The Dolomites are mountains that I didn’t know existed until I saw a picture on social media and instantly fell in love with them. They are a mountain range in the very north of Italy known for their incredibly sheer sides and the dolomite rock they are made up of. For this reason they are a paradise for climbers and via ferrata lovers.
The via ferretas were built in the first world war when the Italians and the Austro-Hungarians had an intense fight in the mountains and created protected path ways up the vertical walls to move around the area quickly.
Having done a long walk in France, and knowing we had two further walks planned on our week long trip, we hadn’t pushed ourselves too hard. In France we had a 6 hour walk in the Alps, and in Switzerland we focused on admiring the beautiful landscape around Lake Oeshinensee. This meant that we wanted to do something more challenging in the Dolomites. We couldn’t have known what would end up happening..!
The route starts at Rifugio de Col Gallina, a short drive from Cortina d’Ampezzo and from the sleeping spot we used and highly recommend, if you are happy staying somewhere with no facilities!
Driving from Cortina, the rifugio (refuge) is on your left, opposite a restaurant. The large car park at the restaurant is only for clients of the restaurant, but on the refuge side of the road, you can park anywhere and there is plenty of space.
It is worth mentioning before starting that getting lost on the Dolomites is almost impossible as all the paths are extremely well marked with posts at junctions and some clear painted marks on rocks. There are also numbers along the way that match with the numbers on the maps of the area. We chose route 7 from the book ‘Shorter walks on the Dolomites.’ By Gillian Price.
The route starts with an easy ascent up a gradual hill from the restaurant car park, heading North-East along a relatively narrow path. This ascent isn’t very long and you will soon get to a flat bit where there are some ruins from what was a hospital in the first world war.
From here you spot the first climbing and via ferrata routes, and at this point we had the happy surprise of seeing our first Ibex and our first Alpine Marmot! To start with we thought it was an eagle due to the loud screeching noise it was making!
The path widens here; with almost vertical cliffs on your left and stunning views of the other Dolomites on your right in the distance. You walk downhill for a few hundred meters and then the ascent starts again and it becomes progressively steeper. You walk through a tunnel and then up a series of zigzag paths that lead to new views of the impressive surrounding mountains.
As the path narrows again you leave path 412 behind on your right (to Rifugio A.Dibona), and carry on along the same path you were walking on veering left which will lead you to a col.
After approximately 2h/4.5km you get to the col. Our route was meant to deviate to the right, but as we did the first bit of the walk fairly quickly and we weren’t very tired, we decided to extend the route by an extra 7km (almost doubling the original walk length). Instead of turning right towards route 404, we walked over the col where lots of old trenches and war remenents can be seen. Here we began the descent into a stunning valley.
The descent isn’t very steep, but you must be careful as the terrain is very rocky and there are lots of small loose stones. You can see quite a few holes in rocks that were defence points in the war. It was amazing thinking that 100 years ago, people were fighting for territories up there.
You descend down into the valley until you reach a junction. There you should take the right hand path that will lead you to the via ferrata. This takes just over an hour. Once you get to it, the path guides you along the bottom of the cliff, where you can enjoy the views of a very high waterfall.
The via ferrata is a vertical hand ladder that can not be attempted without gear which was a pity, because it would have saved a long, steep ascent! As we couldn’t do the via ferrata, we had to deal with the ascent the hard way, walking, and walking along a very steep path with some areas that are quite exposed and not for the faint hearted!
The walk at this point felt endless! As it looks like you are reaching the top, more mountain appears ahead of you! Time was starting to go against us as we could hear a big thunder storm getting closer and the dog was bleeding from her paws due to the very abrasive terrain.
The total ascent took us just over 2h and was around 2.5km with a height gain of 570m. It is an interesting ascent although nothing remarkably hard if you are relatively fit. Pata struggled a bit as she was wearing new walking boots and they were giving her big blisters on her feet.
At the top of the hill, 2580m above sea level, finally the Rifugio Giussani came in to sight for the first time and with it the amazing feeling of knowing that the climb had finished as that was the highest point of the route!
The refuge looks like a nice old place to stay or have some food. It is surrounded by giant rocks and old ruins that looked like they were from the war. However we were running out of time. The views over the other side of the mountains showed us the storm was getting close very quickly.
At the top of the hill, the paths are a bit messy and finding the right one was a bit of a challenge, but head down and soon you’ll see clearly path 403 heading steeply south east.
Not far from the top, path 403 turns into path 404 which is the one you are meant to follow pretty much back to the tunnel you walked through on the way up.
The total descent from the refuge is just under 7km with stunning views over the valley, but unfortunately, we couldn’t enjoy it much as the storm began……..
Pata’s worst nightmare up to this point in her life had been the idea of being stuck out on an exposed mountainside during a thunderstorm! So when the thunder got close she freaked out! It wasn’t a pleasant experience and it seems that fear is contagious as Pato picked up on Pata’s panic and it meant that we ended up practically running down the side of the mountain and skipping the path as much as we could.
The thunder was so loud, and so close that the ground rumbled and shook and the thunder echoed eerily around the boulders surrounding us. It was not a pleasant experience, especially with already blistered feet! Then the rain came… and we got completely drenched!
We made it down off the mountain at record speed drenched to the bone! I cannot tell you the relief of being inside our van safe from the storm! Pata was convinced she was going to get hit by lightning and the dog was even more scared!
It is an awesome walk due to the nature of the terrain which gives breathtaking views of different landscapes and interesting challenges. It was a total of 17.1km that we did in exactly 8h, but the last 7km involved running downhill in 1.5h! The walk has a total altitude gain of 2340m.