Alta Via 1: hiking on the Italian Dolomites
The Italian Dolomites are one of the most breathtaking places in the world. They have always been the top spot for my mountain vacations. Winter is for skiing and Summer is for hiking. I have good memories with family and friends, and I feel very lucky to live close to this place.
This year I decided to step up my game with a little help from my friends. I decided to go for the Alta Via 1.
Introducing Alta Via
The Alta Via (in English literally high way) is a hiking trip. As the “Alta” (high) word suggests, it’s a route that stays on top of mountains, instead of going up and down from valley to peak.
It’s a spartan trip, basically an adventure. You can sleep in huts only, since there’s not much civilisation up there. You walk for more than 100km and hike an elevation gain of 6500m in 7 days. For reference the Kilimanjaro is 5895 meters.
Since the experience has been quite demanding I decided to write a small guide, to help people doing the same route, and to document the awesome trip I had.
Alta Via 1 is actually longer than the trip we had, but we were a big group and accommodating everyone's need was complicated. No big deal since the part that we hiked is considered the best part!
I highly suggest to book in advance the huts. There are a lot of people hiking in the Dolomites so you don't want to arrive and discover that the hut of your choice hasn't a room for you.
DAY 0: pack your stuff!
During the whole trip the backpack will be your best friend. You want to be sure to get everything before leaving, because common things are not so common on top of the mountains.
This list is just for Summer. Don’t go during other seasons trusting this list. It's dangerous.
This is the list of what I took with me. I linked to Amazon products for convenience!
- A good hiking backpack. At least 40 liters!
- Good hiking/climbing shoes. You don’t want to break your shoes or ankles during your hike.
- A good camera. The panorama is amazing. This is my personal choice.
- Hiking socks. You don't want to walk with blisters.
- A paper map of the Dolomites
- Waterproof jacket and a poncho and a raincover. Rain sucks.
- 2 convertible pants
- 3 technical t-shirts. You can wash them at the huts
- Clean clothes for cozy stay in the huts
- Warm hat and gloves. Winter could come.
- Slippers: the huts don’t allow you to enter with your hiking shoes.
- Water bottle or this thing which I can't name in English which is very convenient.
- CAI badge (CAI is an Italian association which provides an insurance if you are badly hurt, pays for helicopter in case of emergencies and have some discount on huts)
- Microfiber towel
- Euros, cash. Your card won't work everywhere, especially where there is no signal on the phone
- Sunglasses, sunscreen and tennis hat. Sun hits harder in mountain!
- Dried fruit/snacks/chocolate
- Paracetamol and medications
- Cotton sleeping bag. This is mandatory in all huts!
- You phone's charger and an external battery.
- Earplugs. Huts rooms are shared with six to ten people and often someone snores.
- A belt
- Hiking poles. I can't recommend those tools enough. They save your knees!
DAY 1: from Pragser Wildsee to hut Biella
🚶 Distance: 5.6km
⌛️ Moving Time: 1:46:15
🚠 Elevation: 827m
Track your rides and runs via your iPhone, Android or GPS device, analyze your performance, and compare with friends.www.strava.com
The first day has been quite straight-forward. The hike is not hard, but it's the first day with a 10kg backpack on your shoulders, so you will be slower than expected. Just go with your pace and enjoy the view.
After the hike you will arrive at the Biella hut. It's very spartan, they don't even have a shower for the guests, but it served the best tagliatelle I ever had.
During the night, as always in the Dolomites, there was a lot of stars. It's awesome to see the sky with so few lights around you.
DAY 2: from Biella to Fanes
🚶 Distance: 15km
⌛️ Moving Time: 2:20:27
🚠 Elevation: 757m
Wakey wakey rise and shine, time for another hike! Second day we had less elevation but way more distance. We also saw some wild marmots!
One thing that always amazes me of the Dolomites it the variety of vegetation that you can find during the hike. Sometimes it looks like you landed on the moon, other times it looks green and luxuriant.
We also found a very shy lion on our way. Luckily we were able to run faster than her.
After all this wildlife we were still able to reach Fanes hut. This place is radically different compared to the previous one, it's full of comforts, cozy, and the restaurant is very fancy! It also have showers, which was a relief considering that the day before we weren't able to have one.
Needless to say we were happy to savor the tasty food prepared by the Fanes chef.
DAY 2: from Fanes to Lagazuoi
🚶 Distance: 13km
⌛️ Moving Time: 3:51:42
🚠 Elevation: 1060m
This was hard. We walked a very long distance, and we had a lot of elevation. The elevation has been so much that we encountered an alien during the hike. Impressive!
