10 Best Rock Climbing Spots in the Dolomites

Marina ParraNovember 14, 2018

The Dolomites are one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world. Featuring towering 3,000 m peaks, imposing vertical limestone walls and dramatic rocky spires, this Italian mountain range close to the Austrian border is a first-class playground for rock climbers.

Born and raised at the heart of these mountains, IFMGA mountain guide Etienne is our local expert to tour us around the best rock climbing spots that the Dolomites have to offer.

‘The Dolomites provide a great variety of climbs and represent a fun and safe challenge for climbers and mountaineers. Some climbing areas are legendary and have a special place in the history of alpinism, like those on the list of the first climbs accomplished by Reinhold Messner’, he says.

Because there’s so much to explore in the Dolomites, deciding where to go may seem like a daunting task. To help you with this, we’ve listed the ultimate 10 best rock climbing areas in the Dolomites. For each location Etienne has picked his favorite climbing routes.

Let the journey begin! 

 

 

1| Sella Towers

  

Rock climbing in the Dolomites
Photo courtesy of Etienne Bernard.

Lying above the Sella Pass ―an alpine mountain pass connecting two valleys: Val di Fassa and Val Gardena―, the Sella Towers are one of the iconic sights of the Dolomites. Each of the five towers has its own history and character. Together, they boast a rich selection of alpine climbing routes with pleasantly short climbs’, says Etienne. The routes are accessible within 15 minutes from the parking lot at the Sella Pass.

Recommended climbing routes:

  • Trenker-Crack route on the First Sella Tower (SW-intersection). An elegant, classic and enjoyable climbing route. Difficulty: V A0 V+, polished key position, height: 180 m, 160 climbing meters.
  • The Messner route up to the second Sella Tower is one of the youth works of the famous climber. 350 vertical meters in V+ along a dry black water stripes in catchy, solid rock. Difficult and steep, the route takes about five hours to the summit of the second Sella Tower (2,598 m) and looks down Val Gardena.

In brief:

  • Area: Val di Fassa – province of Bolzano / South Tyrol.
  • Starting point: Sella Pass parking lot.
  • Getting there: By bus from Trento or Bolzano. The closest airports to Val di Fassa area are Bolzano, Verona and Venice.  

Book a rock climbing day on the Sella Towers with Etienne!


2| Vajolet Towers  

 

Rock climbing in the Dolomites
Photo courtesy of Etienne Bernard.

Part of the Catinaccio / Rosengarten group (see below), the Vajolet Towers are an spectacular rock formation in the Dolomites. These eye-catching pinnacles are one of the most famous viewpoints of this mountain range, as well as a very popular climbing area. The four southern towers concentrate the most interesting climbing routes.

Reaching the top of a Vajolet tower with a mountain guide is the dream of every climber!’, says Etienne. What makes this challenge even more special is that you’ll be following the trace of legendary alpinists.

Recommended climbing routes:

  • Via Spigolo Piaz, edge of Tower Delago: Evocative and very exposed, with rewarding sections and breathtaking views. Opened in 1911 by Tita Piaz ―known as Il diavolo delle Dolomiti― and I. Glaser. Difficulty: IV +.
  • Easy normal route on the Stabeler Tower. The first ascent was achieved by G. Stabeler and H. Helversen in 1892. This route is not very exposed and it’s great for beginners.
  • Winkler Tower: One of the most famous climbing routes in the Dolomites. First climbed by Georg Winkler in 1887. Difficulty: IV+.

In brief:

  • Area: Val di Fassa – province of Bolzano / South Tyrol.
  • Starting point: Rifugio Gardeccia, a historic mountain hut in the Dolomites.
  • Getting there: By bus from Trento or Bolzano. The closest airports to Val di Fassa area are Bolzano, Verona and Venice. From Pera di Fassa (a hamlet in Val di Fassa), there’s a shuttle bus direct to the Rifugio Gardeccia.

Book a rock climbing day on the Vajolet Towers with Etienne!


