In the Dolomites

Dolomites, Italy, via ferrata, Cristallo
Ascending a ladder along the Cristallo via ferrata.

Last week Claudia’s father and brother drove down from Dresden to join us in the Dolomites in northern Italy for a fun week of hiking and climbing via ferrata routes together. The via ferrate are climbing routes with fixed cables and ladders, and by using a climbing harness with two short ropes with locking carabiners, it’s possible to safely climb exposed routes without technical climbing skills.

See lots more climbing shots from our week in the Dolomites below!

Dolomites, Italy, Zwolferkofel, Strada degli Alpini
Hiking towards Zwolferkofel/Croda dei Toni (3090m).

Our first adventure was a long day hike along the Strada degli Alpini in the Sesto/Sexten group of mountains. The first views made it abundantly clear that I was indeed in the Dolomites again, with their mind-bendingly jagged peaks piercing the sky!

Dolomites, Italy, via ferrata, Salvezza, Strada degli Alpini
Walking along the Salvezza Ledge, an artificial ledge cut into the face of the mountain by Italian troops during World War I – and they did it at night in the winter!

During World War I, the peaks in the Dolomites were occupied year round by Austrian and Italian troops, with each side battling fiercely for high outposts. While hiking through these mountains you often see relics from the war, including ledges, tunnels, and caves with machine gun windows. The soldiers had built the first via ferrate in order to aid in the transport of supplies and ammunition to their high hidden outposts. After the wars were over, climbers made use of the fixed cables, and the sport became so popular that the alpine clubs built many more via ferrate routes throughout the Dolomites. While nowadays these old routes are just used for fun, it’s quite sobering to imagine the harsh realities that the soldiers had faced in these rugged peaks.

Dolomites, Italy, via ferrata, Salvezza, Strada degli Alpini
A dark chasm along the Salvezza Ledge.
Dolomites, Italy, via ferrata, Strada degli Alpini, Zwolferkofel
Hiking along the Strada degli Alpini, with Zwolferkofel/Croda dei Toni (3090m) behind.

This area of northern Italy used to be part of Austria, and you hear German speakers just as much or even more than Italian. It’s still a bit odd how every town and mountain around here has two different names – a German and Italian one – and both are always listed on the maps and whatnot. It gets a bit confusing!

Dolomites, Italy, Tre Cime, Lavaredo, Drei Zinnen
Tre Cime Dawn : Prints Available

Dawn glow illuminates Tre Cime di Lavaredo / Drei Zinnen (2998m).

After our time near Sexten/Sesto, we headed to the famous Tre Cime mountains to spend a few nights in the Locatelli hut which sits on a saddle with a stunning view of Monte Paterno and Tre Cime mountains.

Dolomites, Italy
Tre Cime B/W : Prints Available

Tre Cime di Lavaredo / Drei Zinnen (2998m).

Ferdinand is stoked!
Ferdinand is stoked!
Dolomites, Italy, Locatelli Hut, Tre Cime
Sunlight on the Locatelli Hut, with stormy clouds over Tre Cime.

Though the weather was unsettled for much of our time there, we did manage to climb Monte Paterno, a rugged peak that I also climbed by myself 10 years ago.

Dolomites, Italy, Monte Paterno, Locatelli Hut, Tre Cime
The Locatelli Hut, with Paternkofel/Monte Paterno on the left, and Tre Cime on the right.
Dolomites, Italy, via ferrata
Ascending the tunnel in Monte Paterno.

The route up Paterno first passes through a long tunnel built by Italian soldiers that ascends steeply right through the narrow ridgeline!

When I was here in July 10 years ago, it was after a very snowy winter and this entire tunnel staircase was encased in wall-to-wall 6-inch thick ice. I had no ice axe or crampons, and to make matters worse, my headlamp had died right as I entered the tunnel! But with my arrogance (or stupidity) of youth, I decided to push on. I clipped into the via ferrata cable, leaned back and pulled myself with my hands all the way up the steep icy staircase – in complete darkness! But the worst part was when the angle finally eased and the security cable ended, and I had to continue on sheer ice with the fear that if I slipped I would slowly and helplessly slide back down and then tumble down the entire staircase. I tried to clutch any handholds I could find along the rock wall of the tunnel, and when I had a chance I filled my pockets with pebbles which I would sprinkle under my feet to give me a little bit of grip. All the while swinging my arms in front of me as I groped my way through in the pitch black darkness. Fortunately I made it through ok, but returning here again this time and seeing how long and how steep this tunnel was… well, it kind of terrified me to think of how crazy I was that first time!

