(A voyeuristic hike along the Padon Ridge)
Preface Marmolada and Gran Vernel as seen from the Belvedere summit.
I’m wondering how many days you will count each year when there is perfect weather. Blue skies with occasional decorative clouds, clean air and far reaching views are very rare especially in the summer months when haze permits close up views only. And then, out of these few days, what are the odds that you’ll be in a position to enjoy those views? Once a year? Twice?
In that respect I have been very lucky this year with three days overall, one
on the Canarian Island of La Palma and now two in the Dolomites, both in the Marmolada Group. This trip report is here to tell you of the most extraordinary day I have ever enjoyed, scrambling and hiking along the Padon Ridge in the Marmolada Group.
The Setting: The Padon Ridge
First of all let me introduce you to the location. To the north of the Dolomites’ highest mountain, mighty Marmolada, you will find a long ridge which nearly forms a quarter circle around the Queen of the Dolomites. For those cycling enthusiasts among you who care about the Giro d’Italia: the ridge is located between Passo Pordoi in the north and Passo Fedaia in the south. The most interesting aspect of the subgroup is that it is composed of black volcanic rock which produces stark contrasts to the Marmolada Glacier in the south and the white shining Dolomite formations to the north and east.
The western part of the Padon Chain is best known for a hiking trail: Bindelweg in German, Viel del Pan in Ladinian. This trail follows the ridge on its southern side always in view of Marmolada and since it can be reached easily from Passo Pordoi it also is one of the most crowded trails of the whole Dolomites. But in parallel runs a second scrambling trail which follows the ridge as directly as possible, the Alta Via della Cresta. And here you can find some solitude, if only early in the mornings.
It is about a trip to these two trails, that I’m setting out to report right now. No alpinist feat for sure but I hope the pictures will tell their story. None of the pictures have been photoshopped, what we saw is what you get with a little sharpness adjustment after the shrinking procedure.
Waking up early on July 14th 2005 a first glimpse outside the window of our apartment in Falcade tells us that this will be one day in a million. Clear skies above the Focobon Group of the Pale di San Martino make us hurry up with all the tiny little things we always do in the mornings. The backpack is packed soon, breakfast is hastily swallowed and now the one question remains: Where Do We Go? Those of you who read my last TR know that this decision is kind of a give and take among us and today it seems to be Judith’s day because she immediately answers: Bindelweg.
“But Bindelweg is a boring hiking trail! Granted it’s panoramic but there’s got to be more than that. Couldn’t we take the Alta via one direction, Bindelweg the other?” To my surprise she agrees and we set out for Fedaia pass. When it comes to trailheads I have to decide and I prefer Fedaia to Pordoi. Off we go.
Lago Fedaia to Porta Vescovo
On a day like this I develop ants in my pants and get as restless as can be. Not the perfect frame of mind for driving along winding mountain roads with trucks and slow tourist cars up front. But I was comparatively lucky again. Only shortly before the switchbacks start up to Lago Fedaia I had a couple of obstacles but 163 ponies let my car pass them by like nothing. Squealing up the switchbacks we finally arrive at the lake and obtain one of the rare parking places. Somehow I wonder how Judith can take my driving. In the afternoons she even falls asleep. Maybe you can call that trust?
At Lago Fedaia a superb vista greets us. You can see it in the pano above. Her Majesty the Queen with her Valet Gran Vernel.Somehow the latter fascinates me. You rarely find info on it. It is climbed rarely (easy to see why). Everything around here focuses on Marmolada. My lens however tries to be impartial and I take a close up of Gran Vernel. My favourite shot for the moment. But more are to come.
We scramble up the meadows in the direction of Porta Vescovo, a pronounced pass on the Padon Ridge. To the left we see La Mesola and La Mesolina, which are connected by one of the hardest Ferrate in the area. Not our league for sure. While taking a short rest a weird spectacle plays in front of our eyes. Two marmots seem to have a serious argument. With much ruckus they fight their way down the slopes rolling over, coming back, biting and fighting. And I thought marmots were peaceful animals. Killer marmots on Padon?
Finally we make it to Porta Vescovo. Here Alta Via della Cresta and Bindelweg join. Regrettably there is also a cable car station up there, coming all the way up from Arabba in the north. We are early enough. The first cabin is on the way. Better get out of here. But then, along Bindelweg come four of the pests of the mountains: mountain bikers on a hiking trail. At that time of the day it might be ok but it prepares us for what is to come later. We don’t believe it yet though.
