Kool Kotor Fortress Hike, Kotor, Montenegro

Distance: 3.25 Miles RT

Elevation Gain: ~919-1K FT

Difficulty: Moderate, depends on your fitness level and the heat—gradual and short, but persistent incline of almost 1k ft in 1.5 miles via stone stairs, concrete, and dirt paths

The names Kotor and Montenegro just sound cool don’t they? I anticipated that this might be one of my favorite stops on my RC Mediterranean cruise and it was.

Kotor is a charming coastal village in the country of Montenegro (translated black mountain). It is located on the Adriatic Sea in the Bay of Kotor and part of the Balkans. Montenegro is bordered by Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Albania and Croatia. The population of Kotor is ~13,510.

The ancient Mediterranean Port of Kotor is surrounded by fortifications dating back to the Venetian period. Old town Kotor and its fortress nestled up high in the spectacular limestone cliffs are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Three major earthquakes in the last 500 years (the most recent in 1979) have taken their toll on the fortress, but enough remains of the remains to capture the imagination. One of the coolest things to do in Kotor is to hike up to the Kotor Fortress. Spectacular views of the old town and bay below will captivate you on your journey up and down what some locals refer to as the 1,000 stone step death march.

Return by way of Kotor’s old town to enjoy refreshments at any one of the charming cafes and browse the unique shops.

Kotor is also known for its free-range cats, some obviously living better lives than others.

Notes: The hike is completely exposed and entirely uphill on stairs, concrete, and dirt. Temperatures can be hot in the summer. Fee: ~8 euros, while there’s a back way to hike to the fortress where you can avoid the fee station, it’s nice to contribute to the local economy. (Truth in advertising—unfortunately, you will see trash and graffiti along the way. One would hope that our fees would be enough to pay the teenage “gatekeepers” to keep the grounds clean, but apparently not.

Happy Trails!

Warrior 1 at the Fortress, the cruise ship photobombing in the background

The Tremedous Tre Cime di Laveredo Loop, Dolomites, Italy

The Tre Cime (3 Peaks ) of Laveredo hike is a peak Dolomite experience. A spellbinding journey in the Alps from start to finish. There’s so much beauty packed into this short loop—much more than the 3 peaks themselves. There are the jagged limestone crests crowning the expansive panoramic mountain views, the turquoise alpine lakes, and of course, there are the rifugios (3 to go with 3 peaks). It’s easy to see why this hike is among the most popular in the Dolomites.

Distance: 6.75-mile loop, begins at Rifugio Auronzo, Path 101

Rifugio Auronzo

Difficulty: Moderate, depending on fitness level and acclimation to the altitude of 9,839 ft. A mix of up, down, and flats with some solid incline in relatively short mileage. The terrain on the main, wide path is easy—running shoes will do.

Elevation gain: ~2,247 ft

Starting elevation: ~9,839 ft

Sublime, except for the crowds, which are hard to avoid even if you arrive when the parking entrance opens at 8 AM. (There’s a line of cars by 8:15 AM.) However, you can try to outpace the crowds or take one of the more challenging, less-traveled single-track trails that run high above and parallel to the main trail.)

We stopped at the halfway point, Rifugio Locatelli / Drei Zinnen hut, to take in the views of the 3 peaks. I made the best of the puddle reflection photo ops before sauntering down to lakes to soak it all in.

The panoramic views by the lake were dazzling. (Apologies for the dizzy spin.)

At one point, I thought I was having high-altitude auditory hallucinations, the melody of Amazing Grace playing in my head and wafting through the alpine air. It turns out I wasn’t hallucinating. A couple of fellows had brought their bagpipes with them on their hike. Their pro bono concert was short and sweet, with the added excitement of a near fist-to-fist altercation between 2 octogenarian photographers (one Italian, one German?) – one blocking the view and photos of the other and all of us for no apparent reason other than to be objectionable. (Perhaps an Italian vs German thing – apparently there’s still friction between the nationalities that dates back to WW1, continued through WW2, and still exists today—especially in this area of the South Tyrol.) Here’s an interesting article on the long journey to reconciliation.

After the “concert”, we dropped down into the valley and climbed across the ridge underneath the 3 peaks.

We stopped at the Malga Langalm hut to enjoy a hearty lunch in the splendid Alpine wildflower-sprinkled meadow. The Rifugio Locatelli visible in the far distance made it seem like we’d hiked much further than we had.

Sadly, our time in the Dolomites had come to an end. We’d been lucky to do 2 of what many call the top hikes in the area. Both Seceda and Tre Cime rank #1 in my lifetime hikes. The Alps have my heart. It’s not Arrivederci, it’s Ci Vediamo Presto! We’ll See Each Other Soon!

Happy Trails!

