This route, primarily for expert hikers who love itineraries having the Great War as a background, leads to the historic ridge that was the front line between the Austro Hungarian and Italian armies during 1916 and 1917, drawn by the peaks of Cauriòl, Cardinàl (Gardinal) and Busa Alta (Kaiserspitze), in a combination of history, nature and technical hiking.
The itinerary, starting from the location of Refavaie, develops between the communities of Primiero, Fiemme and Tesino, forming a loop on both not always well-marked paths and fascinating natural shapes, presenting some stretches where, to maintain balance, the use of the hands is necessary.
From the hamlet of Rifugio Refavaie (1,102 m asl), the trail starts by taking a short stretch westwards on the Coldosé gravel road. After a few hundreds meters, right after the first bend, it leaves it, while taking the Sàdole mule track (Signpost No. 320). The mule track is a historical route that was used to link the Valley of Fiemme with the Vanòi one. The wide track, which also shows some remarkable stretches of cobblestones, climbs up into the fir forest, in an environment particularly rich of water, with some sections that open the sight facing the south towards the Cima d’Asta massif.
Once arrived at the hut of Malga Laghetti (1,582 m asl), the view opens wide on the northern slope of the massif of Cima d’Asta, with the smaller peaks named Col del Vento on the left and Cima Corna on the right. From the hut, the track continues uphill towards Passo di Sàdole, always along the old military mule track, passing through the green basin called Busa di Sàdole (1,915 m asl), where the vegetation is left behind to tackle a last uphill stretch along the detrital valley up to the gap of Passo di Sàdole (2,066 m asl). From the gap, the route takes the “Via Italiana” (tr. Italian route), which cuts the southern slope of the Cauriòl Piccolo (tr. little Cauriòl) on a path presenting some slippery stretches, reaching the top of Cauriòl, after passing on the gap between the peaks of Cauriòl Piccolo (tr. small Cauriòl) and Cauriòl, wrongly named Selletta Cartèri (2,343 m asl) – the original one was on the shoulder to the south west of the mountain -.
The view from the summit of Monte Cauriòl (2,493 m asl) is spectacular, and ranges over the Dolomites and the Alps of Fassa; to the north you can see the entire Valley of Fiemme, with the villages on the bottom of the valley and the Dolomites of Latemar in the background, to the south the Valley of Vanoi, with Monte Totoga ahead of the ridge of Vette Feltrine, while to the east the sight turns to the nearby peaks of Cardinàl and Busa Alta (formed by the southern “Taliana” – tr. Italian -, the “busa” – tr. basin – and the “Kaiserspitze”). Thinking nowadays that this dark pyramid of rock, strategically insignificant, but fundamental according to the military tactics of the time to “break” what was a impenetrable military line, was the scene of what would become, according to the Italian propaganda, the most famous battle of the “Alps of Fassa”, with three days of fierce fighting, makes you definitely reflect.
From the top of Cauriòl, the trail continues backwards until reaching once again the Selletta Cartèri, to then begin a short downhill stretch along the “Via Austriaca” (tr. Austrian route). At the first large bend, that is the closest point to the gap between the peaks of Cauriòl and Cardinàl, the “Via Austriaca” is left behind to take a small path leading directly to the mountain gap, called Sforcèla del Cardinàl (2,217 m asl).
The most interesting and technical part of the itinerary begins here, where numerous remains of imperial barracks can be recognized, overlooking the mountain named Cima Paradisi. In fact, all the way up to the summit of Cardinàl does not have any official path, so the track follows the remains of the Alpine trenches on the eastern side of the mountain, in a path that becomes progressively more technical. Before going east, the gap must be walked uphill for just a bit (approximately 50 meters). As the route leaves the mountain gap towards east, it approaches the first military outposts of the Alpini, where it continues slightly uphill following the visible walkways until reaching a remarkable complex of trenches that crosses another mountain gap, at an altitude of 2,300, leading directly to a moraine balcony, historically called the “altitude 2,318” during the conflict, where other tunnels and military barracks are visible. From the terrace, the trail proceeds on a very steep climb along the slope of the Cardinàl ridge, crossing it twice, becoming less and less visible and then disappearing, leaving room for a final slope with several remains of barbed wire, that allows you to reach the top of the summit, of which only a small bunker is visible from below. The summit of Cardinàl (2,481 m asl) offers perhaps a less beautiful sight than the Cauriòl ones, however the summit of Cardinàl is historically way more interesting, with trenches and imperial tunnels built right above its vertical walls.
The return from Cardinàl initially follows the path, with a section equipped with fixed metal ropes, which leads to the gap between the peaks of Cardinàl and Busa Alta, and then descends along the stony gully of Busalta, among mountain pine trees, further remains of the Great War and streams. The descent, after connecting into the forest, ends directly on the path of the Signpost No. 302. The itinerary continues flat along the Signpost No. 302 until reaching the crossroads of Coldosè di Dentro (1,805 m asl), where the route turns downhill towards Rifugio Refavaie, joining the gravel road that connects Refavaie with Malga Coldosè di Sotto and Malga Fossernica, alongside the stream called Rivo di Coldosè. It is possible to cut the last long hairpin bend of the gravel road by simply following the signs for Refavaie.
