The Dolomites, Amazing Mountains

10 May 2008 - by Enrico Maioni

In 1997, thanks to Sakae's enterprise and his great passion for mountain climbing, I was invited to Japan to give some climbing lessons. Speaking with the people attending the course, I realized that the Dolomites were almost unknown in Japan. Somebody had heard of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, but that was all. I was very surprised, because I believe that every climber should visit these mountains at least once in their lifetime.

Anyone who loves nature will find something here that is different to other mountains areas in the world. Marvelous peaks emerge from green alpine meadows and vast forests of spruce and larch. The peaks change color constantly as the sun rises and travels across the sky during the day. You can admire many shades of pink and red in the sunrise and later the burning reds of the sunset. Well-marked trails allow excursionists to move around without any problem and enjoy views of peerless beauty.

In the Dolomites, not only skilled climbers can reach the top of the mountains. On these peaks there are some routes called vie ferrate, well supplied with steel wires, ladders and hanging bridges. These routes travel over many old paths that have survived since the First World War when Italian and Austrian soldiers, fighting here, marked them out. A well trained excursionist provided with climbing harness, helmet, karabiner and a piece of rope, can climb these routes very safely and without needing complete climbing equipment or a partner.

There is a rich tradition of Alpine climbing in the Dolomites. Many of the great routes of the Alps are to be found here and the area continues to be the home of some very strong and talented climbers. In fact, the Dolomites are a climber's paradise. There are routes here of every grade and length and every climber, from beginner to expert, will find something to match his abilities and ambitions here. You could choose either to do an 8c+ single pitch on a crag or to do a 200 meter, grade III route on Torri del Sella. On the Tofane there are some great lines from 400 to 900 meters in length; there are well known modern routes of 1000 meters or more on the sunny and solid south face of the Marmolada or on the scary north face of the Civetta. There are the huge overhangs on the Tre Cime di Lavaredo; the never-ending 1600 meters of Jori 's Arete on the Angner. The choice is massive.

Most routes can be climbed in a day by leaving in the early morning from your hotel or campsite. For ascents of over 1000 meters or for ones needing a long walk-in, the best option is to stay in a mountain hut. In the Dolomites there are more than a hundred huts, famous for their hospitality and great food. All of them are warm and comfortable, and most have showers and hot water. There is a choice of 2 or 4 bed rooms, or a large dormitory. You can reach most of them along a pleasant path with great views, others on cable cars or chair lifts. Only a few huts can be reached by car.

Most routes have fixed protection and this varies considerably with the type of route:

The classic routes are usually equipped with pitons, which are not always reliable (some of them are very old) and, mostly on the easiest routes, protection is often sparse. Sometimes a whole pitch has no pitons at all! Route finding requires a good level of experience, as does assessing the quality of fixed gear on the route. The quality of the rock must also be carefully evaluated. The Dolomia can be very friable, particularly on the yellow colored walls. The most repeated routes are usually safe, because they have already been cleaned by many ascents.

The modern routes are equipped with plentiful bolts and the rock is almost always very solid. Success on these routes requires a combination of technical ability and a good level of climbing fitness and stamina. Sport routes are to be found at a large number of venues. All are well bolted and many are in beautiful surroundings. To get to most of them, you only have to walk for about 15 minutes. Some of them are really overhanging (for example Erto) so that it is possible to climb also on rainy days. For the classic routes the grades are the UIAA grades, which go from I to XII and for aid climbing, grades from A0 to A4 are used. On the modern and sport routes the French scale is used; it goes from grade 4a to grade 9a.

I hope that the information given here is sufficient for you to start your journey that, I'm certain, will be an unforgettable experience. A vacation on the Dolomites is something unique, a priceless experience that is good for both body and soul. Finally I ask all those that may visit these valleys to respect local customs and traditions and, most of all, to respect the mountains: only this way can they give you the best of themselves and not only your alpine experience will grow, but also your heart.

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