Italy, Via Ferrata and The Dolomites

My first via ferrata was at Ramales in Spain last month. Despite the heat I found it fairly short and not too challenging, but I wanted more! Scott gifted me with a set of lanyards for my birthday, and so we decided to book a trip to the Italian Dolomites - the home of via ferrata. Most of the flight from Manchester to Milan was spent poring over the guide books and trying to figure out what routes were accessible to us. At this time of year the summer climbing season is drawing to a close, and many of the popular chair lifts are closed, and the Dolomites start gearing up for the skiing season. The upside to going in late September is the weather is usually calm and the climbing routes are nice and quiet.

Upon arriving in Milan we collected the hire car, checked into our apartment and went off to explore the city by night. We went to the Duomo and walked around all the designer shops feeling like complete scruffs in our north face t-shirts around all these beautiful people. I am almost certain the tramps were better dressed than us! We had a fairly early night, wanting to be up at a good time in the morning to head to Lake Garda, and start our via ferrata adventure.

Lake Garda
The drive to Arco at Garda took around 4 hours, with a stop off at Decathlon and a supermarket near Brescia to grab some camping supplies and food. The first via ferrata route we chose is called Sentiero Attrezzato dei Colodri, described as a 2A (this is a little over the top, lanyards are hardly needed). It's a very easy introductory VF, around 300 metres long. From the finish there's a short scramble to the summit of Monte Colodri at 97 metres above the surrounding terrain, or 400 metres above sea level. Despite starting the climb late in the day, around 5.00pm, it was still incredibly hot on the mostly exposed south facing route. At the summit was a large metal cross, and a log book.
Me writing in the log book, photo by Scott
The views on the hike down were stunning, I really wanted to walk to the castle, but we didn't have all day to find a camp for the evening, and were getting hungry. We found ourselves emerging at the back of the town, and walking past lots of amazing ice cream parlours and ice cream shops, alas both of us had left our money in the car, and we did not end up going back into Arco. Instead we found a nice campsite further along the road, pitched up and made food just in time before it went dark.

Monte Colodri
Wednesday started later than planned, which was not good news as we had a much harder day of hiking and climbing on our hands, and were beginning the walk in at midday. After a short drive to Riva del Garda, and finding somewhere to park, we set off on what we expected to be an hour or so of hiking to get to the VF route. Ferrata del Centenario SAT - or Via dell'Amicizia, is graded a 3A climb, around 650 metres long. We severely underestimated the amount of time it would take us to reach the VF, it was around 4 hours of fairly intense hiking and scrambling. There is respite at 560 metres up in the Santa Barbara rifugio, which had just closed for the year. We took a break here, and admired the view over Riva del Garda before slogging on ever upwards. Neither of us enjoy walking up big hills, there was much sweat expired, much bemoaning of mountains, and a little wondering what the hell we were doing.

Having a well earned rest at the top
Eventually, after about 3 hours we reached the Via Ferrata, absolutely shattered. It started easy enough, with short sections of cable, but continues work upwards quite sharply. There are some very exposed ladders, 110 metres of them in total, and these I found to be the most enjoyable part of the route. I have never experienced that level of exposure before, and there is nothing else quite like it, hanging off a ladder hundreds of metres up with nothing but air between you and the ground. It's odd and I did have to "give my head a wobble" at one point, and found myself constantly stopping to admire the view, then working hard to catch Scott up.

Scott on a ladder
The summit at Cima SAT is 1245 metres above sea level, complete with Italian flagpost, and another log book to sign. It was an amazing summit, the views were simply spectacular and I would say totally worth the effort to get up there. Now we had to wonder, how long is it going to take us to get down from here? The answer was another 3 hours, all downhill with lots of scrambling, making our day on the mountain about 7.5 hours long! On the descent we saw some old buildings left over from the war, and the old Santa Barbara chapel with huge shells mounted outside. We got back to the car just as it was going dark- thirsty, hungry and wondering where we went wrong, the guidebook said 5 hours. Nevertheless we came down from there with a real sense of achievement, and some awesome photographs.
Cima SAT
Afterwards we realised that guidebooks can be very misleading. The "Via Ferratas of the Italian Dolomites Volume 2" guidebook gives an estimate of a 1.5 - 2 hour walk in, with a total route time of 4.5 - 5.5 hours. Afterwards Scott had a look on the UK Climbing forum, and saw that many others have complained of being mislead by the book, and some people taking anything up to 10 hours to do Centenario! Further research concluded that the authors are clearly both professional hikers, or mountaineers; and while undergrading the walk ins, it's fair to say they have also tended to overgrade the climbing throughout the book. We stayed for pizza and ice cream in the pretty town of Riva, before heading off into the night to drive up to the real Dolomites, and find somewhere to wild camp near our next destination, the Fassa Valley. The drive in the dark only hinted at the size of the mountains above us, I could make out the shadows looming high above the narrow twisting roads, and couldn't wait until morning to see the real Dolomites. After a long time, we found somewhere quiet to pitch the tent on a bed of pine needles, in pitch darkness with the feeling of knowing we were camped near an unseen drop of some description. Sleep came in the early hours of Thursday morning to the sound of rushing water below.

I woke up very early, quite cold, and to discover we had camped on the edge of a 20-30 metre high ravine, with a river flowing through it below. Very high, snow capped peaks were visible through the pine trees, and I enjoyed the early morning sunshine. As I was packing up some bits in the hire car, an Italian in a pick up stopped next to me and said "no camp", pointing at the tent. I apologised as best I could and said "we go now". Yes, go now he says.
Col Rodella
We packed up and headed to Val di Fassa. It has a big lift up to the Col Rodella, the area is popular for skiing in the winter, and there were plenty of paragliders making their way up with us. This was much more like it, get a ski lift to do the hard work getting up the hill, then a short walk over to the VF route. This was a well rigged, short yet strenuous climb, and I had overdressed for the occasion so was very hot. I found 2 parts of the climb to be especially challenging and committing, yet completed the route with no issues. After the climb we walked down to the rifugio Friedrich August Hütte, which was open and busy, for much needed chips and cold coca cola.
Col Rodella viewing area
After this short half days climbing we went to another chair lift at Lagazuoi, but no Via Ferrata this time.

To be continued...




Paolina Chairlift

Fog in Carezza

Funicolare Como-Brunate

Lake Como