The Sesto Dolomites: Rewarding Walks Among A Fantastic Swirl of Jagged Peaks.

The Sesto Dolomites (Dolomiti di Sesto/Sextner Dolomiten or Sextner Sonnenuhr) are a sector of the Dolomites situated between South Tyrol and the Provincia di Belluno.

They take their name from the village of Sesto Pusteria/Sexten, which is located to the NE of the range.

The most elevated peak is the Punta dei Tre Scarperi (3,152 m), and they comprise quite an extended territory, delimited roughly by the lower Val Pòpena (Val Pòpena Bassa), the Val di Landro/Hölenstaintal, the Alta Val Pusteria/Hochpustertal, the Val di Sesto/Sextnertal, the Passo di Monte Croce di Comelico (1,636 m, near the border with Austria) in South Tyrol, and the Val Padola, valle del Piave and Val d'Ansiei in Veneto.

The Sesto Dolomites are also almost completely lying inside the perimeter of the Parco Naturale Dolomiti di Sesto/Naturpark Sextner Dolomiten-Drei Zinnen – at least as far as the section in South Tyrol is concerned istituted in 1982.

Inside this range is also the famous “Strada degli Alpini” (see below).

Subdivision

The Sesto Dolomites can be further subdivided into a series of minor groups:

The Tre Scarperi group is delimited by the Passo Grande dei Rondoi (2,289 m), the Val Campo di Dentro/Innerfeldtal, Val Sassovecchio, Val Fiscalina/Fischleintal and the Val di Sesto/Sextnertal. The major peaks are Punta dei Tre Scarperi (3,152 m), Punta Piccola dei Scarperi (3,095 m), Punta Lavina Bianca (2,987 m) and Lastron degli Scarperi (2,957 m).

The Rondoi-Baranci group comprises the Rocca dei Baranci (2,966 m), Croda dei Baranci (2,922 m), Croda dei Rondoi (2,873 m) and Monte Rudo (2,826 m).

The Tre Cime di Lavaredo/Drei Zinnen are certainly and by far the most visited group within the Dolomiti di Sesto. They comprise the Cima Grande di Lavaredo (2,999 m), Cima Ovest (2,973 m) and Cima Piccola (2,857 m). Amongst the minor summits are to be counted Croda dell'Arghena (2,252 m), while a little to the N is the slender outline of the Torre di Toblin (2,617 m).

The Monte Piana group is situated in the high Val di Landro/Hölenstaintal, and it comprises two main peaks, Monte Piana itself (2,324 m) to the S and Monte Piano (2,305 m) to the N.

The Cadini di Misurina are a sub-group situated to the E of Lake Misurina; it is less extended than the others, but it gathers nonetheless several peaks with a slender or jagged appearance. In the Ramo di San Lucano (San Lucano branch) one can find the Cime Cadin di Nord-Est (2,788 m), Cadin di San Lucano (m 2.839) and Cima Eötvös (2,815 m). Other peaks that are very frequented by the mountaineers in this group are the Torre di Misurina, Torre del Diavolo (2,598 m) and Torre Wundt (2,517 m); the area is also crossed by the “Sentiero Bonacossa” (see below).

The Monte Paterno – Cima Una group is situated right at the core of the Sesto Dolomites. The highest peak is Monte Paterno (2,744 m); other elevations comprise the Croda Passaporto (2,744 m), Torre Pian di Cengia (2,700 m) and Cima Una (2,698 m).

The Croda dei Toni group is situated in the Val Giralba, between the Passo Fiscalino (2,519 m) and the Val Cengia. It comprises the Croda dei Toni (a.k.a. Cima Dodici; 3,094 m), Croda Antonio Berti (3,029 m), Cima Sud della Croda dei Toni (2,945 m) and Cima d'Auronzo (2,945 m).

The Popera group is the most extensive sub-group of the entire Sesto Dolomites; it develops from N to S with side chains that encircle vast screes known as ‘cadini’. The main peaks are Cima Undici (3,092 m), Monte Popera (3,046 m), Giralba di Sotto (2,995 m), Cima Bagni (2,983 m), Croda Rossa di Sesto (a.k.a. Cima Dieci; 2,965 m) and Cima d'Ambata (2,872 m).