3| Sassolungo

 

Rock climbing in the Dolomites
Photo courtesy of Etienne Bernard.

The Sassolungo group is another major landmark of the Dolomites, lying to the west of the Sella Pass, between Val Gardena and Val di Fassa. The highest peak of the group is the Saslonch (3181 m), a truly imposing peak which means Sassolungo in Ladin, a language mainly spoken in the Dolomites. The most remarkable climbing routes lie on the north and northeast faces of this huge massif.

Recommended climbing routes:

  • The normal route over the Fassan line is a demanding and classic mountain route with enjoyable climbing up to III+.
  • Salame del Sassolungo, via Comici: climbing this 2,836 m tower on the Sassolungo demands good stamina and experience! This classic climb takes barely 10 hours, half of them climbing in the V+. To get there, you need to reach the mountain station of the Monte-de-Seura chairlift. The wall is only visible from Val Gardena.

In brief:

  • Area: Val di Fassa / Val Gardena – province of Bolzano / South Tyrol.
  • Starting point: Sella Pass parking lot.
  • Getting to Val di Fassa: By bus from Trento or Bolzano. The closest airports are Bolzano, Verona and Venice. Getting to Val Gardena: You can travel by train from several European cities to either Bolzano, Bressanone or Chiusa (and then take a bus). The nearest airports are Bolzano, Milan and Verona.

Book a rock climbing day on the Sassolungo with Etienne!


4| Rosengarten / Catinaccio

 

Rock climbing in the Dolomites
Photo courtesy of Etienne Bernard.

The Catinacco massif lies at the heart of South Tyrol and Trentino, creating a majestic backdrop to the town of Bolzano. It’s also known by its German name, ‘Rosengarten’. The name comes from the popular local legend of mythical King Laurin, who owned a garden of roses on the slopes of this massif but had to hide it during day and night. It could only be admired at sunrise and sunset, explaining the pink glow on the mountains at those times of the day. This visual spectacle is actually quite unique to the Dolomites and it’s known as ‘enrosadira’ ―in Ladin― or ‘alpenglow’.

‘Where King Laurin, king of the dwarfs, watches over his Catinaccio, those who are fond of rocky paths will find something to do’, says Etienne. ‘This massif is a huge playground full of exciting alpine activities. Between edges and spikes, you’ll make your way upwards while enjoying breathtaking panoramic views’, he adds.

Recommended climbing routes:

  • Via Rizzi (Rotwand, Ostwand direct climb): One of the most beautiful intermediate climbs in the Catinaccio, mostly on very good rock and clearly better than the much more famous “Red Wall (Westwand). Difficulty: IV and a IV+ section.
  • Steger route to Cima Catinaccio east face: Great itinerary, the classic of the east face. An elegant and satisfying climb. Difficulty: V+, with a VI- section. Length: 733 m (20 pitches and another 70 m to the summit). Difference in altitude: 600 m. It’s not to be underestimated.

In brief:

  • Area: Bolzano – province of Bolzano / South Tyrol.
  • Starting point: Gardeccia hut.
  • Getting there: Bolzano is located at one of the main railway routes in Europe, so you can reach it from many cities. There’s also an airport, though it only receives national flights. Other close airports are Innsbruck (Austria) and Verona (Italy). From Pera di Fassa, there’s a shuttle bus direct to the Rifugio Gardeccia.

Book a rock climbing day on the Rosengarten group with Etienne!


5| Sass Pordoi 

 

Rock climbing in the Dolomites
Photo courtesy of Etienne Bernard.

Sass Pordoi (2,950 m) is a huge and massive rocky massif with high and vertical walls, hailed as the ‘terrace of the Dolomites’ due to its imposing panoramic views, especially those to the north-west, towards Val Lasties and the Sella Pass.

According to Etienne, ‘the rock is excellent everywhere and the routes are largely popular, mainly also because they have easy access from the cable car that goes up to the summit from the Pordoi Pass’.

