The Alta Via 1 is one of the most celebrated long-distance walks in Europe and this version involves 8 days of walking, from refuge to refuge, carrying all your gear.
I fly into Venice, then it's a bus journey to Cortina and then two further buses to the start of Alta Via 1 Classic. The Lago di Bràies is a beautiful lake full of day-trippers, all taking it easy but I’m steeling myself for 800m of ascent. Round my neck I’ve got a map case and compass, feeling very professional, but an Italian stops me and tells me I won’t be needing it. I soon find out he’s right, every path is immaculately signed, all are numbered – it’s just a matter of…hiking by numbers.
So, tired after my hard first day, I check into Rifugio Sénnes reasonably early, hoping to get a decent space and they allocate me a bed under the eaves. I think I’ve done well until I realise that this is a corridor with direct access to the toilets and kids are also using it as a racetrack. This is not a good start but later I learn to be more assertive and even manage to avoid the classic bivouac of mountain refuges – mattresses crammed side by side so you can embrace your fellow traveller without even moving.
My life now settles into a pattern – woken at 6.30 am by stirrings in the dorm, a good breakfast of bread salami and cheese and strong coffee before donning my boots and being out of the door before 8. Walk down 800m to the valley then walk back up on the other side in a long slog, arrive at the refuge, have a large beer, shower, take a nap and sit down to a hearty dinner of pasta, meat and dessert with half a litre of red wine. In bed by 9.30, fall sound asleep until woken again at 6.30.
The worst day starts well with fitful sun, then developed into a daylong drizzle. It’s OK, I have the clothes, there’s little wind and it’s warm. It’s a shame I miss some of the best views because of low mist, but I only begin to panic when the rain’s finally set in. I’m climbing in the mist, visibility zero, and I know Rifugio Nuvolàu is ahead of me as I’ve seen it earlier perched on the edge of a cliff but I begin to have doubts. There’s thunder around, rumbling just above me, and I’ve stopped enjoying it, I just want to go home. Fortunately, within a few minutes, I’m at the refuge and enjoying my regulation large beer and have changed into dry clothes.
Would I do it again? Yes definitely, although I begin to yearn for a hot bath and my own room with a large bed. At the end, I arrive in Belluno and visit the tourist office where they give me my star prize – a badge engraved with Alta Via 1, proof I’ve walked around 120 km and done 5000m of ascent and descent.