…he can’t keep up with the uphill scrambles and downhill slides.
Forcella is Italian for mountain pass and there was at least one everyday day of our trek along the Alta Via 1 this August. I spent six days on the classic Dolomites haute route with a group of friends. We walked (and swam) from Lago di Braies to Listolade. In the process we clambered up and slid down 13 of these forcellas.
The Alta Via 1 starts at Lago di Braies near Dobbiaco/ Toblach in Sudtirol. We flew from London to Innsbruck with easyjet and then got a lift from Beni and Corinne who were driving from Switzerland. Otherwise, it is a three-hour train journey from Innsbruck to Dobbiaco.
See also: What to pack for the Alta Via 1
We spent two days in Cortina before the trek as our group of seven gradually came together. We were quite a disparate group; from those who can pull off a marathon to those who don’t usually do more than a walk between the car and the house door. We all managed fine and where somewhat faster than the walking times suggested in Gillian Price’s Trekking in the Dolomites AV1 guide (the times below are as we walked them).
Day 1: Lago di Braies (1,500m) – rifugio Pederu (1,548m)
Walking time: 5hrs; Ascent/ descent: 800/ 750m
After nearly missing our connecting bus in Dobbiaco, we arrived at Lago di Braies nice and early and set off on our six-day tour at 10am. As we walked along the lake we enjoyed the fact that it had stopped raining only to realise a second helping was due as we started the ascent towards rifugio Biella (2,300m). After three hours of a continuous uphill walk we passed through Forcella Sora Forno and shortly after that arrived at the hut.
Strengthened by picnic lunch and considerably cooled down by an icy wind that blew across the plateau around the hut, we set forth on the descent to rifugio Pederu. Two hours later we arrived at the rifugio. The descent was quite steep and felt rather long towards the end.
With double rooms and plush bathrooms, rifugio Pederu was more like a hotel than an Alpine hut.
Day 2: Rifugio Pederu (1,548m) – rifugio Scotoni (1,985m)
Walking time: 6hrs; Ascent/ descent: 920/ 500m
In the morning we started uphill again towards the highest point of the day – Forcella del Lago (2,486m). The ascent roughly broke-up into two sections: from Pederu to Fanes and then from a trail junction shortly after Passo Tadega towards the actual mountain pass.
We made good progress all the way to the Fanes Jausenstation shortly before the actual Fanes rifugio. It was a lovely wooden hut next to a river. In the strong morning sun and about 2,000m the clear river looked like the perfect plan for a morning swim. And so, a quick snack break turned into a swim break! Wow, it was cold! Like a thousand needles.
Thoroughly refreshed, we continued. From Fanes the path turned into a bit of a hikers’ highway with crowds heading in each direction. As soon as the path broke off steep uphill towards Forcella del Lago, the crowds disappeared. Which was good for us, but bad for them.
The one hour ascent was more than worth it when we arrived at the narrow and very pointed pass. Locked between the huge rock faces of Cima del Lago and Punte di Fanes the pass isn’t more than 20m wide and initially appears like an edge of an abyss. The downhill path drops down so steeply there is no sight of it from the top! The view on to the opposite Lagazuoi Piccolo that seems to be just an arm’s length away is simply stunning.
Several obligatory photos later, we were making our way down the zigzagging path to Lago di Lagazuoi and then further down (off the usual AV1 route) to rifugio Scotoni. We arrived at 4pm with plenty of time for pre-dinner beers and a chat with our two new arrivals Nora and Max.
Scotoni is a small hut with a nice homely feel. Now the nine of us filled up half the rooms. The hut is still quite luxurious for a mountain hut – with private bathrooms and hot showers.
Day 3: Rifugio Scotoni (1,985m) – rifugio Cinque Torri (2,137m)/ rifugio Scoiattoli (2,225m)
Walking time: 5hrs 30mins; Ascent/ descent: 1,000/ 800m
As we started off on another day’s hiking, morning frost, a proof that it can get rather cold in the Alps even in August, lay all around. While the steep uphill back to Lago di Lagazuoi warmed us up very quickly, it got chilly again on the windy plain towards Forcella Lagazuoi. At 2,573m this was the highest point of the whole route and great views of the opposite Averau, Cinque Torri and Nuvolau opened up for the first time of the day.
The panorama trip continued as we walked along the huge Southern wall of the Tofana di Rozes. Croda da Lago appeared ahead and the snow covered Marmolada peaked out behind Lagazuoi. The sun was shining and many climbers were trying their luck on the Tofana routes. Two hours later when we arrived at Cianzope it turned out a couple of them needed the rescue helicopter.
At Cianzope our group shrank for the first time. Nora and Max went home again and Anna and Pavel returned to Cortina for some more via ferrata fun. Dolomitibuses run from Cianzope to both Cortina and Passo Falzarego.
The remaining five of us then practically ran up to Cinque Torri in a crazy pace that left me coughing (and swearing). After a beer and some speculation over whether Cinque Torri would become available for two more, Beni and Corinne moved on to the close by rifugio Scoiattoli where they had booked. This later on resulted into some mad running up and down the mountain as we tried to reunite for dinner. Note, there are three different paths between the two huts!
In the end it was dinner at Scoiattoli. It is a big modern hut with a proper restaurant and a stunning 270 degree view of the massifs around. Cinque Torri on the other hand is a much more traditional and smaller hut, used in World War One as a military post. While lacking the views of the Tofana and Lagazuoi, its position at the foot of the Cinque Torri is unique and the views of the opposite Croda da Lago quite impressive too.
