Alta Via 1

  • Evening light from Passo Giau - © William Mackesy
  • Nuvolau group from Passo Giau2 - © William Mackesy
  • Pelmo through clearing mist2 - © William Mackesy
  • the welcome Rif Biella - © William Mackesy
  • Summer wonderland - © William Mackesy
  • Below Sennes - © William Mackesy
  • Above Pederu - © William Mackesy
  • An hour after Fanes - © William Mackesy
  • Descending from amazing Forcella del Lago - © William Mackesy
  • From Rif Dibona, morning2 - © William Mackesy
  • From Rif Dibona, morning2 - © William Mackesy
  • From below Cinque Torri - © William Mackesy
  • Cinque Torri - © William Mackesy
  • Second Nuvolau via ferrata stretch - © William Mackesy
  • Evening light from Passo Giau2 - © William Mackesy
  • Evening light from Passo Giau4 - © William Mackesy
  • From Passo Giau - © William Mackesy
  • Sunset from Paso Giau2 - © William Mackesy
  • Cable ascent, Pelmo - © William Mackesy
  • Val d"Aracia, Pelmo - © William Mackesy
  • Descending from the Pelmo cliffs - © William Mackesy
  • Pelmo through clearing mist2 - © William Mackesy
  • Ra Gusela - © William Mackesy
  • Lago di Braies - © William Mackesy
  • Pelmo from way below - © William Mackesy

Key information: Alta Via 1

  • The Dolomites attract extravagances - spectacular, marvellous, outlandish - and have long been one of the world's most loved walking areas.
  • Huge, wildly eroded limestone cliffs and spires soar above meadows, forests and lakes. Walk through varied and always dramatic scenery. Revel in beautiful and rich plant and animal life. Contemplate the horrors of the high altitude World War I battlefields, then stay in comfortable and gemutlich refuges. The area is deservedly a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Alta Via No.1 is often described as the classic high Dolomites path, with justice: you will revel in unsurpassed Dolomites scenery.
  • This is demanding walking in high mountains with some (avoidable) via ferrata sections. Come prepared.

Walkopedia rating

  • Walkopedia rating94
  • Beauty37
  • Natural interest17
  • Human interest6
  • Charisma36
  • Negative points2
  • Total rating94
  • Note: Negs: popularity and possible crowding in places.

Vital Statistics

  • Length: 150km (usually done in shorter chunks)
  • Maximum Altitude: 2752m
  • Level of Difficulty: Strenuous
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Pelmo through clearing mist2 - © William Mackesy

WALK SUMMARY

The Dolomites are, in Walkopedia's opinion, Europe 's most thrilling mountains, arguably it's most beautiful and certainly it's most outlandish. The area is riddled with outstanding walks, but the Alte Vie are recognized Crown Jewels.


Everyone has seen pictures of the Dolomites, but the reality will always exceed your expectations. The vast limestone towers that soar, thousands of feet above the surrounding scree and high meadows, with beautiful, often virgin, mixed forest on the lower slopes, evoke the grandest serene majesty. They are not as high as the tallest Alps, but outdo all but the greatest (the Matterhorn, the Eiger and the like) for sheer drama.


The Alte Vie routes are brilliantly chosen, winding across high stony plateaus and meadows, under an ever-changing backdrop of cliffs and soaring massifs.


Alta Via No.1 begins at the immaculately pretty Lago di Braes, above the wide valley that separates the Dolomites from the Alps. After briefly rounding the lake, it turns south and climbs steeply into the highlands, taking in the First World War battlefield below the enormous Le Tofane, cresting the high Nuvolau with its tear-inducingly beautiful 360o views, and circuiting the huge towers of the Pelmo mass. For us, the highlights were descending the narrow gully, between huge, smooth cliffs, from the Forcella del Lago, an extraordinary little gap in a long, soaring spine, to the beautiful little Lago di Lagazuoi (the view back across the lake, partly obscured by shreds of poetic Chinese mist, was especially beautiful); the World War I relics around the base of Le Tofane and the subsequent traverse below that massif, with (on a good day) its extraordinary views; the gut-wrenchingly exposed but wildly exhilarating via ferrata (cable and ladder assisted) descents from the Nuvolau ridge; the ascent round the desolately magnificent bowl of broken boulders and snow of the Val d'Arcia and the subsequent descent down a vertiginous shale slope and via ferrata Pelmo cliff traverse on the Sentiero Flaibani (Tip: if a route has a name, it is likely to scare you into nightmares that night). Amazing.


Note: The via ferrata sections involve real risk (don't try them in bad weather and make sure you are suitably equipped) and are probably a thrilling challenge for the minority of walkers, terrifying for the rest. There are good alternatives to all via ferrata sections.


A glory of Alta Via 1 is its regular refuges, all simple but comfortable and providing food, with some at hotel standards. Many have outstanding views. You can, as a result, walk for days with a medium weight pack only.


The Dolomites enjoy a rich plant and animal life you will be delighted by the bright alpine flowers you will see throughout the walking season. The forests are a mixture of pine and deciduous trees. You are likely to see marmots and may see chamoix. Eagles, white partridges, choughs and capercaille are about.


