Dolomite "Vie Ferrate" Italian (iron ways) singular "Via Ferrata", in German "Klettersteig", are high mountain routes with fixed climbing aids (wire ropes, rungs, pegs, ladders, and bridges) situated in the the Dolomite Mountains of north-east Italy.


Sentiero SOSAT (Brenta)
An exposed 51 rung ladder
climbs out of the ravine formed
by the Punte di Campiglio


HISTORY
The equipping of mountain routes with climbing aids started in the late 19th century to reduce the difficulty of hard sections of popular climbs. After the First World War, military routes with fixtures, such as the Alpini Way in the Sexten Dolomites were used by mountaineers.Then, beginning in the 1930s and continuing after the Second World War, the Bochette Way in the Brenta Dolomites was developed to shorten and ease the time consuming approaches to the popular Brenta climbing routes. This stunningly attractive and exciting "Way" was discovered by mountain walkers who found they could now travel a route which before would have needed considerable climbing skills. Following the success of the Bochette Way further paths were developed and old First World War paths were repaired throughout the Dolomite region. Now there are more than eighty routes of varying length and difficulty equipped with climbing aids that have been fitted with great skill and effort. Also see via ferrata in Sweden and France

The Dolomites in World War 1
The Dolomite mountain range was the scene of heavy fighting and became an almost continuous front throughout the war, from Cortina d'Ampezzo in the west to the Predil Pass on the east. The Trentino front lay to the west and the Isonzo Front to the south. When the Italians entered the war in 1915 they made a general advance into the mountains, trying to cut off strategic Austrian railway links on the northern side. Fighting in extremely difficult conditions, and making full use of their elite Alpini mountain troops, the Italians made considerable gains and fended off strong Austrian attacks. However, they were never able to break through the Austrian defences to reach the railway lines and the whole front eventually settled down to a static line. - The Hutchinson Dictionary of World History

GUIDES
There are numerous guides to the Dolomite vie ferrate written in Italian or German but for the English speaking climber the choice is limited to "Via Ferrata Scrambles in the Dolomites" translated by Cecil Davies from "Klettersteigfuhrer Dolmiten" by Hofler/Werner and published by Cicerone Press (2nd Edition 1992) ISBN 1 85284 089 7.

If you speak only English, this guide is indispensable although its system of grading is rather more complicated than is necessary. The Italian guides I looked at use only three grades of difficulty whereas Hofler/Werner use seven (a to g). Grades f and g probably correspond to the hardest Italian grade. In our two weeks we climbed routes up to grade e. As experienced, albeit lower grade, rock climbers we never found the climbing difficult but the high graded routes are longer and more isolated. They demand a good deal of mountaineering experience (preferably alpine) and this is much more important than technical rock climbing expertise. Climbers with little alpine experience will probably, like us, find it difficult to finish routes in the guide book times.


MAPS
There are two main centres for climbing vie ferrate: Cortina d'Ampezzo in the main Dolomite range to the east and Madonna di Campiglio in the Brenta (Gruppo di Brenta) to the west. These two centres are separated by four or more hours of driving.
  • Kompass Carta turistica Number 55 Cortina d'Ampezzo 1:50,000
  • Kompass Carta turistica Number 73 Gruppo di Brenta 1:50,000
  • Kompass Carta turistica Number 073 Dolomiti di Brenta 1:30,000 (we managed with the 1:50,000 but the scale is too small to show any features).

I am told that the Tobacco series of 1:25,000 maps, in a set recently extended and re-vamped, are very good and "knock Kompass into a cocked hat!" But, I have also heard that they could not be found in the local shops (June 2000).


Maps can be obtained by mail order from:
Stanford's, 12-14 Long Acre,
London WC2E 9LP tel. +44 171 836 1321



Using the wire rope running alongside
to self-belay the exit from the ladder

WHEN TO GO

The main summer season is July and August.

Info (thanks to Mark Page http://www.gtonline.net/community/gmc) received August 2000:
"June is too early! We only managed 3 Via:-
Sentier SOSAT from Ref. Tuckett as far as the big ladder as there had been a landslip on the scree slope 100 yds further on and the path was really dodgy.
Bochette Alte as far as the difficult (laddered) section past the turn off up to Cima Brenta due to snow in a gully
Sentier Daniel Gallicoma (or something similar, I can't remember exactly)from Ref. Tuckett up and left then back down part of the sentier Bernini down to Bocca del Tuckett. (The way up may be the way down that you took on the Bernini, marked 315 on your map)
We had no crampons or axes, only walking poles; which is why we found the snow on the Bochette Centrale very scary and dangerous, especially as we were forced out to the edge of the path by rock hard icy drifts. Sharp stones made useful 'snow daggers' to help scramble over the drifts.
The cablecars/ski lifts and most of the mountain huts (refugios) didn't open until the 24th June (after we left!). Only Ref. Tuckett and Brentei were open when we were there (around 17th June). Ref Tuckett cost us about £70 each for 3 nights with meals and buying water. Excellent food though, and not busy during the week."

GETTING THERE

To make the most of the mountaineering opportunities I think you really need the use of a car. There are buses that travel throughout the region (and we saw plenty of bus stops). We used the bus between our campsite near Pinzolo and M. di Campiglio - it arrived according to the schedule posted at the bus stop. There are also special buses in July and August designed for walkers which make linear walks more feasible. But... a car gives you freedom to decide your own schedule and fit more into each day.

