Dolomites Wilderness: the Val Montina in Cadore.


Val Montina: the Most Important ‘Wilderness Area’ of the Alpine Chain.

Since the early nineties, the whole area of the Val Montina has been declared a Wilderness Area, and maintains not only the characteristics of a wild territory, but it is also possible, at the same time, to come across, here, the traces of an economic history that was abruptly interrupted by the great flooding of 1962, which engulfed and buried the large electric plant (besides provoking the disaster of nearby Vajont dam). The vegetation is that typical of areas rich in water at valley floor level; on the rocky mountain slopes Black (or Austrian) Pine dominates (Pinus nigra). Among the mammalians, badger, fox, deer and roe-deer are present. This is in fact the most important ‘wilderness area’ of the entire Alpine chain (at least in the Oriental Alps). Since its institution as a protected area, nothing ever was built here, and there is no permanent settlement, either; therefore, the natural development is left to its own devices.

The most accessible trail is the one that from Macchietto descends in the direction of the river Piave (signposted), with some difficulty over the summer period because of the tall grass. With the help of a bridge built by the Ente Nazionale Energia Elettrica (the national electric company) — once overcome the initial uncertainty — one goes across the Piave, thus gaining the other bank of the river.

The signs that are present in the area are enough for allowing one to choose itineraries for different options and abilities: the nature lover may follow the simple tracks that cross through woodland and meadows rich in biodiversity; the excursionist will be able to trek the paths to the Bivacco Baroni or the isolated Alberghet, gracious and welcoming; or follow the trail which, with the help of two aerial bridges, gains the opposite bank of Col Svalut, then descending to the area of Ansogne, and returning on one’s steps to the starting point. The crossing of the Montina stream requires, in the last section, to use a ford, and therefore some care; usually, however, the water level is low enough to allow a safe crossing, and also the temperature of the water is usually not too cold (at least in the summer months).


Brief History of the Val Montina Reserve

Since July, 1st, 1994, the Val Montina is the first Alpine Wilderness Area in Europe. The concept of "Wilderness Area" was developed in the US, starting from the ideas of David Thoreau and John Muir already at the beginning of the 1800s, and it means "nature at a wild state, uncultivated and not altered by the intervention of man". The taking of conscience of the importance of natural heritage, the ever-stronger exploitation of natural resources by man, and the impact exercised by the growing pressure due to tourism on the first National Parks, prompted the growth of ideas related to the protection of wild habitats, which became concrete reality already during the last century, with a worldwide movement. The importance of this site is also recognised at community (EU) level. It is therefore included also in the Nature 2000 Network. 


The environment of the Val Montina

The Val Montina is an impervious valley with little access, delimited by a small, narrow morenic mountain amphitheatre that only more internally widens up, becoming less rugged. The two mountain ranges that enclose it are: to the west, the ridge that descends from Monte Duranno (2,652 m), while to the east, the range starting from the Cima dei Frati (2,355 m); they both converge towards the Piave riverbed. The other river courses that cross the area are: the Valmontina stream, tributary of the Piave, the Ru de Tia, the Ru del Bosco Nero, and the Ru Bosco del Belo, all triubutaries of the Valmontina, which come down from the respective small side valleys.

Flora. Many of the plant species present here are so-called "glacial (ice-age) relics"; that is, plants which in the pre-glacial periods were typical only of the Arctic area, and then have moved their area of distribution in more Southern areas, where they have continued to thrive. The articulation of the area has implied the formation of characteristic environments and microclimates, thus creqating several endemisms (that is, plants typical of a given area), such as: Arenaria huteri, Campanula morettiana, the Alpine Poppy (Papaver alpinum), and the beautiful Lady's Slipper Orchid (Cypripedium calceolus). As for the forest formations, starting from the scree, we find the Mountain Pine (Pinus mugo) formations, colonising these inhospitable environments. As soon as the conditions become more favourable, amongst the mountain pine, we also find Larch (Larix decidua) growing. At lower levels, where the slopes become less steep, and the soil richer and more structured, we can find: Norway Spruce (Picea excelsa), Black Pine (Pinus nigra), Silver Fir (Abies alba), Beech (Fagus sylvatica), Maple (Acer pseudoplatanus) and Mountain Laburnum (Laburnum alpinum).  

Fauna. Beacuse of isolation and the limited presence of man, the Valmontina presents an elevated variety of species. Many birds choose this area for reproduction or transit and rest during the long migrations. During the summer, for instance, once can observe Milvus migrans and Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus). The majority of birds, however, are stationary; such as Accipiter gentilis, Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), Tetrao tetrix, Capercaille (Tetrao urogallus), Certhia familiaris, and others. Amongst the mammals, instead, we find: Common Hare (Lepus europaeus), and Alpine Hare (L. tumidus), Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), Marmot (Marmota marmota), Fox (Vulpes vulpes), and a few ungulates such as Deer (Cervus elaphus), Roe-deer (Capreolus capreolus) and Chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra), the most represented species in the area. Receently, have also been introduced: Ibex (Capra ibex) and Ovis musimon.    

The Valmontina and Man. The Valmontina, despite being rugged and inhospitable, was exploited by man for a long time. In order to reach the innermost parts, were created trails, thus permitting the the exploitation of the high altitude pastures. These areas, however, were also soon abandoned. The woodlands were exploited for timber and for charcoal production. Timber was taken to the bottom of the Valmontina stream with the aid of three ziplines, and from there to the Piave. The production of charcoal, instead, was practiced by the carbonér (charcoal maker), who used to build, in designated areas known as aiàl, heaps of beechwod in order to form a sort of 'dome', the poiàt, inside which would happen the anoxic combustion that would transform wood into charcoal.


