Historic Hiking: Exploring the Trails of WWI in the Italian Alps

Rifugio Comici - Zsigmondy Hütte is the starting point for many interesting routes though the Natural Park of Sesto Dolomites and is located in a valley rich with historic memories from WWI.

Our day trip starts at the parking of the Dolomitenhof hotel, a small way ahead of the town of Moos, at 1454 m. altitude. At first we cross a dirt road through the forest, which then leaves space to wide grasslands, perfect for picnics. The path coasts the bed of what must have been an impetuous river, but now is nothing more than a stream. Human presence is strong, as we arrive to the Rifugio Fondo Valle, it becomes clearer - but, actually, most people stop at this point. 


At the end of the valley trails #102 and #103 start, which lead respectively to Rifugio Comici -Zsigmondy Hϋtte and to Rifugio Locatelli - Dreizinnenhϋtte. We access trail #103 and climb a curvy trail on a safe path that was constructed after a landslide that fell from the Monte Una peak in October of 2007. From here we immediately have the perception of the wideness of the valley beneath us and the lust for gaining altitude gets us. In this stretch, the vegetation is rich and the air is moist. Soon the path folds and and the rock walls that coasted our way open up to an amazing view. We see the impressive walls of the Popera mountain and Cima Undici, that overlook the surrounding space.


The path becomes steeper and the vegetation sparse. Underneath us a water stream making its way out from some boulders, and then enlarges into a vivacious brook, which sound echoes in the valley. We stop just in time to stock on water and take pictures of the surrounding peaks - then it's backpacks on our shoulders and back on our way, towards the last stretch, the toughest one. The ending ramp is just like a rock ladder, our knees get tired but we are craving to get to our destination (guided also by hunger). Finally the South Tyrolean flag waves above our heads and we reach Rifugio Comici-Zsigmondy Hϋtte.

The building is located on a rocky plateau, and had Cima Dodici, Cima Undici, Monte Popera and Croda de Toni in plain sight. This Rifugio is the starting point for many routes: you can reach Rifugio Berti, by crossing Forcella Giralba or if you follow path #101, you can get to Rifugio Pian di Cengia. In addition to these main routes, surroundings are rich with vie ferrate and walls where you can practice rock climbing. The magnificence of this area of the Natural Park of the Sesto Dolomites isn’t due solely to the vastness and impressive panorama, but foremost to its cultural and historic value. During WW1 many fierce battles between the Italian and the Austrian artillery happened here. Both armies escalated the paths lifting heavy items of artillery to conquer the lookout posts. They didn’t have any lifts, pulleys or mechanical aid of any sort - soldiers could only count on their strength and that of the mules dragging this enormous weight. Just imagine how rough it must have been to survive the winter at this altitude, when technical equipment and isolating shelters we have today didn’t exist. It was nothing like the comforts we have today. 


Photo by Nicole Dallas

The Rifugio offers a wide variety of typical dishes, that you can enjoy in the warmth of the cozy interiors or on the terrace (which we recommend for the amazing view it offers). We fill up with beer and homemade nettle soup - as  uninviting as it sounds, it’s delicious. With our bellies satisfied, we continue on our way. We are very tempted to go on the route and explore higher elevations, but the weather isn’t always a hiker’s best friend, and we barely make it in time to reach our car, when a strong wind carries a giant storm along.

Feeling lucky to have avoided the rain, we head back home, happy to have shared a new experience, to have immersed in a landscape filled with historic memories and to have wondered while looking over to the peaks. It is definitely not the end of this adventure, soon it will have a part two.

Photo by Matteo Danieli

Published: November 9, 2016

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