Hiking the Dolomites: the Alta Via 4 [guest post]

Walking at the foot of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo in the Dolomites

Walking to Locatelli with Tre Cime di Lavaredo ahead

The autumn guest post series continues. Next up is Christina, who’s done a varied and challenging trip along the Alta Via 4. Thank you Christina! Everyone else, enjoy reading all about it! ^marketa

This past July, my partner and I spent some time in the Italian Dolomites, focusing our adventure on the Alta Via 4. We chose the Alta Via 4 because we wanted to be more remote, but still have an Alta Via experience, specifically the via ferrata. The Alta Via 4 provided the skeleton for our trip, but as we discovered, in Italy, there are many options for side trips, detours and changes of plans. You really can choose your own adventure and take it day-by-day.

The experience was amazing; the views are humbling and the via ferratas are engaging, allowing us to climb up in rocks that we wouldn’t be able to without gear. However, we can’t deny that one of the biggest highlights was the food and mountain experience.

I am from Canada and often used to a “slog” to get to most mountain places that I will camp. However, in Italy, you can be surrounded by incredible vistas, then arrive at “camp” (rifugio), order a beer and a three course steaming dinner. Before you plan a trip to the Dolomites, prepare to be spoiled! You may never want to work as hard in your life again.

Getting there

We flew into Munich and then took the train to Innsbruck. Finding the right train was slightly confusing but it all worked out and we were comforted to be surrounded by mountains as we arrived in Innsbruck. What a beautiful city!

In Innsbruck we stayed at a small family hotel in Igls where we recovered from our jet lag and then we decided to spend one more day down in Innsbruck. We found a good deal on a well-located hotel and spent the day getting organized, buying maps, camping fuel and we had a wonderful dinner up at Buzzihutte (highly recommended!)

We were hoping to spend some nights camping in the mountains, although we had heard that it was not allowed, but had also seen pictures and heard of people camping. To keep our options open, we both had larger than average packs (48 – 60L) that included a tent, sleeping duvet, some freeze dried meals and cooking gear.

However, we quickly learned that the rifugios were far too appealing and our freeze-dried meals lost their appeal very fast! At the same time, it was nice to save some money throughout the trip by cooking our own meals.

Leaving Innsbruck, we found our way to the beginning of the Alta Via 4 in San Candido. Impressed by all the public transport on our way, there was even a city bus that took us right up to our trailhead! San Candido was filled with bikers, and it would have been nice to spend a day there. However, we were ready to get started and hit the trail.

Alta Via 4: part I

From the trailhead, we hiked only 45 minutes to our first stop at Rifugio Tre Scarperi (1626m). This was one of the nicest rifugios that we visited and were able to get a private room there. We splurged on the private room and a delicious Tyrolean cuisine dinner. We were very surprised to learn that the culture in northern Italy is largely Austrian and Tyrolean; this geographic area was Austrian before WW1.

From Tre Scarperi we ascended to Rifugio Locatelli (2405m), which took about 3 hours. This is a very busy rifugio and it was bustling with visitors.

We claimed two beds in a dorm and went off to do our first via ferrata close to the hut. This was a steep via ferrata that was mostly vertical with many ladders. It was exciting, fun and very exposed at times.

Back at Locatelli, we had a delicious meal and watched an incredible sunset. This is a very scenic spot – we could see why so many people were there!

We left early the next morning to start our walk to try and beat the heat and the crowds. We had a lovely breakfast at a hut on our way to Rifugio Auronzo. We continued from there along the Sentiero Bonacossa, which was the most invigorating hikes we had done yet with a trail that wrapped around the side of the mountain, dropping steeply below– incredible.

We wore our harnesses and used our carabiners at a few places on this section, but the via ferrata was not very challenging. Most people we saw were wearing helmets and harnesses, but not everyone. This route eventually climbed up to Rifugio Fondo Savio (2367m). This was a beautifully perched rifugio with a killer apple strudel. There’s a good, challenging via ferrata to do there, but we continued on our way to Rifugio Col de Varda.

We arrived at Col de Varda, exhausted and relieved to find that there was space for us. As a matter of fact, we were the only guests! This was one of our longer days and we enjoyed our radler beer immensely!

