Hiking Italy's Dolomites is challenging and beautiful

We pause by a tiny lake — one of the few bodies of water we see during our time here — before starting a challenging hike up a chute.

Kirk, who's 44 and 22 years my junior, surges ahead on the 1- to-2-foot-wide trail that switchbacks toward the top, while Karin, ever the good guide, stays behind with me as I stop often to catch my breath and occasionally sneak a dizzying look back down the chute.

At the top we take a break for water and snacks and enjoy the view of the steep, rock-littered path down that awaits us and the flatter valley beyond. Other hikers, coming from the direction of our destination rifugio, crest the trail, then head down the chute we had just climbed.

Some of these hikers are doing routes similar to ours. Others are tackling some of the alta vie, or high paths. These long-distance trails generally require at least a week to hike.

At Rifugio Lagazuoi we had shared a table at dinner with Roman and Sibylle from Freiburg, Germany, who were hiking the 90-mile-long Alta Via 1, one of the most popular alta vie. They had just hiked down the chute that we would encounter the next day.

Roman tells us they had decided to do Alta Via 1 after seeing a TV documentary and were glad they'd come. Though Germany has its own mountains, "We've never seen mountains this high," he says. "They're very impressive."

Besides their link to World War I, the Dolomites also are home to the Ladin culture, which Karin tells us developed after the Romans invaded the region two millenniums ago and is the most ancient culture of the Alps.

Ladin is among the six languages she speaks, and the documentaries she helps produce document the work of Ladin artists.

Ladin dishes, along with Italian and German influences, also show up on menus at the rifugi and other restaurants in the region. That translates into a mix of pasta, schnitzels, stews and other hearty fare.

Meals and time in our room at night are a good opportunity for Kirk and me to connect on a deeper level than what we typically experience when talking on the phone or the occasional times we can get together in the U.S. We talk about the frustrations and successes of life and work, and mutual experiences as a father. I tell him that as I grow older, I sometimes encounter things in life that make me regret not having known my own dad better.

These are not breakthrough moments, just good, satisfying sharing between two trail mates who happen to be father and son too.

Like hiking, the trek through life isn't without its challenges. But the payoff comes with the experiences and the memories.

Thanks for the memories, Kirk.

Thanks for the memories, Dolomites.

travel@latimes.com