alps,  europe

walking on tightropes | ivano dibona via ferrata

13 miles . 4300 ft gain . 9690 ft high

If there’s one thing I suggest to do for an Italian alps trip, it’s definitely a via ferrata! There’s many made for all sorts of abilities and adventures. This one edges on lengthy no matter how you slice it, but it requires little technical skills. Just relatively good fitness because unlike other via ferratas, you must hike a good bit here! If you’re looking for short and sweet, the Ivano Dibona would probably not fit you. But if you’re looking to put in some effort and then enjoy a nice downhill light scramble along a ridge, this is the perfect via ferrata for you! It’s one of several great, highly rated via ferratas around Cortina d’Ampezzo.

So this one was my biggest day during my whole time around the Cortina area because I was without a car and had the time restraints of the bus schedule and also getting to my next hut before dinner time while being ambitious to complete the whole Ivano Dibona route. This is how it went:

In the morning, I woke up at my hotel and got an early bird breakfast. You have to ask if you can eat earlier than the normal hours. Another gal and I were allowed in maybe half an hour before everyone else came down. Italian breakfasts look similar to American continental breakfasts with the bread and jam, but much heavier on the meat. I checked out and walked briskly to the bus station. You can’t miss it! It’s where all the busses operate out of, whether it’s the local town bus or the inter-city bus. The schedule might be different every season, but I simply took the first 30/31 Dolomiti Bus headed towards Tre Cime. There’s always people around to ask for help if you’re confused, whether other passengers or the bus driver. Some of the time I paid for my ticket on the bus with the driver (they give change) and other times I’ve gotten a bus ticket form the counter. With all my belongings, I set off on the bus. Luckily, other people requested a stop at Rio Gere. I get nervous that the stop button doesn’t work and if they’ll drive pass my stop, but not to worry here!

The bus ran ahead of the lifts actually, but I only had to wait a few minutes behind a couple groups and for the lift counter to begin concessions. The Rio Gere-Son Forca lift is really nice and it would be lovely to take a covered lift like this in the winter! But since it was summer, I felt no need to pull down the cover. Instead, I enjoyed my 15.5€ ride to save time and energy. This cuts off 1600 ft of elevation. From the Rifugio, you go around and up the the big gully where it’s marked for the via ferrata. Half way up, you’ll find a faint trail that is good to follow but it switchbacks relentlessly. If you step off the trail, you’ll immediately cause a landslide, but the trail somehow is very solid. Since the trail goes straight up, it gains quickly and I think I was able crush it all within 45 minutes somehow. Old maps and tracks seem to suggest taking a looker’s left up another gully, but no one went that way. Perhaps it’s fine to do that but you’ll miss the major attraction of the long suspension bridge!

Monte Cristallo, the gully beneath and people on the via ferrata
Path to the short side trip, Cristallino d’Ampezzo

At the top of the ridge (9600 ft), I ate some snacks and geared up for the via ferrata. It seemed like many people were there for the Monte Cristallo via ferrata. It’s slightly more technical and I would’ve chosen to do it given more time. But I was more excited to do the whole high route traverse instead since I was solo and did not prepare for the more technical route. I was one of the first people (if not the first) on the Ivano Dibona via ferrata that day. There were plenty of people coming up after me though. It was nice to have the solitude and also to know that there’s people around. I think the most exciting parts of the via ferrata are in the early section before I took the side trip to the Cristallino d’Ampezzo which adds a little extra excitement to the relatively mellow Ivano Dibona track. Overall it was easy to follow the path, though there are many social trails you could follow if you don’t feel like doing parts of the via ferrata. I tried to maximize the via ferrata.

Once I bagged the Cristallino, I saw two guys who started to catch up to me. Eventually, we leap frogged a bunch from taking different breaks and I learned that they’re Belgian! And doing in jeans gave me a good laugh – what you wear is not indicative of your ability nor should it prevent you from doing anything really. They were equally as speedy and it was fun to have people somewhat nearby. This via ferrata is particularly special because it passes through many old WWI artifacts and remnants from buildings to hiding holes. I expected an eerie feeling, but instead I felt more exploratory than anything. Like wow, people built this 100 years ago and it still remains. Or thoughts like, what was it like to be up here 100 years ago? Probably similar except with different gear. Via ferratas were built to protect soldiers and later, travelers on trails that had high exposure.

From Cristallino, drop down a little. The via ferrata traverses left out of frame with optional non-via ferrata paths to the right of the little peak.
A better view of the via ferrata path from the saddle. Passing through old remnants.
Some helpful painted arrows. Looking down at Rifugio Son Forca immediately beneath and Cortina in the distance.
See again if you can spy the route wrapping near the next building
Nearly unrecognizable trail that traverses the hillside
Spy my friends in the middle of the photo, making the impossible possible
Beginning the main descent from 8800 ft to the people coming the opposite route
Flat irons of Cortina, Pomagagnon subrange

Soon, I started descending from 8800 ft to 8200 ft and nearly lost my way finding the cairns for lack of the normal white-red paint. This is where I bade my temporary friends goodbye as they decided to cut short their via ferrata and start looping back to Son Forca. I thought about it. It meant a more leisurely time to get to my hut. But I felt like I was on schedule with the estimated time on the via ferrata and believed I had time to finish it in a timely enough manner if I was still able to hustle the easy trail out. This felt like the halfway since we started seeing other people travel the other direction. I’m not sure how they’ll end cause I surely didn’t want to descend the gully that I came up.

