Fastpacking the Alta Via

I was well overdue a visit to the Dolomites, and a friend and I attempted to do most of the Alta Via 1 over four days (although my buddy has a proper job so had to bail on me for the last day and a half).

Day 1 – Lago di Braies to Rifugio Fanes -20km, 1500m ascent – 6 hours

We stayed overnight near the airport after a late flight, and had a taxi pick us up at 7am, so we were at Lago do Braies, had inhaled coffee and toasted sandwiches and were ready to head up the trail at 9.30. There had been a huge early snow dump the night before and the snow was down to 1800’. The first two hours were a lovely steady slog up to Rifugio Bella where we stopped for two coffees and some apple strudel.

After that we froze as we crossed a windy high valley with some snow coming down on us but we warmed up a little heading down to Sennes Hut and then warmed up even more heading down the steep road to the Perderu Hut (where I slid down the steep road and smashed the back of my phone in my pocket :-)). More coffee at Perderu and then we were fortified to head up the 500 m ascent to Fanes hut. The snow started to come down again as we arrived. The Italians really shouldn’t call these huts – they are pretty lovely hotels which are up in the mountains

We had hot showers, stretched and then had a lovely dinner of spetzl, salad, meatballs and cake, lights out at 9pm

Day 2 – Rifugio Fanes to Passo Giao – 20km, 1700m ascent

Breakfast was an enormous buffet spread at 7am with warm rolls and chocolate croissants. We headed out with full stomachs and had a swift warm up with the steep climb up to Fanes. It was then a lovely stroll along a high valley enjoying the sun hitting the mountains. We turned off the easy path and picked our way through snow and ice up to the Forcella del Lago at 2480m – a narrow notch in a long rock face. We hoped for an easier trail on the other side, and instead found a steep descent of switchbacks (a feat of engineering) – and the first few hundred metres had treacherous frozen ice. We crabbed our way gingerly down the hill, and i felt a bit like we were in the ice luge. We reached the bottom near the lake with relief

We looked up the other side of the valley to the Refugio Lagazuoi – 700m above and slowly meandered up the hill. The last km was quite entertaining – howling winds, lots of ice, and powdery snow up to our knees. We were happy to arrive at noon and find a spot at a table inside to scoff down Wiener schnitzel and fries, two coffees and a Diet Coke each. Yum

We decided to save our knees and take the cable car down to the valley – although it was bitingly cold waiting for the car. But we warmed up on the easy stroll from Passo Falzarego to Refugio Averau (with a little bit of scrambling), where I had an amazing hot chocolate.

From there it was supposed to be an easy 50mins down to Passo Giau, which entailed a little more butt sliding and picking down through the rocks and scree than we anticipated. We arrived at the very warm Passo Giau Hotel at 4.30 for hot showers. We had a divine dinner (fried potatoes and eggs and speck for me, and goulash and dumplings for my buddy) and passed out.

Day 3 – Passo Giao to Passo Duran – 27km, 1750m of ascent

We skipped a section today to ensure we could make our exit transport…. So had a leisurely breakfast at 7.30 and then took a taxi to Staulanza to begin the hike up to Rifugio Coldai – it was remarkable how much warmer we were starting ar 1700m. The route for the day was an entire loop of the Civetta – one of the most wonderful rock formations in the Dolomites. We ascended in the sun past the ski fields up to Refugio Coldai for a well deserved cappucino… before traversing the over to the lovely Coldai lake trying not to get blown off our feet

The route for the rest of the morning traversed the shaded side of the Civetta with great views down the the valley on our right and the rock on our left. Around noon we emerged from the shade and wandered through pasture before dropping down to the lovely Refugio Vazoler for another ‘light’ Italian lunch (polenta and fried cheese for me and eggs, speck and fried potatoes for my buddy).

Fortified we wandered down the 4wd track back to 1400m and parted ways as one of us had to go back to work :-). Sending him down the road to a taxi, I continued up the hill – grunting up 600m to Forcella del Orso – a very sketchy scree traverse which had me on my hands and knees at the top. Amusingly there was a cabled section on the next climb to Forcella del Campo which was entirely unnecessary. After crossing the pass, I annoyed about 30 hikers by passing them at speed – I was in a groove, and I stopped briefly at the Refugio Carestiato to hydrate and the wandered down to Passo Duran, arriving at 5pm. The digs weren’t flash and there was no hot water left in the shared dorm shower but dinner was substantial and delicious

Day 4 – Passo Duran to La Pissa – 30km, 1400m, 2700m of descent

The final day required doing three sections of the AV (9-11) which most people do over three days…. And I had to get there fast enough to be on time for the 4.30pm bus back to Belluno. The guidebook said it would be 12 hours of walking. Ok. The nice folks at the Rifugio arranged for me to be able to eat breakfast at 5.45 am (I hid the key to the restaurant as I locked up and left) and I headed off down the road with my head torch on at 6am. By 6.30am there was enough light to see and it was a spectacular and gentle climb up to the Forcella Moschesin with amazing views of the rising sun hitting the cliffs.

But the best section was the technical grunt between Refugio Pramperet and Cima de ziti de mezza – which had the second best views of the trail (after lagazuoi) but without the crowds. There was an exposed scramble, but it felt easy as I watched seven ungainly Spanish hikers clamber over it first with their unwieldy poles …. Which really boosted my confidence.

The 700m descent down to the Rifugio plan do Fontana was a knee buster with some chained sections on the steep grassy slope. Sadly I arrived at 11.40am before the kitchen opened so I had to settle for sandwich and cake.

The next section was the final 12k of the day – largely through forest with a stop at the Rifugio Bianchet for a lemon soda. It was mostly a lovely stroll but the last 1km down to the road was a steep rooty mess and by this time my knees had done 2600m of ascent already. Ouch. I was delighted to see the bus stop at 3.45pm.

This trail is perfect for new hikers – there are a few slightly technical sections but nothing overwhelming. I am more in the style of truly back country hiking (with my tent) but there is something to be said for these wonderful hut me with delicious mountain food and hot chocolate. I reckon I will be back next year to do the Alta Via 2

Belluno, September 20, 2022

Additional info

The new Cicerone guide for the AV1 is pretty good.

I travelled very light – c. 3kilos of gear. The Rifugios are very fancy.

Enter and exit via Venice airport is the easiest. And then we took a private transfer to Lago di Braies to avoid losing a day on the bus. I got a bus back from La Pissa to Belluno and then a train to Venice as I was not in a rush.

Apologies for typos, this blog is tapped out on an iphone with my thumbs

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