Directions: 40 minutes from Cortina d’Ampezzo. Trail begins at Rifugio Auronzo, Path 101.

Notes: €30 entrance fee for parking. Open late May through late October 8 AM-6 PM. Rifugios are open from late June through September. No camping is allowed in the park. For the best views, take the trail counter-clockwise. (Keep the 3 peaks on your left side.)

Sensational Seceda, Dolomites, Italy

Hands-down one of the most magnificent places I’ve ever hiked!

I’ve always dreamed of hiking hut to hut in the Alps, literally dreamt of being on the trail and seeing those iconic sign posts. Well, my dream finally came true.

Preamble: While Italy and the Dolomites were never on “my list” per se, they were how my dream came true. In my life’s journey, I’m learning to surrender control and go with the flow, and I’m discovering that’s where life’s best rewards are. So, of course, when I find myself in a fate-directed destination (Italy), you can bet that I will carpe diem and sneak in a dreamy adventure or 2 when I can.

Backstory: I was in Venice to surprise my sister by “crashing” their cruise. Cruise, you say, that doesn’t sound like your kind of thing. True, but family time is family time, and you take it when you can get it. I’d surprised her a couple of years ago on a cruise, and when covid hit, it hit me how much I treasured that week. So I did it again. And surprisingly, she was surprised again. More on the fabulous cruise destinations later.

I bribed myself and my boyfriend into the cruise by giving ourselves the gift of a couple of days of hiking in the Dolomites. The beauty of the Dolomites is absolutely dazzling and dizzying. I’m supposed to be a writer, but I can’t even begin to do it justice with words. So I’ll let the pictures do the talking for me.

Here’s the scoop

Located in the Puez-Odle Nature Park, the spectacular Seceda ridgeline carves the rugged silhouette of the Fermeda Towers against the sky high above the charming villages of Ortisei, St. Christina, and Selva in the Dolomites.

Considered South Tyrol, this area is located in the northern part of Italy and bordered by Austria to the North (Tyrol) and East (Salzburg). It’s less than a 3-hour windy drive from the Venice airport.

A Little History: The autonomous Italian province of South Tyrol was created in 1948 when Italy annexed it following the defeat of the Central Powers / Central Empires (German EmpireAustria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Bulgaria) in World War I. From 1814 to 1919, Tyrol was part of the Austrian Empire. And before that – well, you know how European history goes…

Today, the Austrian influence in the area remains strong, with 70% German and 25% Italian speakers. Okay, so what about the hike, you ask? Well, I’m getting to it.

We took the Ortisei-furnes Gondolo and the Fummes-Seceda Cable Car to the summit and started our hike there. We stopped for refreshments at our first rifugio (translated as refuge/shelter /haven) before we hit our second mile. A young, handsome boy wearing traditional German lederhosen served our giant size charcuterie feast . The cheese was handmade by his family, and courtesy of their free-range cattle, the bread was baked fresh that morning. (Warning, weight can happen while hiking here.)

And yes, we stopped at another rifugio and had another “little snack” with a charming Italian couple from Milan who shared their trail map and helped keep us on the right path. From there, we took the St. Jakob Church trail that eventually meandered back down to the village of Ortesei. The route we chose was 12 miles with a moderate ~1,453 feet elevation gain.

The mesmerizing soundtrack of the Alps is birdsong mixed with the clang of cowbells and church bells.

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself singing or humming the Sound of Music soundtrack as you make friends along the trail with various cows, horses, donkeys, and chickens.

Getting there: ~3-hour drive to the village of Ortisei from Venice Airport

Notes: Unless you have plenty of time to spare and are game for gratuitous elevation gain, you’ll want to take the Ortisei-furnes Gondolo and the Fummes-Seceda Cable Car. This strategy will give you ample time to explore the many trails off the summits, which naturally have the best views. The cable car and gondolas run from 8:30 AM to 5 PM, early June through mid-October. The elevation at the top is 8,200 feet so if you’re sensitive to altitude, you may want to take a some time to acclimate.

You can purchase 1-way tickets for ~$30 or roundtrip tickets if you don’t want to hike all the way down back to town. (If you are hiking for more than 1 day, consider purchasing the Gardena Card, which provides unlimited use of specific cable cars and gondolas.) Once at the top, you can choose your own adventure to fit your fitness level and interest. The main trails are well marked, and the terrain is relatively easy. A combination of altitude, incline, and duration can be challenging—know your limitations, but also know that there are plenty of opportunities to take breaks and refuel along the way. You MUST stop at the huts for the local experience and fresh-baked bread, homemade cheese, and savory sausages. Running shoes worked for me this time, but poles and hiking boots are always a good idea.

As with most popular spots, get there early to avoid the crowds.

Stay tuned for the next post on spectacular Tres Cime.

