Marmolada is a mountain group in the heart of Dolomites, which is significant for many facts. Its main peak Punta Penia (3343 m) is the highest point in whole Dolomites, accesible via the oldest ferrata. The only Dolomites glacier is also here.
The most common way of ascent is via western ridge with ferrata Hans-Seiffert Weg, called also Marmolada westgrat klettersteig. It’s not a technically difficult one, but the tour includes also a glacier walk and weather conditions can make it much harder.
Lake with two dams and a glacier with memory
Starting point for Marmolada ascent is usually cableway station by the Fedaia Lake. It lies in two thousand metres altitude in a mountain pass of the same name. Waters of the turquoise lake are held by two massive dams, one on each side of the pass. Passo Fedaia is an important connection between Val di Fassa on the west and Cadore on the east.
After climbing the winding road and crossing bigger of two dams, we park by the lower station of Fedaia - Pian dei Fiacconi cableway. A huge mountain massif rises just in front of us, southwards from the lake. What is a skiers paradise nowadays used to be battlefield a hundred years ago. Former glacier, much bigger than the current one, served austrian army to dig a complex of tunnels and underground city during WW1. Shrinking ice is still revealing pieces commemorating that times.
Marmolada ascent is usually described from Pian dei Fiacconi hut (2626 m). You can get there by the cableway starting at Lago Fedaia. Standing in an open metal basket, you can save 600 meters of altitude and it’s not impossible to finish the tour early enough to catch a ride back. Seems like a funny attraction jumping to the two-stands basket in a run, but we prefer to do it all on our own. The loop from the hut is described as 6-7 hours tour. Climbing from the lake on foot adds a bit more than hour and descending adds a bit less.
The alarm clock rings. Nothing moves. It rings again. I force myself to start preparing breakfast. My friend seems not to be able to open his eyes until it’s ready. I am trying to make everything quickly, because I want to reach the via ferrata before others come. Just pack the rope, ice axes, crampoons, ferrata sets and a sunscreen.
After half past eight, finally, we are on the trail, winding up on a smooth grooved rock. I appreciate that it’s not wet. Low pine trees are disappearing with rising altitude. We follow the base of a short rocky ridge on our right, when the cableway starts to rattle to bring tourists up.
There is a small ruin and a signpost at the end of the ridge. We could go straight up to the hut or use a shortcut. The trail marked from the hut traverses westwards and later southwestwards to the via ferrata start. Trying to save some metres on the traverse route, we take the right one heading more west. But not enough. We need to traverse a scree slope to get to the route. Hiking around another ridge, we are loosing a bit of altitude, to climb again later. Before getting to the first iron rope, we need to traverse another scree and loose rocks and a short glacier.
Western ridge to the top
Loose stones on the edge of icy slope are not comfortable to walk. Time to use crampoons. The ice is not hard and out crampoons are squelching in streams ow water running down the melting ice. Fifteen minutes after ten we are at the start of via ferrata.
And now the run starts. We see small colorful moving hikers on the glacier below us. We don’t want to share “our” piece of iron rope with them. It’s not technically difficult, but sometimes the rock is wet and slippery. Better to belay ourselves with ferrata equipment. There are iron steps in steep parts. We pass the small saddle, where another ferrata is coming from the right, by an old ruined war bivac and continue climbing the western ridge.
Our route is appearing and disappearing in the cloud and our view is still changing. At the end of iron rope, we are almost there. We have read about glacier hike before reaching the summit, but the upper end of the ice lies several metres below the trail in the scree. The summit hut covered with metal sheets shines in midday sun. It took us one hour and a hald from the beginning of via ferrata do the summit of Punta Penia, thi highest peak of Dolomites (3334 m).
The only company we have is a group of black ravens. A sharp edge of south face of Marmolada reminds a big challenge for many climbers. Eastwards on the rocky ridge we can see a modern building of the ski resort. Deep down to the north glitters the fedaia lake. Further this direction there is the summit of Piz Boe. The glacier seems somewhat shrinked. A week ago we saw it from the top of Sass di Stria. Now we see it as a sun highlighted hill in front of majestic Tofana hidden in a cloud.
Time to descend
We didn’t even finished our snack and the summit cross looks like a famous monument surrounded by tourists. A couple, we met before, comes to the hut. We din’t see them on the way up, because they climbed the glacier. The snow bridge over the crevasse between glacier and the rock got broken and they were helping to pull the guy up. Now we will have to rappel from the last anchor of via ferrata.
Nice to know it before we start to descent. We follow the edge of the ridge to the start of short ferrata. They have installed safety iron ropes to make the descent easier. There are some mountaineers waiting to use the anchor to rappel. It would be faster if there were only experienced mountaineers. A group using the anchore berofore us spends a long time trying to find out how to make a munter hitch.
Finally on the glacier we traverse to the well visible track. We can see several zigzags between crevasses. The glacier gets steeper at the end. We walk slowly down in streams of water. The group, who didn’t know how to rappel, is probably trying to make anchors in the ice now. We are already at the end, where the glacier meets pure rock. “Hey! Watch up!” A horse head sized stone flies down wildly jumping in our direction. Not a good position to run away. Uffff! It changer direction and continues to the hut in huge jums. Fortunately it has stopped before arriving to the restaurant.
Descend along the cableway
Smooth grooved limestone shaped by the tons of ice masses is comfortable to descend to the Pian dei Fiacconi hut. Would be much more challenge after a rain. There is an outdoor exhibition by around the hut. Big paintings and graphics are placed to warn about climate changes. What a sad look at the glacier which I remember to see ten years ago from the same place.
More fun is to see tourists jumping into the running baskets of the cableway. We just have a brief snack and go down to finish our tour. At about five we are at the car having a rest after a nice day.