke with clear skies, unlike the day earlier in San Cassiano, so we jumped on the Col Raiser lift, which brought us up to the base of the Odle Mountains. The Odles divide the Funes Valley from the Gardena Valley and offer some of the highest and most breathtaking peaks in the Dolomites. I was on a mission to get to the viewpoint pictured below and I have to say it was the most dramatic and amazing thing I may have ever seen. The high point is Grosse Fermada, the highest peak on the west end of the Puez/Geissler group and is often shrouded in mist so we were lucky to get the clear view that we did. The grassy slopes were perfectly mowed and Fritz had total lawnmower job envy.
I could have sat and stared at those peaks for hours watching the clouds swirl around and grow darker, but a cappuccino was calling from the rifugio down below. We circled back through a trail on the Puez-Geisler Naturpark with cowbells clanging from every direction and drop to your knees gorgeous views everywhere you looked – I wanted to stay here forever!
Day 2 in Val Gardena – Running Vallunga Valley
The evening before, we stumbled upon the Vallunga Valley following vague directions for some old castle ruins. We never found the ruins, but instead found a valley comparable to Yosemite Valley. Shockingly, in all my pre-trip research of the area, I never heard this valley named once. Vallunga translates to long valley, but perhaps would have been better named absolutely gorgeous long, green, cow-filled valley, with sheer cliffs rising 1,000 meters from the valley floor, with unlimited trail running loops, and home to best apple strudel in the world valley.
Fritz decided to run and out-and-back on the “flat” valley trail and I chose a climb up through the Val de Chedul that would connect with the Alta Via 2 and eventually deliver me to the top of the Vallunga Valley and then down the valley trail. I called this run the 12 to the 2 to the 14 to the cappuccino! The climb through the Val de Chedul was steep, averaging 1,000 feet a mile for three miles and I didn’t see a soul except for a few rogue sheep.
Once I hit the Alta Via 2, I was surrounded by trekkers doing their hut to hut thing. Apparently it was unusual for hikers to see a runner on the trail especially a woman alone, so I got a lot of attention and stopped to chat with many people. A German man asked, “Why so fast? You will not see anything,” to which I responded, “So I can see EVERYTHING!” He seemed to understand and smiled, gesturing me to pass and then calling out, “But what if you fall?” to which I yelled, “I won’t!”
This was one of those runs where you feel the world is conspiring with you. Steep climbs, sheep jams, friendly people calling out to you in so many different languages, clanging cowbells, the most ridiculous views everywhere you look – clouds reflecting in high alpine lakes, the craggy, dramatic peaks that barely fit in the photo frame, rolling green valleys in the distance – and a huge piece of apple strudel at the finish. I was in heaven.