Not many people have the time to walk the whole 150km of the Alta Via, but, with frequent access and exit points, creating a route to suit your time and inclination is not difficult. Day walks are very possible.

WILLIAM MACKESY'S ACCOUNT
of this walk

Day 1: I can't believe it: after a terrible UK summer we have finally achieved glorious early September weather, when home can be one of the world's loveliest places. But here, as we entered the Dolomites foothills last night, the rain began. And this morning, I peer out from my room overlooking the wonderful Lago di Braies onto dour, steady rain.

 

Nevertheless, our group strides out cheerfully after a leisurely start,.....

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Other accounts: share your experiences

Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

See also expedition planning, including our universal expedition checklist. Walkopedia encourages responsible travel.

Guidebooks/maps/background reading

Suggest books and maps

Guidebooks

Treks in the Dolomites, Alta Via 1 and 2Cicerone – Martin Collins and Gillian Price

Dolomites Trekking, Alta Via 1 and Alta Via 2 – Henry Stedman, Trailblazer

Other books

Maps

You will need several maps, depending on how much of the Alta Via you plan to walk. The best one is the Tabacco 1:25,000 series. Sheets 031, 03, 025 and 024 are relevant to AV 1. They can be bought locally, fairly easily.
Stanfords: http://www.stanfords.co.uk/.An excellent (and user-friendly) online specialist source of worldwide maps (it is also good for guidebooks).

Best times to walk/weather

Best times to walk

Late June to September (the refuges are closed before and after then). Check precise opening/closing dates. You can make wonderful day walks at other times.

Weather

Generally fine in season, but come prepared for unpredictable mountain weather and cold nights. It can snow even in high summer. Beware of afternoon thunderstorms in high summer. Keep away from peaks, ridges and "ferrata" equipment if they get near.


For detailed weather information, have a look at: http://www.worldweather.org/ or www.bbc.co.uk/weather/world/country-guides.


Getting there/transport/permits/fees

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The nearest major airports are at Venice, Verona and Innsbruck. Train and bus access is available (see guidebooks), although most people will approach by car. You can get taxis back to your car from various roadheads, or make other arrangements to get back to it including making a circular walk involving part of the AV.

Those on organised expeditions are likely to be transported from/to arranged start/departure points.


Route(s)

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See Walk Summary above, and the guidebooks, for detailed route information.

Possible problems, health, other warnings

  • Altitude: Likely to affect you a bit: expect to puff and perhaps develop a mild headache. Take the first day gently.
  • Mountain weather: snow, rain, severe cold and wind are possible at any time of year. Come prepared.
  • Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
  • Heights: can be dangerous; not for those who have difficulties with heights. (This applies especially to the via ferrata sections of AV1 (see warning in Walk Summary above) and other via ferrata walks in the Dolomites.
  • Harmful animals: including snakes, and ticks in some areas. Take all appropriate precautions.
  • This is remote country: Carry sufficient food and other supplies. Help may be hard to get if things go wrong.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.


Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.


Make sure you have appropriate insurance.

Guided or independent?

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Independent

You can do this walk independently, which most people do, but come fully prepared.

Guided/supported

Some people form or join organised/supported expeditions. Travelling here with a knowledgeable guide has its advantages. Expedition organisers include:


Accommodation

The Alta Via is lined with fairly regular refuges of varying degrees of sophistication (a few are of hotel standard) which all provide beds and blankets, food (including lunch) and drink. They are a glorious amenity, meaning you can walk with a relatively light pack. Bring light sleep sheets.


Book ahead and remember to cancel if your plans change, which happened to us when we were snowed on on our first day (in mid-September). The Lagazuoi, Nuvolau and Coldai refuges are particularly stunningly located. Fanes was excellent; we ate like kings at the very comfortable Passo Giau (+390457720130 – http://www.passogiau.it/) with its marvellous views; Citta di Fiume won the gemütlich award and Venezia the warm-welcome-after-tough-day prize.


Don't miss the Hotel Lago di Braies, romantically faded, with huge atmosphere and helpful staff. A good place to rest, eat and enjoy the outstandingly beautiful lake at start or finish (+390474748602, hotel@lagodibraies.com).


The guidebooks have detailed information on the refuges.


Other information and tips

Useful websites and information

There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.


Other things to do in the area

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Other walks

Endless and magnificent. Basing yourself at a refuge and making day walks is a delightful option (just buy a map and salivate). If you are OK with heights, you must try a via ferrata but make sure you are suitably equipped.

Other activities

Also endless….

Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.

Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

COMMUNITY COMMENTS AND PHOTOS

Name: Greg Locock
Posted on: 19/10/2010
I did this at the end of uni, in 1983, with 3 friends. A great walk, I don't think we did quite the whole thing. Highlights were a terrific and insane scree run, and the ridge walks. Lowlights -the polenta served in the refugios. I still won't eat it!


Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.

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Nuvolau group from Passo Giau2 - © William Mackesy

OTHER ACCOUNTS
share your experiences

Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

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From Passo Giau - © William Mackesy...
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