By Senior Airman Cory W. Bush, 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 23, 2016
A three hour drive from Aviano Air Base, Italy nestled in the Dolomites of Braies near South Tyrol, Italy, sits Lago Di Braies. This shimmering emerald green glacier lake offers Airmen the chance to escape from civilization to enjoy the true outdoors year-round.
As soon as I arrived I was hit with the stunning views of mountains and the historic Largo Di Braies Hotel, which was built alongside the lake more than 110 years ago. The hotel is the starting point for all the adventures the mountain has to offer.
You can choose to go around the lake to the left or right. The left offers a more challenging climb, while the right is more level and is a straight shot to the other side where the beach and other trails are located. In the wintertime the area is known for its snowy hikes and big tire bike rides. I chose to hike to the left of the Seekofel Peak, which is just a 10 hour roundtrip hike from the hotel.
Before I embarked on the climb to the Seekofel Peak, I created my own cairns. Cairns are used for a variety of purposes that date back to prehistoric times. Many hikers create them along paths with low visibility or poorly placed trail markers. I liked to think of it as good luck before I hiked this snow-covered trail into the fog.
I immediately regretted bringing 55 pounds of camera gear as I started the climb. I just got over a 95 percent on my physical training test, and I think my ego got the best of me when I made that decision. The sounds of nature easily distract you from all the pain and agony as you make the 2,810 meter climb. If you find yourself taking a lot of breaks, so did I.
About 1,500 meters up, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a cold, wet bench to rest at. It offered a spectacular view of the lake and valley below. I was so tired I actually dozed off for about 10 minutes and was surprised to wake up to a completely different scene.
In came the rolling fog through the various valleys that made up the region. I felt like I woke up in a completely different spot on the map. After observing the view for a few minutes, and as the fog started rising, I got to hiking again, worried the fog might swallow me off the trail.
Sure enough, fog is a faster hiker than me. It’s hard to hike fast when you’re a photojournalist surrounded by beautiful landscapes. I could have sat on the mountain side forever.
Within a matter of minutes my visibility went from a couple of miles to a couple of feet. I ended up losing the trail and got lost in the abyss. It didn’t stop me from attempting to make it to the peak, but daylight was not on my side. Turning around was the safer decision to make in order to reach the lake by dark.
I managed to escape the fog and get back on the path back to the lake below. All-in-all, the journey was probably one of the most challenging hikes I’ve ever encountered but one of the greatest days spent during my time stationed in Italy. Lake Braies is the perfect destination for any adventurer.