We had been climbing all day. From valley floor to ridge-line. Up switchbacks finally stepping onto the sheltered alpine meadow the other side of the ridge. The cows momentarily looked up from their grazing… It was surely one of the most picturesque paddocks anyone could imagine. The gentle sound of cow bells will forever be linked to memories of mountains in Italy.
The Via Ferrata systems through the Italian Dollarmites are well known by European tourists. A system of cables, ladders and anchors used during the first world war to move large groups of inexperienced troops. Essentially mountaineering for idiots.
We had arrived late at night in Italy with a small rental car and an unformed plan to head to the mountainy areas. Driving out of the lowlands of Italy we were soon in a fairy-tale of small mountain towns, churches cobblestones and mills. Italy is well setup for mountain travellers. In addition to the via ferrata and cows, the mountains are littered with refugios, a series of large dorm style buildings offering budget accommodations. Our Refugio even gave us a 50% discount for our Austrlaian ANU Mountaineering club cards.
Using the Refugio as a base we were able to finally get into some of the more serous via ferratas surrounding the Three Chimneys. Being peak tourist in Europe the mountains were crowded. Trails looking instead distant like distant ant paths. Marching dots occasionally dissapearing into the mountains emerging hundreds of meters away via interconnect systems of caves. These extensive tunnels more relics of the first world war. Together with foundations from barracks, barbed wire and artillery placements. The tunnels and sniper positions must have been horrendous in winter. While conditions for first world war soldiers were never the best. It must have been a particularly punishing theater for soldiers.
After three days of trekking in the area we had barley started scratching the surface. Like Canada and unlike Australia, the European mountain range was immense. We had completed a three day circuit finishing satisfyingly back at the car. The bittersweet feeling of finishing the exploration of a new area with the knowledge that we really didnt see much at all.