The Dolomites
June 6, 2004

Part 1 (see Part 2)

One spring morning, Ben and I and a couple of my coworkers, Truong and Chris, set out from our campsite in southern Tirol to go climb a Via Ferrata. Known as Klettersteigen in German, the sport has, as far as I can tell, no translation into English. Most English speakers refer to it as Via Ferrata, as many of the routes lie in Italy, although they exist throughout the Alps. We were in northern Italy in the Dolomites, a range of mountains known for its rock type (Dolomite), as well as its dramatic scenery.

Chris, Truong, Margaret, Ben

Truong, who spearheaded our trip, had gotten in touch with Manfred Stuffer, a guide who leads groups on rock climbing trips, Via Ferrate, ice climbing expeditions, among other activities. He is also, apparently, a competitive climber and does Alpine rescue. And he's an excellent guide: friendly, knowledgeable, laid back, helpful. And he speaks fluent English, German, and Italian. If you're going to the Dolomites and you want a guide, get Manfred. (email: manfred.stuffer[at], phone +39 348 3406557)

It was a cold and wet spring and Manfred informed us that there were only a few Via Ferrate that were accessible all the way to the top. The rest were topped with snow and ice. Did we want the short easy one or the longer more challenging one? Unanimous. We took the longer one. So we hiked along the valley floor for a short way to get to our climb.

Our climb.

We roped together. Via Ferrata is something of a cross between rock climbing and mountain hiking. It's not as physically challenging as rock climbing -- at least the route we did wasn't -- but it's also not something that you'd want to do without protection of some sort. The Via Ferrata routes are lined with cables, ladders, and bridges. One wears a harness and a special get-up consisting of a set of carabiners that are joined by a short length of shock-absorbing rope. Because we were in a guided group, we also roped to one another.

And up we climb!

The views were, needless to say, stunning. This is one mountain we didn't climb.


A typical Via Ferrata bridge.

The route followed a narrow ledge for part of the way.

Other mountains still had snow at the top.

Margaret, climbing. Somehow I ended up with the "light red" helmet.

And at the top we were rewarded with a spectacular view.
Manfred said that we were lucky; it was the first really nice climbing day of the year.