Rock Climbing in the Dolomites

With an expanse of more than 90,000 acres and peaks reaching over 3,000 meters high, Italy’s Dolomite Mountains is the ultimate destination for the adventure traveler, particularly rock climbing enthusiasts. With a wide variety of climbs available and the ability to tackle most routes within a single day, climbers of any skill level can enjoy the challenge posed by the Dolomites terrain.

The area routes are unique and vary in level, including single pitch sports routes, moderate Alpine routes (up to 800m long), and more advanced big wall routes.

The Dolomites are hailed as one of the best rock climbing destinations in the world because of the abundance and variety of rock faces.  Stretching nearly 50 miles east of Bolzano, the area is vast and is split into groups connected by a network of roads, allowing climbers to easily cover several areas in one trip.  A few of the more popular include the Sella Towers, Piz Ciavazes, the Falzarego Pass, Marmolada and the north face of Cima Grande.

For beginner climbers, the Sella Towers & Piz Ciavazes are an excellent choice because of their short approaches, easy descents, and shorter, better protected routes.  Climbers should be aware, however, that just across the Sella Pass lies the Sassolungo area, which boast much more difficult alpine-like climbs. 

The Falzarego Pass, located between St. Kassian and Cortina, is considered one of the best places to rock climb in the Dolomites.  For the mid-level climber, this well protected area offers easy approaches to solid, mid-range routes with straightforward descents.

Advanced climbers may chose to tackle the Marmolada, the highest mountain in the Dolomites.  With a height reaching 800m and a south facing wall stretching 3km wide, the routes here are complex and challenging.  Given the size and difficulty of the Marmolada, it’s recommended that climbers carry a bivouac bag because it typically takes more than a day to complete.  The descent is also quite demanding, down the north side of the mountain (which also happens to be a glacier) so lightweight boots and in-step crampons are also suggested.  For those who don’t want to chance the climb down, there is a cable car available; however the ride can be quite pricey.

Perhaps the most challenging route in all the Dolomites is the Cima Grande’s north face, which is remarkably steep.  Graded at UIAA V11 it is 16 pitches long and 450m and deserves every bit of prestige that it has become associated with in the world of rock climbing.

When compared to the western Alps, the Dolomites are in many ways more appealing to climbers because they offer impressive vertical limestone rock with virtually no ice or glaciers to cross in order to access the routes.  Additionally, the walks from the road to the base of the climb are relatively short, usually less than an hour, and because most of the routes can be completed in a single day (or a single overnight stay in a mountain lodge) climbers don’t have to carry as much with them for the journey. 

Travelers who plan on visiting the Dolomites for rock climbing should try to do so between the months of July and September, when conditions are at their best.  However, should prolonged weather become an issue, there is an excellent rock climbing area at Arco, just a short drive away.  Those planning on taking the longer routes are advised to bring duel ropes and a full rack of nuts.  And, of course, one should never attempt rock climbing alone. 

With breathtaking views and endless outdoor adventures, the Dolomites are arguably one of the most beautiful and exciting places on earth.  Perhaps one of the most exhilarating experiences to be had here is climbing the area’s unparalleled rock walls and impressive peaks.  The unique terrain that this region has to offer provides rock climbing enthusiasts of every skill level, from beginner to expert, the perfect conditions to appease their passion.

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