The Dolomites Alta Via 2 is probably the best trek we have ever done. The Dolomites are a truly unique mountain range and well deserve their UNESCO World Heritage designation. Alta Via 2 cuts right through some of the most beautiful parts. Highly recommended!
UPDATE: Due to popularity and demand, I recently wrote up a Planning Guide for the Alta Via 2. It’s very comprehensive and contains all the info you need to plan for this awesome trek. Please take a look here: https://gohikealps.com/2017/01/alta-via-2-planning-guide/
About the Dolomites and Alta Via 2
The Dolomites are a mountain range area in the North East of Italy, a part of the so-called Southern Limestone Alps. In my humble opinion they are next to magical and boast some of the most beautiful scenery anywhere in the world I’ve been. It’s no wonder they’ve been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007 (Click here for the UNESCO site describing the details and click here for Dolomites on Wikipedia)
There’s a number of long distance trails across the range, called “alte vie”, numbered 1 through 6 (I’ve seen some sources cite 8 in total). Long distance means they generally take more than a week to complete from end to end. It’s a matter of opinion which are most beautiful and they vary in difficulty. There’s, of course, literature written on them and plenty of info on the Internet, too.
Alta Via 1 and 2 are the most popular. Alta Via 1 is said to be somewhat easier and apparently there’s more organized tour activity. We decided to go on Alta Via 2 mainly because it is considered more strenuous and, therefore, not as crowded. We were also somewhat familiar with the northern part of the trail from a skiing trip we had made to Val Gardena which is next to the Sella Group. On skis you’re able to ski around the entire Sella Group on a lift system called Sella Ronda but this time we, of course, wanted walk over it and not go around.
Alta Via 2 starts in Brixen (or Bressanone in Italian) and goes South about 160km (100 miles) to Feltre. It’s divided up to 13 stages so following that segmentation it would take 13 days to complete. We used Trekking in the Dolomites: Alta Via Routes 1 and 2, with Alta Via Routes 3-6 in Outline by Gillian Price (NOTE: Link takes you to Amazon!) as a planning guide and found it very useful. However, we wanted to do things our way just a bit:
- Even at the expense of losing out on some of the mountain hut atmosphere and awesome photo opportunities (this pains me!), we decided we wanted to stay at hotels for a few nights to make sure we had a hot shower and a private room. The latter point is something to think about if you’re not used to sleeping in a dormitory.
- Partially because of the above and by our preference, we wanted to walk longer stretches than suggested in the book.
Our Ambitious Alta Via 2 plan
We traveled to Italy at the end of June so it was well into summer. We had planned a 7 day trip from North to South that would have taken us from Brixen to Rifugio Rosetta, more than half way through the Alta Via 2:
- Day 1: Brixen to Rifugio Genova (about 9½h from Brixen walking, we considered taking a lift up to save some energy)
- Day 2: Rifugio Genova to Passo Gardena (8h walking planned)
- Day 3: Passo Gardena to Passo Pordoi (6½ h walking planned)
- Day 4: Passo Pordoi to Malga Ciapela (4h walking planned after which we thought we’d go up the Marmolada, weather permitting)
- Day 5: Malga Ciapela to Passo Valles (8h walking planned, with an option to go up on a lift from Passo di San Pelegrino)
- Day 6: Passo Valles to Rifugio Rosetta (8h walking planned)
- Day 7: Back to Brixen in public transport
I’ll admit the plan was somewhat ambitious. Comparing to the book we basically squeezed 8 days of walking into 6. We thought this was doable, though: we’re used to long stretches, are experienced in the mountains and are in fairly good shape. Furthermore, we did count on going up twice on lifts which really is something to consider if you plan something as strenuous as this. There’s no shame in it…
From Rifugio Rosetta the plan was to make our way back to Brixen using public transport. As it turns out, our plan didn’t quite work out.
Change of Plans – Lost Luggage and a Day in Venice
We flew into Venice in the morning and had expected to just pick up our rental car and be on our way to Brixen direct from the airport. We had planned to visit Venice on our way back because Venice, of course, is a place everybody should see.
Getting off the plane, we were greeted with beautiful weather but no luggage – my stuff was there but my wife’s was not. All of her gear was now out there, somewhere, and the lost luggage people at the airport had no idea whatsoever where her bag was or when, or if, it would arrive. They said they would call when they knew something but gave no sign as to when this might be.
Clearly a quick change of plan was necessary. We decided to stay in Venice and wait for the bag. We had a car and driving into Venice was not very practical – a boat would be better for that. We got a room in Mestre, which is just across the water from Venice on the mainland. It was fairly painless to find parking and a reasonably priced room from there and then go to Venice by bus. This is what we did and spent a nice day and evening in Venice.
The day in Venice was away from our hiking, though. The airport people never got back to us so we called them every few hours. Every time we called, same response: no info. Our frustration grew since we now had no idea when we would be able to get on our way. Even though it was nice to see Venice, we did not want to spend more time there since it was eating away into our Alta Via 2. Neither was it a feasible option to just leave and go buy all new gear when logic said the bag would be found eventually.
The next day came along and still no call from the airport. We, however, continued calling back at regular intervals. We had already done shopping in Mestre for some essentials when all of a sudden on our third or fourth call that day, the missing bag had appeared from somewhere.
