Cortina d’Ampezzo, in northern Italy, is the kind of mountain town that makes you want to look in the windows of real estate offices, just in case. Being there even a few hours makes you realize that selling everything you own and signing up for a lifetime of debt just so you could call this place home would be well worth it.
Of course, the only trick would be being able to afford it. The first clue that you may be a little out of your depth is that the streets look like the showroom of a Ferrari dealership.
Luckily, my cousin Jaime and I did actually find some accommodations we could afford at the Camping Rocchetta, past the outskirts of town. A small patch of humble grass was ours for 25 Euros a night. And right outside the nylon door to our abode, the magnificent Monte Cristallo was free to look at.
That is, if you could see it. As luck would have it, the magnificent peaks of the Dolomites were shrouded from us by clouds. We had come here to do some of the area’s Vie Ferrate. They’re a cross between hiking and actual mountaineering. Iron cables bolted to the rocks provide a place to clip in for protection. (On a different trip to the Dolomites, I shot a video for the AP on Vie Ferrates which you can see here.)
The weather was not looking good, but the approach to the route involved nothing more than riding a vintage chairlift to the top, so we decided it was worth a try, anyway.
It was looking even worse when we got up there. The Refugi Guido Lorenzi, at the terminus of the chairlift, sits at nearly 3,000 metres (over 10,000 feet) and the clouds were moving in. Our goal was one of the nearby summits. We started out anyway. At least, following an iron cable we weren’t going to get lost. I didn’t care too much about whether or not we reached the top. What I wanted was a good image of the stunning mountain landscape, but visibility was down to maybe two-hundred meters.
We were the only people on the mountain going for the peak. Everyone else was already coming back and there was suddenly a traffic jam on the mountain. Then it started to rain, which made it an easy decision. It was too dangerous to go on. So much for the hike, so much for the photography. Then the rain turned to freezing rain. And then, on this, the last day of August, the freezing rain turned to snow.
It’s a good thing we snagged a table at the rifugio because the storm was really coming in now. It was bad enough that they had to shut down the chairlift, so there was no going anywhere. We might have been staying the night, there was no telling at that point, but it seemed as good a time as any to drink wine and play Jenga. (Jaime put up a spirited effort, but I destroyed him, in front of an audience of Polish climbers drinking beer in the corner, which made it even more enjoyable for me.)
I don’t remember how long we waited for the storm to pass, but I do recall we ordered more than one jug of wine. Eventually, the chairlift reopened again and we made our way down the mountain, to our car in the parking lot.
By the time we got back to our soaked tent at the Camping Rocchetta, we were tired and hungry. A light rain was falling and the whole world was gray. We walked across the road to a trattoria and ate pizza from a wood-fired stove, which at that moment was like a gift from the gods.
By the time we left, the weather had cleared just a bit and then there it was, the jagged flank of Monte Cristallo, peeking out from behind the dark storm clouds in the slanting evening light. It was the first time we’d even seen it. Only a sliver of the peak was visible, but that added a sense of power and mystery. I had my camera gear with me, as I always do when traveling, and managed to get three frames before the mountain disappeared in the clouds again.
Taking images of landscapes during bad weather can be disappointing. You often come back with nothing. But a lot of the time, the worst weather makes for the best images. You just have to get lucky, but to do that, you have to be there.
Canon 5D, EF 70-200mm at 200. Exposure was 1/30th at f/8. Converted to black and white using Nik Silver Efex Pro.