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A coral reef you can climb

Via delle Normali, crossing the Brenta Dolomites from peak to peak

Thanks to the invaluable work of the Association of Mountain Guides of Trentino, it is now possible to climb the main peaks of the Brenta Dolomites via a completely restored route, following in the footsteps of the great Alpine explorers: Tuckett, Holtzmann, Loss, Nicolussi, Mertzbacher, Falkner, and many other pioneers of the highest points of the Brenta group.

Experience the freedom, relish the challenge, and revel in the satisfaction of conquering the peaks one after another, with each step bringing you closer to a mountain lodge where you can enjoy a well-earned rest. The Via delle Normali is like a love letter to these great historic climbs.

The difficulty never gets above level three, with some stretches following parts of the via ferrata, while it never takes too long to get onto the route when setting out from the lodges. All of this means that you can experience mountaineering in a highly focused way, linking up trails to get from peak to peak, day after day.

The result is a comprehensive experience of mountaineering in the Alps, bringing you close to the heart of the Brenta Dolomites and discovering their landscapes, ancient origins and history.

Mountaineering in the Dolomites: the Via delle Normali

#1 The Via delle Normali

Imagine taking a map, drawing a line along the entire crest of the Brenta group from South to North, and then throwing yourself into trekking it with all your might. You will find yourself linking up the historic pathways of the main and most important peaks of these Dolomites. Today, these pathways have all been restored with new belay anchors and protections at the trickiest points, thanks to the patient work of the mountain guides.

Ninety years after the opening of the Via delle Bocchette, the Via delle Normali offers a way to climb the most important peaks (or “cime”) of the Brenta group, like Cima Tosa, Cima Brenta, Cima Falkner and the Campanile Alto; as well as letting climbers put their mountaineering skills to the test on less renowned summits like the Cima d'Ambiez, Cima di Pietra Grande and Cima Vagliana. You will ascend via routes that, until recently, were obscure and often forgotten about or used to return from more challenging trails.

Despite being easier than the more famous classic routes, the trails of the Via delle Normali are no less interesting: indeed, they open up a side of the Brentas that previously existed only as a memory, in the records of the mountaineers who first conquered this towering skyline.

Mountaineering in the Dolomites: the Via delle Normali

#2 The Brenta Dolomites

Pack your rucksack: you’ll need crampons, rope, mountain boots, cams, nuts, a helmet, a harness, and lots of enthusiasm for your trip to what’s left of an ancient reef that rose out of a long-ago sea after 200 million years.

You’ll make your ascent from San Lorenzo in Banale in Val D'Ambiez, the southernmost point of the route, spending the night at the S. Agostini or XII Apostoli mountain lodge. The Via delle Normali brings you to the top of 10 peaks, all over 2,900 m in altitude, with a difficulty level that never exceeds III+.

To complete the itinerary, you will need to make use of the 8 lodges and, potentially, the Castiglioni hut at the top of Crozzon di Brenta. By the time you reach the Graffer al Grostè lodge above Madonna di Campiglio, you’ll have covered more than 45 km amid bell towers, walls, and canals, including 15 km of climbing. It may not reach the status of a high-level performance, but it certainly allows you to put your endurance, organisational abilities and motivation to the test. Your mountain experience will take about 60 hours, over seven days of adventure.

Madonna di Campiglio - Gruppo del Brenta dal Lago Nero - Dolomites

#3 An ancient reef

Climbing the peaks of the Brenta Dolomites will give you an insight into the massive tectonic shifts that made these mountains such an important and symbolic element of our geological heritage.

The layers of rock that you will scale between breaks actually consist of the sediment produced by animals from 200 million years ago. These long-ago corals, molluscs, fish and marine plants may still be visible below your very hands in the form of fossils. Travelling from the oldest to the youngest rock, at the very top, is nothing short of a journey back in time through the history of the Earth.

Madonna di Campiglio - Pian del Graffer - Rifugio Graffer al Groste

#4 Life in the lodges

On hand to support your conquest of the Via delle Normali are 8 Alpine lodges, conveniently positioned for access to the peaks. For those tackling a trail like this, life in the lodges forms an essential part of their memories. Every evening you will be able to meet other climbers like yourself, swap stories about the paths you took to get there, and learn more about the conditions on those that still lie ahead. After all, climbing in the Alps is not just about sweat and toil: it’s also about socialising and a sense of belonging, of being part of a club whose members have touched the sky.

Mountaineering in the Dolomites: the Via delle Normali

#5 A delicate natural environment we must protect

The Alpine environment is extremely delicate, all the more so the higher you go. Access to the Via delle Normali is granted through one of the wildest valleys of the Adamello-Brenta Geopark: Val d'Ambiez, which encapsulates all the characteristics of the Dolomitic environment, like the presence of mountain pine trees above 1,900 m.

Although you will spend the days to come at an altitude too high for trees to grow, the route still has some interesting natural features to offer, such as the Alpine azalea or the mountain avens, typical of limestone landscapes.

Then there’s the tufted horned rampion, which blooms in damp crevices, and edelweiss, which prefers sheltered ledges. Like mountaineers themselves, Alpine flora is also adept at clambering over rocks, thanks to its sturdy roots.

Mountaineering in the Dolomites: the Via delle Normali

Choose the right path

You’ll often find yourself hunting for the way onto the Via itself, and might have doubts about which path to take. The Via delle Normali has been detailed well in a guide book produced by Gianni Canale, which not only provides you with descriptions and drawings of the route, but also shows all the access points, lodges, huts, and alternative itineraries if you only want to try a part of the route or finish early.

This booklet allows you to organise your expedition as you see fit, but if you need any more help you can always turn to one of the Mountain Guides of the Trentino Association.

All you need to do is use your imagination to plan and pursue your own mountain adventure.

Dolomiti di Brenta - Rifugio Tuckett Quintino Sella

The Via delle Normali

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Published on 28/04/2021