The beta I received from the opposing hikers gave me a bit of concern, but I trusted the online beta more. It was supposed to be easier than everything I had done. Which ended up being true! I passed a few more people headed the other way and skipped my way down until I was all alone again. That’s when the clouds rolled in more and I started to feel more alone and pressed for time. It’s hard to know when the via ferrata ends and when it’s a trail again, but from afar, I could see the last remaining bits of trail that lead down to the forest to Val Padeon. The trail felt like my saving grace. The constant downhill on the via ferrata was taking a toll on my knees since you’re on hard rock the whole time. This is probably why some people like to do via ferratas going uphill.

More improbable paths
Bosco River, walking the forest road uphill to get back to Passo Tre Croci
Looking back at the gully I first climbed and the decommissioned lift

I had a huge relief and felt a hallelujah moment once I reached the trail. I wished I had rented poles along with the via ferrata gear. They would have saved my knees so much more. Since I was by myself with no car shuttle, I couldn’t just take the easy exit to Ospitale d’Ampezzo and the busses don’t quite run there either. So I had to walk 4 miles back to the lift and another 3 miles to my next hut. At least the saving grace was that the trail was mellow and graded as a forest road with little to trip over. I started to find steady climb through the valley was getting slower and slower with each step. I was running out of water but had to cover 1300 ft of elevation gain before a relief. I had dropped all the way down to 5600 ft by the time I reached Val Padeon.

The sun started to shine again, a perfect recipe for a sweaty back. And immediately I felt less lonely. It’s not easy hiking alone and staying motivated, but I was determined to get to the hut before dinner time. One foot in front of the other. Ignore the throbbing soreness in my quads. Enjoy the green larch trees. And soon enough I started to see where I started, that fateful gully that started it all and the lift that took me to that starting point. People’s voices carried over the trail and I was happy to see human faces again. No time to dilly dally, I headed straight down the opposite side of the col. Somehow there was the world’s faintest trail and I felt weird for trampling the grass, but it exists on the map and it felt more efficient than taking the gravelly road. Bouncing through the tall wildflowers, I ended up on a trail again and headed towards Passo Tre Croci to catch my trail to my next destination. Go go go, clock is ticking. If I didn’t make it to the hut by 6pm, I would have no food and probably would have to hike back out to the restaurant by the main road. But that’s another story to tell. 8 hours after taking the lift, I had completed the full loop of the Ivano Dibona via ferrata all by myself with an overnight hut pack. Maybe don’t pack your schedule like me or pack your bag like me! But this was definitely still the highlight of my whole trip!

  • This is rated B, so moderately difficult. From personal experience, it’s a bit more challenging than just a walk but nothing is risky and there’s always good cables for extra protection. The terrain is uneven, but largely wide paths and requires little technical skill, if any at all.
  • Most people travel east to west to take advantage of the lift, and I think it’s preferable as well. However if downhill travel is difficult for you, or if you have a fear of heights, traveling uphill on the via ferrata can be easier mentally if you have the fitness for it.
  • There’s a few variations to the Ivano Dibona via ferrata:
    • Starting at Rio Gere to take the lift to Rifugio Son Forca. Or if hiking instead of taking the lift, you can start a little higher at Passo Tre Croci.
    • At the top of the climber’s trail to the ridge, you’ll reach the former Rifugio Lorenzi. From here, you can opt to do the harder Monte Cristallo via ferrata going east.
    • Or you can simply start the Ivano Dibona via ferrata which travels along the ridge going west.
    • As it descends from 8800 ft to 8200 ft, you’ll have the option to keep going to the lower Ivano Dibona via ferrata along the ridge or keep descending straight down back over scree and boulders to loop toward the Rifugio Son Forca and walk back to your start point. This is probably less exciting but would take less time.
    • If descending via the ridge for the lower Ivano Dibona, you’ll end up at Val Padeon, the intersection of trail and a forest road. Either hike back east an easy uphill 4 miles to Passo Tre Croci or a shorter downhill one mile west to your car shuttle at Ospitale d’Ampezzo.
  • Getting there: It may be easier to have a car for more flexibility with this via ferrata. However, I was able to use the bus from Cortina, which can stop at either Rio Gere or Passo Tre Croci (400 feet of elevation difference). Take the Dolomiti Bus number 30/31 towards Tre Cime if traveling from Cortina. Note that this only runs in peak summer season.
  • Gear: It’s advisable to use via ferrata gear, but with sure footing, the bulk of the via ferrata is a class 1/2 hike-scramble with an occasional large step that could be considered class 3. Having the gear can mean slower travel, but increases safety. I rented gear the evening before for the same price as a single day. The more days you link up the cheaper the cost per day. All the shops have a similar pricing and you can pick and choose what gear to use. It’s advisable to take the helmet, harness, and via ferrata lanyard. Make sure you have good shoes too! I ended up going to Snow Service 1 store across the bus station. They were lovely and provided free local trail maps as well!
  • If you need to store some luggage, ask your hotel. If not, I was able to check a bag with the multi service store across the bus station. It runs about 5€ per day.
  • Looking for more Dolomite activities? Check out my blog on Tre Cime and off-season in Cortina!

Photos shot on Canon 5D Mark IV

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