Bad Decisions and Big Adventures

By Colin McFadden
This post is part of a series called Italy 2012
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Today, I hopped the train up to Lake Como to do the Dorsale del Triangolo Lariano – the walk from Como to Bellagio, along the mountain tops.  This may not have been a wise move.

There isn’t a lot of English-language information about this hike, but here’s the gist – it’s a 20 mile (more on this later) hike that starts at Brunate, just above Como.  Most folks split the hike over two days, though there are accounts of it being done in one day, over about 10 hours.

“Well hey,” I thought, “on the Camino, I did hikes 50% longer than that in less than 10 hours.  Piece of cake!”

Things I should probably have considered:

  • Due to train and boat schedules, I actually only had 8 hours to do it.  In the worst case, I could have probably stretched that a bit and found alternate means to get home, but 8 hours was my “pumpkin” time for getting the last boat out of Bellagio.
  • Whoever said it was 20 miles is lying.  There are GPS-plotted routes online, reflecting that 20 mile number.  However, those plots are very, very smoothed, and essentially leave out the endless switchbacks.
  • There’s far more climbing and descending than I expected.  I kinda thought you’d hit the top of the ridge and just walk.  Instead, you descend and ascend more than a mile, repeatedly.
  • The thread were someone said it was doable in 10 hours is full of reply posts from people saying “Doing it in one day? That’s insane!”  I did not read those posts before I departed.
  • Nothing on the Camino, not even the climb to O’Cebreiro, was nearly as steep or severe as this.

Ah well, needs must.  Road the funicular up to Brunate.  It’s got the word fun in its name, how great is that?  Got to Brunate right around 10:30.  Last boat leaves Bellagio at 6:39.  Let’s roll.

The initial climb out of Brunate was pretty rough, but then things leveled out and it was all rather pleasant.  Gorgeous views, cooler air, not a soul around.

Around noon, things started going a bit pear-shaped.  Big storms started rolling in – lightning, thunder, rain, wind.  Nice dSLR got safely packed away at this point, so we’ll be iPhone only from here on.

Still, not a bad view.

But really, that’s all manageable.  I’ve got my Tilley hat, which makes walking in the rain nearly pleasant.  Rain gear in my bag if needed, though all the Tactic Fabric I’m wearing makes rain a relatively small concern.

Oh, by the by – waymarking for the first 3/4 is terrible.  Many forks in the path without indications about the way to go, indecipherable signage, and very sparse markers.

The big problem is that the path keeps climbing.  You don’t reach the final, highest peak until approximately 15 miles in.  And it’s a doozy – well over a 45 degree hike/scramble/crawl in intense wind.

After reaching that peak, it all goes really wrong.  The descent is very narrow paths, switchbacks every 10 feet, all made up of leaves covering smooth rocks.  And it’d been raining.  So that was slightly harrowing – 500 meter drop over less than 500 meters horizontal.

In any case, when all is said and done, you pop out in a charming little farming village, with some incredible views.

Stumbled my way into Bellagio, drank a lot of water and an espresso, and ordered a large gelato.  It was horrible, but also amazing.  Made it to town right around 5:30, so there was time to buy a ticket on the the fast boat (a Hydrofoil) back to Como and then sit, doing nothing, for a while.

I don’t believe I’ve ever been on a hydrofoil before.  I was kind of expecting to be pinned in my seat by brutal acceleration, but it wasn’t nearly that much fun.  On the boat, I encountered my first American group – I’m guessing recently graduated high school seniors, or someone in that age range.  The ability to buy alcohol was obviously still a novelty, so they boarded the boat well equipped.

So, that was the Dorsale.  Quite an adventure, but perhaps not one I’d take again.

5 thoughts on “Bad Decisions and Big Adventures

  • Rebecca July 6, 2012 at 4:26 pm Reply

    So you essentially did the hike in 7 hours? The much longer than 20 miles and steeper etc. hike? You are a beast.

  • admin July 6, 2012 at 4:26 pm Reply

    I suspect I am just very stupid.

  • Susan July 6, 2012 at 5:11 pm Reply

    Oh oh oh! Lessons learned for the Dolomites?

  • Mike July 6, 2012 at 6:38 pm Reply

    Don’t listen to your mom… be very careful not to learn anything from this.

  • Harry Spiegelberg July 10, 2012 at 2:19 pm Reply

    Colin, what an experience! Part of me wishes I could be doing that; the rest of me says no longer possible!!

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