At the time, both summer and the girl were purely theoretical notions. Now I’d found someone I hoped wouldn’t feel overly murderous toward me in an isolated cabin. So, a few seasons late, I did the smart thing and finally took Pizzinini’s advice. My girlfriend, E.B., and I flew into Venice and drove steadily upward from that manifestly sea-level box of chocolates. Soon the air smells of pine and the hills are alive with, if not the sound of music, then a vivid tapestry of Alpine clichés: carved Tyrolean chalets with flowerpots on the terrace, cable cars and bulbous church domes and roadside inns where you can stop to steady yourself after the dizzying road. At Cortina d’Ampezzo, the car is pointed up and over the Falzarego Pass, climbing close to 7,000 feet, then winding down again through the switchback slalom into the Val Badia.
The Pizzinini baita is unmarked but not hard to find. From Rosa Alpina, we just kept walking up, circling skyward, until there was no sign of the villages below and no remaining hikers on the path headed down. Just when we were sure that we were lost, we spotted Paolo Pizzinini standing on the wood deck of a hut, tending to a fire in the grill and salting rib steaks. Paolo looks very much like his son Hugo, only somewhat more rugged and more relaxed. He unwrapped several cheeses, sliced about a half pound each of speck and farmer’s sausages with a folding knife, and uncorked a bottle of champagne. The place was remote, I said, not rough.
We convinced Paolo to stay for a drink and the three of us stared off the wooden deck at the sloping, flowering pastures and the gray-pink light on the craggy range beyond.
“Summer is another country,” declared Paolo with pride as he bid us farewell. This was his piece of that country, but he’d lend it to E.B. and me for the night. We stayed on the porch until the sun went down and ate the steak with our hands, despite the presence of very nice silverware. We felt sated, drugged by the moonlight and good air. We made a giant fire in the giant fireplace—a splendid, crashing symphony of a fire that was louder than the wind outside—and fell asleep as it burned.
The next morning, someone arrived by car with fruit and yogurt and silver pitchers of coffee. Mountaintop room service. He returned to the village with our used plates and empty bottles and the good news that we’d survived the night and had decided to hike over to the neighboring peak.
“There are five Ladin valleys,” Agustina Lagos Marmol said, stopping at a ridge to let us catch up. Behind us, in the distance, was Marmolada, the highest peak and largest glacier in the Dolomites. Below us, unseen, were Corvara and Corfosco. “Each valley speaks its own dialect of Ladin, some more German, some Italian. And in each valley they will tell you that theirs is the real Dolomites, the most beautiful place to see.”
Marmol grew up in Patagonia and has hiked up and skied down many of the world’s prettiest mountains. She organizes tours all around the Dolomites. “There is nothing else in the Alps like these mountains,” she says. “I’ve been here 18 years, I walk all the time, and I haven’t seen all of it. The rocks, the color, the form—it is always changing.”
E.B. and I followed as Marmol set off through a sloping field full of yellow globeflowers. We paused to look at a tangle of pine that resembled a particularly wild piece of driftwood. “Cirmolo,” Marmol said. “They call them the skier’s curse because those balls of pine can get hidden in the snow.”
As we headed down toward the road that would lead us back to Rosa Alpina, I filmed a little movie with my camera, narrating as we went. Here’s what I said: “Undulating hills, pine needles underfoot, pink stones at night, through the rhododendron, sweet soft air, stopped for a snack at the church.”
I might as well have added: “Repeat daily.”