Via Ferrata in the Dolomites
This page is intended to fascinate, educate and warn you about climbing Via Ferrata, which I'll abbreviate to VF to avoid messing around with Italian plurals (Vie Ferrate?). This page is divided into sections on VF basics and logistics information on our trip, with two climbs in the eastern Dolomites described alongside. The author is happy to answer email queries. UPDATED JULY 2008
|Cima Pisciadu - the
Brigata Tridenta route
This is one of the most popular VFs in the eastern Dolomites, a long rope chain constructed by the 3rd Brigade of the Italian Army under the direction of the warden of the Rifugio Pisciadu in 1967. To find the route, drive up towards to the Passo Gardena / Grodner Joch from Corvara. On one of the many south-facing hairpins, you'll find a large quarry posing as a car park. You'll recognise it from a goods lift for the hut (if it's still there!).
The route starts immediately, with a long and easy ladder section up a buttress, followed by a short walk through dwarf pine to the next section, a diagonal ropeway that leads after a few hundred metres of easy climbing by the waterfall and onto a large traverse, on which Frank is modelling his red helmet in the adjacent photo.
What you can't tell from the photo is just how exposed this traverse is. It was a long drop, believe me, and if you have any problems with vertigo, you won't enjoy this bit at all. If you've had enough there is an exit point here, but the best of the VF is still to come.
After the traverse, it's up a long series of pegs and a few more difficult handholds, still on the vertical face. Then you find yourself in a chimney with a ladder and more pegs, and round to the corner of the face - here you can see Frank (in front) clambering under the final overhang.
And then, just round this corner you get to the final lollipop of the climb, a pretty (and rather shaky) little suspension bridge, seen in the photo opposite.
After you have traversed that, it's just a 10 minute stroll up to the Rif. Pisciadu for a beer. After refreshment, there are a number of routes off, but we took the easy (and long) trip down into the Val de Mesdi.
The climb took us just over three hours, and it was a peach of a morning. It's well-protected throughout, but very busy (there must have been over thirty people on the rope.
Punta Fiames - the Strobel route
Just 5 minutes drive north of Cortina D'Ampezzo lies Punta Fiames, with a VF dedicated to guide M. Strobel on its western and southern flanks. Like the Brigata Tridentina, it's graded 3 by Cicerone but it is substantially more difficult and exposed than the route described above, with no exit points. Frank thinks that the hard bits, 50m after the start and the first 50m of the final assault are probably about Grade IV scrambling. Other than that, it's a (mostly) protected Grade II/III.
Park behind the Hotel Fiames on the abandoned airfield and look east - you'll see a large vertical gash in the rock with a scree run coming out of it, and that's where you are going. Make your way through the woods following the waymarkers and climb north-east up through the dwarf pine. Then it's a painful slog up the scree eastwards to the foot of the ravine. Climb easily up a 400m ledge to the south and then onto 100m of diagonal ropes with some testing moves. You will be glad of the protection on many of the more difficult steps.
These ropes will take you to another south-rising ledge with lots more opportunities for scree-slogging and up on to the southern nose of Punta Fiames. The climbing then starts to get a lot more exposed and trickier, as you ascend the southern nose of Punta Fiames, initially by a set of pegs, then to a rather grotty ladder, then some more pegs and finally some easy-ish handholds. The second photo is of Yours Truly finally getting on to a bit that I didn't have to hang on to - note the grateful expression.
It's then up a set of easy paths to the summit, where you will get a chance to feed your sandwiches to the Alpine Choughs (actually, they won't give you a choice).
On this climb, we were a lot slower than the book suggested - we took an hour to get to the base of the climb and just over four hours to get to the summit. It's a fantastic day out, though, with a fast but dusty 900m descent down a scree chute, which takes you down to the line of the forest and a gentle walk out to the waiting beer.
Via Delle Trincee
This route is easily reached by the cable car (Porta Vescovo) but it that isn't open (it wasn't) allow 90 minutes to walk in from the Lezuo restaurant and take plenty of water (cos the rifugio won't be open either).
The route starts with a near-vertical slab with precious few footholds - the only advice I gan give is to us the rope and run up it. After that, the route features a very memorable pinnacle (good rock) and a wobbly suspension bridge. Assuming the weather is still good, continue along the ledges and an awkward down-climb and onto a grassy section.
Now comes the highlight of the Dolomites, and the reason this is called 'the way of the trenches'. The war here was fought not just on the outside of the mountain but inside it as well. Continue along the crest of the ridge past another of the seemingly endless World War One buildings you have been passing. Soon after passing a cave the route heads into the mountain through the tunnels. Occasional side galleries provide illumination but you will need a torch. The tunnels are steep and wet, but not difficult. After about an hour underground, you emerge blinking into the light and stroll down to a pub giving thanks to the fact that peace seems to have finally broken out in Europe.
Marino Bianchi / Ivano Dibona
We tackled two of the three routes on the Cristallino massif, with an overnight stop at a hut. Starting with the Bianchi, after a very entertaining ride up in mobile yoghurt pots to Rifugio Lorenzi, the route winds up onto the rock and onto an 800m ridge - the scrambling is tough and exposed (paticularly on the three ladders) but great fun. You are 3100m up, so you will notice the exposure. and you will also have lots of fun descending by the same route while people are still coming up, especially if it's heavily iced.
We stayed at the Lorenzi and I remember the dawn, with frost all around the hut and a few peaks peeping out of the cloud layer. The Dibona route starts with a spectacular and very long suspension bridge (yes, it is the one in Stallone's excrable 'Cliffhanger') and up a ladder onto a long ridge. After a quick detour to the summit it's along the ridge and a series of ledges while gawking at the WWI ruins all around you. I sincerely hope that parts of the 80-year-old rope have been repaired. This route is HUGE - it takes between 5 and 7 hours, but it is never dull. I must say that you then have a 90 minute descent down scree and through the woods to a 13th century pub, and you will be very tired at the end of the day...and in the middle of nowhere, so make sure you think through the logistics first. It's about 300m and 2000m of descent, so this is a real knee-crusher, requiring lots of stamina.
This was one of the most memorable trips of my climbing life, with two great routes and an overnight stay at a friendly hut. The Dibona is a wonderful, but very long, day and the overnight allows an early start.
Gran Cir (aka Grosse Tschierspitze)
If you are new to scrambling (or just fancy a day off) then I recommend the Gran Cir. Like the Brunnistocki, you often find children on this route. Start from Passo Gardena and follow the marked route to Gran Cir up a badly eroded path. The route itself is an easy ramp and a zig-zagging route up, protected most of the way - then reverse the route and back down for lunch. There is an alternate route down (you will see the rope on your right as you climb) which descends into a steep gully.
We enjoyed, and would recommend to other English-speaking visitors, staying with Collett's Mountain Holidays.when in the Dolomites.
For other information on the Dolomites, look at Paul Benham's excellent Dolomites page, concentrating mainly on the western (Brenta) group.
Finally, if you speak French, here is a world-wide guide to VF with a lot of useful supporting information, inspiring photos and some suggested itiniaries.