The Val Montina Nature Trail

The Nature Trail, for its orographic characteristics, can be walked by anyone, even without specific training for walking in a mountainous setting.

This trail develops around the Casera Valmontina, and it allows, within the space of about 1 h, to carry out interesting naturalistic observations, by allowing one to see all the main habitats that can be encountered in this wildreness area. The nature trail can be walked in different ways: it is advised, however, to take it just below the Casera Valmontina, by taking the track that goes towards the valley bottom, amongst tall grasses. After passing an abandoned building, the mule-track continues on a small ridge, towards the ravine formed by the stram as the track leaves it aside, and, by rising a few hundreds of meters along a steep ridge, it leads towards a viewpoint, where are a few benches and an information panel. The itinerary now continues towards the Casera Valmontina, roughly at half-slope level, until crossing the trail that leads ito the innermost part of the valley (described below). Once crossed this trail (from this point, the casera is easily reached within a few minutes' walk downhill), the trail continues in the woodland, always at half-slope level, crosses a few small side-valleys, probably once used to descend the tree trunks along the valley, and then a steep mountainside. From here, in a short while, one reaches the junction bewteen the CAI trail that ascends to the Baroni bivouac (two more information panels along the way) and a small trail that descends towards the casera, which is also used for the nature trail. In a slight descent, one reaches again the Casera Valmontina; after a few meters in a meadow, one rejoins the starting point of our description. A little distance away from the nature trail and the Casera Valmontina, is an old lime kiln, where another information board provides a description of its characteristics and the production process.

The Excursionist Trail

The excursionist trail, for the peculiar morphology of its track and an objective potential danger risk, is best walked by experienced hikers only, and is advised not to take it in case of snow, low temperatures (ice), and in bad weather generally. It is best taken starting from the Casera Valmontina, as from Ansogne one is forced to rise steeply for a long stretch, in order to pass the rocky outcrops that loom over the hydrographic right side of the valley.

This trail also unfolds starting from the Casera Valmontina, from which the track rises with a relatively steady gradient, passing by a few charcoal pits, then rising quite high in altitude, to then continue with long stretches with very low gradients. One then skirts a jutting rock, that can also be used as shelter in case of rain (information board on vegetal charcoal production), to then reach a steep rocky little valley. The excursionist trail then continues by taking a wide wooded section that overlooks scenic and deep crags until reaching a metallic bridge created by the Regional Forestry Commission. In this section, the trail is also equipped with a metallic rope, even though it does not present particular difficulties. One then continues, always on a good track, to reach a wide area affected by a landslide, where in the past, in the first trait, was present a small bridge, necessary in order to pass a modest side valley, periodically interested by the discharge from the derivation channel for the hydroelectric works in the Valmontina, of which one can see several parts along both the nature and the escursionist trail, with interesting artifacts of industrial archaelogy architecture. Once overtaken the landslide on a secure track, the trail reaches a junction; leaving the path that continues straight, one descends to the left towards the river bed. This section of trail can certainly be considered demanding, considering the steep ravines that flank it. Shortly, one reaches the stream, in order to pass which, has been created a wooden boardwalk. Once passed the stream, after an exposed section equipped with an iron rope, one continues for about another 300 m, to reach the enchanting canyon of Bosco Bello, which is passed with the help of another footbridge. We are now in one of the most fascinating parts of the whole valley, for the presence of deep rocky ravines and gurgling waters. Once overtaken the bridge, the trail rises under a rock, to then lead to an exposed grassy bank. The itinerary then continues to then reach -- after a steep rise -- a characteruistic jutting rock that forms a sort of cave, where it is possible to find shelter in case of bad weather. It also offers interesting vegetational and floral peculiarities. One then continues to rise in a beechwood, and, after passing another charcoal pit, one reachest the highest point within the whole trail: 860 meters above sea level. From here, the track becomes more readily visible, and despite crossing an exposed (but very panoramic) ledge, it appeas safe to walk -- at least in good weather conditions, After a few hundred meters, one finally gets to a mule-track that allows to end the hike in the hamlet of Ansogne, after a steep descent.   

The Lime Kiln (Calchera)

Lime Kilns are a recurrent element in the Dolomitic mountain: besides area where the production of lime took on almost industrial characteristics (such as in the Val Canzoi, near Cesiomaggiore), there are other areas where where one can spot isolated lime kilns, created maybe (in some cases) for the realisation of a single building. Lime was being used as a binding material, in order to paint houses and, most especially, (as whitewash) as disinfectant for the sanitation of barns, for the treatment of some plants and bovines' illnesses, as well as for the conservation of eggs. The lime kiln is a very simple artifact, normally built with stones that are heat-resistent, skilfully disposed in a dry-stonewall manner so to form a vaulted cavity. Closed on all sides, it would then present an aperture on the side facing towards the valley bottom, through which the fire would be fed. In order to produce lime, the oven would be filled with calcareous stones: lower down would be placed the bigger stones, disposed as in cone so to form a vault able to withstand the weight of other stonesof smaller and smaller dimensions, with which the lime kiln would be filled up until the summit. One would then proceed to the lighting of the fire, that had to be fed continuosly for about 4 days (in order to activate a furnace, the employment of more people was necessary).

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