Running in the Dolomites — Piz da Lech

On the second day of our trip to the Italian Dolomites, I decided to head off in a different direction and see how far I could make it toward Piz Boe, at 3,152 meters (10,341 feet), one of the tallest peaks in the region.

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A very steep slope leads up to the Piz Boe Alpine Lodge. Town of Corvara visible 2,100 feet below on the left.

I started by heading up 2,100 feet from town to the Piz Boe Alpine Lodge, located at the top of a ski lift at 2,240 meters (7,349 feet).  The average grade was around 16%, but the first quarter mile must have been close to 30%, and the last 500 feet in elevation got quite steep again, as indicated by my heels not reaching the ground as I labored up one step at a time.

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Leche de Boe

Just past the ski lift was a pretty green lake which reflected the rock walls looming above.  Then it was another 900 feet up through a field of sharp rocks, which brought me to the Franz Kostner hut at 2,500 meters (8,202 feet).

Franks Kostner Hut
Franks Kostner Hut looms through the mist

I stuck my nose in the door, but wasn’t interested in food or drink (although these huts have quite nice fare, including pastries, hot food, beer, wine, and coffee).  It hadn’t taken me as long as expected to reach this point; the day was still young, and I was eager to keep exploring.

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I looked up towards great walls of rock.  Somewhere above was the summit of Piz Boe, but according to the map, the route became technical and would require climbing equipment.  Another possible choice would be Piz da Lech; there were two possible routes, and it wasn’t clear what kind of technical challenges they would pose because the map described the route as “for experts only,” but did not indicate that equipment was necessary.  People were heading off through the mist in both directions, but they not only had helmets and harnesses, but also were clad top to bottom in goretex.  I was wearing shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt, and while I had a pullover tied around my waist and a jacket tucked away in my pack, I was not equipped for technical climbing in difficult conditions and in the eyes of the European alpinists must have looked severely unprepared.

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Trail to Piz da Lech

Nonetheless, I determined to give it a try and see how far I could go.  As I headed off into the thick mist, the trail turned into a steep scramble along the base of a sheer cliff.  There was a steel cable bolted to the rocks, which I held onto with one hand, while I reached for handholds on the sharp limestone rocks with the other.

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When I got to this ladder, I knew that was the end of the route for me.  It’s not that I can’t climb a ladder.  It’s just that above me, I could see the goretex and helmet-clad alpinists moving slowly through the rocks, carabiners clipped into the cables and clinking against the rocks.  Plus, I’m scared of heights, and the ladder didn’t look appealing.

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View of high plateau above Corvara and the twin peaks of Col di Seif and Col di Lana (to the right, shrouded in clouds)

The mists broke for a second, and I could see the plateau below where I had been running the day before.  The twin peaks of Col di Seif and Col di Lana were visible in the distance, shrouded by clouds.

I tried the second route to Piz da Lech, and I soon ran into more cables and even steeper scrambles.

Instead of fighting the mountain any further, I ran back down into the valley and straight up a road leading to another ski lift, not far from my route the prior day, then back down and then back up to the Piz Boe Alpine Lodge.  That was good for another two or three thousand feet of elevation gain.  At least I’d get some good hill training!

On the way back to town, I had great fun running downhill the 2,100 feet I had started up in the morning.  I flew past groups of European tourists and families and think I startled some of them; at least, trail runners didn’t seem common in this area as I hadn’t seen another runner in two full days.

There’s nothing more fun then running downhill fast and hard!   I focused on keeping erect posture, engaging core muscles, lifting knees, and slapping the ground with the balls of my feet.  Running this way, there’s no sensation of pounding the knees or fatiguing the quads, and traction is great.  My pace ranged from 8:00 to 10:00 minute miles, which is not particularly fast, but for a steep, muddy, rocky trail after several hours of hill work, it felt fast, and I had a blast.

piz da lech

The total run was around fifteen miles and took approximately five hours and included almost seven thousand feet of cumulative gain.  I can definitely understand how people become fond of the Alps.

Running in the Dolomites — Piz da Lech

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