Alta Via 2 revisited: rifugio Marmolada to rifugio Mulaz [guest post]

Mountain flanks covered by patches of snow

July snow on the Alta Via 2 close to the Mulaz hut

After writing about his five day trek along the Alta Via 2 in 2012, Martin is back with another guest post. Enjoy the read and many thanks to Martin! ^marketa

Hello again to all you avid readers of the Marmot Post. You may remember me from my last post a year ago, my name is Martin and as promised this is the follow up from that first post. Last year we walked the first 5 days of the Alta Via 2 and the plan was to complete the rest of the trail this year. Reality turned out to be slightly different from the plan.

I had watched the weather closely leading up to our departure date, 29 June, and it became clear that we would have to deal with a lot of snow on the high ground. I had also seen that in the Alps there were more accidents this year than usual involving unstable snow fields and stone falls etc. I called all of the huts we would be visiting and it became clear that some of the highest parts of the trail would have to be avoided. It also meant that we would have to carry more kit than usual too. Add to this that one of our group became ill and required medical attention, our route became quite different from the plan.

Despite the apparent setbacks we all had a great week, climbed a superb via ferrata, hacked our way up a snow filled gully, walked over 47 km and climbed around 3, 000 m. We all flew into Innsbruck where we met and from there we took a 3 hour taxi ride to the first hut, rifugio Marmolada. This would be the start of our hike and just a little further up the trail from where we left off last year.

A view of the Marmolada in the Italian Dolomites

The Marmolada from Rifugio Marmolada

Day 1: Rifugio Marmolada – San Pellegrino hut

Sunday was the first day of walking and dawned with a clear blue sky. The rifugio was comfortable and I had a good night’s rest but I have to say that I was not prepared for the long day that was to come. The first two hours were spent walking along the road but once we turned off, the only way was up for the next 4 hours. The views were absolutely stunning and the weather treated us kindly. The snow line started around 2, 000 m and as we approached the Forcella Rosa at 2, 490 m the path became covered with a very soft and, in places, deep layer of snow. This was, at times, very hard work to deal with. The first part of the descent was also tricky due to the conditions, especially as it was now late in the afternoon. Three hours later we arrived at the San Pellegrino hut, very tired but satisfied. The guide book indicates 7 hours for this stretch and we did it in nine hours. In the past we were able to keep to the timings in the guide book and I think this is also a reflection of the conditions. In our defence it was nearly 22 km and 1, 106 m of ascent.

Forcella Rosa covered in snow

Looking back up to the Forcella Rosa (2, 490 m)

Day 2: San Pellegrino hut – Passo Valles

The sun comes out at Passo Valles

The sun comes out at the Passo Valles

Day 2 saw us striding out for the Mulaz Hut that, in the end, we were not to reach. Still tired from the previous days exertions we left early after a good breakfast. Nothing was too much trouble for the hostess and she made us bacon and eggs. Definitely going back there again. This should have been another long day and although we did not really cross the snow line, we were really affected by the efforts of the day before. The weather had also closed in a bit and although dry it was definitely cooler with the clouds obscuring the surrounding mountains. We arrived at the Passo Valles at around 13:00.The route continues from here over the high ridges to the Mulaz hut at 2, 600 m. After consultation it was decided that, due to more than one meter of unstable snow on the high ground, we would have to take a detour from here to reach the Mulaz hut by descending and then ascending 720 m to the hut using a via ferrata. Considering our condition it was decided to rest at the Passo Valles for the night and continue in the morning. By this time one of our party had developed a slight cough and was, at times, short of breath.

First the snowfield

First the snow field

Day 3: Passo Valles – Mulaz hut

Being well rested we set-off for the Mulaz hut. This time we would arrive.

After the disappointment of the day before everybody was motivated to make this day a success. The weather could not have been better and if we thought the views were stunning before then this day they were indescribable.

From the Passo Valles the path follows a gentle ascent followed by a sharp descent, it then contours around at the base of the ridge to a gully and a via ferrata leading to the hut. When we arrived at the gully we were not too surprised to find it was still full of snow. It was at this point that I was glad we had taken the ice axes and crampons.

... then the via ferrata

… then the via ferrata

We took the time and donned our gear, ate a little and then began the ascent of the snow field. During our traverse at the base of the ridge we had constantly heard the rumble of stone fall and were now well tuned-in to any sound that seemed out of place. Halfway up the gully the steel cable on the via ferrata finally emerged out of the snow and we could continue our way up over rock. Once out of the gully the route lead over more snow, gently ascending and after one hour we finally reached Passo Del Mulaz and descended to the hut. This day had taken us another six hours to complete and I’m glad we made the decision to rest at the Passo Valles the day before.

Day 4: Mulaz hut  – Passo Rolle

The dirt road leading to Passo Costaza

The dirt road leading to Passo Costaza

Day 4 dawned and after a short discussion with the hut warden it was clear that the high route to the Rosetta hut was not an option. The snow was very deep and had become very unstable. This coupled with the fact that it was now clear that our friend required medical attention we decided to descend to Passo Rolle. The descent was at first a steep snow field that eventually gave way to a steep path down to a dirt road. This road led to Passo Costaza and on the other side was Paso Rolle. The walking was easy and straight forward and we stopped at the top of the pass for coffee. The weather had also closed in and it started to rain with a little hail. Once we descended to Passo Rolle we booked into a hotel and arranged transport to San Martino where my friend was treated for a lung infection with antibiotics.

Day 5: San Martino

This was the last day and the weather had cleared up again. My ill friend had decided to rest on this day which was indeed the most sensible thing to do. The rest of us went for a day trek completing a typical horse shoe along the ridges, the high point of which was Cavallaza at 2, 324 m. The weather was bright with sunny intervals and we were surrounded by some beautiful scenery.

 

The Mulaz hut is somewhere behind there

The Mulaz hut is behind there somewhere

Day 6 and we were on our way back to Innsbruck, a comfortable hotel and in the evening a table full of Indian delicacies, curry, Nan bread, popadoms etc. This was the conclusion to our second week in the Dollies. Whilst we did not complete the AV2 as planned we did have a great week and the highlight has to be the snow filled gully and the via ferrata. The second part of the AV2 is definitely more strenuous than the first half, even without the diversions and the snow. However, there are sufficient huts along the route to make shorter days if required. If you ever get to the Mulaz hut there is a picture hanging there taken on 3 June 2013. This picture shows the hut buried in snow with just the roof showing. This is in stark contrast to last year where the snow line was around 2, 800 m.

This part of the Dolomites has a lot to offer and we still have a lot of unfinished business. There is a very challenging via ferrata on the Western Ridge of the Marmolada for which I’m sure we will return one day and there is still the AV2 that needs to be concluded proper. However, this will all have to wait as we are due for a change of scenery. Next year we are heading to Norway. I visited Norway in 1987 and I’ve wanted to return ever since but, somehow, never been able to make the opportunity. Finally, after 27 years of waiting, I can return and I’m really looking forward to it. In the meantime enjoy everything nature has to offer and I look forward to reading about your escapades here.

Martin.

Guide book: Trekking in the Dolomites. Gillian Price 2011. Cicerone Press

Maps: Tobacco 1:25000 sheets 015 Marmolada and 022 Pale Di San Martino. Stanfords

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