Has ever a mountain earned its name in a way Belvedere does on that day? Probably but it still was amazing. From Porta Vescovo flee up a grass covered slope towards the Belvedere summit. Very easy but actually steep enough to let us catch our breath. The summit itself is a kind of flat area so we can relax as we get nearer. And then we take a break, enjoying the 360° panorama:
The 360° panorama seen from Belvedere on the Padon Ridge Hide / Show annotations
Everything, I mean really everything
is on display here, Dolomites near and far but what amazes me most is the clear view of the Alpine Main Ridge. Zillertal Alps and Hohe Tauern can be seen in detail and so I shoot my next favourite shot: Sasshonger with the main ridge behind.
The camera seems to have a life of its own. Now it’s tuned in on the Tofane, now back to Piz Boè, What about Punta Serauta, and back to Sas dla Crusc, 90° westwards to the Sas Lonch / Langkofel Group and back again to La Varella. I can’t get enough but Judith starts tapping her feet. Of course she’s right. This is only the first summit on the crest. I will shoot the same amount of photos on each following summit. If we want to get back before nightfall we better move on. 2GB of memory for my camera will hopefully be enough…
The Belvedere summit already tells us a lot about the Padon Ridge. Grassy slopes to the south, vertical faces to the north. These faces actually look kinda Madeira-ish, with nice black towers here and there. As we descend we close in on the most impressive towers: Le Forfes. The Alta Via della Cresta actually leaves the crest here to depart for the towers passing around them and back up to the crest.
If you can say so this is the most difficult part of the day. Not because of any climbing passages but the trail is worn and since it is a bit exposed you have to take care a lot. Down climbing – like we do – is not the best option in this place. We have to sit down and skid down on our butts. Poor pants – first ants and now volcanic scree…
Still there is time for a couple of shots. Sasshonger and Boè seen through the gaps between the towers make for good motifs. The towers themselves get a couple of exposures and we leave, climbing back to the crest.
Sas Capel is the highest summit on this part of the Padon Ridge. It looks like a black cap on the ridge and is certainly the most prominent feature. We have to scramble up its east ridge, always along the grass slopes but damn close to the 200m vertical drop of the north face. It’s a bit exiting so for 20 minutes we forget the surrounding views. Once the slopes have been climbed a narrow trail leads along the southern part of the black summit block. It is noon and we meet the first other parties. We don’t climb the summit since a large group of Russians gets there before us. No for a crammed lunch on Sas Capel.
Col da Cuch
Now we are nearing the end of the Alta Via della Cresta. Only one summit is left, Col da Cuch, an easy hill-like mountain. Like all the others it is covered with meadows but the proximity to Passo Pordoi ensures quite some traffic. We are lucky in that most hikers take Bindelweg to the near Rifugio Viel del Pan – it is lunchtime and they prefer benches to rocks. We share the summit with two other couples and take our time with the lunch since the views are so extraordinary.
The sun is at its highest point which makes the Col da Cuch panorama even better than the Belvedere one. There is still no haze in the air and a few decorative clouds have appeared above Marmolada di Penia. Hard to decide which pano to post.
But now the drag starts. Still on Alta Via we descend to the intersection with Bindelweg and encounter the first hoards of real tourons heading up Col da Cuch with their slippers on their feet. They’ll certainly enjoy the scramble! On Bindelweg it rather is a kind of a culture shock. A large dirt road greets us and everyone strolls back and forth. Mountainbikers rush through the crowds and the great experience of the crest is soon forgotten. Let’s get out of here as soon as possible!
Luckily for us after the Rifugio the crowds get thinner and we decide to take a trail which leads down to Fedaia Lake directly instead of taking Bindelweg all the way back to Porta Vescovo. On this short cutting trail we meet only a few people coming up so our frame of mind settles back in its relaxed state. Still I don’t shoot pictures anymore - perhaps two or three - as we hasten back to the car. Shortly before we reach Lago Fedaia however I manage to get another picture postcard view – the third of my favourite shots of the day. The drive back is relaxed and slow – and Judith falls asleep after five minutes in the drive :-)