• The Great War

The "52 galleries" trail

One of the monuments of World War I becomes an excellent chance for hiking. A long and extraordinary path into the memory, in the Pasubio' hearth.

The "52 galleries" trail

Nick and I left at 10 a.m. but the sun was already burning our heads. Nick's more because he doesn’t have too much hair. We dived into the woods and faced steep climbs among beech trees. Every so often we saw below Malga Campiglia, where we left our car. Crowds of hikers are coming up on the road and go inside the first galleries. They seem a long procession. I have never seen so many people in the mountains all together.

The via ferrata takes us on the north side, once exposed to German fire, and for a while we do not see nothing but sheer cliffs and stairs. Pasubio is really rough. No gentle Dolomites slopes. Here the dizziness is everywhere. Wherever you turn there is a ravine and rock gables that seem to be hanged with spit on the walls.

At the end of this equipped section the via ferrata goes up on the ridge and allows you to rejoin the 52 galleries trail. The trail takes us down a little bit on a gravel road and back on the south side, the protected one, where the Italian Army dug 52 tunnels that allowed the rear to reach the summit of Pasubio. Up there, freezing and under fire, lived the soldiers who handled the long-range cannons, whose shots crossed the Val di Terragnolo and ended on the Austrian fortress in Folgaria. The Germans, of course, responded the same way and the south side, being out of sight of the enemy gunners, was strategically the most suitable to accommodate a link road.

The road, considering the period when it was built and the speed with which it was completed, is a masterpiece of military engineering. In less than 10 months (from February 1917 to November of that year) the 33° Miners Company of the 5th Regiment of the Force of the Italian Army genius built a 6,555 meters long mule track with an average width of 2 meters and a half, that allowed the passage of two mules simultaneously loaded with supplies. Of these 6.5 kilometers, almost 2.5 kilometers consist of the 52 tunnels, dug to overcome the overhanging parts and the highest differences in height.


Nick and I started to climb the tunnels one after another. We turned on the front lights, since inside some of them is almost completely dark and it’s easy to stumble into some rocks or steps. At the entrance of each gallery there is an inscription with the length in meters and a dedication to a corps or a person. The longest of all, the 19th, which measures 320 meters, has a helical track whit 4 hairpin turns inside a gigantic tower of rock. Even the following one, the 20th, is carved inside a rock tower and, to overcome the considerable difference in height, it is tighten on itself like a corkscrew.

Without even realizing it, we walked several kilometers and we went up almost 1,000 meters above the starting point. The difference in height is significant but the slope is always so smooth that the climb barely weighs. The galleries are not finished yet when we reach the highest point, 2.000 meters. From here we saw the plain that stands before us, bare and dotted with holes.

This mountain 100 years ago was the scene of one of the bloodiest and insane fights of World War I. Seeing it today is a place as any. Thistles and flowers occupy the bombs grooves and instead of mules loaded with cannon bullets, the tunnel roads are crossed by families with backpacks loaded with sandwiches.

But the journey is not finished yet. We continued on the path and we are underground again, where, just entered, an eight year old child blind me with his superpower flashlight and walks away laughing. The trail now does not rise anymore, it goes down slightly. After the last tunnel, we emerged few steps from the Pope mountain refuge.

I sat down a moment, Nick took some photos. Then we opened our backpacks to eat and I realized I have lost my GPS Navigator. For a moment I thought to go back to look for it. Then I changed my mind. It must be in some crevices in one of the 52 galleries. Who will find it again?