Happy Trails!

Flying Across the Rapids and Above the Canyons With Sheri Griffith Expeditions

My adventurous boyfriend, Bernie, had been on a white-water rafting trip with Sheri Griffith Expeditions and loved it. He wanted to share the experience with me, so he booked our Cataract Canyon expedition on the Colorado River. I had some reservations that I didn’t share with him about “surfing” Class 4 and 5 rapids. I didn’t want to dampen his exuberance about the trip. While I’m adventurous, I’m not a risk-taking, adrenaline-seeker type per se. I’ve only experienced an afternoon-long white-water rafting trip with mild Class 2 to 3 rapids. My anxiety did not dissipate after discovering what class 4 and 5 rapids are.

What are Class 4 and 5 rapids, you ask?

Class 4 Long, unpredictable rapids with large waves and narrow passages for intermediate and experienced rafters.

Class 5 Large, gnarly white-water waves with the possibility of rocks and other hazards, including large drops—requires precise maneuvering and advanced whitewater experience. 

Pre-trip trepidation

Having reached a “certain age” where mortality looms large, the memories of serious accidents and the long road back from them haunt me. I pick my active adventures carefully. I want to stay happily and vigorously active for as long as possible.  White-water rafting Class 4 and 5 rapids is a bit out of my risk zone. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I had a couple of nightmares. I shared my qualms with some of my close friends—primarily about being tossed out of the boat, hitting my head on a rock, being held underwater, and lights out. These things do happen, but infrequently. (Indeed, Bernie shared a story that this had happened a week before his last rafting trip. Probably not the best story to share with me before our trip.)  Maybe I should take a more cavalier attitude like my Mother, “When your number’s up, your number’s up.”

Turns out, my number wasn’t up

Among the many exhilarating moments,  was the instant where I nearly got pitched from the boat, my legs flying out perpendicular to me like a ragdoll’s—it turns out my number wasn’t up. So I got my feet and entire body wet trying something new and somewhat risky, and had a blast.

Why the 2-night, 3-day Cataract Canyon white-water rafting adventure on the Colorado River?

It was just the right amount of time for me. 3 days without a vigorous workout will make me wangry, and Bernie knew it. Bernie also knew that most of the rapids are in a fairly concentrated area. A 4- or 5-day trip means more downtime. If you enjoy relaxing by the river, it might be the right trip for you. (Of course, how relaxing it is depends on the group.)

We lucked out with a semi-private trip with kindred spirit raftmates—a cool couple from Salt Lake City. Some rafting companies would cancel your reservation or force you to reschedule since small group trips are not profitable. While they asked if we’d like to switch to the 4-day, they let us stick with our 3-day plan. The ratio of guides to guests was in our favor at 3:4, so we received 1st class, VIP treatment even without them knowing that I’d be blogging this review.

We Had the Best Crew

Owen, our boat team captain/river cowboy, was a skilled raftsman. He navigated us head-on into the white-water waves for extra fun while sharing his knowledge and love of the river during the lulls.  As we floated down the river, he shared a poem about Floyd Dominy, the man behind the Glen Canyon Dam. The poem, Floyd’s Void, was written by former river runner, legendary Vaughn Short. (I’ve posted the humorous poem on the controversial dam at the end of this blog.)

Owen’s apprentices were Joe and Emma, college students, intellectuals, and athletes. After dinner clean-up, we’d chill out under the stars enjoying the evening and sharing stories

What did you bring? They take care of the food, tents, and sleeping bags. You pack for fun.

Speaking of the food, how was it? I ate better and more frequently than I do at home. We had 3 well-prepared and beautifully presented delicious meals a day, plus snacks and appetizers. (I wish I’d taken pictures of the charcuterie board and the other lovely dishes (pork roast, grilled carrots and mashed potatoes, egg sandwiches and fresh fruit, refreshing Caesar salad wraps, etc. but I was too busy chowing down.)

What were the highlights?

Bouncing through tumultuous rapids while bracing for the next shockingly cold (~50 degrees) splash to face and body

Mini hikes to cool granaries and overlooks

Chilling by the river at sunset was sublime, especially when the big horn sheep (my spirit animal) came down to the water to drink.

Doing yoga on the river beach both mornings

Dawn and sunsets golden glow on the cliff walls

What’s the scoop about packing out the poop?

To leave no trace and keep the beaches and river as pristine as possible, packing out poop is a necessity. You do your business on a metal “commode” called a “groover’.  The earlier versions of the groover would leave telltale indents/grooves on one’s delicate cheeks. The name “stuck,” even though they have regular toilet seats now.  At each campsite, the crew places the throne in a private spot with a fantastic view so you can meditate on nature’s beauty as you answer nature’s call. Bernie was answering nature’s call or getting his groove on when he was graced with a big horn sheep visitation on the beach at dawn. How’s that for a memory?!

