Trip Report: Brenta Crossing on the Via Ferrata delle Bocchette
With a beautiful fall weekend ahead in early October, the Dolomites on the southern side of the Alps seemed like a perfect option for one more late season adventure with @erik. The Brenta group has a number of Via Ferrata trails started in the 1930s that allow adventurers who are not afraid of heights to traverse along the stunning rock faces and across multiple passes. We hadn’t been to this area and were curious about the famous Via delle Bochette trail.
With cables and iron ladders in most of the steep and exposed areas, the route isn’t technically difficult and doesn’t require climbing skills, however, the route is very exposed with drops of 1000m/3000+ feet in some places and a helmet, harness and via ferrata set (a lanyard made of two short elastic ropes with carabiners on either end and a braking device) is highly recommended.
The route is rated medium difficulty and can be done without ropes or climbing equipment, but most people wear a harness with via ferrata set or go with a guide. We did wear helmets most of the way along the steep walls and also wore a harness to be ready to clip in at particularly steep or exposed sections (and when the cables and ladders were covered in ice the second day).
There are multiple Rifugios (mountain huts) in the Brenta mountains and a four day loop staying in huts along the way is a common option for the Brenta Crossing. We wanted to try the 45km loop in two days and stay in one of the huts overnight. Since the huts were already closed for the winter in October with only a winter room open, we had to bring food, water and a stove with us. The winter rooms are not heated, but have wool blankets and we only brought a silk sleeping bag liner and used the wool blankets for warmth. Below is a full list of the gear I brought:
- Helmet (Petzl Sirocco, 170g)
- Harness (Petzl Sitta, 270g)
- Via Ferrata set
- Trail running shoes
- Ultimate Direction Fastpack 25 backpack
- Running tights and shirt
- Down Jacket
- Wind/rain jacket
- Windproof long pants
- Merino shirt for the night
- Merino hat
- 2 pairs of gloves
- Garmin Fenix 5S watch with the route preloaded
- 4 liters of water per (2 per person per day for drinking and cooking)
- MSR Pocket Rocket stove and fuel
- Sea to summit foldable kettle
- Freeze dried dinner and breakfast
- Several bars, chews and nuts as lunch and food throughout the day
Nutrition and Hydration
We knew that the huts were closed for the season and that we probably wouldn’t find any water along the way, so we brought 2 liters of water per person per day, which was a bit more than we needed in the cool fall weather.
For food, we brought about 1000 calories in snack food per person for each day, a freeze dried dinner (700 calories) and a freeze dried breakfast (600 calories). We also brought some tea bags and tea was very nice in the cold morning (I am not sure I would have made it out of bed otherwise). I was surprisingly hungry throughout the trip despite the relatively slow pace on these rocky trails and felt like I needed sugar constantly. I assume that was because climbing the many ladders and the intensity of the steep sections required more energy than I expected, especially since I am not used to that.
Preparation and Planning
We looked at the the common routes and times and decided to try a 45km loop that covering most of the Via Ferrata delle Bocchette that is often done in 3-4 days in two days. We had looked at two options to stay overnight and confirmed that winter rooms would be open. We also had some ‘escape options’ to shorten the loop in case of bad weather or fatigue. I had the route we created on my Garmin Fenix 5s watch and we also brought a map, but finding the route was generally not difficult with cables and occasional signs at intersections. We stayed in Campo Carlo Magno just north of Madonna di Campiglio the night before and were able to leave our car there. In the summer, you can take a lift up the first section of the mountain to Rifugio Boch or all the way to Passo Groste, but the lifts are not running in the fall and we ran and hiked from Campo Carlo Mango at the base of the valley to the start of the via ferrata trail.
The Brenta group is a spectacular part of the Dolomites and the Via Bocchette trail is famous for a reason. While not a very difficult via ferrata, it is definitely quite spectacular following narrow ledges, at times carved into the rock, and the long ladders are interesting as well, especially if you decide to look down the sheer drop below. We had amazing weather and great views the first day and stopped often to take pictures or take in the view. By the evening, we saw some clouds approaching and we got some rain overnight. The second day was mostly overcast and we alternated between walking just below the clouds and in the clouds for a while. At the highest point between Rifugios Agostini and Apostoli it got pretty cold in the clouds and the cables and ladders were frozen. We moved more carefully and were happy about a second pair of gloves once the first one was wet and frozen.
After the Apostoli hut, we had a long and steep downhill to the bottom of the valley past a lake and a long flat stretch back to Madonna di Campiglio and to our car. There are several gravel road and trail options and the path wasn’t very obvious, so we were happy about the route on my watch and the map to find a good route back.
I hadn’t really done longer via ferrata routes before and this was a spectacular introduction to it. Doing the whole loop in two days was ambitious, but feasible because we had the endurance to move fast all day even in fairly technical terrain. We ate along the way and since the huts were closed anyways, we didn’t really sit down for a break at all. The route is usually done in 3 or 4 days and there are various huts along the way for more stops. I would be curious to return in the summer to do some of the sections or peaks we didn’t get to this time and I am definitely looking forward to trying more via ferrata routes in the Alps next year.