From northern Europe travel via Innsbruck is best. The main routes in Austria aren't tollfree any more. You have to buy either a 10-day sticker, a two month sticker or a year-sticker to use them. There is also a toll for the Brenner Pass, and the Italian autostrada, which can be paid in Schillings, DM, or Lire but not by credit cards.

The road from Bolzano to M. di Campiglio is very scenic but extremly tortuous. Do not try and drive from the Channel ports to the Brenta in one day using this road. Driving from Ostend to Cortina d'Ampezzo in a day is not hard with three drivers (Belgian and German motorways are toll free). From Calais, drive to Stuttgart via Strasbourg (tolls are payable on French motorways but the Dover to Calais Channel crossing may be cheaper). There is nothing to choose between the Garmisch and Fern Passes between Germany and Austria, both are very easy. Driving through Switzerland means buying an expensive vignette to use their motorways or using slow alternative roads.

WHERE TO STAY

Dolomiti Web - a site with some information about accomodation in the Dolomites

The main summer season is July and August.

Cortina d'Ampezzo
Cortina d'Ampezzo, the largest and most developed centre for tourism and winter sports in the eastern Dolomites, has lots of hotels, apartments, and four camp sites. Even so it is not over-large. There is good access to many of the mountain groups from Cortina but journeys always entail crossing passes with many hairpin bends that can slow progress. If you plan to climb in mountain groups more distant from Cortina such as Marmolada or Gruppo di Sella, it is worth staying locally or using one of the many excellent mountain refuges (rifugio). Campsites and refuges are shown on the Kompass Carta Turistica. Whenever possible, book your accomodation at refugio.

I have received the following information about the Cortina area from an experienced climber and regular visitor to the Dolomites: Cortina is a bit "seasonal". Most hotels and guesthouses etc will be open well into October, before closing for about a month, so local accommodation is fairly plentiful. There's a decent Tourist Office on the corner of Piazza Roma. The huts are a bit of a different story. Almost all will be closed by the end of September, but the actual date is a bit moveable. Some traditionally close on the third weekend of September. Last year it was the 20th/21st weekend. Others will leave it a week later. The problem is that some decide to close simply when trade drops off, which forces you to book, and restricts flexibility. My recent experience has been that the huts on the Tofana (eg Pomedes - highly recommended - ) will be open well into September, but places like Son Forca and Lorenzi on Cristallo are closed by 23rd. Good shindig on last night at Son Forca if you happen to be there! On Sorapis they tend to wait and see who is around. To the south - check by phone first. Weather in September can be superb. It was last year, for example, after a few bad ones. Generally speaking, the area is a bit less crowded than in August, although you can still unexpectedly run into places swarming with a few big groups.

For those who are camping or self-catering in Cortina, an excellent large new STANDA food supermarket opened in 1997, just round the corner from the Co-op. The Cortina Co-operative department store also has a sizeable, slightly more expensive food market. This Co-op seems to sell everything including guidebooks, climbing gear, and postcards. Cortina has a variety of other shops including several well-stocked climbing equipment shops.
Parking is difficult and metered in the centre of Cortina but there are several free car parking areas to the south-east of the town and only 5 minutes walk from the Co-op.

Madonna di Campiglio

Search for accomodation in Madonna

Madonna di Campiglio is a fashionable winter sports centre near the Brenta Dolomites. The town is smaller and more modern than Cortina but not really as pleasant. All the main Brenta refugio can be reached from Madonna and the Groste Cabin Cableway makes it possible to get to the start of the Via Bocchette quickly and without effort.

The nearest campsite to Madonna is "Camping Fač" about 12km south, just after San Antonio di Mavignola (supermarket) and before Pinzolo. A good bus service runs down this road.

Camping FAE (SAN ANTONIO DI MAVIGNOLA) Tel. +39-465-507178 - Fax. +39-465-507178 - Loc. Fač Size: 21000 Sqm. - Pitches: 133
Camping PARCO ADAMELLO (PINZOLO) Tel. +39-465-501793 - Fax. +39-465-501793 - Loc. Magnabņ Size: 10000 Sqm. - Pitches: 82
Refugio del Tuckett (Brenta).

"We had descended a scree slope shrouded in mist and come upon a path numbered 303, even so we were not too sure where we were. Then the clinking of gear heralded a climber making his way to his next route. 'Are we on route for the Tuckett hut?' we asked hopefully. 'Five minutes down the path' came the unexpected reply.

There is a tourist office in Madonna, check out the need to reserve accomodation at any of the refugio especially in July and August. Current information about the condition of the Brenta paths and vie ferrate can be obtained from the nearby mountain guides' office.

WEATHER
Beware of storms building in the afternoon, so start early. At altitude it can be very cold and windy, even in summer. Fresh snow can cover paths and protection, as can unmelted winter snow, especially in gullies.
Snow and ice on Monte Cristallo July 1997

The climbing path "Marino Bianchi" leading to Cima di Mezzo 3163m

A windy day on Sasso di Stria (2477m) near Passo Falzarego

"We arrived on 28th June, a bit early in the season but the campsites were pleasantly uncrowded. We expected blue skies and warm evenings in camp but we had not allowed for the deep depression over Great Britain. We thought we had left it behind but its wide circle of influence extended to Cortina. "Stormy" was repeatedly posted in the Information Office window, with other words we didn't know, but feared. Via ferrata and lightning don't mix."

Sentiero SOSAT (Brenta) from the Tuckett to the Alimonta hut

The weather we had hoped for!

Although we had snow and ice on Cristallo, had static electricity arcing across our walking poles on Toblinger Knoten and one evening, because it rained so hard, cooked in the shelter of the campsite toilet block - we had many great days.

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