I pulled my harness up around my hips and looked dubiously at the long metal chain in front of me stretching up the mountainside. Was this really secure? I clamped on one of my carabiners, followed by the second one, and began making my way carefully up the beginning portion of my first via Ferrata in the Italian Dolomites.
Via Ferrata in the Dolomites
The Dolomites are a mountain range located in the northeast corner of Italy. They are known for their rugged and high peaks, long hiking trails, epic mountain climbing, and via ferrata treks.
Via ferrata is the name given to a series of iron cables located in the Dolomites, which are secured in the side of the mountain every couple feet by strong anchors. In World War I, Italian troops crafted via ferrata systems all over the Dolomites to help them get over the terrain more quickly and safely.
This war component has lasted through the decades and many sections of the original via ferratas still exist for travelers to take advantage of.
To navigate the via ferrata safely, you’ll need some gear, which you can rent for less than €15 day in Cortina, Corvara or other towns in the area. Some rifugios (lodging cabins) also rent them. The gear consists of a harness to go around your hips and thighs. The harness is connected to two thick ropes knotted around a duo of carabiners. The carabiners are secured manually to each section of chain on the via ferrata and systematically unclasp and clasp to the next section after each anchor and so on. The anchors are placed strategically so if you slip and fall the carabiners will catch and you won’t fall far.
Today, hiking or climbing along a via ferrata in Italy is a must for many visitors. Two of the most popular via ferrata climbs are Ivano Dibona and degli Alpini; they both include excellent views and snapshots of history.
Ivano Dibona takes 6-8 hours to complete and includes a few hours of via ferrata climbing along the steep ridgeline of the mountain followed by a hiking portion down the bottom. During the hike you’ll pass forts that were used during WWI that can still be entered and are excellent stopping points for a snack. The via ferrata hike begins with a chairlift followed by a ride up the old, rickety Forcella Staunies gondola to get up to the starting point by Rifugio Lorenzii. The route ends back down at the base of the mountain in front of Rifugio Ospitale – a fun spot to grab a celebratory pint.
Via Ferrata adventurers who really want to feel like rock climbers should do degli Alpini Via Ferrata, which often includes straight vertical climbing. Due to easy to grab rocks and footholds via the anchors and other prevalent crevices in the rocks, degli Alpini is doable for novice climbers and provides spectacular views of the Dolomites countryside.
After doubting myself hiking and climbing the Dolomites by via ferrata, it was elating to accomplish each day’s journey. I also always felt the via ferrata was secure and completely safe once I got going. The Dolomites are a great way to feel a sense of accomplishment from strenuous activity and to see spectacular views and historic ruins.
Dolomites Via Ferrata Quick Facts
Best Times to Go: The end of May through the beginning of September. Outside of summer, the increase in risk of snow and ice means via Ferrata trails may be closed to visitors.
Where to Stay: The Italian towns of Cortina D’Ampezzo and Corvara in Badia are great starting points. Rifugios also cater to hikers and offer no-frills – though fun – accommodation at the bottom or top of popular hikes.