It is time to talk about via ferratas again, continuing the description started the last time. I would like to continue it, still partial and result of my personal experience, by speaking about 3 new via ferratas that arise in the heart of the Dolomites. The description, as in the previous post, develops in increasing order of difficulty, trying to say something more about each itinerary, their characteristic aspects and the story they hide.
Via ferrata to the top of Sass Rigais (Puez-Odle Group)
The first description is about a summit I am very fond of, dreamed of so much as a child and reached dozens of times when I grew up.
Sass Rigais is the highest peak (together with the nearby peak of “Furchetta”) of the Odle Group and of the entire Puez-Odle Natural Park. It is located exactly halfway between Val di Funes and Val Gardena, with an altitude of 3025mt. The view from the summit is unique and on a clear day reaches many of the most important groups of the Dolomites, leaving those who arrive there completely speechless.
There are 3 distinct access routes to the summit of Sass Rigais. Two of these join just below the summit; the third, the one that rises from the east side through the “Valle di Salieres” (a detrital valley that from the plateau just beyond the Rifugio Firenze, in Val Gardena, climbs up along a path that cuts through the scree just a little below the summit of Sass Rigais), does not represent a real via ferrata but rather an itinerary that, in the last stretch, has some fixed supports to complete the ascent. Surely the best access route for those who are trained and experienced in the mountains, but are not completely used to climbing routes.
The via ferrata which is traditionally recognized as the main access road to Sass Rigais, starts from the south side, in Val Gardena, in the middle of the zigzag hairpin bends that go up the Mesdì fork. This route, after a few meters, meets the trail that comes from the saddle, a necessary path for those who instead go up from the steepest side of the Val di Funes.
A distinction is immediately a must: if you decide to reach the summit of Sass Rigais starting from Val di Funes, it is necessary to take into consideration a greater physical effort and a much higher altitude difference (starting altitude between 1350mt and 1700mt). If you decide to go up from Val Gardena instead, a big help is provided by the Col Raiser ski lift, above Santa Cristina (Val Gardena). From here you can easily reach the Firenze hut at 2040mt and you can save a difference in height that in the worst case can reach and exceed 1600mt.
The route itself has no great difficulties. We need to pay attention to two things in particular: the type of ground, detrital, which does not always allow easy progression, and the directions for the route. The trail in fact is not always evident and you must continuously pay attention to the red and white signs in order not to get lost along a rocky slope that often looks the same. The ascent alternates stretches of via ferrata with stretches of walking. Along the climb, we can continuously admire the Puez massif just below and the Sassolungo behind us. The last stretch, aided, is a little more exposed. Depending on your starting point, this is where the fatigue really makes itself felt. You go through a small rocky terrace and immediately see the cross at the top, now just a few meters away. Once there, the effort made to climb the route is amply rewarded by the view.
The descent, for those arriving from Val Gardena, can take place via the same route or from the opposite side to that climbed. For those who have to return to Val di Funes, there are no alternatives: go down the same way, reach the saddle of the Mesdì fork and return to the valley, concluding an itinerary that lasts more than 6/7 hours.
Via ferrata difficulty: easy;
Duration of the itinerary: 4/5h from Val Gardena; 6/7h from Val di Funes;
Physical commitment: medium/high from Val Gardena; very high from Val di Funes;
Why should you do it: because getting to the top of the Odle Group is a unique experience. Reaching the summit of Sass Rigais, early in the morning, in the quiet of a world that has yet to wake up, is something to try. The view up there is complete: the Val di Funes immediately below, the Sassolungo and the Sassopiatto next to it, it feels like you can hold them in one hand. And then the Sella Group, the Marmolada, the Pelmo, the Tofane and a thousand other peaks. Nothing is missing!
My advice: opposite to what I should say, in this case I would like to recommend the ascent from Val di Funes: if you are an expert and well-trained hiker, it is a challenge worth taking. However, if you want to get to the top very early to enjoy the charm of the first lights of the day, start from the side of Val Gardena, perhaps spending the night before at the Firenze hut. In a couple of hours of walking at a good pace you will be on top.
Via ferrata “delle scalette” to the Toblin Tower
The second via ferrata I would like to talk about is the one that climbs the north-west face of the “Torre di Toblin”, a real rock tower that overlooks the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, in the Sesto Dolomites.
As the name implies, the main feature of this via ferrata is the constant presence of metal ladders that lead up to the summit, where a large cross is positioned. Here the view of the Tre Cime massif, right in front of it, is absolutely priceless (even better than the view from the top of Monte Paterno).
In mountaineering terms, this is a difficult route to describe and classify given the large presence of supports that facilitate the ascent. However, some experience is required to progress along these narrow and steep walls. Exposure, of course, is a constant factor (the ladders accentuate this peculiarity) and a “soft” approach to the route is not recommended.
From a historical point of view, however, this strip of land has a lot to tell. It is within these stories that, first of all, we find a justification for this massive presence of supports. During the First World War, the border between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire ran exactly in this place. Access to the tower became essential in the strategies of the Austrian army to control the Italian lines (placed in front, between the Tre Cime and Monte Paterno) and to guard the border. It was the land of the military chaplain Josef Hosp, an expert climber who, on his own initiative, began to patrol this area. Amazed that the enemy had not targeted this natural outpost, he decided to build a post on the top of the summit. Given the difficulties in accessing the tower, which can only be reached by experienced climbers, he developed a plan to make the ascent accessible even to those with less experience. To do this, he himself assembled wooden ladders and ropes that facilitated the climb to the top, where a mortar was placed shortly after. The remains of these stairs and these ropes are still visible today to those who climb the new via ferrata. It is an exciting dive into the centenary history of these places, the epicenter of rough battles that have marked the modern era.