Oh, and that’s not all.

To top it off, the adventure includes a 40-minute flight back to Moab with Red Tail Adventures in a Kodiak!* You get a bird’s eye view of Moab’s amazing geological wonderland and, if you’re lucky, a documentary-style narrative by the pilot! We took precautionary Dramamine because Bernie said last time there was a bunch of turbulence. Fortunately, there was no turbulence on this flight.

Unfortunately, the Dramamine had an unintended consequence on Bernie.

*(Flight is weather permitting. Otherwise, you’ve got a 2+ hour van ride back to Moab.)

Would I consider another white-water rafter rafting trip with Sheri Griffith Expeditions? Yes-absolutely! The food, service, and entire experience was tops. There are many options on multiple rivers (Colorado, Green, Yampa) via oarboat, motorboat, and kayak. And, I’d request our same crew.

Wholeheartedly recommend Sheri Griffith Expeditions —2 thumbs up.

Other lasting impressions

You hear of the devastating depletion of Lake Powell and the Colorado River in the news. Hearing Owen describe how it’s changed in his time on the river and seeing the evidence first hand from air and land was heartbreaking.

Who knows how much longer there will be white-water water rafting trips on this man-strangled river. The only exit ramp left is steep and treacherous and takes hours for the crew to maneuver. Big thank you to Bernie, our crew at Sheri Griffith Expeditions, and Red Tail Adventures for an EPIC adventure!

I’ll close with Vaughn’s Short’s poem, Floyd’s Void from his book Raging River Lonely Trail, Tails Told by the Campfire’s Glow.

Floyd’s Void

There’s a breed of men who sit at their desks

And they like their water tame,

They like to damn the rivers up,

Then give the lakes a name

They do They give the lakes a name.

So give three cheers for the Bureau boys

And a special rah for Floyd

He built his dam and he built it well

And then he said, “In spite of hell, I’m going to fill that void l am I’m going to fill that void”

Now within this void, created by Floyd,

Was a special thing or two,

Reserved for the sight of the filthy rich

And a very greedy few They were A very greedy few.

So give three cheers for the Bureau boys

And a special rah for Floyd

For Floyd did say, “I’ll change this plan,

 I’ll open it up for the common man I will I’ll open it up for the common man.”

“What value the trees?

What value the grasses, Compared to the rights of the down-trodden masses?”

Floyd said, “I’ll make it so easy, I’ll make it so simple,

They can all speed their boats over Music Temple How about that?

Speed right over the top of Music Temple!”

So give three cheers for the Bureau boys

And a special rah for Floyd, For now we know beneath the blue

Is a revered spot once seen by few

How sad Before Floyd’s void seen only by few.

To see the Rainbow-aloof-remote you had to hike or you had to float

Denied it was to that jolly old chap

By his houseboat rail in his yachting cap

Oh my! Poor old chap in his yachting cap.

So give three cheers for the Bureau boys

And a special rah for Floyd.

Floyd said, “We’ll put the water there For this deserving old man in his easy chair,

For he’s entitled to his just share He is He’s entitled to his just share.”

If one should insist on making a list

Of the many grandeurs there-There were Gregory, Dungeon, Hidden Passage

And many more I swear Oh Yes!

There were many more I swear. So give three cheers for the Bureau boys

And a special rah for Floyd

He buried them all deep under his lake

But he did it for the people’s sake

He did He did it for the people’s sake.

For the power hungry man with the dollar sign eyes,

Who lights up the neon in the evening skies,

For the poor down-trodden in his speeding boat,

For the jolly old chap in his yachting cap

Who had no water to float Poor guy

 He had no water to float.

So give three cheers for the Bureau boys And a special rah for Floyd

Though he buried the Moqui and he shortened the wall,

He did it for the good of all He did

He did it for the good of all!

But there’s a breed of men both hardy and free

Who lie at night on the lonely bars

And there beneath the glittering stars

They dream of TNT They do They dream of TNT.

So give three cheers for the Bureau boys And a special rah for Floyd

He built his dam and though he built it well,

These dreamers swear in spite of hell

They’re going to void Floyd’s void

They are They’re going to void Floyd’s void.

They dream of a mighty boom and a quake.

They dream of a swirl in a vanishing lake.

They dream of a river wild and free,

Freed from its shackles by TNT Sweet bliss

Freed from its shackles by TNT.

Now! Let’s have three cheers for the boys on the bars

Who dream their dreams ‘neath the glittering stars.

Who dream of a wild and a wonderful treat

A house boat running Dominy Falls at a million second feet

Ah yes A house boat running Dominy Falls at a million second feet!