Rotwand, from the bottom of the hiking path.

After a year here, I finally had the chance to visit the actual dolomites and to do a via ferrata. Last weekend, during what seemed to be perhaps the last warm weekend of the season, we headed up to the Rosengarten range, to Rotwand (Roda di Vaèl), the peak of which lies at around 2790 meters.

A via ferrata (literally “iron path”) is a hiking path with additional metal rebar and metal cables running up it. You can use climbing gear to hook into the cables, and pull yourself along. It’s not as hard as mountain climbing, because you have the cable and often also rebar ladders cut into the cliff face, but it’s harder than normal hiking, where you’d just be walking. Actually, I wouldn’t say the climbing harness makes the via ferrata feel particularly safe. The thing is, you hook yourself to the cable, but the path beneath you is often steep and slanted over the rocks. If you were to fall, you will slip quite a ways along the cable. You wouldn’t die (especially with the helmet on), but you could injure yourself pretty badly anyways, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be climbing back down a mountain bruised and bloody. In any case, the Rotwand one wasn’t a particularly difficult one, so that was alright.

We started the trip from Rovereto around 8am. The drive to Bolzano, where we would rent the gear, was around an hour, and then it took another half an hour to get to our parking spot in the mountains. By the way, we rented the gear from Base Camp Dolomiti, which is actually located inside the train station in Bolzano, like basically off of platform 1. The place was open on Sunday, and the people there were very nice and understanding when we were unable to return the gear the same night, so although they were small and their gear selection was tiny, I can’t complain about the service.

Anyways, after picking up our gear, we headed up to Rifugio Paolina, in the Dolomites. From there, we rode a ski lift up to Rotwand, and hiked in a circle around the rock formation, until reaching the beginning of the via ferrata. The ride up the ski lift was only around 15 minutes, but it covered a wide stretch of ground, a little under 2km in length.

View of the valley below, from near the start of the via ferrata.

The day started out chilly, and there was a mist in the air. I was afraid I’d freeze in only my Patagonia sweater, but thankfully, it warmed up quite a bit in the afternoon. The mist never quite dissipated, though, instead floating back and forth over the peak as we ascended, giving the excursion an ethereal feel. The hike around the peak was not too bad. It took just around 1.5 hours, and it was only moderately steep.

This peak was behind us the whole time we climbed.

I was very excited to finally do a via ferrata. I’d heard of them all year, but had never gotten around to renting the gear and finding a way to go. It was fortunate that a big group decided to go this time around, so I was able to tag along. The Rotwand via ferrata wasn’t much more difficult than the hike up to it. There were many times that I felt the ferrata gear was hardly needed, and was just slowing me down– but then again, there were also times that I was happy to have the peace of mind. This via ferrata didn’t have a lot of exposed areas, which is one thing that I had hoped for, but once again, maybe it was all the better to cut my teeth on a simpler climb. In any case, the view from the top was absolutely spectacular.

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On the way back, we caught the setting sun, as we made our way down the mountain. It’s warm rays cast the mountain behind us in a ruddy bronze, which is where the name Rotwand (literally “red wall”) must come from, I suppose. Unfortunately, we were too late to catch the ski lift, meaning we had to walk an extra hour all the way down the ski slope. By the end, my knees were hurting, and my thighs burned the next two days, whenever I tried to walk down the stairs. Such is the hiking life I guess? I’m definitely going to miss these exquisitely breathtaking hikes when my stay in Italy is over (the end is very soon now), and I wish I had started on the via ferrate much sooner in the year!

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