Day 4: Rifugio Cinque Torri (2,137m) – rifugio Citta di Fiume (1,917m)
Walking time: 4hrs; Ascent/ descent 600/ 800m
Having learnt from the previous evening, we agreed a meeting point and set off from rifugio Cinque Torri towards Passo Giau. As we didn’t want to carry and rent the via ferrata kit required for the descent from Nuvolau to Passo Giau via Ferrata Ra Gusela we took a shortcut running along the side of Nuvolau. This definitely looked a lot more harmless on the map than it proved to be. Rather than a small gradual descent, it was a rollercoaster ride of short and steep ascents and descents alternating all the way to Passo Giau.
Passo Giau was another parting point (with buses running to Cortina). After a coffee we said bye to Beni, Corinne and Felix. Just two of us continued first down and then very steeply up to Forcella Giau. This was a spot with the best panorama view of the whole trip – with our journey since day 2 traceable behind us. A while later we were at Forcella Ambrizzola and then started the descent to rifugio Citta di Fiume. In the end we arrived at the hut at the foot of the Pelmo incredibly early – at 2:30pm already.
All this time was perfect to enjoy the best Apfelstrudel on the AV1 yet, bask in the sun, plan the next two days and generally summon our energy for the mammoth hike the next day.
Citta di Fiume was the most Spartan hut yet, with proper dorm rooms and no freely flowing hot water (there was a coin operated shower though).
Day 5: Rifugio Citta di Fiume (1,917m) – rifugio Coldai (2,135m) via Sentiero Flaibani and rifugio Venezia
Walking time: 7hrs; Ascent/ descent: 1,150/ 950m
We got ready for an early start and nearly managed to leave at 8am – 8.10 it was in the end. Before long we were heading up scree and stones along Sentiero Flaibani towards Forcella Val d’Arcia. The map played tricks on us. It shows the path no. 480 as going up the main scree field, which it doesn’t. Just about not lost we climbed up.
The ascent continued steep up across a short stretch aided with ropes and ledges (not a via ferrata though) to a ridge below Cima Forada, which offered a short break and an amazing view back at Tofana di Rozes, Nuvolau and Croda da Lago. And, we even saw three chamois on the way there.
From then on it was a little bit downhill through scree before we hit the final steep ascent through rocks along an unclear path. At last we were at Forcella Val d’Arcia (2,476m). It opened up a view behind Pelmo towards Antelao and rows of ridges with thin pointy peaks still covered in the morning hue.
See also: How scary really is Sentiero Flaibani?
After a quick snack and a few photos we started ‘sliding’ down the very slippery scree slope. The scree was interrupted by a short clamber over the Pelmo rock face aided by cables, before it resumed again ahead of rifugio Venezia. We stopped for a coffee break there before marching along the Pelmo and then downhill to Palafavera. As clouds gathered overhead we pressed on fearing a rainy lunch break.
By the time we reached Palafavera we were becoming quite literally worn out. Constantin’s boots had a massive tear and my knee started playing up. Still, the chair lift from Palafavera half way up to Coldai did not get the better of us.
After lunch and some more coffee we started on the final leg of the day up to rifugio Coldai. As we set-off it was blue skies right, grey clouds left. Soon it turned out we were heading left. Two hours and a short summer shower later we were at rifugio Coldai.
Day 6: Rifugio Coldai (2,135m) – Listolade (680m) via rifugio Vazzoler
Walking time: 5hrs 30mins; Ascent/ descent: 100/ 1,400m
We started nice and early on our last day – just after eight. However, rifugio Coldai was the first place of the whole tour where eight was late not early. Generally, it was the most ‘Alpine’ hut yet, as many use it as a base for trips to the Civetta summit. Nevertheless, a hot shower was still available for a fee and the menu was almost restaurant like.
Off we were though: down to Lago Coldai and along the Civetta towards Vazzoler. At some point we got a bit carried away, lost the numbered path and ended up walking along the scree at the foot of the Civetta massif. That took us through last year’s snow for the first time in the six days. We found our way again just around rifugio Tissi.
Another hour or so later we arrived at rifugio Vazzoler. The whole route from Coldai was easy and with just 3 hours walking time definitely too short for a full day trip as suggested in the classic route – even if the ongoing descent did feel long.
And this was just the beginning! From Vazzoler to Listolade we still had to descend some 1,000m! That was long. But, after two and a half hours of continuously walking down we arrived at Listolade.
The well deserved finishers beer tasted great and at 15.02 we were on the bus to Belluno. The Dolomitibus service runs nearly every hour Mondays to Saturdays, a less frequent service runs on Sundays.
The Alta Via 1 (or at least its first half) is an easy Alpine trek. The daily trips (even as extended here) aren’t particularly long and with many other hikers and huts along the way, the commitment required isn’t high. There is nearly always someone else a few minutes ahead or behind. And, should a day get a bit tool long, there is probably a rifugio on the way to shorten the walk.
The rifugios are luxurious by Alpine standards, often more like hotels than shelters with a kitchen. One potential shortcoming of our route was the fact it avoided some of the higher lying huts (Lagazuoi, Nuvolau) that were most likely a lot simpler.
- Water: drinking tap water was available at most huts, with the exception of rifugio Biella and Citta di Fiume.
- Food: the only opportunity to buy food (other than meals and snacks from the rifugios) along our route was on day 5 at the Palafavera campsite.
- Budget: around €50 a day per person for accommodation, breakfast and dinner. Cash only.
- Or check out my full packing list for the trip
… and thanks to Pavel for his photos!
- The Alta Via 1 revisited: more trip reports
- Along the Alta Via 1 in six days: the route
- This year’s trek: Alta Via 1
- First five days of the Alta Via 2
Have you walked the Alta Via 1 or are you planning to? Leave a comment with your experience of the trip or its planning!