Mountain Huts

In the Sesto Dolomites – especially within the Parco Naturale delle Dolomiti di Sesto there are numerous Alpine huts. Among the main ones, the following must be included:

The Rifugio Antonio Locatelli (Dreizinnenhütte) is situated at 2,405 m in the heart of the Park. The construction of a hut in this quintessentially iconic location had already been suggested as early as 1881 – at the heyday of the mountaineering expeditions in the Dolomites – by the then Austro-German Alpine Club.

After due investigations in the area, it was unanimously decided that this was the best location, because of the unique view that can be enjoyed on the Tre Cime di Lavaredo/Drei Zinnen (2,999 m) as well as on nearby Monte Paterno/Paternkofel (2,746 m) and the other surrounding mountains, so the construction of an Alpine hut began in 1882 by the Forcella Toblin, and the hut opened in the following spring of 1883. The small original building was destroyed by an Italian grenade during WW1; following that, in 1922 another small ‘rifugio’ was opened, replacing the former, which was then expropriated in 1923 by the Italian Alpine Club (the area in the meantime had become Italian) and that is when the building was enlarged into the structure that we still see today.

The hut can be reached on foot only; the quickest and easiest route is probably from Rifugio Auronzo (see below); the link with Sesto Pusteria/Sexten (through the Val Fiscalina/Fischleintal) is certainly more demanding; in fact, it is also possible to ascend from the Lago di Landro/Dürrensee in about three hours. As a note of curiosity, by the hut there is also a chapel and two small lakes of glacial origin: the ‘Laghi dei Piani’ (Bödenseen).

The Rifugio Auronzo (Auronzohütte) is situated by the Forcella Longères, in the municipality of Auronzo di Cadore (and therefore outside the park), at 2,320 m. From the hut a wide view can be enjoyed on the Tre Cime di Lavaredo/Drei Zinnen, Croda dei Toni, the group of the Cadini di Misurina, Cristallo, Lake Misurina and the Val d'Ansièi.

The Rifugio Auronzo is often used as a stepping point for the ‘Via Ferrata De Luca-Innerkofler’ on Monte Paterno/Paternkofel and for the "Alta Via No. 4, Grohmann", as well as for the popular roundtrip around the Tre Cime di Lavaredo/Drei Zinnen, for which is conveniently located roughly half-way, when coming from either direction.

The Rifugio Auronzo has quite a tormented history. In the late 1800s, the Austrian had begun the construction of some huts on the N side of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo/Drei Zinnen such as Rifugio Locatelli; see above), and it was then decided that the same should be done on the S side; therefore, in 1912, the construction of a hut began, then called Rifugio Longères but it opened officially olny as late ad 1925, and under the new name of ‘Rifugio Principe Umberto’. After the end of WW2 it was dedicated to Bruno Caldart (an Alpine guide from Auronzo), and following a damaging fire in 1955 it was finally restored and enlarged in the shape that it still retains today, under the current name.

The Rifugio Auronzo can be reached by means of a controversial toll road that starts at the northern end of Lake Misurina, by the small Lago di Antorno. The road is 7 km long and quite expensive, but the hut can also be accessed by public transport. It is also possible to walk to the ‘Rifugio via a path that follows the road from a distance, in about 1 h. Alternatively, the location can be reached from Auronzo di Cadore with quite a demanding walk along the wooded – at first, but then very rocky and steep – Val Marzón, in about 4 h.

A word of warning: it is not advised to spend much time in this location that is unfortunately too plagued by cars and tourist herds to be enjoyable; in my opinion, it is best to use this location merely as a starting point for further walks and nothing else.

In fact, the Auronzo Mountain hut is usually the starting point for the roundtrip around the Tre Cime di Lavaredo/Drei Zinnen, which normally takes one to Rifugio Lavaredo first (see below) and then on to Rifugio Locatelli (see above), in about 1h30. Also, the Rifugio Zsigmondy-Comici (see below) is about 3 hrs away, while the Rifugio Fratelli Fonda Savio is connected with the Auronzo hut via the “Sentiero Bonacossa” (2h30; see below).

The Rifugio Lavaredo is situated at the foot of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo/Drei Zinnen, at 2,344. It was erected in 1954 by one of the founders of the ‘Alpine Rescue’ in Auronzo and it is just 20 mins away from Rifugio Auronzo (along the way, there is a chapel dedicated to the many victims of WW1). It can also be accessed from Auronzo di Cadore through the Val Marzon in 4h30 and from the Locatelli/Dreizinnenhütte in about 1h.