Once we finally had all our stuff, we were eager to get into the mountains. It was already afternoon so there was no way for us to start our hike that day so we took our time on small, scenic roads across to the A22. The A22 is a major highway that goes north to Tirol in Austria via the famous Brenner Pass, while Brixen is on the Italian side in Südtirol. Once in Brixen, after some asking around we were able to get a room at a downtown hotel and spent a nice evening in historical Brixen.
By the way, we were told that the locals call the town Brixen, not Bressanone and German was the main language, not Italian. This seems to be the case in many parts of Südtirol.
Dolomites Alta Via 2 for us… Brixen to Moena.
We spent a night in Brixen and with some help from our friendly hotel host were able to find reasonably priced parking for our car. Because of the time we had lost due to the lost luggage, we needed to change our plan. Also the weather forecast for our first day in the mountains was lousy, it was going to rain all day.
As often happens, the reality was not exactly as planned. This is always something to keep in mind in the mountains. Weather is what it is and there’s nothing you can do about it. And there’s not much you can do about the airline losing your stuff either. Lesson learned: leave some slack into your plans!
Our trip turned out like this:
- Day 1: Bus from Brixen to Placione and a walk in heavy rain and fog from there to Schlüterhütte (aka Rifugio Genova). Read the story here: Dolomites Alta Via 2, Day 1: Brixen to Schlüterhütte
- Day 2: A nice walk from Rifugio Genova (Schlüterhütte) to Passo Gardena with exceptional views! Story here: Schlüterhütte to Passo Gardena: Day 2 on Alta Via 2
- Day 3: Over the Sella Massif – a clear morning at Passo Gardena, a (dangerous!) snow storm on top of the mountain and then down to Passo Pordoi. Story here: Passo Gardena to Passo Pordoi – Whiteout!
- Day 4: From Passo Pordoi to Malga Ciapela and the last part on a bus. Another day of continuous rain with only occasional glimpses of the Marmolada between the clouds. Marmolada, by the way, is the highest mountain in the Dolomites. Story here: Passo Pordoi to Malga Ciapela, Marmolada Behind the Clouds
- Day 5: Finally a beautiful day! A trip up the Marmolada on a cable car to see some exceptional views and then a long, hot walk to Passo di San Peligrino via Forca Rossa. Story here: Malga Ciapela to Passo di San Pellegrino
- Day 6: Tough decision to cut the trip short but a day to remember. Hike to Moena on Alta Via Bruno Federspiel and being in danger again. (Waiting to be written still!)
- Day 7: Back to Brixen on bus & train.
Hiking the Dolomites Alta Via 2, albeit only about half of it and even that with some difficulties, was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken. You can’t really do anything about the weather, it is what it is. I do have to say, though, I was surprised at the amount of snow still in the mountains. We were there the first week of July and I would have expected less. Maybe there had been an exceptionally snowy winter which caused this. It does happen and other people have been caught in snow this time of year, too.
The walk was strenuous but, then again, we had an ambitious plan with a lot of added kilometers per day compared to the suggested staging. Had there been better weather, I think we would have been able to make our original plan happen but it would have been a stretch and we would have had to take those couple of cable cars up.
- Build some slack into your trip. Delays happen, either at the airport, the mountains or both. This is not specific to this trip, of course.
- Get paper maps beforehand for your whole trip. We got 3 maps from Brixen and expected to buy the fourth one along the way but that didn’t happen. We couldn’t find the missing map in any of the places along the way! Stupid mistake on my part that was the main reason we changed our plan for our last day.
- Be prepared for the weather. There’s so many trips I’ve carried extra layers of clothing and not used them. I used everything on this trip and ski goggles would have been nice in the snow storm on Sella.
- About Via Ferrata gear: You don’t necessarily need it and it is extra weight to carry. We had ours with us just in case and ended up using them (see Day 3 on the Sella). Also, if you have Via Ferrata gear, there are good ones along the way that you can choose to do, e.g. Tridentina on the North side of Sella (again our Day 3) or the “climber’s variant” of AV2 on the west side of Marmolada.
To do the Dolomites Alta Via 2
- Get in shape if you’re not already, it is a strenuous trip.
- Fly to Venice or Munich. See my post on airports, particularly my Munich airport preference.
- If you’re only doing Alta Via 2 and don’t plan to go elsewhere, you might be OK without a car since Brixen is easy to reach by train either from Munich or Venice. (Note – after AV2 we continued to meet friends at another location so we needed a car).
- We thought it was a good idea to spend a night in Brixen to get an early start the next morning. Click here to check out accommodation in Brixen/Bressanone from booking.com.
- Get the maps beforehand. If you don’t want to pre order them, get all the necessary maps from Brixen just in case. Keep in mind we didn’t have the next map South which would have been Tabacco 022. We used Tabacco maps 030, 07 and 06 (note links take you to Amazon!):
- Make sure you have the necessary gear for a multi-day Alpine hike. Plan ahead. This is a long walk and deserves planning. Click here for the Ultimate Packing Guide for the Alps!
- I recommend getting a book. We found this one helpful: Trekking in the Dolomites: Alta Via Routes 1 and 2, with Alta Via Routes 3-6 in Outline
- Enjoy it. This is a truly awesome trek!
Start the read from our first day on the trail here: Dolomites Alta Via 2, Day 1: Brixen to Schlüterhütte
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