Tofane mountain group is towering above the famous center Cortina d’Ampezzo. Three main peaks are a perfect playground for climbers, mountaineers and via ferrata lovers. The middle Tofana di Mezzo with its 3244 metres is the third highest peak in Dolomites. Via ferratas climbing its slopes belong to the most challenging and also most beautiful. Sport via ferratas developed from fixed rope paths made by soldiers to make their mountain trails easier. And it is the tracing without too much iron stuff what makes them my favorite.
Tofana di Mezzo ascent consists actually of two via ferratas. More known is Giuseppe Olivieri and Gianni Aglio follows. But you don’t realize the name change while hiking. It’s good to know about escape options for quick descent in case you are surprised by bad weather or your own tiredness. The tour we are intending is even longer. We want to add a traverse via ferrata Lamon to Tofana di Dentro and descend via Formenton, Ra Valles and sentiero atrezzato Olivieri. Some of my friends doubted that it would be possible in one day. I say: why not?
Escape options are various. Ferrata Olivieri ends at Punta Anna peak, which gave it another name. There is a first escape option descending to the west towards route no. 403 between Dibona and Giussani huts. Later, after Gianni Aglio part there is a rock window called Bus de Tofana. Passing through and running down a steep scree slope brings us to the same route. It’s common to use this route also coming down from the summit. Up there, you still have an option to use the cable car which has a station below the summit. It also serves as an approach if you want to do only ferrata Lamon traverse to Tofana di Dentro. Once you get to the northernmost Tofana peak, you just need to walk down to complete the loop.
Getting there and approaching the ferrata
Classical approach for Olivieri and Aglio ferratas starts at Rifugio Pomedes hut (2203 m). You can get there by a cable car from Cortina, but it makes sense only if you plan to use a cable car to get down to Col Druscie station. To park the car at rifugio Dibona (2083 m) is more convenient. Eventhough it’s not for a sports car. This option is even better for us, because we stayed here from yesterday’s climb in Tofana di Rozes south face.
The original plan for today was much easier ferrata around Tofana di Rozes, but it has changed so fast: “what about the big loop?” - “ok, if we go for ferrata, let’s go for a big one” my friend accepts my suggestion. Well, we should have woken up earlier, maybe. Taking headlamps, via ferrata sets, weatherproof clothes and some snacks, we start before eight.
From the parking we cross the scree slope and climb the winding trail up to the Pomedes hut. It doesn’t take much time to get to the upper station of the cable car by the hut. The hut has a beautiful lookout terrace with names of mountains you can see written on the railing. There is also a signpost for well known ferrata giuseppe Olivieri. At half past eight we are getting into ferrata set at the start of iron rope.
Up the rugged ridge
There are two couples above us. We quickly overtake them soon at a pace which we should keep for many hours. Ten years ago I remember I was clicking carabiners whenever possible. Now it seems somehow easier.
Most of the ferrata follows the jagged ridge which we need to climb on in the beginning. The thick cloud makes a window times to times to show us a magnificent view deep down to the valley. We have to enjoy it quickly until it disappears. The iron rope winds among rocks as we are getting higher and higher.
After one hour and 15 minutes we are at Punta Anna. The trail on the scree is lined by stonemen and follows the ridge. An arrow painted on the rocks points down to the west and says Rif. Giussani. It’s an escape option. We follow the direction “cima” which means summit.
We walk around right side of Punta Anna and continue climbing in a travers. My memory recalls the route part by part. A bit more up the ridge and then a bit down around the left side of a rocky peak. Here we need to cross a narrow ridge in a steep gully. Something has fallen here. The ridge is wide enough for two shoes together, but not more. The iron rope is somewhere two metres above my head. I appreciate that it’s not windy.
After a short climb a travers comes. That one which is often pictured as the most difficult part. I remember it was frozen last time and it was much more fun. After that we come to a rock window called bus de Tofana. It’s not even eleven o’clock. The old iron rope traverses along the rock window. To escape from here we could pass through the big window and run down the steep scree to the route descending from Giussani hut.
