The most beautiful Via Ferrata in the Dolomites (1)

Rifugio Cavazza al Pisciadù

The via ferrata is an equipped hiking route (“EEA – Escursionisti Esperti con Attrezzatura”) which very often climbs along the rocky walls. The progression is facilitated by the presence of metal equipment (ropes, rungs, ladders, brackets, etc.) and the difficulty of each route depends on multiple factors: physical effort, exposure, length.

In the following article, I would like to start listing the most fascinating equipped routes in the Dolomites. They have been chosen according to different criteria: history, landscape, beauty of the route and of the panorama they offer.
It is a completely personal and partial list.
I will try to divide this overview into several moments in order to list different via ferrata according to their difficulty and belonging to different Dolomite groups.
And because many are still to be done…

Ready? Tighten the harness and fasten the helmet, let’s go!

Via ferrata Günther Messner

The first route I would like to talk about is the mountaineering route dedicated to the memory of Reinhold Messner’s brother, Günther, who died in 1970 during an expedition on the Nanga Parbat. The route is located in the Puez-Odle Natural Park and introduces us to the magnificent scenery of the “Odle di Eores”, straddling the “Val di Eores” and the “Val di Funes“, the place of origin of the mountaineer.
There are two distinct access points to the route, depending on where you start.
The first, the one where the start of the itinerary is usually marked (track GM25), is located at the Russis cross (1700 m), on the road between the “Passo delle Erbe” and the “Val di Funes”. The second, on the other hand, is located on the opposite side, not far from the parking area of ​​the “Malga Zannes” (1680 m), in the “Val di Funes”.
The Günther Messner equipped itinerary is not a real via ferrata in the strict sense. It is a high altitude route that, with long sections of walk, alternates some equipped sections, also exposed. The beauty of this high route is all in the landscape that surrounds it and in the panorama it offers.

Whatever the chosen starting point, the first stretch is in both cases into the dense, silent and fascinating woods. The road climbs rapidly, opening the view to the surrounding valleys. The itinerary takes place mainly around 2500 meters, in a long uphill and downhill ridge.
Starting from the parking at the Russis cross, the first equipped section occurs after a short time (less than one hour). Further on, on the wonderful meadows of “Covelo/Kofelwiese“, the two routes rejoin to go up along the sides of the “Olde di Eores” and Mt Tullen (the highest peak of the group). At first gentle grassy slopes, later on magnificent screes that give life to an almost lunar landscape. Thus, after a couple of hours from the start, you arrive at the crossroads for Mt Tullen. Here new equipped sections begin, allowing you to go even higher. Progression is easy, aided by fixed ropes. You keep going up until you reach a first area on the ridge. The view is breathtaking. The “Val di Funes” and the “Odle” on one side, the “Sass de Putia” massif in front, the “Val di Eores” below us. In the distance “Val Badia”, the Puez Group and the shape of other important Dolomite peaks.
It’s pure emotion!

At this point we are on the ridge, our route continues now for a long time (another couple of hours) on this splendid trail, surrounded by edelweiss, between majestic rock walls, some equipped sections, steep descents, stairs and stretches of scree. So up to the last metal staircase that marks the end of the route and the beginning of the return phase (over 4 hours from the start). At the crossroads located exactly on the “Alta Via n. 2” trail, wading through the Val Badia below us, it will be possible to choose whether to return to the Russis cross (2 hours) or to “Malga Zannes” (1 hour and a half), depending on our starting point, completing the ring tour.

Features
Via ferrata difficulty: easy;
Duration of the itinerary: 6/7h;
Physical commitment: high;
Landscape: 4/5;

Why should you do it: because the landscape and the view are worth the effort. Stopping from time to time to admire what surrounds you is a priceless emotion.
My advice: if the weather permits, take this excursion in autumn, late September/mid-October; cool and clear days reduce fatigue and ensure an even better view. Don’t waste time reaching the summit of Mount Tullen, it’s an unnecessary effort.

The Odle Group and Val di Funes from Günther Messner via ferrata

Via ferrata Brigata Tridentina

It is impossible not to mention one of the most famous via ferrata in the Dolomites and, for this reason, one of the most popular (probably too much): the “Tridentina”, a spectacular equipped route named after the Alpine brigade established in 1951 in Bressanone. The road climbs up the slope of the Sella Group overlooking “Val Badia”, just above Colfosco. The starting point, in this case, is only one and it is located along the hairpin bends of the “Passo Gardena” road, more or less halfway.

There are many features that make this route unique and very appreciated.
The first is certainly the landscape: the road climbs along the walls of the Exner Tower, vertical and exposed, dominating the “Val Badia” at your feet and caressing the splendid Pisciadù waterfall up close. Pegs, stirrups, plates: a constant rise overlooking the green meadows of Colfosco.
Another aspect of strong appeal is represented by some characteristic features of the route, the most famous of which is located at the end of the itinerary, just before reaching the rocky plateau on which Lake Pisciadù is located and the homonymous alpine hut is based. Here, in fact, “hanging” above the abyss, there is the Tibetan bridge that connects the tower with the Masores terrace, right below the hut. The peculiarity of this stretch is fascinating to the point of attracting dozens of hikers every day, especially in summer.
The route does not offer any particular difficulty. What makes it difficult on average is certainly the continuous exposure, the length and, as mentioned, the constant presence of other hikers.

