(Photo by F Delventhal)
Yeah… you’re not going to want to go home!
Italy From Above: Hiking the Dolomites
My blog readers know that I love to eat! Enjoying the amazing cuisine the world has to offer is one of my favorite things about traveling. So how do I stay in shape? By traveling, of course! Another favorite activity of mine is hiking, and one of the best places to hike in the world is Europe. Here, the European Alps extend between eight countries, with Italy being the southern one. The Dolomites are mighty (pun intended), and if you love to hike, this is the mountain range for you. Let’s view Italy from above and hike the Dolomites!
A Geology Lesson
Before you lace up your hiking boots and head off on your adventurous trek, take the time to familiarize yourself with the mighty Dolomites first. The mountain range is located on the northeastern side of Italy and stretches through the Belluno, South Tyrol, and Trentino provinces. The mountains were formed primarily during the Triassic period (that’s more than 200 million years ago) and are made mostly of sedimentary rock. In fact, dolomite rock, classified as a sedimentary carbonate rock, makes up a large portion of the Dolomites, so I think it’s safe to say we know how this range got its name!
The Dolomites are separated into two regions, the Eastern and Western Dolomites. There are 27 named mountain ranges within the Dolomites and 44 major peaks, ranging from Monte Pasubio, the smallest peak at 7,323 feet, to Marmolada, the tallest peak at 10,968 feet. Yep! These are some serious mountains! Travelers may traverse the Dolomites via foot, rail, and road passes, and a total of 37 passes exist to date. The Toblach Pass via railway is at the lowest elevation, 3,967 feet; serious trekkers can “hoof it” across the Ombretta Pass at 8,983 feet.
There are nine national parks located throughout the Dolomites, with the largest being the 77,865-acre Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park. Visitors enjoy numerous mountain activities throughout the year on many of the Dolomites’ picturesque mountains, including skiing, of course, and base jumping, climbing/hiking, hang-gliding, paragliding, and free climbing, a Dolomites tradition that began 127 years ago, in 1887. When you take all of this into consideration, it is no wonder that UNESCO named the Dolomites a World Heritage Site in August of 2009.
A Preparation Lesson
You now know all about the Dolomites, but before you lace up those hiking boots, you need to prepare adequately for your trek. As you can tell by the facts, hiking in the Dolomites is not for the faint of heart; this is hard-core high-altitude mountain climbing, so you need to make certain you’re up to the task to ensure your health and optimal safety. There are some minor treks suitable for all ages, but most tackle the Dolomites because they are looking for a mountain-climbing challenge. Whichever trek you plan on taking, low-impact or high-impact, so to speak, keep in mind these important tips:
- Learn all you can about the trail you are planning to take prior to your hike. This includes knowing the most direct route to and from your trailhead (the trail’s point of origin) and mapping the actual trail. Make certain you have an updated trail map with you that clearly outlines how to get to your trail, how to traverse it, and how to get back.
- Go to the tourist office and talk with a qualified alpine guide prior to your trek; don’t just rely upon your own research. The guides will help you determine the best hike for your fitness level and aid you in assessing whether you are capable of completing any planned hike safely. These guides know these mountains like the backs of their hands, and they can give you all of the information that you’ll need to ensure a safe a trek.
- Check the weather prior to your trek… do NOT skip this step. Even the most seasoned alpine climbing veterans can be stuck in an unexpected and deadly bind, as was proven on Mont Blanc in 2012, so you need to make certain that the weather will be your friend on the day of your hike. If there is even the remote possibility of encountering bad weather during your trek, consider rescheduling it for a different day.
- Don’t skimp on your equipment, even if you and the kids are just taking a leisurely trek down one of the Dolomites’ smaller hiking trails. Ensure that you wear the proper hiking clothing and footwear, are adequately protected from the sun and other elements, and are carrying plenty of water and food for the duration of your hike. For more intense climbs, make certain you have proper and reliable gear.
- Don’t be a late bird. Experts recommend that you begin your Dolomites treks early in the morning to ensure that you are returning by late afternoon. Weather tends to be worse later in the day in this region, and you also want to allot yourself plenty of daylight to find your way back should you stray from your path, which I do not recommend doing at all!
Some Notable Trails
You know the mountains, you’re prepared, so now let’s talk about some notable trails worthy of your visit. The Dolomites really do offer everything when it comes to hiking, so depending on your fitness level and who you are bringing along on your climb, you’re sure to find the perfect trail ready to astound you. Some of the Dolomites’ more notable trails are:
- Cadore High Country: If you’re traveling with little ones or are looking for low-impact hiking throughout the Dolomites, visit the Cadore high country, located in the northern portion of the province of Treviso’s Veneto region. Here, you will find the Tre Cime di Lavaredo ring trail and a nature walk extending from the Capanna Alpina to the Pederü Refuge. Both offer relatively flat trail surfaces, although there are some small uphill climbs and some of the most beautiful scenery the world has to offer.
- Alpe di Siusi: Another easy trek for you and the kiddies is northeast of Bolzano, the capital of South Tyrol province. The Alpe di Siusi is the largest high-alpine meadow in Europe, so the landscape is fairly flat yet surrounded by glorious alpine peaks. The Alpe di Siusi is approximately seven miles long by three miles wide and gives trekkers some beautiful paths along which to journey at a leisurely pace.
- Vigiljoch Mountain: Also just outside of Bolzano, Vigiljoch Mountain offers hikers a greater trekking challenge. There are several trails to take up and around the mountain, and all are considered to be challenging in their degree of difficulty. While hiking, you’ll explore forestlands, alpine lakes, and flatland pastures sure to give you a breather alongside an amazing view.
- Alpe di Sennes: This circuit hike is seven miles long. The duration of the trek is approximately five hours, and you’ll be hopping, so you need to be fit! The Alpe di Sennes circuit trail starts at the Rifugio Malga Ra Stua and takes you through two natural parks, valleys, and marshlands, climbs up to 6,492 feet, and winds you back to your starting point.
- Tre Cime di Lavaredo: Think 6,000-plus feet is for wusses? Okay, then tackle the Tre Cime di Lavaredo hike. This eight-mile trek will test your skills up the rocky Pian di Cengia pass, which tops off at 8,200 feet. Along the way, you’ll pass World War I bunkers and barracks, hike up scree slopes, go under three rock plates, and make your way back to your starting point. Trust me, this one’s a workout, but it’s well worth it!
I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg, or shall I say the tip of the alpine range with this blog. There is so much to do and see from above when hiking the Dolomites. Visit the national parks, warm up on the flatter trails, and then get your mountain-hiking mojo on and hike some of Europe’s greatest peaks. However you decide to hike the Dolomites, make sure you stay safe, don’t push yourself beyond your limits, enlist a proper guide if need be, and, most importantly, enjoy yourself!