More iron ropes and steps
The old way as I remember it used to traverse at the bottom of the window and continue to climb to the steep ravine with unstable rocks among old avalanche protection fences. Unexpectedly the rope leads us over the top of the window. More surprise for me brings the “cima” arrow pointing to the western side of the ridge.
Clouds are opening more and there is a terrace northern slope of Tofana di Rozes right in front of us. White gravel shines in sharp sunbeams penetrating the cloudy sky. There is a difference between via ferrata tracing. The newer one just uses more iron stuff. After passing through another rock window, there is an exposed ladder to climb. We are getting back to the known ravine above the section with twisted iron beams of avalanche fences. From here we just follow red marks in a a final less steep slope with rocky terraces. The wild pace makes me hungry.
Finally a railing of a lookout route. Two guys coming from the cable car are asking me about the cross. “Probably on the top” I am pointing at the summit without seeing it. Three steps in the direction they came from and i see the cross. Ten steps up.
The traffic is busy at the top. There are three equipped climbers, others came by the cable car, but everybody wants a photo with the cross. Views are opening and closing as running clouds change their shape. North from us is Tofana di Dentro. To get there means to cross the sharp ridge via ferrata Lamon.
Descending around the cable car station we meet a lady with a cup of ice cream. “Excuse me, do I need this equipment to get to the cross?” We just explain that we didn’t arrive by the cable car. We head down to metal steps and to the terrace of the cable car station. The view is just grey fog. Something is going on here. As we show up, guys with cook’s hats lead us to “gelato” signed stands. “You didn’t expect to get ice cream in three thousands, right?” They treat us as movie stars. We are posing with helmets, harnesses and frozen fingers holding cups of ice cream. Other tourists start to take pictures too, feeling ashamed they don’t recognize these VIPs.
Ferrata Lamon towards Tofana di Dentro
There is no other way from the cable car hut, so we have to get back and take right from the ridge. A narrow trail equipped by iron rope descends the western slope. We have a stunning view this way. Grey white and pinkish rocks of grupo Fanis contrast with spots of green grass. A blue eye of a small lake glitters right beneath us. From the lowest point of the pass we climb again to Tofana di Dentro (3238 m). The look back is amazing. Layers of limestone turned vertical and formed a huge wall facing Cortina.
The iron rope leads us among rock shapes and the climb is not difficult. Almost at the top we pass around hundred years old ruins. Broken walls and rotten planks around reminds the first world war. An inconspicuous entrance to a tunnel hides another remains of incomprehensible battles. We enter on icy floor and proceed to a labyrinth of secondary tunnels. Original timbering, iron tools, wooden boxes stuck in the ice. Some death ends look like an ice cave. “Hey, this used to be an ammunition stock and I have found a grenade” my friend picks something decaying from the ice.
Couple of steps from the icy cave we get to the summit cross. Just two pieces of old wood with a small tattered flag. No views, no reason to stay here.
Formenton and a long descent
We keep the direction north and begin to descent. The trail follows the ridge. It should turn right to a steeper descent later. Couple of times we think that’s here to leave the ridge, but we still stay up till the saddle. We pass around holes in the rock and other remnants of war fortresses. Just one house is complete with windows and even a chimney. Small wooden bivac hut Barraco degli Alpini with quota 2992 m seems to be maintained.
Finally a bit further the place comes and we go down steeply. An aerial view of Cortina opens. Iron rope equipped downclimb is followed by trails in scree. After passing a door-sized hole in the rock we see a long travers we are about to do to get to Ra valles cable car station. When we get here, a last cabin leaves for the valley.
We are at 2470 metres and Rifugio Pomedes is at 2200 m. It should be easy. Having to climb up along the ski lift surprises us a bit. It should not be that high. My old map confirms. Returning back to Ra Valles, we try to check the online map to see that we should go back along the lift. By the last but one column there is a stoneman marking the turnoff. We take sharp left by a small black plate on the rock. Some more iron ropes and ladders to get to a travers to Pomedes hut. Now just a short descent to Dibona hut to do.
The whole loop took us a bit more than 11 hours including an ice cream stop, ice cave exploration and a small confusion at the end. Hiking times in guidebooks are usually longer, but with a bit more intensive pace it totally worth to do.