Dolomites, Italy, via ferrata, Monte Paterno
Climbing up the Monte Paterno via ferrata.
Dolomites, Italy, via ferrata, Monte Paterno
Hiking up towards the summit of Monte Paterno (2744m).
Dolomites, Italy, via ferrata, Monte Paterno, Tre Cime, Sentiero delle Forcella
Climbing the Sentiero delle Forcella via ferrata with Tre Cime in the background.

Claudia’s father Gundolf is a climber who has honed his skills in the Sandstone Mountains of Saxony; four years ago he summited the highest of the Tre Cime peaks seen here towering in the background! Speaking of which, the first climbers to conquer the vertical north face of the tower were Saxonian climbers; it took them three days to make their way up the face.

Dolomites, Italy, hut, Dreizinnenhütte, dusk
Monte Paterno Dusk : Prints Available

Monte Paterno towers over the Dreizinnenhütte.

Tre Cime, Lavaredo, Drei Zinnen, enrosadira, Dolomites, Italy, reflection
Enrosadira Reflection : Prints Available

Brilliant enrosadira sunset light on Tre Cime di Lavaredo / Drei Zinnen (2998m) reflected in a small lake.

On our last evening near Tre Cime when the storm finally broke, I walked around to some small lakes and caught an incredible display of the famous enrosadira sunset light. Due to the natural orangish color and reflective qualities of the Dolomite rock, when sunset light shines on these mountains they display a distinctly saturated illumination, called the enrosadira. Read more interesting facts and legends about the enrosadira here!

Dolomites, Italy, Misurina
Evening Above Misurina : Prints Available

Dusk light over the Dolomites as seen from the base of Tre Cime, far over the village of Misurina.

Dolomites, Italy, Cristallo, gondola
The old gondolas that ascend Cristallo, built in the 1950’s.

Our third and final climb was the famous Cristallo peak near Cortina d’ Ampezzo. We took advantage of the gondola that rises all the way to the high crest of Cristallo, but riding in the old rusty and rickety “futurama” gondolas built in the 1950’s was probably the scariest part of the entire day!

Dolomites, Italy, via ferrata, Cristallo
Ascending Cristallo, with a broad view north into Austria.

The via ferrata on Cristallo is a classic route and quite exciting… when not waiting patiently for dozens of slow climbers in front of you. Going up in the morning was great fun; going back down while dozens of others were simultaneously trying to go up… not so fun. I guess that’s how it goes on a popular route on a beautiful Sunday in August.

Dolomites, Italy, via ferrata, Cristallo
Downclimbing the Cristallo via ferrata, with much exposure below!

Claudia and I are still in the Dolomites and we’re excited to trek and climb through the Rosengarten range next! Thank you Gundolf and Ferdi for coming down to spend the week with us!

8 thoughts on “In the Dolomites

  1. Jack,
    These pictures are absolutely stunning. I love the perspective provided with the people in the picture. Even more so, I like that the pictures look very natural (given the harsh lighting) in their tonality. I can’t wait to see the next installment. Thanks as usual for sharing!
    -Niran

    1. Thanks Niran! Yeah I’m loving the Ricoh GR, which all of these photos were taken with (still have to wait until I’m back home to process all the “real” landscape shots taken with the Canon). The only bummer about the GR is that I don’t have the adapter to fit a polarizer on, which would have helped quite a bit with many of these daytime shots.

  2. Wildly beautiful, and fantastic photos. Usually a little mixed about routes that show so much human impact and involve so much hardware…but this is different. Very alluring!

    1. Thanks! Yeah, in the Dolomites especially there really is no concept whatsoever of the purity of nature or wilderness or whatnot – here the mountains are for human use, no doubt about it! Still fantastic mountains and landscapes, though.

  3. Hi Jack, excelent trip report from my favourite Sexten Dolomites, perfect photos as usually. You were lucky that also the weather was beautiful. Congratulation. Miro

    1. Thanks Miro! Well we did have quite a variety of weather, much of which was not ideal for photography… but still I was happy to get some good shots eventually. I can’t wait to post my landscape shots when I’m back home!

  4. Beautiful pictures as usual Jack!
    As a long-time lover of the dolomites I have to advise you that the best season is early autumn (say 20 sept-20 october). If you are lucky enough to find a good strip of sunny and clear days in that season the peacefulness and the shine of those mountain will conquer you. There’s no match anywhere in the alps.
    By the way, summer is typically crowded and moist

    1. Hi Daniele, thanks for your comment and advice! Yes, I’ve found that it’s true that August is a tough time in the Dolomites (maybe in the Alps in general) with so many tourists filling all the towns and mountains to the brim. (Maybe I should have listened to all the advice I’ve heard and read!) I’m sure autumn would be much more relaxing. That said, I do like the moist atmosphere; it has provided some incredible misty scenes to photograph!

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