The Rifugio Zsigmondy-Comici (Zsigmondy-Comici-Hütte) is an Alpine hut situated in the territory of Sesto Pusteria/Sexten, at the heart of the Sesto Dolomites, 2,224 m. It lies at the foot of the northern face of the Croda dei Toni (a.k.a. Cima Dodici), 3,094 m. It takes its name from mountaineers Emil Zsigmondy and Emilio Comici, and it was erected by the Austrian Alpine Club during WW1; after being damaged during the conflict, it was then rebuilt in 1928 and further restored in 1984.

It can be accessed from Capanna Fondovalle (1,548 m) in the Val Fiscalina/Fischleintal in 2h, from Auronzo di Cadore in 5h and from Moso di Sesto/Moos in 3h30.

Climbs are possible to the Cima Undici (3,092 m), Monte Popera (3,045 m) and Croda dei Toni (Cima Dodici; 3,094 m). From the hut starts one end of the famous traverse known as Strada degli Alpini” (see below). Distances: Rifugio Auronzo is 2h30 away, Rifugio Pian di Cengia 1h and Rifugio Locatelli 2h; Rifugio Carducci is an hour's walk through the Forcella Giralba and Rifugio Berti 5h.

The Rifugio Pian di Cengia/Büllelejoch Hütte is an Alpine hut also in the territory of Sesto Pusteria/Sexten, at 2,528 m. It is situated on the trail connecting Rifugio Comici-Zsigmondy Hütte (¾h) and Locatelli/Dreizinnenhütte (1h), on the southwestern side of monte Paterno (Paternkofel) – the setting of so many battles between the Italian and Austrian armies during WW1.

The Rifugio Fratelli Fonda-Savio is an Alpine hut situated in the municipality of Auronzo di Cadore, right at the centre of the Cadini di Misurina group, and more precisely in the Upper Val d'Ansiei, at the Passo dei Tocci (2,367 m); it lies exactly above the Lago di Misurina.

The hut is dedicated to the memory of three brothers militating in a partisan brigade that operated in the area during WW2; their father was also at the head of the anti-Nazi campaign in Trieste, whose CAI branch still owns the ‘Rifugio’.

The hut can be accessed from the parking at Pian degli Spiriti (1,830 m) along the road to Rifugio Auronzo in 1h45. Among the many traverses from Rifugio Fonda-Savio, near the area of the the Alpine hut passes the “Sentiero Bonacossa(see below), which leads to Rifugio Auronzo through more remains of WW1 in 3h30. Rifugio Col de Varda is 2h away and Rifugio Città di Carpi 1h30.

The Rifugio Carducci is situated in the Alta Val Giralba at 2,297 m; it is a good base for excursions along the “Alta Via No. 5”, of the ‘Titian’. The hut was built in 1908 by the Italian CAI at the foot of the Croda dei Toni, and It is dedicated to the renowned Italian poet Giosuè Carducci, who sojourned in the area in 1892, when he also composed the famous ‘Ode to Cadore’.

From Auronzo di Cadore (locality Giralba; 950 m), the Carducci hut can be reached via a path; it can also be accessed from Rifugio Berti (1,950 m) via the Vallon Popera, Passo della Sentinella and the “Strada degli Alpini” (see below) until the Forcella Giralba or via the Val Giralba itself; also, from Rifugio Zsigmondy-Comici via the Forcella Giralba.

The Rifugio Tre Scarperi/Dreischusterhütte (1,626 m) can be accessed from the Valle Campo di Dentro/Innerfeldtal.

The Rifugio Angelo Bosi is an Alpine hut situated in the Sesto Dolomites but in the municipality of Auronzo di Cadore at 2,205 m, on the southern part of Monte Piana.

In 1962, an area of war shacks was bought on this site – theatre of bitter fights during WW1 between the Italian and Austrian troops and an Alpine hut erected in their place. The 'Rifugio' soon became operative, and a chapel was built beside it in 1965; it was then enlarged but it still retains to this day the original atmosphere, with a few plaques on the exterior walls and a small museum inside. It is dedicated to Captain Angelo Bosi, who fell on the field not far from here.