Recommended climbing routes:

  • Via Maria / Mariakante: This is a very nice, popular route on the south face of Sass Pordoi. The surroundings are truly impressive! The rock quality is usually very good. An unusual feature of this route is the fact that you get off the summit directly onto the terrace of the cable car station. Difficulty: IV+.
  • Piaz kante: Interesting route, with 2 challenging passes. Opened by Tita Piaz and Sandro del Torso on September 1933, the route climbs the edge of the southern pillar of Sass Pordoi. Those who gave Piaz the nickname ‘Devil of the Dolomites’ could not have chosen more appropriate words! Difficulty: V+ A0 (VI).

In brief:

  • Area: Canazei, Val di Fassa – province of Bolzano / South Tyrol.
  • Starting point: Pass Pordoi
  • Getting there: By bus from Trento or Bolzano. The closest airports are Bolzano, Verona and Venice.

Book a rock climbing day in Sass Pordoi with Etienne!


6| Tre Cime di Lavaredo

 

Rock climbing in the Dolomites
Photo courtesy of Etienne Bernard.

The three peaks of Lavaredo (Drei Zinnen in German, Tre Cime di Lavaredo in Italian) are unquestionably one of the symbols of the Dolomites. ‘The grandeur of this triad, the shady and overhanging walls, the slender spiers, have fed in the past ―and still today― a profound interest, but also an absolute respect’, says Etienne. The routes on each of these peaks are a magnet for rock climbers!

Recommended climbing routes:

  • Normal route, Cima Grande: This is one of the group’s most popular climbs. Homogeneous in difficulty (III), it offers a pleasant and enjoyable climbing. It’s ideal as a first approach to the Tre Cime.
  • Spigolo Giallo, Cima Piccola: The perfect shape of this route  attracts tons of climbers every year. It’s a super-classical itinerary and part of the Tre Cime myth for its elegant line, the color of the rock and the inevitable audience passing on the street below. Opened in 1933 by that genius of mountaineering that was Emilio Comici. Difficulty: VI + (VI- and A0).

In brief:

  • Area: Auronzo di Cadore, Cortina d’Ampezzo – province of Belluno.
  • Starting point: Rifugio Auronzo
  • Getting there: By train from Venice, Innsbruck and other cities to Calalzo-Pieve di Cadore-Cortina (the train station is 35 km from Cortina d’Ampezzo and 15 km from Auronzo di Cadore). There are daily shuttle buses from Venice to Cortina. The closest airports are Venice, Innsbruck and Treviso.

Book a rock climbing day in Tre Cime di Lavaredo with Etienne!


7| Marmolada south face  

 

Rock climbing in the Dolomites
Photo courtesy of Etienne Bernard.

Known as the ‘Queen of the Dolomites’, the Marmolada massif straddles between the regions of Veneto and Trentino, and is home to the highest peak of this Italian mountain range: Punta Penia (3,342 m). One of its most outstanding features, however, is its imposing south face.

When we talk about southern walls of the Dolomites, there is one that must never be missed: Marmolada south face! Flat and furrowed by steep pillars and dark chimneys, the south wall stretches for over 2 kilometers, reaches a 900 meters height and towers over the Falier Hut’, says Etienne.

There are over 200 climbing routes only in Marmolada south face. Most of them require experience and are masterpieces ley to the history of alpinism. But one of the routes stands among the rest ―points out Etienne― and that’s the legendary (and extreme) ‘Fish route’.

Recommended climbing routes:

  • Don Quixote route, Marmolada: A classic itinerary, the most popular in the entire Marmolada massif. A true masterpiece that offers an exciting climb, especially in the upper part, where the plates are very solid and marked by a long succession of small holes. Difficulty: VI.
  • Vinatzer Messer, Marmolada: When Reinhold Messner opened his “variant” at the end of the 1960s, he set a milestone in the climbing history of the Dolomites. If you don’t believe me, you should climb this route! First, through the “Vinatzer / Castiglioni” we follow deep chimneys and intersections, which lead us ever higher up to the middle ledge. The upper part, although it is the same length, takes up a lot of time. There are plates wherever you go and holes of all sizes that make it possible to get higher. Finally, after more than 30 pitches, followed by a steep crack in the 6+ degree in full exposure and then you are finally done! At the summit of Punta Rocca you literally hear tears! Difficulty: VII-.