As mentioned, the progression is simplified and fairly short, but the exposure and the characteristics of some stretches, narrow and cramped, make it suitable only for those who already have some experience in terms of via ferratas. The start of the route is located just beyond the Locatelli hut, on the north side of the tower. The descent, on the other hand, takes place along the “Sentiero del Cappellano Hosp”, an easier aided path, which descends again on the east side. This route can be used by those who want to reach the summit without going through the other via ferrata. In any case, attention is needed in some sections given the detrital ground and the possible presence of hikers on the descent.
Via ferrata difficulty: medium;
Duration of the itinerary: 1,5h if we consider only the via ferrata;
Physical commitment: medium;
Why should you do it: for the view, I don’t need to add anything else. Because the Tre Cime di Lavaredo from up there are even more beautiful. And because it is a historical journey that tells a lot about what our country is today. The remains of the old stairs and old ropes are there to testify the story and its protagonists.
My advice: bring a small backpack with you. At times the space between the ladders and the walls is very narrow. The fact that it is a route rich in supports does not necessarily make it easier than others. Approach this itinerary with caution and a minimum previous experience.
Via ferrata “delle Mesules”
Today’s last description speaks of one of the most beautiful and challenging via ferratas in the entire Dolomite panorama. The via ferrata “delle Mesules” that reaches Piz Selva (2941mt), on the west side of the Sella Group, is the oldest of the Dolomites (built in 1912) and certainly one of the most suggestive. For the context in which it is inserted, for the panorama, for the difficulty of some stretches that have become iconic and for the physical effort that make it suitable exclusively for an audience of expert and trained hikers.
The itinerary starts from the “Passo Sella”, halfway between Val Gardena and Val di Fassa. From here on an easy path (n.649), we cross meadows and detrital gullies keeping our noses upwards to admire the imposing Sella Towers that rise above our head. The journey is accompanied by the shouting of mountaineers who are climbing up the rocky walls. We reach the start of the route quickly (30’). This has been changed over the years, making access more difficult. The fact that it is not a walk in the park is clear right away: the exposure is high, the holds are scarce. You need calm and a steady foot to climb up. Luckily an enchanting view of Val Gardena, Sassolungo and the Puez-Odle Group accompany us all the time.
A break from time to time can certainly facilitate the ascent. The most difficult part comes early: a vertical rocky ravine where at the beginning you can only see a few steps here and there that facilitates the climb. It is a real “chimney” in which we must enter to continue. The difficulty of this point lies not only in the scarce presence of holds and in the verticality, but above all in the little space that is created between the two walls that make it up (it is absolutely advisable to bring a small backpack with you). We realize the beauty of this stretch only after having covered it, turning back on the rocky terrace where we are now.
The route continues maintaining the characteristics of exposure and verticality, between new “chimneys” and ladders that finally lead us to the top of the Mesule plateau, overlooking the Val Gardena below us. The via ferrata leaves room for a trail that crosses this detrital basin to take us to the base of the summit of Piz Selva. Here begins the last aided section, made complicated only by the fatigue that begins to be felt. The Marmolada is shown in all its beauty, beyond the “Passo Pordoi”. We need to gather the last strengths to reach the top from where you can enjoy an unparalleled view: the Mesules plateau and its lunar aspect, Piz Boè not far away, the Marmolada beyond. To the west the Sassolungo and the Cataccio Group. To the north, the Odle Group, the Puez massif and the Cir massif. To the east, the Tofane, the Cristallo and the Antelao. To the south, the Pale di San Martino. Is something missing?!?
Reaching the summit of Piz Selva means having completed only half of the work. The difficulty of this route also lies in its descent path which takes place through the Val Lasties, a long detrital valley that cuts through the Sella Group and leads back to the hairpin bends of the pass road, along the side of the Val di Fassa. The first part of the descent along the Mesules Plateau is a sensational experience, reaching Piz Miara and the “Forcella dei Camosci”. While I have no idea what it’s like to walk on the moon, this is the thing I think comes closest to it.
Shortly before reaching the Boè hut, crowded with people arriving from the top station of the Sass Pordoi cable car, we turn right to descend along the Val Lasties. The descent is long, the terrain very uneven, the tiredness a lot. On a hot and sunny day, 3 or 4 liters of water go away. Arrived at the bottom of the valley we reach “Pian de Sella” and follow the signs for the pass. There is a small waterfall where we can cool off, we go up slightly and after more than 6 hours from the start we reach the asphalted road of the pass. We now need to gather the very last strengths left to go up the asphalted hairpin bends and return to “Passo Sella”, from where we started more than 7h earlier.
Via ferrata difficulty: difficult;
Duration of the itinerary: 7h+;
Physical commitment: very high;
Why should you do it: for the beauty of the itinerary as a whole: a variety of landscapes and panoramas that allow you to truly immerse yourself in the Dolomite environment. The via ferrata is very beautiful, technical, demanding, ideal for those who have experience and want to challenge themselves. Walking on the Mesules Plateau is something to do at least once in a lifetime.
My advice: there would be plenty to give. Two above all: carry little weight and a small backpack, there is not much space between the walls of the via ferrata. If you tackle the route on a sunny and hot summer day, bring a lot of water, you will need it. In autumn or late spring watch out for the initial part, you may encounter snow and ice.