Ideally, the route can be divided into two: a first stretch, rapid, which through some stairs leads to a wide plateau – ATTENTION: this initial part is very often in the shade and is made slippery by small streams of water that flow along the rock.
Once on the plateau, the equipped part temporarily gives way to a trail that, in a bit more than 10 minutes, reaches the start of the second part of the via ferrata. Here the exposure is constant, but the equipment that allows the progression is more than enough. After the waterfall, in the last stretch before the bridge, the climb and the exposure slightly lose intensity. A fairly smooth plaque marks the last piece. For those who are tired and do not believe they can continue, a different itinerary on the left offers a chance to reach the hut by leaving the equipped part. Those who continue can quickly reach the most exciting part of the route: the Tibetan bridge. Once passed, in just less than 10 minutes between rocks and red and white trail signs, you reach the Cavazza al Pisciadù Hut and the adjacent glacial lake.

From here, the bravest and most trained can continue further to reach the summit of the Pisciadù peak (2985 m) in just over an hour. Those who want to return, can choose between two options: return to Passo Gardena from “Val Setus”, along way n. 666; or go back to Colfosco through the “Val di Mezdì” along way n. 676. In both cases you need to pay a lot of ATTENTION: these are two fairly steep detrital valleys, with the presence of some short equipped sections that facilitate the descent. Tiredness and a little carelessness may cause problems.

Features
Via ferrata difficulty: medium;
Duration of the itinerary: 5h;
Physical commitment: high;
Landscape 4/5;

Why should you do it: it is one of the most beautiful via ferrata in the Dolomites, not only for the landscape it offers but also for the opportunity to test yourself with equipped itineraries, without challenging yourself too much.
My advice: reach the start of the route very early in the morning, before 6 am if possible. You will have the opportunity to do it without the “rush hour” chaos and once you reach the top, you may find yourself on a carpet of clouds. Alternatively, in the summer months and on sunny days, you can take this route in the early afternoon, starting the excursion no later than 3 pm to have time to complete the whole journey.

Cavazza al Pisciadù Hut and lake Pisciadù

Via ferrata Trincee in the Padon Group

The last via ferrata I would like to talk about is the “Trincee”, on the “Padon” Group, located in front of the “Marmolada”, the “Queen of the Dolomites“, to which it belongs.
This is also a universally appreciated route for various reasons: the historical aspect is certainly prevalent, without forgetting the landscape and technical aspects.
It takes a bit of experience and training to complete this route, since both the progression phase and the itinerary as a whole are not suitable for an inexperienced audience of hikers.

The “Padon” line, during the Great War, represented a strategic place. It was a bulwark of extraordinary importance for the Tyrolean front (whose troops were stationed on the ridges of “Mesola”) which had to respond to the attacks of the Italian Alpine troops (whose positions were instead positioned on the ridge of “Mesolina”). Here bitter battles were fought between the Austrian and Italian armies. And many and evident are the testimonies of that time. Above all: the galleries, the rooms and the steps built in the rock, where the soldiers lived and fought. The precision and care that was used, at the time, to dig these walls and build tunnels is impressive.

The start of the via ferrata can be reached from several points, the most comfortable one is located in Arabba, from where the cableway that arrives at “Porta Vescovo” starts, saving a good bit of road, useful for keeping energy that is needed throughout the way.
The first section is the most selective and demanding one: a black rocky wall, of volcanic origin, vertical and fairly smooth, where there are only few holds. The fatigue is felt immediately and 20 minutes are needed to overcome this first part. You get to the base of “Mesola” thanks to one of the most spectacular passages of the route: the suspension bridge. From here, going up the “Mesola” ridge, it begins the easiest part of the route, characterized by uphill and downhill stretches along the Padon ridge.
All around us the view is amazing: the Marmolada in front of us, the Sella Group just behind. More: the Mt Pelmo, the Mt Antelao, the “Tofane” Group. We are in the heart of the Dolomites!
Our direction indicates towards the Padon Hut, which is a couple of hours away. To get there we still have to go through the second most spectacular stretch of this via ferrata, the tunnels dug into the rock near the “Mesolina” ridge. The last tunnel is the longest and most exciting. To progress, the use of the headlight is essential. The exit, which immediately leads to the Bontadini bivouac, represents the end of the equipped route. From here, in a short time, you reach the Padon Hut, after more than 3 hours of walking and progression.
A stop is necessary before returning to “Porta Vescovo”, along the trail under the ridge line just traveled. The Marmolada on our left and the Fedaia lake below keep us company along the way until we get back to the starting point.

Features
Via ferrata difficulty: hard;
Duration of the itinerary: 4,5h;
Physical commitment: very high;
Landscape: 5/5

Why should you do it: it is an exciting dive into history and for experienced hikers a good test for their skills in terms of via ferrata. The landscape is extraordinary throughout the journey.
My advice: it is not very nice to say, but the stretch by cable car from Arabba facilitates a lot the hike compared to the climb from Lake Fedaia. If you can, opt for this solution. No panic in the first part of the route, it is selective but with a little patience it comes out without problems. However, it is only suitable for experienced and trained hikers.