In brief:

  • Area: Alleghe, province of Belluno.
  • Starting point: Rifugio Contrin
  • Getting there: By train from many European cities to Belluno or Bolzano and, then take a bus. There’s a shuttle bus linking many villages in the area. The closest airports are Venice, Treviso and Munich (Germany).

Book a rock climbing day on the south face of Marmolada with Etienne!


8| Cinque Torri

 

Rock climbing in the Dolomites
Photo courtesy of Etienne Bernard.

Lying to the west of Cortina d’Ampezzo, the Cinque Torri are a mythical and very scenic group of rocky towers in the Dolomites. ‘A playground for the connoisseurs, the Cinque Torri offer a wide range of multi-pitch routes and thrilling sport climbing. It’s ideal for your first approach to alpine climbing!’, says Etienne.

Recommended climbing routes:

  • Via delle Guide on the Torre Grande: This is a very popular route of moderate difficulty level. For many climbers, it’s the starting point of a legendary alpine career. Difficulty: IV +.
  • Miriam route on the Torre Grande: Probably the classic of the area. First opened by grandmaster Dimai with Miss Miriam, the line winds up the highest part of the Torre Grande wall. Once the first greasy and steep track has been cleared, you’ll cross under an impressive roofs to the left, and then again on a straight path to reach the flat summit plateau. Difficulty: V +.

In brief:

  • Area: Cortina d’Ampezzo, province of Belluno.
  • Starting point: Rifugio Cinque Torri
  • Getting there: By train from Venice, Innsbruck and other cities to Calalzo-Pieve di Cadore-Cortina (the train station is 35 km from Cortina d’Ampezzo). There are daily shuttle buses from Venice to Cortina. The closest airports are Venice, Innsbruck and Treviso.

Book a rock climbing day in the Cinque Torri with Etienne!


9| Tofana di Rozes  

 

Rock climbing in the Dolomites
Photo courtesy of Etienne Bernard.

Towering at 3,225 m above the Falzarego Pass, Tofana di Rozes is the highest peak on the Tofane group. This massif lies on the west side of Cortina d’Ampezzo and it’s easily accessible from the mountain resort. As Etienne points out, ‘Tofana di Rozes has a huge, highly structured wall with three pillars and wall heights between 300 and 800 meters. On the south face, there’s a large selection of routes between IV and IX +’.

Recommended climbing routes:

  • Via Costantini-Ghedina (south-west edge of the second pillar): Once the first hurdle of getting up early at the Rifugio Dibona has been mastered, nothing stands on the way of a big load of alpine pleasure. Long road with a characteristic cross under a big roof. Difficulty: VI-.
  • Via Alverà-Pompanin (first corner of the third pillar): Elegant and popular itinerary. The easiest one to start in this area. Difficulty: IV-V, a V + section.

In brief:

  • Area: Cortina d’Ampezzo, province of Belluno.
  • Starting point:  Rifugio Dibona.
  • Getting there: By train from Venice, Innsbruck and other cities to Calalzo-Pieve di Cadore-Cortina (the train station is 35 km from Cortina d’Ampezzo). There are daily shuttle buses from Venice to Cortina. The closest airports are Venice, Innsbruck and Treviso.

Book a rock climbing day in Tofana di Rozes with Etienne!


10| Falzarego Towers

 

Rock climbing in the Dolomites
Photo courtesy of Etienne Bernard.

These two towers ―Torre Grande and Torre Piccola― are an extremely popular rock climbing venue. You can easy reach the area from the top of Falzarego Pass, a high mountain pass which connects Agordo and Cortina d’Ampezzo.

‘There’s a wide, slightly inclined wall with a good dozen alpine routes and moderate difficulties’, says Etienne.

