The Dolomites: A Climb through the Lagazuoi Galleries
Thursday, July 1
After nearly a week of 'city-visiting', it was time to head back into the mountains. Our vacation time was drawing to a close, and we wanted one last fix of the Dolomites and of Via Ferrate. The fact that the mountains were also more-or-less on the way back to Zurich -- our departure city -- made it all the more convenient.
Our choice for our final via ferrata was the Tomaselli Ferrata in the Fanes Group of the Dolomites. The Tomaselli Ferrata is one of the more challenging ferrate in the Dolomites. It is considered one of the 'classics', and garners the highest (i.e. most difficult) rating in the Fletcher and Smith ferrata guidebook. Once in a while we should try something that pushes one a little, no?
The logistics of doing the Tomaselli Ferrata made it attractive for us to stay in a rifugio close by. I ended up choosing the Rifugio Lagazuoi, a non-CAT-owned (i.e. private) rifugio that sits atop a peak near Falzarego Pass (the pass is the closest auto access point, and was a good place to park our car). There were other CAT-owned rifugios not too far away, but we wanted the hiking portion of our 'hard' ferrata day to be short, so this was the best option. Before leaving our 'camping' spot in Bologna, I went on to the internet and reserved three spots at the Rifugio Lagazuoi (very nice that they offered on-line reservations).
It was another fine day as we drove north from Bologna, across the Plain of the Po and into the mountains. Slowly, the terrain rose around us, starting with grassy and forested hills that soon gave way to rocky cliffs and then entirely open crags and peaks. The most efficient way to get to Passo Falzarego and the start of our hike was to drive up the valley of the Piave River and on to Cortina D'Ampezzo. From there, we took the winding road up to the pass, arriving at 3:30 or so in the afternoon. Plenty of time for the short but steep climb up to the Rifugio (about 1900 feet / 600 m of elevation gain).
Our destination was the top of the Little Lagazuoi - a 2600m / 8800' -ish peak that directly overlooks the pass. Although there is a cablecar that goes directly up to the top of the peak and to the rifugio, we decided to take the more strenuous route - on foot. Furthermore, my plan was to go up through the Lagazuoi Galleries - a kind of ferrata / world war I museum that utilized a huge network of underground tunnels that criss-crossed through the eastern portion of the mountain. A very interesting route, and one that I had already partially explored many years ago in 2002
With needed items fitted into our packs for the next two days, we headed off up path 402 towards the cliffs of the Little Lagazuoi. It was a somewhat hazy day with lots of puffy clouds; conditions that obscured but couldn't completely mask the wonderful scenery of the dolomites all around us.
Eventually we reached the point where the Lagazuoi Galleries route branches off from path 402. Soon after that, the start of the tunnels and of the 'ferrata' began. I put 'ferrata' in quotes because only the most unsure of people would actually use ferrata gear for this climb. It is basically an extremely straightforward walk up [steep] stairs, mostly completey inside the mountain where there is no exposure whatsoever. A helmet is quite useful, though, if you want to avoid receiving gashes and bumps on your head from the rough rock of the tunnel ceilings. A headlamp is a must.
Old snow, Lagazuoi Galleries
We climbed up, up and up, all the while deep inside the heart of the Little Lagazuoi Mountain. These tunnels owe their existance to the so-called 'mountain war' - the little bit of World War I conflict between Italy and Austria that was fought in the dolomites. In this particular case, the Austrians held the high position at the top of the Little Lagazuoi, and the Italians wished to dislodge them. Over the course of nearly two years, the two fought, with the Italians slowly building a fantastic network of tunnels ever upward underneath the Austrians, and with the Austrians responding with their own ledges, bunkers and tunnels above. There were several attempts by both sides to blow each other to smithereens, culminating with a 32-ton massive explosion by the Italians in June of 1917. Much of the eastern end of the mountain has been permanently changed by all of this carnage.
It is an eerie and melancholy experience, climbing up through these tunnels. They are cold and damp and slippery even in summer - and that's without the threat of being sniped or blown up or crushed by rockfall. Interpretive plaques at many points along the way show the hardships of war-life in these tunnels.
We did not explore the entire network of tunnels. For one, Pu had neglected to bring his headlamp, and Jenn's lamp was nearly out of juice (as a result, everyone was always crowded around my bright headlamp). Secondly, we wanted to get to the rifugio at a decent hour, and it was already late afternoon.
Entrance to Officer's Quarters
Near the top, there were more sections of the route that popped out into the open. The afternoon weather had grown a bit turbulent, with showers and even a bit of hail thrown in for good measure. Clouds had also enveloped the upper mountain, creating a viewless ghost-like atmosphere.
Lookout, Lagazuoi Galleries