There are several ways of reaching the top of Monte Piana (2,324 m), which is actually an open plateau. The simplest method is to reach Misurina, from where a shuttle minibus departs; the same military road can be walked in approx. 1h30.

There are also different paths of varying degrees of difficulty. The most fascinating is the so-called "Sentiero dei Pionieri" (Pionerweg) that from Landro/Hölensteintal takes to the top via the northern side of the mountain, from where it is easy to reach the hut. Near the top there are some exposed tracts, and a deviation to the starting point of the ‘Via Ferrata Bilgeri’ leads at the foot of the Croce di Dobbiaco, the highest point on Monte Piana.

Alternatively, from Carbonin/Schluderbach there is the "Sentiero dei Turisti" (Touristensteig), also with some exposed tracts, which takes one to the west of the Forcella dei Castrati along a steep path (take extra care) that, once having reached the edge of the plateau, leads to the hut. Another option still is from the Val Rinbianco; this one takes more to the east of the Forcella dei Castrati and then reaches the hut from the opposite direction.

The Rifugio Antonio Berti is an Alpine hut located on the southern fringe of the vast Vallòn Popera in the section of the Sesto Dolomites belonging to the municipality of Comelico Superiore, at 1,950 m. It is surrounded by the imposing walls of Cima Bagni (2,950 m), Monte Popera (3,046 m), Cima Undici (3,092 m) and Croda Rossa (2,965 m).

Through the re-adaptation of a former WW1 building (Ex-Comando Vallòn Popera), the first hut was erected here in 1924, but it was substituted by a totally new building in the 1960s, dedicated to Antonio Berti known as Cantore delle crode”, poet and mountaineer, and also famous for his descriptions and activities of exploration in the Eastern Dolomites. The current hut is at a slightly lower altitude when compared to the former, and it is still possible to see the original building.

The hut can be accessed from the parking at Selvapiana (Rifugio Lunelli) in 1h, or from the parking at Passo Monte Croce Comelico in 2h30. Ascents to Cima Undici 3,092 m and Monte Popera 3,046 m are possible.

The Rifugio Berti is one of the starting points of the famous traverse known as Strada degli Alpini” (see below), which takes to the Comici and Carducci huts through the Passo della Sentinella and Forcella Undici in 5h. Also, from Rifugio Berti, one can reach the Carducci hut via the ‘Ferrata Roghel’ and Cengia Gabriella in 7h30. The hut is also the starting and arriving point of the ‘Ferrate Zandonella I and II’ to the Croda Rossa (7h), and is used as a base for the Variant II of the Alta Via No. 5”, of the ‘Titian’.

Further excursions from the hut include the trail to the small glacial lake of Laghetto del Vallòn Popera, in 30min, then on to the Passo della Sentinella (2,717 m) in 2 h. Through the Forcella dei Camosci and via the Bivacco Piovan one can descend to the parking of the Rifugio Lunelli at Selvapiana in 3h, thus completing a roundtrip.

Also, the ring “Anello Vallòn Popera” starts by the ‘Ex-Rifugio Sala’, then it leads on to the Croda Sora i Colesei (2,303 m) through war tunnels and with a panoramic view over the Alta Pusteria/Hochpustertal; from there, one can proceed on to the Forcella Popera and return to the hut through the Laghetto Popera in 3h (also a circular excursion).


The “Strada degli Alpini”

The “Strada degli Alpini” (a.k.a. “Sentiero degli Alpini” – the 'Alpines' Trail') is one of the most celebrated and classic ‘vie ferrate’ in the entire Alps. It is situated in the Sesto Dolomites, at the border between South Tyrol and Veneto. This is an historical ‘via ferrata’, as the “Cengia della Salvezza” (Salvation Ledgeas a part of it is called) was used as a rapid and efficient connection by the ‘Alpini’ (the Italian mountaineering army) between the Forcella Giralba and the ‘Passo della Sentinella’.

The construction of the Strada degli Alpiniwas decided when the Italian troops had difficulty entering the Austrian territory via the Passo di Monte Croce di Comelico. The route was made practicable by the Italian Alpini’ (hence the name) under the guidance of Major Italo Lunelli (to whom a local mountain hut is dedicated), and it was traced between the western side of the Cresta Zsigmondy and Cima Undici.

