Photo Journal 5: Cathedral of Stone

Format(s): 35 mm, DSLR & iPhone

*you can click on photos to enlarge them and read captions*

This one has been a long time coming. In late June of last year, a Ms. Rachel Burns and I rented a car and aimed it south. Our ultimate goal: the rolling pastoral hills and vineyards of Montepulciano, Italy. Her brother and sister-in-law would be attending a destination wedding and would meet up with us afterwards for an incredible weekend of incredible food and incredible wine. Incredible.

But this isn’t about that. This is about mountains and glaciers and lakes and guerrilla camping and marmots and my all-time favorite lunch spot. Between Germany and Tuscany are the Alps, and more specifically the Dolomites. Through the nearly random process of zooming-in-on-google-maps-and-selecting-a-peak-near-a-town-near-our-route, we picked the imposing Cime Tosa resting high above the town of Molveno. This is where the photos begin.

We arrived in the small mountain town of Molveno in the afternoon. After asking around, we found a place with free public parking and ditched the car for 48 hours of high-alpine exploration. In my water-resistant man satchel pictured above, I brought a Nikon D90 with a 55-300mm lens (because it was the only one I had), a Minolta 35mm film camera with a 35 mm lens prone to light bleeds (see previous post), and the old trusted iFun 6. Between us, we had two day packs stuffed with a Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 2 tent, camping mattresses (Z Lite baby), sleeping bags also from Big A and enough food for one day (not a big deal, because there are huts everywhere in the alps).

Aware that we were getting a late start, we got to hauling our way up the mountain.

We walked. We looked up. We walked some more. We looked up some more. We sweated. We stopped and hydrated. We got cold. We walked some more. We warmed up.

Forest patterns…

If it looks possible to ride a scooter or a moped up it, you can bet your ass that the Italians are at least going to try it. This elderly man came flying past us and I was only barely able to snap a shot of him before he disappeared into the trees. Never to be seen again.

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The dramatic way the cold stone of the Dolomites erupts out of the evergreen floor at their feet cannot be done justice by a photograph. You have to see it in person. The mountains beg you to crane your neck back and drop your jaw in unabashed admiration of their enormity. At this point, I went a little crazy with the camera and started moving through film like it doesn’t cost lots of money to buy and develop. All of the pictures above and below are 35 mm scans.

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As the sun began its slow early-summer descent, clouds rolled in creating a stark white backdrop for the earthen tones of the dolomitic limestone all around us.

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Each time I have visited a large cathedral, like those in Cologne and Strasbourg, it seems obvious to me why 500 years ago, nearly all Europeans would have believed in god. The sheer grandeur of the structures, the amount of physical space they occupy contrasted with the small ornate details and artwork covering every surface, imbue them with an otherworldly power. For me, mountains have the same effect. You can look in every direction and see only pillars of earth reaching endlessly up into the sky. And yet, when you look around, every surface of every stone within arms length is as textured and nuanced as the brush strokes of a Bob Ross painting . “Just look at that beautiful mountain.

Hard to imagine a dreamier place to live, and yes I did try to get into the house. Yes, it was locked. No, I didn’t break in.

RB playin’ in the mountain flowers.

As the altimeter slowly ticked upwards, we were surprised to see snow all over the mountains. When we departed from Molveno mere hours ago it was a balmy 80 degrees.

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Just as the Rifugio came into sight, the orange light of the failing sun set the mountains ablaze. The light and shadow stirred up within the clouds lasted for a brief five minutes before the colors began to fade. Sunset in the mountains is better than fireworks.

After navigating some surprisingly deep snow we reached the hut, warmth and nourishment.

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Sanctuary

Due to our late arrival, the main course had come and gone, but they still had polenta! Albeit mediocre polenta. At this point, any food was good food.

Following a chilly night with just the two of us in a room full of bunk beds, we rose with the sun. Now above the clouds we had been looking up to 12 hours before, we were treated to views galore.

We ate a quick breakfast at the Rifugio, packed up our things and made for the Cime Tosa circuit.

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A nifty double exposure. Profile pic material.

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We made our way over snow and scree, eventually picking what seemed like some reasonable rock to scramble up.

After getting the adrenaline running a couple of times, I made it to my limit of sketchiness and decided to head back and find a spot for lunch.

Rachel Burns: Semi-professional Scree Skier

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And what a lunch spot we found. Perched on a pile of rocks right at the base of Cime Tosa we pulled out the Z Lite and enjoyed 360 degrees of gobsmacking views with some bread, cheese and avocado. The sun came out and we dried our socks and boots. It got so hot under the high-altitude sun that I ended up stripping down to just my underwear. Rachel curled up for a nap.

After the break, we pushed a little higher through some slightly questionable snow before turning back to find a discreet camping spot for the evening.

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From snow, to scree, to greenery, iPhones take pretty damn good pictures.

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During our hunt for a discreet camping spot (it’s verboten to camp in the alps), we met some nature friends, a squeakin’ marmot and some jumpin’ chamois to be exact.

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We found a secluded  and top 10 camping spot and laid our tired bodies down for the evening.

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We slept without the rain fly and I woke up just as the sun was rising at 5 AM. As I pulled out my camera, the sun had just started to paint the mountain orange. I managed to take a couple of pictures before it faded back to gray. I climbed back into my sleeping bag and went back to bed.

Love,

OOTH