Franco, life in a mountain hut
The alarm clock rings at 4:30 a.m. and Franco, his wife Sandra, and his children Elena and Federico go down to the kitchen, prepare the coffee, and then go outside to admire the first rays of sun glinting over the mountain ridges of the Marmolada.
“The silence is surreal and the scene makes you catch your breath every time, especially on clear September mornings,” observes Franco. “It is the only moment in the day entirely for us, because the guests are still sleeping. I have always enjoyed watching the dawning of the new day, it gives me the feeling that anything is possible and I can't wait to start new adventures.”
One adventure that Franco Nicolini and his family set out on was in 2011, when they started running the Rifugio Tosa Pedrotti mountain hut, at 2491 metres above sea level in the heart of the Brenta Dolomites.
“We are here to welcome everyone with the spirit of those who live and love the mountains”
“For those not already experienced in mountain hiking, just reaching the hut is a big achievement: some people are surprised to find dormitories, or by the fact that at ten o'clock in the evening all the lights are switched off. Mountaineers are used to this, they come to the hut to pass the night and the next morning they set off early to start their climbs.”
The Nicolini family welcomes everyone as if they were old friends. “We are an outpost, and our job is not just to serve up pasta. We answer questions, recommend routes, give advice in bad weather conditions. In emergencies and accidents we are always the first to respond.”
“I hope that people realize even a simple minestrone soup up here is the result of the work and dedication of a lot of different people.”
“The hut is a sort of micro community: we need to generate electricity, collect water, and even the rubbish has to be transported back down to the valley. Things that are taken for granted in everyday life, at 2500 metres they require resourcefulness and good organization”, notes Franco. The same applies for the supplies, especially when you consider the number of people that visit the hut each day.
“Initially we considered using a helicopter but this would not have provided the best solution: if there is mist or rain there is the risk of our stores running out because the helicopter is unable to fly. So we decided to upgrade and regulate the cable car that already existed, even though this still requires considerable effort. Just consider a box of tomatoes: from the shop in Molveno it is loaded onto a four-wheel drive and taken up to the Rifugio Croz dell’Altissimo. Here it is transferred into the cable car which carries it up for about 2000 metres before it can be handed to Sandra, my wife. She is the real heart and soul of the hut, she is the one who plans, prepares, and manages the catering: without her we would have nothing to serve up!”
“We limited Wi-Fi and people have started singing again.”
When modernity reaches a mountain hut, there is no saying that it brings improvements. “We decided to install Wi-Fi, but we soon noticed that during dinner people no longer talked with the others at their table, and instead were completely absorbed with their telephones. The atmosphere of an evening in a mountain hut had gone, the possibility of talking with somebody new and maybe even becoming friends. There are even people who have fallen in love and got married after meeting each other at the Pedrotti!”
We decided to put up a sign saying that Wi-Fi would be switched off during dinner. “People started playing mora and cards again. They had stopped singing, but now we heard mountain songs again. Those who can't sing whistle or clap in time.”
At ten o'clock the lights go out and it is bedtime for everyone. Just a few hours later Franco, Sandra, Elena, and Federico will get up again, watch the sun rise, and then go back to work, ready to welcome the next batch of mountain visitors.
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