28 July to 11 August 2013: Hiking and scrambling in the Dolomites

This fortnight trip to Italy involved only Dermot and Humphrey from London, but we met up with members from other regions. After much investigation of how best to get to the South Tirol, we flew to Innsbruck then took the train over the Bremer pass to Bressanone, or Brixen: this whole area was part of Austria until the First World War and still speaks German. Meanwhile Steve Wright from Birmingham travelled more virtuously by train, but his sleeper from Paris to Munich was delayed by bad weather for 15 hours, the low point being when the engine’s electric motor was completely knocked out by lightning.

Sass Rigais from near the Genoa hut

Sass Rigais from near Rifugio Genova

On Monday the two of us walked from Bressanone to the Rifugio Genova where Steve joined us. The next day we did our first and very easy via ferrata — scrambling but attached to wire cables with special attachments with shock absorbers. By Thursday we were doing a harder VF from a different hut, ascending Sass Rigais:

Dermot and Humphrey on top of Sass Rigais

Dermot and Humphrey on top of Sass Rigais

We said goodbye to Steve on Sunday at the Gardena pass, then headed up into the Sella Group and Piz Boe — not great for greenery, but stunning rock formations:

The Gardena Pass and our route onward into the Sella Group

The Gardena Pass and our route onward into the Sella Group

So far we had been heading broadly south on the Alta Via 2, but from Piz Boe we turned east on the little known (and un-signed) AV9, meeting up with Barbara Segal from Bristol and David Symonds from Liverpool at the Pralongia hut — which has great food — and walking on with them to spend two nights at the  beautifully situated Rifugio Valparola.

The Rifugio Valparola

The Rifugio Valparola

We spent a day looking at the relics of the First World War above the Passo di Falzarego: the Austrian lines followed a summit ridge far above the pass, and Dermot and I descended an extraordinary tunnel the Italians had built up through the rock so that they could assemble then explode a vast mine underneath the Austrians. Thousands died here, as much from winter conditions as from the fighting.

Dermot on the bridge on Monte Christallo

Dermot on the bridge on Monte Christallo

Just the two of us then took a bus to Cortina, which was not very interesting, and then via a bus and two consective cable cars to a hut sitting on the summit ridge of Monte Christallo; this was the only day other than the start and end when we travelled other than on foot. Staying at that hut let us spend the following day doing our longest via ferrata, a descending traverse of the mountain. We were surprised that we were the only people staying at the hut that night, but it turned out everyone else has read the weather forcast. Being on a mountain top attached to a thick metal cable is a really bad idea in a thunder storm, but it proved to be more a matter of taking shelter below the crest while individual thunder clouds passed over. Still, the photo above looks more like Sam running on into Mordor than Dermot on a suspension bridge over a chasm on that summit ridge.

Our final descent towards the railway line

Our final descent towards the railway line

Our first night was spent cheaply at the youth hostel in Bressanone, and most of our nights were in mountain huts costing sixty to seventy euros for dinner, bunk bed and breakfast. However, our long day on Monte Christallo pretty much required us to stay at a particular hotel at the bottom of the descent path, and our final day was then a walk north out of the mountains, and consequently away from the network of huts: those final two nights in hotels were around a hundred euros each, again for dinner, bed and breakfast. Our tour of the Dolomites ended on a slightly odd little railway running east-west along the valley between the Dolomites and the main range of the alps, passing through Italy but really beginning and ending in Austria — a relic of the pre-1914 boundaries.



About Humphrey Southall

Director, Great Britain Historical GIS; Reader in Geography, University of Portsmouth
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