During this day we walked a lot of elevation in both ways: up and down. When I say down I mean it, like in this photo. We went from the point where I took the photo to the very bottom: the lake.
We went down walking down the scree, pretty scary! It was very steep and even if the road was well delimited it looked as we could fall anytime.
Luckily we were able to descend without any trouble, and we eventually arrived to the lake at the bottom, which was breathtaking.
We also decided to test the temperature of the lake, which was freezing even if it was Summer! Even if we were freezing it was definitely worth it. We felt like wild bears.
If you are considering doing the Alta Via 1 there is something you want to know about this lake. From the lake it looks like that the day is over. Like you almost arrived. It's not like that. You still have a long way to the Lagazuoi!
Put your trousers and shoes on a prepare yourself to walk for a couple of hours more.
After the aforementioned long road we arrived to one of the most incredible huts I ever saw. The Lagazuoi sits on the top of the mountain, looking at the valley from his terrace. It's glorious.
DAY 3: Lagazuoi — Croda Negra — Averau
🚶 Distance: 10km
⌛️ Moving Time: 2:36:24
🚠 Elevation: 600m
During this day we also conquered the Croda Negra peak. I forgot to charge my camera and phone during the night, and this is the only photo I managed to take! Shame.
We slept at the Averau, which is very fancy, with comfortable beds and showers. It's very convenient compared to the average hut and the restaurant is classy.
If you manage to find room at the Nuvolau (we didn't) I suggest sleeping there. It’s dated 1883: it's the oldest hut in the Dolomites! You can arrive there easily, it's just 1km from the Averau.
The view from there is amazing, and the name of the hut, Nuvolau, is inspired by the word cloud (in Italian: nuvola) because of the cloudy panorama that you can enjoy there.
Moreover the Siorpaes family, which is running the Nuvolau, helped us when Alvise was sick, kindly offering us some medicine. They were super gentle and we are eternally grateful to them!
Thanks Siorpaes family!
Day 4: Averau — Rif. Città di Fiume — Passo Staulanza
🚶 Distance: 17km
⌛️ Moving Time: 4:06:55
🚠 Elevation: 617m
This day was very long, also because my friend Alvise was sick. That's why in my list I suggest to bring medications. There are no pharmacies in the top of the mountains, and traveling without medication can transform your vacation in a bad trip.
Anyway, we managed to help him, and even if it was a very hard day, he managed to keep going.
During the hike we stopped at the Città di Fiume hut, which I highly recommend instead of the Passo Staulanza hotel. Passo Staulanza is at the bottom of the valley, near a road, while the Città di Fiume is along the pathway.
All in all I was satisfied with our stay at the Passo Staulanza mostly because of this majestic old golden retriever, which became our best friend right after we walked the door. Good boy.
Day 4: Passo Staulanza —Palafavera
🚶 Distance: 16km
⌛️ Moving Time: 4:25:05
🚠 Elevation: 1191m
We hiked the whole day around mount Pelmo, a 3168m colossus which we could see from far away on each panorama we encountered during our hike.
One part of this gigantic mountain is called El caregon de dio — the chair of god — because of the size and shape of the pinnacle.
The hike was mostly on the rocks in the morning, gently progressing to green fields in the evening. As you can see from the face of Riccardo in the photo the morning scree we faced up to was brutal!
And finally the Palafavera! This place is not a hut but a three-star-hotel, with a generous restaurant. We devoured their plates, and even if I can't remember anymore what I had, I clearly remember that I was the hungriest man alive and everything tasted delicious.
Day 5: Palafavera — Vazzoler
🚶 Distance: 16.8km
⌛️ Moving Time: 4:29:52
🚠 Elevation: 1623m
This was a very long day too, but at this point of our hike we conquered the pace. The first days are harder, but when you break your routine then you just get accustomed to the rhythm, and you keep walking without thinking about the difficulty too much.
We passed through a couple of huts during the hike, and stopped at Tissi for a piece of cake. It's something you take for granted when you live in a urban landscape, but since I was on top of the mountains I was the happiest just because I found cake in the middle of nowhere.
At the end of the day we arrived at Vazzoler. It's a simple hut, one of the most frugal we found during our hike.
I feel personally bonded to this hut, because I remember it from my childhood. I came there with my parents when I was eight, and coming back again felt like some frozen remote memory perfectly intact where I left it.
Mountains are like frozen memories.
We slept at the Vazzoler, and the day after we descended to the closest village. From there we hopped on a bus, and we went back to reality.