The Most Scenic Via Ferrate in the World
Updated: Jan 24
Ivana Dibona Via Ferrate,Cristallo Range,Cortina D'Ampezzo,Italy
An active travel experience that almost anyone can do!
So what exactly is Via Ferrate and why would anyone want to do it? Although a remnant of WW1 when ‘Iron Way’ routes aided the movement of troops, it now is used by recreational tourists and climbers as a more challenging and exciting way to experience the mountains. I like to describe it as a sort of giant natural ‘jungle gym’. Routes can include a mix of steel cable handrails, iron hand grips, ladders and even suspension bridges that aide the hiker to safely navigate some pretty high exposure terrain. But with this terrain comes incredible views that you can see no other way. And seeing it by way of Via Ferrate, well let’s just say it makes you feel a little like a badass. (Go here to see how we fit this into our self-guided Dolomites trekking trip on the Alta Via 1).
From Cortina take the SS 48 towards Passo Tre Croci to Rio Gere car park at the start of the Sonforca chairlift, located beneath Mt. Cristallo. The Rio Gere Chairlift will connect you mid-mountain. But there is a second, historical lift (Staunies Lift) gets you all the way to the start of the Via Ferrata. It was still open when we there, but I have read that it is now closed indefinitely for repairs. So from the top of the Rio Gere lift, you will need walk up Forcella Grande, basically following under the old lift. See here for google map.
Once at the top of the old lift, you will see the stairs leading up to the start of the Via Ferrate.
Once on the path no. 203, you have 2 choices: either proceed to Ospitale and the SS 51 to return to your car or Cortina by or alternatively make a loop and return to Rifugio Somforca at the top of the Rio Gere lift to then descend back to your starting point.
Via Ferrate routes have a rating system from 1-5, ranging from easiest to more technical routes that requires advanced climbing skills. I had only done one other Via Ferrate before I planned this trip to the Dolomites. It had been in Moab, Utah and it was pretty tame, a level 1 - mostly a steel cable handrail along some rock plateaus with a few sections of iron steps with handholds. On our Alta Via 1 trek, we did come across a few sections of Via Ferrate that acted as transition from one trail to another by means of a rocky down-climb with cable support, or a steel ladder. They were not that difficult either. However the exposure in the Dolomites is much greater than in Moab. So when coupled with the distraction of exquisite views, even the short Via Ferrates raised my heartbeat a little.
I did some research in the area and discovered the Ivano Dibona route in the Cristallo range. It's well known not only because the Ponte Cristallo is the highest suspension bridge in the Dolomites but also for the many WWI ruins along the route. From the descriptions, it seemed long but since the route was primarily downhill, it was rated at a level 2. It was also easily accessible from Cortina D’Ampezzo where we were based, and could easily be reached by bus. I can say in summary, that although my legs were trembling from a mix of excitement and nervousness on the first ladder climb, I quickly realized that the Vibram sole of my trail shoes gripped on granite firmly without slippage. Once I relaxed, I started to have some real fun. Via Ferrate requires you to wear a ‘kit’ that includes a harness, a tether with carabiner and a helmet. I also wore fingerless gloves at times, that helped my sweaty hands grip the cable. All you have to do is quickly clip into the ladder or cable railing, then walk, scramble or maneuver yourself along the path. On the Ivano Dibona, there were a few ‘monkey maneuvers’ that had to be done, but I’d say that anyone, age 12 or above, that has the fitness level and flexibility to crouch down, squat, take occasional leaps to extend your step and can hike for more than 4 or 5 hours, can do this route - unless you are dreadfully afraid of heights.
I wouldn't say that I am overly fearful of heights. But I do get that pit in my stomach looking over sheer drop-offs and until I get my balance and trust my legs and gear, I have a bit of the jitters. I admit my legs were shaking at the beginning of the first ladder climb. But I think it was more due to the excitement of finally actualizing something I had wanted to do for years.
The views on the Ivano Dibona Via Ferrate route are incredible and unlike anything I have ever seen. The Cristallo range is remarkably diverse and visually stunning.
Coming across old WWI forts and buildings at the highest points and in the strangest places made it even more unique and left me scratching my head in wonder – how did these get built way up here?
I can’t say much more than what the photos below describe. So enjoy. And if you find yourself out near Cortina in the summer, add a few nights to your trip so that you can have this same experience.
NOTE: If you would like assistance planning your next Via Ferrate adventure, contacting a company like Dolomites Mountains would be a great place to begin.