It was carved in the rocks mostly by human labour, and the ‘cengia’ was then used to reach and fortify the posts on the crest of Cima Undici during preparation of the attack by the ‘Passo della Sentinella’, located between the Croda Rossa di Sesto and the Cima Undici – a narrow passage that at the time also coincided with the boundary between Italian and Austrian territories.

The great western plateau of Cima Undici was only partially occupied by the Italian army, where outposts, shacks and fortifications were placed; military action took place in this area from September 1915 to April 1916, and it ended with a positive outcome for the Italians.

After the end of the hostilities, and once the area was officially annexed to the then Kingdom of Italy, right from the 1930s the route was adapted as a trail for expert excursionists, and it does not present particular difficulties if undertaken in the summer, without snow, and with the appropriate equipment for a standardvia ferrata’. While the original route reached the Forcella Undici, the stretch from the latter to the Passo della Sentinella was equipped only as late as the 1970s by the Italian Alpine club.

The Excursion: the First Route

There are two different options for this excursion. This is the general description for the first option: total time 10h, possibly to be divided into two days. Rise of about 1,200 m, of which 300 of ‘via ferrata’. The advised route is from the car park at the end of the Val Fiscalina/Fischleintal (1,454 m) to the highest point at the Passo della Sentinella; the return route is through the Alpe Anderta back to Campo Fiscalino/Fischleinboden.

The starting point is the parking by the Dolomitenhof in Campo Fiscalino/Fischleinboden (1,454 m), at the end of the road of the val Fiscalina/Fischleintal and not far from Sesto Pusteria/Sexten, in the Alta Pusteria/Hochpustertal – a location that can be easily reached either by car or public transport.

The trail then leads first to the Rifugio Fondovalle (1,526 m), and starts to climb soon afterwards; Rifugio Zsigmondy-Comici (2,224 m; see above) is gained in about 2h30. From there, the trail takes a SE direction as it passes the base of the Croda dei Toni (a.k.a. Cima Dodici; 3,094 m), and as it reaches a small glacial lake. Then the main track branches off to the left – and this is an important junction to bear in mind, as taking right would lead to the Forcella Giralba (2,431 m) and Rifugio Carducci instead (2,297 m).

This deviation can be taken if one desires to enjoy the beautiful view from the Forcella, but it lengthens the excursion considerably, while staying on the main track would lead instead to cross the scree known as Canalone della Busa di Dentro. Afterwards, the path starts to rise along the scree, then it passes under the jagged peaks of La Mitra (2,788 m) and La Spada (2,526 m), until gaining the proper beginning of the ‘via ferrata’ (as a matter of fact, the stretch up to here could be undertaken by the average walker, as no particular experience or equipment is required – but then one would have to turn back at this point).

Once secured to the iron ropes one can continue on the track, which becomes more demanding from this point onwards, as it will soon go through the so-called Cengia della Salvezza (‘Salvation Ledge’) and then on to the Busa di Fuori. Continuing on this narrow passage, one will then follow the base of Cima Undici; after going all around the peak, one will cross another ‘canalone’ (scree) that descends from the summit, and at that point the remains of military outposts come into sight – Austrian in this case, while the Italians were positioned on the actual wall of Cima Undici. From there, one then reaches shortly after the Forcella di Cima Undici (2,600 m); despite the short distance that separates Cima Undici from its Forcella (pass), this latter position was nonetheless never conquered by the Italians.

At the forcella one will meet the track than ascends from the Alpe di Anderta, which rises all the way to the Passo della Sentinella ('The Sentinel's Pass', 2,717 m), and the track will then pass along a ‘cengia’ (ledge) that crosses the northern flank of Cima Undici. Continuing on, one will then meet a ladder and a small wooden bridge, until a path that descends into the val Fiscalina/Fischleintal braches off. Keeping on ascending, and with the aid of fixed ropes, one finally gains the actual Passo della Sentinella, where many soldiers lost their lives during the conflict. At the actual pass, many paths meet; amongst them, the ‘Ferrata Zandonella’ and the one coming from Rifugio Berti, in Comelico, reachable in 1h.

