• The Great War

Climbing on the frontline

The "Ferrata of Trenches" on Mesole between Sella and Marmolada. Alessandro Cristofoletti and Nicola Cagol come with us on paths of the Great War, in a symbol of ferratas of Dolomites

Climbing on the frontline
Climbing in the history

The "Ferrata of the Trenches" is the light climbing icon of the Dolomites, following the footsteps of the Great War. Ideally and physically connects the two frontlines, passing from  the Austrian lines to the Italian lines along a single ridge.


Nick and I decide to try it, in a clear afternoon in August, then stay overnight at the Bontadini bivouac, a small barrack built by the Italians at 2500 meters and then modernized.

After parking behind the cableway station of Pian dei Fiacconi, crossing the road that goes through the dam and climbing the Val della Fedaia along a steep and rocky path, the lake behind us turns into a opaque and garish mirror. Every step, the great white and grey mass of Marmolada looks bigger.

The climb didn’t last long and soon we are at the fork of Porta Vescovo, where the bikers who follow the Viel dal Pan rising from the Pordoi by cableway. We tie ourselves with ropes and we get ready for the ferratas, eating dry fruit.

The first part, which is about 20 minutes and that reach the top of Mesola, goes up in vertical and is really hard. Nick forgot the gloves and climbing the rope his hands turn red immediately. However, the rock offers an impressive grip. It is a black volcanic rock, consisting of rough stones of various colors and is full of prominence and handles. Passed a very exposed traverse we are on top. The linea di cresta, with its walkways and footbridges suspended divide the two sides, the Fedaia lake on one side and the group of Sella from the other, offering a mountain scenery of rare beauty.

Now the trail is easier and not so hard anymore, there is only a nice up and down, while maintaining a constant technical and athletic difficulty in many passages.

In this first part we are along the Austrian lines and walkways are still visible, masonry buildings and trenches, designed in the event that the frontline of the Marmolada had yielded. The Mesole would have been folding for the army in route and would have blocked the passage to the Italian advance. Unfortunately there aren't many reports on the war on Mesole, maybe because it's too close to the most famous Marmolada and its Città di Graccio (city of ice), the war of mines and the terrible massacres of the Col di Lana.

Within two hours, between stretches of flat trail and equipped stretches, we are going along the ridge until arriving to a large depression. From here if you want you can get down on an easy path of return. From here we walk on the opposite side for another two hours, the Italian one, richer of tunnels, stations and shelters excavated into the rock.

Also the view changes, now you can see the Dolomites of Veneto, Pelmo, Civetta, Tofane and Antelao.

The last tunnel is the largest and most spectacular and is more than 300 meters long; it comes out just a few meters from the Bivacco Bontadini. We get lost in its dark branches, often ending with small windows facing the outside. Arrived at the bivouac we eat a bit of schűttelbrot, the Tyrolean rye bread made ​​without yeast, which surely has fed the soldiers at the frontline in the harsh winter nights, accompanied with a little bit of speck. When the sun starts to drop we go to the nearby Padon shelter to have dinner with a hot meal. Near Forcella there is a rusty Italian 140/19 howitzer pointing straight toward Marmolada.

That instrument of death abandoned by men, is now the home and the playground for a multitude of small animals.

The night at the Bivacco Bontadini spends quiet and immersed in the fog; it is named in honor of Ernesto Bontadini, colonel of the Alpini (Italian soldiers) in the Great War and academician of the CAI. We are disturbed only at night, after turning off the lights and have kept silent. It seems that some marbles roll hopping fast along the small tin roof. Half asleep on the plank bed made as a bed, we are wondering what is all that noise.

But the misery is soon revealed: they are the quick steps of the marmots who walk over our head.