Recce in the Dolomites - September 2020

Who would have thought just over a year ago that we would have lived through such strange & difficult times. But despite the hardships let’s not forget the good times during 2020.

After the initial lockdown when Europe opened up again, we had some fabulous adventures in the beautiful Alps, close to home & also further afield.

In September, after the summer season in the Alps I ventured to the Dolomites with a good friend. The Alta Via 1 has always been on my to do list, as a new trek on offer by Mont Blanc Treks it was imperative that I experienced the route myself.

We set off through the Mont Blanc tunnel into the Aosta Valley & followed the motorway via Milan, Verona, Garda & on towards Venice. After 5 hours of driving, we finally arrived in the beautiful town of Cortina, checked into our comfortable hotel just in time for dinner. Italy the home of good food, wine, fabulous scenery and of course a very warm welcome, we were in for a real treat!

After our delicious meal we headed to our room to sort out our kit & pack our rucksacks, we were going lightweight, everything we need for the next week on our backs.

There are many great things about the Alta Via 1, accommodation wise there are plenty of options along the route so the itinerary can be tailor made for any duration depending on how many kilometres, ascent & descent you want to achieve each day. Due to time constraints, we had just 6 days to complete the route, so we knew we had some long days ahead.

Can I just say at this point, I have hiked in many places and this trek is up there with the best, I was totally blown away by the grandeur of the breath-taking scenery. My writing skills aren’t good enough to give it justice, so please bear that in mind!

Day 1: Largo di Braies to Rifugio Fanes

Our day started with a straightforward two leg bus ride to our start point at Lago di Braies (1494m). Don’t be alarmed by the popularity of the Lake, it’s a day-tripper’s paradise & you will soon find yourself on the trail & well away from the crowds. We headed up steeply from the lake through the karstificated rock flanks to the Forcella Sora Forno (2388m). A short decent took us past the first refuge, Rifugio Biella, refreshments available if required. An easy track through beautiful terrain to our second refuge of the day, Refugio Sennes & our lunch stop. We continued on the easy track passing by the small alpage before making the steep decent on a dirt track to Rifugio Pederu (1548m). Stunning views could be had of the Cima Forca di Ferro and the Val dai Tamersc. With afternoon thunderstorms looming & with tired legs we completed our last section of the day, a final climb to the Rifugio Fanes (2060m) and our very fine rest stop for the night.

Day 2: Rifugio Fanes to Rifugio Dibona

Up & out early we initially made a short ascent to Passo di Limo (2175m), from here the trail winds it way through easy terrain with great views east to Sasso della Croce and south to the spiral form of Cime Campestrin. We passed the Refugio Malga Fanes Grande, open for refreshments & accommodation, it was too soon to stop & we were eager to see what the rest of the day had in store so onwards we went to the Passo Tadega. Up above us we could see the notch between Cima del Lago & Punte di Fanes, we climbed steadily and reached the Forcella del Largo (2486m) by late morning. The view from here is simply stunning! The descent looks impossible from the top, but fear not, there is a beautifully crafted staircase that takes you steeply down to the Lago di Lagazuoi. One final climb today to the Forcella Lagazuoi (2573m), a late lunch stop with splendid views of Averau, Nuvolau & Pelmo. We avoided the option to call or stay at the Refugio Lagazuoi and carried on our merry way via the Forcella Col dei Bos (2331m) to our rest stop for the night at the Refugio Dibona (2083m). This refuge commands a fabulous position below the towering flanks of the Tofane.

Day 3: Rifugio Dibona to Rifugio Passo Stanulanza

Oh, what a day, with the early morning sun we took the easy track and descended down to the valley floor. But what goes down has to go back up & it was getting a little warmer by the time we made our way through woodland to the Rifugio Cinque Tori. Now this little refuge is beautifully situated right next to the Cinque Tori, which meant it was a perfect place to stop for a cappuccino! Fully refreshed we took the undulating trail to the Passo Giau (2236m) avoiding the Via Ferrata section from the Rifugio Nuvolau. In my view the Passo Giau is a place to be passed by quickly, a popular col accessed by road & frequented by cars, motorbikes and coach parties, this col is better viewed from a distance! On our way back to the serenity of the trail we clambered up to the Forcella Giau (2360m) and into a new world. From here we took the beautiful traverse below the Mondeval di Sora. We passed by a series of cols, Forcella Ambrizolla (2277m) with a glimpse back down towards Cortina, Forcella Col Duro revealing stunning views of the mighty Pelmo. This was a truly suitable place to stop for a late picnic lunch. We were wrong to think that our day was nearly done as this section seemed to go on a little longer than expected! We made our long a gentle ascent via the Forcella Roan (2075m) followed by another (unexpected) uphill section through woodland and down to the Rifugio Citta di Fiume (1917m). With tired legs we traversed the spectacular flanks of the Pelmo, a final descent through woodland took us to our rest stop for the night at the Rifugio Passo Stanulanza (1766m). Recovery beer please!

Day 4: Rifugio Passo Stanulanza to Rifugio Carestiato

Well, I though the previous day was a tough one, silly me, clearly, I didn’t know what was in store for the day after! Don’t be alarmed, these days were tough because we were covering more ground each day that usual. For example, on our advertised itinerary on this day we would hike from the Rifugio Passo Stanulanza and stop at the Rifugio Tissi, which would make it much more enjoyable. Despite the arduous nature of the day, the terrain & views encountered we truly jaw dropping!