Recommended climbing routes:

  • Ada Route at the Col dei Bos: A route with firm, non-slip Dolomite rock. The ideal introduction to get a taste of the lower sixth Dolomite degree. After 13 beautiful pitches you are on the flat, green summit level and can enjoy a wonderful view of the Tofane massif! Difficulty: mostly in the range between IV and V. Only two rope lengths heavier (V +, VI-).
  • Via Comici in the Torre Piccola of Falzarego south arete: Emilio Comici (1901-1940) has also shown here his elegant style in the opening of a new ‘line’ of climbing. A classic, elegant and popular climbing route. Difficulty: V-.

In brief:

  • Area: Alleghe, province of Belluno.
  • Starting point: Lagazuoi cable car.
  • Getting there: By train from many European cities to Belluno or Bolzano and, then take a bus. There’s a shuttle bus linking many villages in the area. The closest airports are Venice, Treviso and Munich (Germany).

Book a rock climbing day in the Falzarego Towers with Etienne!


When is the best time for rock climbing in the Dolomites?

 

Rock climbing in the Dolomites
Cinque Torri. Photo courtesy of Etienne Bernard.

Summer is the best time for a rock climbing trip in the Dolomites. From July to September you’ll find the best weather conditions.

In case of bad weather during your trip, a good option is to head to nearby Arco, another superb rock climbing destination at only 2.5 hour drive from the Dolomites.


Check out our guide for rock climbing in Arco!


What makes rock climbing in the Dolomites great?  

 

Rock climbing in the Dolomites
Vajolet Towers. Photo courtesy of Etienne Bernard.

With its mix of superb climbs ―ranging from single-pitches to big wall routes―, legendary routes and a staggering natural scenery, the Dolomites have turned into a classic and unmissable rock climbing venue, one that deserves a place on every climber’s bucket list.

But what makes rock climbing in the Dolomites so special? We asked Etienne and here’s what he said:

  • ‘Personally I call them ‘the sweet mountains’. Unlike other mountain ranges, when you look at the Dolomites you are not caught by a feeling of fear or aversion but rather by a feeling of hospitality and connection’.
  • ‘Unlike granite ―which is sharp and slippery― climbing on dolomitic rock is more technical and harmonious. That allows me to climb very physically and with tranquility’.

What else to do in the Dolomites?

 

Rock climbing in the Dolomites
Photo courtesy of Etienne Bernard.

Besides being home to the largest ski resort in the world (Dolomiti Superski) and providing incredible off-piste skiing experiences, the Dolomites allow all sorts of mountain activities all-year-round. Hiking tours are a must on this land full of iconic landmarks. From one-day trips to multi-day excursions, there are endless possibilities to explore this scenic mountain range.


Find out more about the best spots for hiking in the Dolomites!


Mountaineering trips are also an option, either for those with a vast experience, or those who are just getting started. Mount Civetta, Marmolada and Tofana di Rozes are some of the most popular challenges.

The Dolomites are also the cradle of via ferratas (protected climbing routes), featuring many routes of different difficulty levels. This activity is an amazing way of experiencing the mountains without the risks and technical perks of rock climbing.


Don’t miss our guide of the best via ferrata routes in the Dolomites


Where to stay in the Dolomites?

The Dolomites stretch along the Italian provinces of Trento, Belluno and South Tyrol. There are many towns and mountain villages where you can stay depending on your itinerary. Here are some suggestions based on the 10 rock climbing areas listed on this blog post:

Val di Fassa: Campitello di Fassa, Canazei, Moena, Pozza di Fassa, among others.

Val Gardena: Selva Val Gardena, S. Cristina, Ortisei.

Bolzano

Auronzo di Cadore

Cortina d’Ampezzo

Alleghe

If you need accommodation in Val di Fassa (Trento), here are some places recommended by local guide Etienne:

 

***

 

The Dolomites await with exciting rock climbing adventures. Ready to step up on this rocky paradise? Check out the different programs offered by certified guides at Explore-Share and decide your next climbing trip!

 

 

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