We used the Province of Belluno's guide for the hike, although we modified it into 8 days instead of 11. The general consensus from hikers was that no one was too happy with their guidebook. Fortunately we hadn't paid anything for ours, so we could only complain so much. Generally we found the instructions and hiking times to be OK, but we often paused at the directional signs for several minutes contemplating which way we were supposed to go. There was one instance where the guide suggested going from Rifugio Citta di Fiume to Rifugio Venezia in 3.5 hours, but it took us 6.
Alta Via challenged us with some of the rockiest terrain we've hiked through. We were thankful to have hiking poles to spare our knees. The views made up for the terrain, offering jagged mountains unlike anything we'd seen before. Some sections of the hike require via ferrata gear to cross, but we planned our hike in such a way that we avoided these sections so we didn't have to worry about renting and carrying gear. From our experience, it seems like most hikers also take this approach.
Early August offered beautiful hiking weather in the Dolomites. Every day the temperature topped out in the 70's with a lot of sunshine. Unfortunately, around 2pm a storm usually rolls in which can be particularly scary if you're up high on the mountain. We got caught in a downpour once, and steady rain several times. We laughed off our soaking wet predicament and fantasized about the wine we would soon be drinking. It's easy to stay positive when you're in such an amazing place.
Wild camping is prohibited on the trek and there are very few organized campsites, so hikers stay at rifugios. They are similar to hostels with many bunk beds per room, but they also serve food. After a long day of hiking, it is so comforting to stay somewhere with real food, a bed, and even a shower (if you want to pay for it). We were very happy with the food which was a combination of Italian and German cuisine. Most of the riguios offered half board which includes dinner, bed, and breakfast. The dinner consisted of a first course (soup or pasta), a second course (meat with some vegetables), and dessert (strudel, cake, or pie). I planned on ordering a la carte since I don't do cheese or beef, but most of the rifugios with half board actually offered options (usually 3) for each course. Additionally, we liked to order the house wine which isn't included but is very affordable and very good! Breakfast usually consisted of deli meat, hardboiled eggs, bread, yogurt, and granola, although the options depended on the rifugio. They also sell bag lunches, but we packed granola bars and tuna which saved us some money but cost us some weight in our packs at the start.
You can find all of the rifugious on rifugios.net.
Lago di Braies
Croda del Lago
Croda del Lago
Pian de Fontana
Pian de Fontana
Bus stop to go to Belluno
We arrived at Lago di Braies a little before 3pm, due to a change in our plans from a delayed flight. After a full day of flying and a morning of busing to arrive at the lake, we were thrilled to start the hike even with the overwhelming distance we needed to cover before dark. Our packs were heavy but our legs were well rested, so we hiked at top speed hoping to make it to Pederu in time for dinner. The terrain was rough and fairly steep, but we knew this was far from the toughest part of the hike. After a long stretch of downhill along a road, we arrived at Pederu and were thrilled to be served charcuterie even though the kitchen had closed.
After a great breakfast at Pederu, we set out on one of the hardest sections of the trek. We covered a great deal of spectacular trail before the afternoon thunderstorm hit when we were unfortunately nearing the top of a mountain. A few lighting strikes were a little close for comfort, especially with our metal hiking poles, but we managed over the pass with only soggy clothes. The downhill section was a knee killer, but we enjoyed listening to a group of scouts singing by the lake below. We thought we were close to Lagazoi, but we climbed up, up, up for what felt like days before reaching one of the most remote rifugios. Fortunately, the view (and the great house wine) made the long climb worth it.
We enjoyed a lot of downhill on the third day through some spectacular views. The contrast of the cow fields to the sharp mountain faces made a photographer's dream. One of the most notable rock formations, Cinque Torri, can be seen during this day. The climb up to Croda del Lago took some patience, but didn't seem to bad after the previous day's strenuous uphill. At the end we enjoyed one of the best dinners of our hike.
Our day started off easy enough with gradual uphill and some hiking along the road. We reached Citta di Fiume before lunch, and expected to be at Venezia in the early afternoon. Unfortunately, our guide didn't give a lot of detail on the climb over the Pelmo pass. We thought this section was the toughest on the hike as the small rocks slid with every step up making the climb feel much longer than it looked. After the climb we were rewarded with some amazing views. This section was listed as "EEA" meaning it requires gear, however we were fine just holding on to the cables alongside the mountain without harnesses. By the time we reached Venezia we were sore, hungry, and ready for some wine.
After climbing on rocks all of the previous day, we were pleased to have some better footing. This day was long and fairly strenuous, but had some of the best views of the entire hike. In the afternoon we were caught in the worst thunderstorm of our hike. We were lucky to be lower in elevation than day 2 and around trees, so we felt less exposed. In the middle of the downpour we met two older Austrian men who lifted our spirits with their giant smiles and glowing optimism. We were thrilled to have dinner with them at Vazzoler where we dried our sopping boots next to a warm fire.
This was our second easiest day with a bit of uphill and a fair amount of downhill. We stopped for lunch at Carestiato for the best gnocchi we had all trip. We arrived at San Sebastiano before the afternoon rain and enjoyed some drinks and card games with a group of Israelis.
Our guide suggested this would be the toughest day, so we started early after a remarkably good breakfast at San Sebastiano. Our packs were much lighter than at the start since we'd eaten most of the food we carried and our legs felt alright after the fairly easy previous day. We hoped to pass over the mountain before any rain hit, and we were successful with our quick pace. The climb up was a bit precarious with an area where we crawled up the spine of the mountain. These conditions made for a memorable section with spectacular views at the top.
We finished the hike with an almost entirely downhill day. It took only four hours to reach the bus stop along the road at the end of the trail. Unfortunately, the bus runs on a modified schedule on Sundays with a bus at 8am and the next at 1:45pm. We waited with a large group of hikers for the afternoon bus, reminiscing about the hike's highlights as we relaxed in the shade.