5 Difficult Via Ferrata in the Dolomites

With the massive expanse of natural landscape in the Italian Dolomites, it’s no wonder it draws countless adventure travelers from all over the world.  There is plenty to do there, regardless of season, like snow sports in the winter and biking and hiking in the warmer months.  One of the most popular open air activities in the Dolomites is climbing via ferrata, along the protected mountain paths that are equipped with a series of iron ladders and holds.  These paths vary in difficulty, from easy routes suitable for any skill level to much more complex passages for the more sophisticated climber.  Here are five of the more difficult via ferrata for those looking for a challenge.

Marmolada-Punta Penia
This challenging massif is often referred to as the Queen of the Dolomites for its massive size and height, and is a favorite among climbers year-round.  Expert skills are required to conquer this via ferrata due to the length of the itinerary and the sometimes severe alpine environment through which it runs.  Just reaching the starting point typically requires an overnight stay. 

The ferrata is accessible from a variety of directions, with starting points at both the Rifugio Contrin and Rifugio Pian dei Fiacconi, from either of which path 606 can be taken to Forcella Marmolada.  From there, you move north into a small gully then up to a fully equipped polished slab that leads you through the first section to the western crest.  This magnificent path leads you just above the incredible south face, beneath which lies 800m of limestone and some of the Dolomites’ most popular climbing routes.  Continue on to the Punta Penia’s snowy summit.  There you will behold 360 degree panoramic views that are unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.

Lipella
This impressive ferrata is as rewarding as it is challenging.  A fascinating journey through historical World War I landmarks and into the heart of the Dolomites, the hardest part about this trek is its length.  There is plenty of steep terrain to conquer on the way up to the peak at 3,225m.  It can be accessed via path 404, from the Rifugio Dibona, which leads below Tofana di Rozes to the steps into the Castelletto tunnel where the ferrata begins.

Ascend through the historical 500m tunnel, dug out during the First World War by the Alpini soldiers.  (Don’t forget your torch – it’s a requirement in there!)  From the end of the tunnel, traverse up the winding row of steep ledges and steps along the west/northwest face of the Tofana di Rozes.  When the road forks, stay to the right where you’ll find another set of steps and a demanding ramp leading to the end of the ferrata.  The track from there will bring you to the impressive summit, where the surrounding natural beauty is enough to take your breath away.

Piazzetta-Piz Boé
This ferrata is so difficult that it requires special in-situ gear in order to begin the climb.  The exhilarating near-vertical start is sure to get your adrenaline pumping.  There are several ways to access this ferrata, all leading to the metal plaque announcing its starting point.  You’ll learn immediately that sure footwork is a prerequisite here once you see the cables that zigzag up the first vertical wall in alternating directions.  Next you’ll tackle a sharp ledge that leads to a hair-raising small suspension bridge. 

On the other side of the bridge, you’ll welcome the manageable rock steps that usher you to the final crest, which you’ll have to climb without the benefit of cables.  From there you can either head left toward Forc. Pordoi or continue along path 638 to the Piz Boé summit.  This itinerary isn’t for the faint of heart – it’s probably one of the most challenging in all the Dolomites.  For those brave enough to tackle it, the experience is not to be forgotten.

Tomaselli
While the paths of this via ferrata are well equipped, the exposed nature of the climb makes it quite a daunting task.  And although it’s not as long as some of its counterparts, the beautiful Tomaselli ferrata is widely considered one of the best in the Dolomites.  It’s also touted as the most difficult.  You can easily get there from Cortina d’Ampezzo or by taking path 402-401.  The ferrata begins near the Bivacco Della Chiesa in Forcella Granda.

One of the most unique features of this ferrata is that the first part acts a “test” to validate each hiker’s abilities and helps to determine whether one should continue on or turn around.  If the vertical start isn’t enough to scare you away, you’ll then cross a horizontal passageway equipped with twin cables for support.  A series of exposed, vertical walls lies ahead, each equally challenging and all leading to the crest where yet another difficult feat awaits – a vertical crack-lined slab.  Once you conquer this final obstacle, the grand summit, reaching 2,980m, beckons, offering glorious views and a chance to relish in the impressive climb you just completed.

Punta Anna
Almost entirely equipped with cables, this breathtaking ascent runs along the steep southern arête up Punta Anna, which looks onto the Tofana di Mezzo.  The Punta Anna via ferrata offers both the adventure of a steep, exhilarating climb and beautiful scenic panoramas of nature below. Additionally, this ferrata can be combined with others that are close by, including the ascent of the Tofana di Mezzo.   From Rifugio Dibona take path 421 to Rifugio Pomedes where a sign posted path leads leftwards to the start of the ferrata.

Airy and exposed, this steep ascent runs along the east face, onto the southwest face and continues on to the lofty southern arête of Punta Anna.  Approximately an hour into the trek, you will be faced with a choice between two directional options.  You can either continue up the crest, using the available cables and slabs, toward the Terza Torre Pomedes and on to the Doss de Tofana, from which you can travel along the Via Ferrata Gianni Aglio to reach the summit.  Alternatively, you can head to the left and follow the equipped ledges to the slope leading down from Bus de Tofana, continue on the scree run to path 403 and eventually back to the ferrata’s starting point.  Either choice will provide ample adventure and excitement to those skilled enough to take on the challenge.

The Dolomites is a destination where adventure travelers can experience just about every kind of outdoor activity imaginable, all while reveling in nature’s pure, magnificent beauty.  These via ferrata routes offer expert climbers the best of both worlds, allowing access to some of the region’s most breathtaking views that would otherwise be unreachable, while also providing the thrill of a highly challenging climb.  If you have a passion for adventure and know how to climb, these difficult via ferrata should definitely be on your to-do list.