At this point starts the return for this option, and one has to trace one’s steps back to the last junction, where there are some fixed ropes that will help one to descend along the rock walls, which present exposed tracts that can also be quite crumbly at times. After a few hairpin bends, one sinks into the scree of Vallon della Sentinella to finally reach again the Alpe di Anderta, where there is the junction for the val Fiscalina/Fischleintal and the Prati di Croda Rossa/Rotwandwiesen ('Meadows of the Croda Rossa'). Here there is a choice of two paths, but by branching to the left – and heading right at the following junction – one will take the track that ends at the parking by the Dolomitenhof, where the excursion had started.

Description of the Second Route

Total time 9-10h, possibly to be divided into two days. Rise of about 1,200 m, of which 300 of ‘via ferrata’. Starting point is by the cable car station to the Croda Rossa/Rotwand (1,358 m). The highest point is the Passo della Sentinella (2,717 m); the return route is through the Rifugio Comici and the val Fiscalina/Fischleintal to Campo Fiscalino/Fischleinboden, again with a descent to the cable car station to the Croda Rossa.

In fact, the route could also be taken in the opposite direction, in case making use also of the Croda Rossa cable car, which would take to the altitude of 1,930 m in a few minutes' time; from there, the route is signposted. Immediately the path starts to rise, until reaching some wooden steps. Here is the junction for thevia ferrata’ of the Croda Rossa; ignoring this turn, one keeps following the indications to the ‘Strada degli Alpini’, as the path descends a little.

As one proceeds, little by little a ‘canalone’ (scree) is revealed, which will have to be climbed zigzagging, until arriving to a first, narrow ‘forcella’ – which should in fact be considered the ‘true’ Forcella Undici. From there one proceeds with the help of a fixed steel cable until reaching what is normally considered the Forcella Undici (2,645 m) – but in fact, this location is way too open to be a proper ‘forcella’ (pass).

Here one meets the equipped trail that takes to the Passo della Sentinella (2717 m), which is the most difficult stretch especially in case of snow flanking the northern side of Cima Undici. Afterwards, one will have to retrace one’s steps back and regain the ‘forcella’, after which the trail continues with a slight descent, leading to a narrowing; after passing a first ‘cengia’ (ledge), one then encounters a second, the famous "Cengia della Salvezza" (see above).

After this, the trail becomes broader again, and passes under the Forcella Giralba (2,431 m) and nearby a small lake, the Lago Ghiacciato (2,327 m), to finally descend to Rifugio Zsigmondy-Comici (2224 m; see above). Eventually, the trail sinks into the val Fiscalina/Fischleintal for good, and from there to the cable car station, where the trail had started (public transport is also available, once reached the valley bottom).

The Equipped Trail Sentiero Alberto Bonacossa

The equipped trail ‘Alberto Bonacossa’ is an interesting crossing in the Cadini di Misurina group, which offers a magnificent excursion immersed in a majestic but severe high-altitude landscape. There are numerous sections of path secured with iron ropes, thus classifying this track as a mild version of via ferrata’.

Despite that, the Bonacossa trail can be considered in all respects a safe option to enter into a ‘real’ mountain environment without venturing into the more challenging domain of the proper vie ferrate’, which would require more serious equipment and training.

Nevertheless, it should be made clear that there are a few exposed tracts, and therefore extra care should be taken – as always when walking in high-altitude, in fact. The other positive aspect of the 'Bonacossa' trail is that – as well as entering the wild reaches of the Cadini di Misurina – it also crosses an area that is not so well-known, and that – especially in the summer months – will provide a welcome respite from the more heavily frequented routes.

The trail is enlivened by the presence of the usual characteristics of the Dolomites: peaks, needles, towers, ‘cenge’ (ledges), ‘ghiaioni’ (scree) also with the sparse but beautiful flora of the highest reaches, providing monumental views into the Dolomites’ heartland.

It can be accessed from Misurina lake; the difference in height is of about 915 m, and the whole roundtrip takes about 7h to complete. It is an itinerary of easy-medium difficulty, which can be undertaken by anybody with a minimal training. The exposed tracts always have good fixed equipment. The two huts that can be used in support of this hike are Rifugio Fratelli Fonda-Savio (2.359 m) and Rifugio Auronzo (2.320 m for both of which, see above), and the best period for this excursion is from June to early October.


Return from Sesto Dolomites to Alta Pusteria

Return from Sesto Dolomites to Italy-Tours-In-Nature

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