We mostly did not reserve rifugios on our trip and always found a place to sleep. However, it did seem that the rifugios that were easier to access (chairlift or road) were emptier than the ones that had short hike to get there (i.e. Locatelli, Fondo Savio, Vandelli).

A break in Cortina d’Ampezzo

From Col de Varda we downloaded on the chairlift to Misurina and then took the bus to Cortina. In Cortina we stayed at Camping Olympia, which was fantastic. If you go to the far end of the campground, you can camp on the river. The woman managing the park helped us by calling ahead a couple of rifugios to see if they had space.

We enjoyed Cortina a lot and used it as a base to do some via ferrata. Highlights were going up to Rifugio Lorenzi by gondola and doing the Marino Bianchi via ferrata and Ivano Dibona via ferrata. The Ivano Dibona was a prominent frontline in WW1 and is filled with shelters and tunnels.  It is a fantastic ridge walk and about 1600m of descent!

Also, I can’t mention Cortina without recommending El Bronsin pizzeria, it will raise your pizza expectations for the rest of your trip; it was the best we had. We really felt Cortina was special and we didn’t fully realize that until we left – it’s worth spending time there.

Alta Via 4: part II

Moving on, back to the Alta Via 4, we hiked into Rifugio Vandelli (1962). The next day we did the most incredible via ferrata of the trip, ascending out of the basin on a steep face. This via ferrata was exposed and I found it quite exhausting and exciting. There were some more difficult moves and our heavy packs slowed us down a bit. The challenge felt good and we were rewarded by seeing an ibex at the top.

The route then descended to Bivacco Comici and then continued on to Rifugio San Marco. This was a longer day, as well, with limited water en route. However, it was probably the best day of the Alta Via 4, for us. Rifugio San Marco was beautiful and family-run. We wished we had spent another day there just relaxing, reading and taking in the mountains.

Although there was a couple more days left of the Alta Via 4, we felt satisfied with our experience and wanted to see if we could do some mountain biking before the end of our trip. We got a ride to Venice with a kind man that we met at San Marco and then continued on to Arco at Lake Garda.

It wasn’t until we left the Dolomites that we felt we had made a mistake! They hold a magic and we wished we had stayed a little longer. What a wonderful trip.

The route

Day 1: San Candido – R. Tre Scarperi

Day 2: R. Tre Scarperi – R. Locatelli

Day 3: R. Locatelli – R. Col de Varda

Day 4: R. Col de Varda – Misurina

Break in Cortina

Day 5: Tre Croce – R. Vandelli

Day 6: R. Vandelli – R. San Marco

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7 comments

  1. ada · · Reply

    So…is discreetly camping possible? I really need to know it, because if it isn’t possible, we will give up this region. Thanks!

    1. Hi Ada!

      Thanks for stopping by on the marmot post. Discreetly camping should be possible. Pete, who wrote a guest post about his AV2 wild camping trek for this blog (https://marmotpost.wordpress.com/2015/10/03/camping-hiking-alta-via-2/) followed the usual rules of pitching late, leaving early and kept out of sight and all went smoothly for him.

      Good luck planning your trip!

      marketa

  2. Peter Evans · · Reply

    Great report Christina. I’ve done the AV2 and thought of doing the AV4 next year. But information on the route is more sparse than for the AVs 1 and 2. What maps did you use and did you find a guidebook? Is the AV4 marked as well as the AVs 1 and 2? Any further info would be very welcome.
    Peter

    1. Hi Peter!

      Thanks for stopping by in the marmot post. Glad to see you like Christina’s post. I’m sure she’ll be glad to see that too. I’ll replay your comments to her.

      There is some information about the AV4 in Gillian Price’s Trekking in the Dolomites, though it’s quite brief.

      marketa

    2. Fergus · · Reply

      Hi Peter,
      I hiked AV2 last year, and used the TABACCOmapp app. You purchase each square in the overall dolomites region for ~€2 each (I bought 8 segments for AV2 as I went along). It is the same supplier as the printed maps, with the same 1:25,000 spec, very very good and essential with all Rifugios, hike routes, elevations, etc marked.
      I’m thinking of doing the same thing for AV4 this season :).
      Fergus

      1. Peter Evans · ·

        Thanks for the info Fergus. Interesting use of technology. Personally, I like to have a map in my hand. Hope you enjoy the AV4!

  3. What an interesting hike. I hope you had a great time, Christina! 🙂

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