An easy start from the Passo Stanulanza we followed the road down for a short while before taking a wide track that took us to Malga Vescovà (1734m) a farm offering meals and refreshments. With no time to stop we passed this opportunity & headed up the hillside and over to Casera Pioda (1812m) and shortly after took the path that zigzags up steeply up to the Rifugio Coldai (2132m). We passed the refuge & continued on to Largo Coldai, from here the path contours the right side of the lake and climbs to Forcella Col Negro (2203). Wow wow wow… the col reveals the first glimpse of the towering walls of the Civetta. I have never before felt so small & insignificant within such a truly spectacular landscape. We made our way through the chaotic terrain of the Val Civetta passing below the Rifugio Tissi perched above to the right. Onward and up to the Forcella di Col Rean (2107m) and into a different, gentler word, from here we made our way down on soft grassy terrain. The trail soon picks up a wide gravel track that leads down the Rifugio Vazzoler (1714m), nestled amongst woodland with dramatic views of the Torre Venezia and Torre Trieste as a backdrop. Permission to stop for a rest please! Now it’s at this point that I thought that the day was nearly in the bag… silly me part 2! On paper it looked like the remaining section to our rest stop for the night was not that difficult… mmmh…. wrong! After refreshments at the refuge, we headed down on rough track to where the path cuts away to the left, a short traverse took us to the next climb, we ascended steeply up through the woods to the Forcella Col dell’Orso (1823m). It was this next section where the confusion lay… I thought once the final climb has been achieved that we would see an easy descent from the col to the refuge…. wrong! The col revelled a delicate path that clung to the flanks of the Torre Trieste. This wasn’t ideal terrain to negotiate at this point in the day with the onset of physical & mental fatigue, facing no choice we slowly & carefully made our way across the difficult traverse to the Forcella del Camp (1933m). The final section from the col to the refuge seemed to take a lifetime, we could see the refuge as we traversed the Van dei Cantoi, perched on a wooded promontory but it never got any nearer! Finally, the chattering, happy voices of folk enjoying a beer on the terrace became louder, a final climb up through woodland brought us to the very welcoming Rifugio Carestiato (1839m). It was the final night of the refuge before closing at the end of the season, the choice of beer & wine was limited, we were not fussy, they had some which was all that mattered!

Day 5: Rifugio Carestiato to Rifugio Pian de Fontana

The penultimate day had arrived, the end was nearly in sight! We left the refuge early after a good breakfast and headed down the easy trail to the Passo Duran (1601m). A 2 km section on the road took us to the point where the trail enters a conifer woodland at Pote di Caleda Vecchia. We made are way up, steeply at times to gain Forcella Dagarei (1620m) and onward below the imposing Castello di Moschesin to Malga Moschesin (1800m). A short climb from here took us to the abandoned barracks at the top of Val Clusa, with a couple of short route options from here we opted to descend slightly and take the lower path to the Forcella del Moschesin (1940m). The decision had been made to stop at the Rifugio Pramperat (1857m) for a warming bowl of soup to complement our cheese and bread picnic, perfect! After lunch we retraced our footsteps back to the path junction, we headed south west on a gentle ascent to Portela del Piazedel (2097m) with fabulous views of Castello di Moschesin, Moiazza & Pale di San Martino. From here we entered a different world, we climbed through the barren & rugged landscape to Forcella de Zita Sud (2395m). The final sporting climb along the ridge to the col were an unexpected pleasure, with jaw dropping views down to the Val de Erbandoi. Our long descent to the refuge started here, easy at first via the wild and wonderful high mountain valley. The trail then plunges down into the valley below, with the refuge in view we descend the final section on incredibly steep terrain. We reach the welcoming Rifugio Pian de Fontana (1632m) in time for afternoon tea and biscuits, just wonderful!

Day 6: Rifugio Pian de Fontana to La Pissa

Its not over until the fat lady sings… or so they say! This proved true, although we never heard any singing! On paper this last section consists of a long descent from the refuge to the Val Cordevole with bus access to take you to Belluno. The route was far more interesting than that!

The day started with a hearty breakfast with lovely home baked muffins & jam. A short descent into the gorge before making our ascent to the Forcella La Varetta (1701m). The narrow trail clings to the Cima de la Scala high above the Val Vescova with fabulous plunging views. At the path junction the route descends into the valley through beech woodland to the Rifugio Bianchet (1245m), a perfectly timed location for a mid-morning cappuccino! Just beyond the refuge a good gravel track is reached, this makes for an easy and enjoyable walk to the Val Cordevole. Leaving the track for the final section the trail then descends steeply through the woods to a footbridge over a water filled ravine and the road at La Pissa, the finish point of the incredible Alta Via 1. Option here to take the bus to Belluno or taxi to Cortina, as our car was in Cortina we had arranged for a taxi to meet us & drive us back to our start point. Our 2-hour taxi journey took us back though the regions we had been hiking though over the past 6 days, time to rest & reflect before our long drive back to the French Alps.

What an amazing experience, a true ray of hope in what was a very difficult year!

For more photos taken each day of the route and accommodation take a look at our photo gallery here: Photo Gallery