Helm / Monte Elmo is one of the easiest and definitely the most popular mountain of the Carnic Alps. It is the westernmost summit of the Carnic Alps Main Ridge, a 140km barrier which for the last 90 years has made up the border between Austria and Italy. Today, a cable-car leads to the upper west slopes of the mountain from Sexten / Sesto and a chair lift heads up the north slopes from Vierschach / Versciaco. Both end at 2000m so that a stroll of 400m of elevation gets you to the top. From the Austrian side, from Sillian, a taxi service takes you to a pasture at 1900m, which should explain the popularity of the mountain. However, over the last hundred years things have often been quite different so that this page leads you back a pace or two in history.
When you look at the western part of the Carnic Alps Main Ridge from afar Helm / Monte Elmo will certainly be the most prominent sight. In 1891 a mountain hut was erected on its very top, both by the Alpine Clubs in Sexten and in Sillian. For 24 years the hut remained operative but then in 1915 WW I rolled over the area. The whole Carnic Alps Main Ridge was front line, which is visible to this day by multiple fortifications of all types. Helm / Monte Elmo stood a little apart and didn't see no real fighting but the hut on its summit got used by the Austrian soldiers.
After the loss of the war, Austria had to cede South Tirol and parts of Carinthia to Italy and the border was moved north to the Carnic Alps Main Ridge. It now ran across Helm / Monte Elmo, from where it plunged into Pustertal / Val Pusteria. The hut on its top changed ownership from this day on was not used as tourist hut anymore. Rather, the Italians built a number of additional fortifications around the summit to secure the northern border of their country. Later - after WW II - these fortifications were reused as customs stations and gradually the borders were re-opened.
In the 1960s and 1970s the old support trails of WW I were transformed in an 8 day trekking route, Karnischer Höhenweg, which has its start at Helm / Monte Elmo and follows the whole ridge for all its 140km. Later, on the Italian side a variant of the trail, Traversata Carnica was added, also following old WW I trails.
In 1953 the summit cross was erected on the summit by an international group of European boy scouts as a urgent call for peace. Today Europe borders are open and stories of war hopefully (!!) a thing of the past. The hut on Helm / Monte Elmo has withered away but there is talk of renovating it and keeping it open for free access all across the year.
There are three routes to the summit, all of which are hiking routes. The "normal route" starts at the cable-car and follows a maintenance road for about 90% of the route. Only the last 100m of elevation run along (well trodden) paths. The second most used route starts at Sillian and runs to Lenkfeldsattel (also taxi service). From there a hiking trail heads up the mountain from the north-east. The third route follows the surprisingly rocky west ridge of the mountain. It starts at the chair lift and heads up the mountain directly. In its upper part you come across the fortifications which were built after the area fell to Italy after WW I.
Helm / Monte Elmo Summit Panorama towards the Sexten / Sesto Dolomites
From The North
- Take A22 Brenner Motorway to exit Brixen / Bressanone
- Turn off onto SS49 east to Bruneck / Brunico or Toblach / Dobbiaco
- At Innichen / San Candido decide on the trailhead. Vierschach and Sillian are straight ahead, Sexten to the right
From Austria (East)
- Take A12 Inntalautobahn to exit Kufstein.
- Turn onto B178, later B161 south in direction Kitzbühel.
- At Mittersill B161 turns into B108 which heads through Felbertauern Tunnel.
- Take B108 until Lienz were you turn right (west) onto E66 which on the border crossing turns into SS49 to Toblach / Dobbiaco and Bruneck / Brunico.
- Silian and Vierschach are on this road, for Sexten you have to turn left in Innichen / San Candido
- Take A23 north to exit Carnia.
- Turn off onto SS52 which leads through several detours to Sexten / Sesto and Innichen / San Candido
- For Vierschach and Sillian turn east onto SS49 at Innichen / San Candido.
- Take motorway S27 north towards its end near Belluno.
- Turn onto SS51 towards Cortina d’Ampezzo and on to Toblach / Dobbiaco.
Red TapeNo red tape, but this is a border region. IDs are mandatory but will never be checked nowadays.
Maps & Books
- Osttirol Süd
- Dolomiten 5 - Sexten - Toblach - Prags
ISBN: 3 7633 4199 4
ISBN: 3 8705 1409 4
The most commonly used maps are the ones by Kompass and by Tabacco. The Kompass one is good as an overview map while the Tabacco one offers more details.
- Sextener Dolommiten / Dolomiti di Sesto
Kompass Map WK 58
- Dolomiti di Sesto / Sextener Dolomiten / Hochpustertal / Alta Pusteria
Tabacco Map 010