How scary really is Sentiero Flaibani?

Descending from Forcella Val d'Arcia

Looking at Antelao and the Marmarole from Sentiero Flaibani

Sentiero Flaibani is a trail in the Italian Dolomites connecting the Citta di Fiume and Venezia rifugios used as a variant of the Alta Via 1. The route skirts around the Pelmo and scrambles through its scree field to Forcella Val d’Arcia. The main AV1 guidebooks only describe it in passing. They praise the views, but refer to it in vague terms as challenging, mention iron ropes and warn not to attempt it in bad weather. Walkopedia goes as far as implying that “it is likely to scare you into nightmares.” At the end of it you are left tempted, but also worried that it might be a bit too much. So how bad is it really?

Well, it’s not that bad. When I walked it on day 5 of my Alta Via 1 trek in summer 2011, it was absolutely doable, even if it was physically demanding and required a head for heights in a couple of places.

Forcella Val d'Arcia

That little gap up there; that’s Forcella Val d’Arcia

The route

Sentiero Flaibani starts after a short climb from rifugio Citta di Fiume (1,918m) to Forcella Forata and follows path 480. On the map it seems to lead through the main scree filed of Val d’Arcia. However, when we walked it in August 2011 the red marks led us up one of the earlier spurs going up towards Cima Forada. The going is quite strenuous as you have to scramble up between and over large boulders at considerable angle while trying to find the route. After a while it gets better and approaches a very short stretch aided by thin cable. This is to help you pull up the polished rock, which isn’t difficult in dry weather.

Next you continue along a clear path to the foot of Cima Forada, which opens up great views back at Tofana di Rozes, Nuvolau and Croda da Lago. From there it is a short and easy walk until you reach the edge of the main scree filed of Val d’Arcia. You have to descend a little bit first, before hitting the rocky and steep path up to the Forcella. The last stretch gets difficult again as it becomes nearly impossible to follow the red marks and you have to somehow make your way in the very steep general direction of Forcella Val d’Arcia (2,476m). Once there, great views open up in all directions – Marmolada, Sella, Tofana di Rozes, Antelao and Marmarole are all on show.

Val d'Arcia

Forcella Val d’Arcia: this is how it looks like once you are there

The first part of the descent slides down a steep pile of scree until it reaches the Pelmo rock face. Sentiero Flaibani then skirts along the side of the mountain over a couple of short stretches with some additional iron rope support. These take a little bit of working out. The footwork needs some care, particularly with a heavy backpack. A head for heights is also important, as the mountain dramatically slopes off to the left and a prospect of a tumble in that direction is unpleasant. These sections are what makes the route difficult and why experience is needed. However, they are absolutely doable.

After a while the path leaves the side of the mountain and heads for more scree on a long descent towards rifugio Venezia (1,949m). The last scree stretch feels a bit never-ending.

Here are a couple more descriptions of the route available online:

My Sentiero Flaibani

Walking time: 3.5 hrs; Ascent/ descent: 550/ 530m

Around the Pelmo

Bobbing down the Sentiero Flaibani

My trip along Sentiero Flaibani was part of day five of my Alta Via 1 trek in August 2011. We set off bright and early from rifugio Citta di Fiume and made good progress reaching Forcella Val d’Arcia just after 10am (2 hours after we started). This early the Marmarole were still covered in morning hue. On the way up, we felt proud to have overtaken a group of young guys, only to be overtaken by an old gentleman just short of Forcella Val d’Arcia. He then proceeded to extend his lead on us every step of the way on the descent. Goes to show the value of experience on this route.

I found the first part of the descent a bit tricky and put in a couple of bum slides, but after that all was fine. We navigated the trickier sections without any problems and arrived at rifugio Venezia at 11.30. It was sunny and fairly cool the whole morning, which made the strenuous walk relatively comfortable. After a break at rifugio Venezia, we pressed on to Palafavera and rifugio Coldai making for a long day of walking (7 hrs in total).

Difficulty

I hope this post helps to dispel the mystery around the Sentiero Flaibani. Most of all, it’s not a via ferrata. There is a short section on the ascent and two on the descent to rifugio Venezia with some additional, thin iron rope to hold on to. It is there to help with balance, but it certainly isn’t intended (or required) to be used for securing yourself to. Something called ‘sentiero’ might sound like a via ferrata, but the key is in the word ‘attrezzato’. While sentiero means path or trail, attrezzato means secured.

Yes it is challenging and strenuous, but it is doable by the average hiker. It is doable as long as the weather’s good. Otherwise, it’s a bad idea. Rain will make both the ascent and descent slippery and dangerous. Fog or limited visibility will make finding your way up to Forcella Val d’Arcia and then down again incredibly difficult as in both cases you need to be able to see where you need to get to and then somehow find your way there.

Have you walked the Sentiero Flaibani yourself? How did you find it? Share your experience in the comments!

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