- From the hamlet of Rifugio Refavaie (1,102 m asl), take the Signpost No. 320 (Sàdole mule track), up to Passo Sàdole, passing by the hut of Malga Laghetti (1,582 m asl) and the basin of Busa di Sàdole (1,915 m asl),
- From the gap of Passo di Sàdole (2,066 m asl), proceed along the so-called “Via Italiana” towards the summit of Cauriòl, passing by the gap called Selletta Cartèri (2,343 m asl),
- From the summit of Cauriòl (2.493 m asl), go back to Selletta Cartèri, then go downhill along the so-called “Via Austriaca” until the first wide bend, near the gap of Sfortcèla del Cardinàl,
- Follow the small track to Sforcèla del Cardinàl,
- From the gap (2,217 m asl), cross the southern side of the mountain along the trenches of the Alpini, until you reach the peak called Cima del Cardinàl,
- From Cima del Cardinàl (2,481 m asl), follow the path that leads to the mountain gap between Cardinàl and Busa Alta, leaving it just before the gap to descend along the stony gully of Busalta, until getting into the Signpost No. 302,
- Follow the Signpost No. 302 to the crossroads of Coldosè di Dentro (1,805 m asl), then descend along the gravel road towards Rifugio Refavaie. ✓
THE GREAT WAR ON THE PEAKS OF CAURIÒL, GARDINAL AND KAISERSPITZE
- In 1916, With the the war lasting longer than expected and the Strafexpedition offensive concentrated mainly on the Asiago plateau, the border between the armies of the Kingdom of Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire crossed the mountain range of the so-called “Alps of Fassa ”, formed, among others, by the ridge drawn by the peaks of Cauriòl, Gardinàl (later renamed Cardinàl) and Kaiserspitze (later renamed Busa Alta), as well as the ones of Cavallazza and Colbricón.
- For what the Italian army hoped could be a breaking attack at the peaks of Cauriòl, Gardinal and Kaiserspitze, together with that on Cima Cece, the Feltre battalion of the seventh regiment of Alpini was deployed. Given the lack of ammunition, in the initial plans, the Feltre Battalion should have waited until the Nucleo Generale Ferrari and the thirteenth of Bersaglieri had managed to break the Austro-Hungarian lines on Colbricón and Cavallazza.
- After the Italians managed to conquer the top of Colbricón, with the new Austro-Hungarian line set back on the Piccolo Colbricón, the advance towards the summit of Cauriòl began on the night of 25 August 1916 with a double attack: the Alpini of Feltre from the south west and the Monterosa battalion from the south east. With the initial support of the artillery from Cima Paradisi and the final support of the 65 mm light cannons, at the dawn of August 27 the summit was conquered by the Alpini, forcing the imperial troops to withdraw towards Passo di Sàdole. During the fight, the second lieutenant Attilio Cartèri of the 65 company of the battalion of Feltre died, hit by a bullet to the head, to whom the shoulder south west of the peak of Cauriòl is dedicated.
- Few hours after the fall of Cauriòl, the Austro-Hungarian counterattack began, which saw the survivors of the Alpini of Feltre and Monterosa fighting in complete isolation from the Italian second lines for four days, while waiting for the Alpini of Val Brenta reinforcements. In those days of intense fighting, the Austrian cannons of the Lagorai and the howitzers of the Val di Fiemme incessantly bombed the Cauriòl, providing support for the advance of the blue uniforms of the Kaiserjäger, pulled back by the Alpini in the small piece of land that separates the Piccolo Cauriòl from the Cauriòl. To support the Kaiserjägers, a Bosnian battalion was sent, tragically remembered for the tragic episode of the “friendly fire”: while the battalion was advancing towards the peak of Cauriòl along the valley of Sàdole, two shots of the 305 mm howitzer from Ziano di Fiemme hit its ranks. The episode was called “a massacre”, and made the command of Bolzano desist from a further attack on the summit.
- With the fall of Cauriòl, the Austrians strengthened their positions on the Gardinal and Kaiserspitze, aware of the fact that, without them, the taking of Cauriòl would not have a real strategic value.
- On September 14, 1916 the battalions of Monterosa, Feltre and Brenta resumed the attack on the Gardinal, whose twin peak fell on September 23, 1916. The actual summit remained in custody at the third Kaiserschützen regiment of Innichen. In the operation on the inhospitable ridge of the mountain, the price in terms of human lives, both Italian and Austrian, was disproportionate, with hundreds of victims per side.
- As evidence of the cruelty of the clashes, Ubaldo Baldinotti tells us in his diaries how, after leaving from the village of Mezzano for the night assault on the Gardinal, his battalion was hit, close to the summit, by machine gun bursts and a series of large stones, which caused the death of numerous Alpini, forcing their withdrawal.
- For the assault that could have changed the tide of the war on the front of eastern Lagorai at the Kaiserspitze, the Monterosa, completely decimated, was integrated by the Battalions Monte Matajiur and Monte Arvenis. The assault on the Kaiserspitze began on October 2, 1916. After three days, “altitude 2,456” (Busa Alta “Taliana”) was taken by the Italians. The resistance of the soldiers of the empire was extreme and, after countless attacks repelled at “altitude 2,512”, the Kaiserspitze remained in Austrian hands until the end of the conflict.
- There are about 800 soldiers – never entirely transferred to monumental shrines built during the fascist era -, both Italian and Austrian, lying in the cemetery of Caoria, in silent memory of the tough struggle to maintain position on these rugged peaks of the Lagorai. Many of them, escaped from the tragedy of the war, fell victim to disease or avalanches in the terrible winter of 1916-1917. The last fallen, an unknown Italian soldier, was found on the Cauriòl slopes, finding eternal peace on the pastures of the Valley of Vanoi only in 1929.
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