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north Italy lakes scrambles + via ferrata

Original Post
kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 12,184

I've long had the German-language guidebooks for climbing both short Sport and longer Trad routes (including easier solos), and for Via Ferrata routes around Lake Como (and other lakes) north of Milano and south from Zurich. Now I got the weather and the program to hit them driving the French Alps and the Dolomites.

Perhaps tbe most dense set of steep rock is around Lecco (SE corner of the Como lakes) - also it has the most dense collection of Via Ferrata routes. I've done lots of via ferrata in Dolomites and west Austria and France, so ...

via ferrata Gruppo Alpini on peak Corno Medale
- -> See on Map <- -
Would make "top three" in the Dolomites for sustained interesting climbing moves at 4th class + low class 5 difficulty (with lots of interesting 3rd class also). Variety of positive holds on sound limestone (sound I guess because it gets climbed a lot). And mostly not very polished (which I cannot explain).

Rated fairly difficult (D on a scale of A to E) as a Via Ferrata (using cable + other hardware instead of making most moves free on the rock) in German-language VF guidebook + VF website.

About +650 vertical feet (+200 meters) with sustained focus on 4th class (with some fixed-aid sections, some low class 5, and some 3rd class). Then another +650 vertical feet (+200 meters) focused on 3rd class with some 4th class sections and class 5 moves thrown in.

Faces roughly South, so fortunately it was not a hot day, since I started rather late.

protection: I thought it was kind of sparse. Not just that there was often a substantial distance from one Via Ferrata cable anchor to the next one. But because the difficulty was so sustained, I often felt I was making a comparatively tougher move up a high distance from the previous cable anchor.
. . (The excuse for this I guess is that they usually provided the aid of a fixed chain to grab, so you're not supposed to fall. To which I reply, that's Aid not protection, and maybe I'd rather make more moves with my hands directly on the rock, instead of grabbing a chain).

. . warning: If you might be doing this route with someone who might get fatigued or intimidated by low class 5 moves later higher in the climb, bring a short rope and belay carabiner + device, perhaps a couple of slings to connect to anchors -- and have the weaker climber tie in to the rope and get belayed on some of the "run out" moves that are significantly above the last cable anchor.

statistics: The approach hike (from the parking NE above village of Laorca) to the bottom of the via ferrata (lat long N45.8743 E9.3945) was about +590 vertical feet over 1.2 mile distance (+180 meters over 1.9 km distance). So total vertical up to the Cross (lat long N45.8761 E9.3945) around +1900 ft (+580 meters). The (steep shortcut around NE) descent hike was about 1.5 mile (2.4 km) distance. So total distance for the shortcut loop about 3.0 mile (4.8 km).

This outing could have been made longer by adding another (easier) Via Ferrata to the North up to the summit of Monte Coltignone (elev 1473m) (lat long N45.8858 E9.3888). Then return the same way, or make it even longer with some loop up north (? or a bicycle spotted at Piani Resenelli parking? far northS).

driving: Driving across and up through the streets of the city of Lecco is not trivial to navigate. GPS highly recommended. I entered as a destination the latitude longitude of (N45.88077 E9.40625), which my phone takes in the format "45.88077, 9.40625". This required first driving NE up past Laorca on main road, then turning off left where the road makes a switchback right.
. (I've heard that it's also possible to park in the village of Rancio, which I guess is less distance to the bottom of the Via Ferrata, but perhaps more vertical. And I since it had been dry for several days, I felt I could take the shortcut descent, which is closer to parking NW above Laorca village).

approach hike: SW about 0.4 mile (650m) on various roads and paths until reach wide concrete road. Turn Right and go about 0.2 mile (300m) NW up this with some curves. See a narrow dirt trail "Medale" going up off Left and follow this SW 0.37 mile (600m) - (some red paint marks) to bottom of VF route.

more details: This is how a local climber I met showed me, which might prevent some wrong turns and backtracking. Anyway putting some of the waypoints into your GPS will help you discover more quickly if you've gotten off track.
From the Parking, take right fork SW on narrow asphalt road slightly uphill for 450ft (140 meters). Near a sanctuary / cemetery turn off Left (S) down ramp 50ft (15m), soon Left again down steeper stairs 60ft (20m).

Next sharp Right (SW) onto flat concrete sidewalk (see red + white paint trail marking). Gentle SW 1650ft (500m) on this, then just after a house turn off Left onto dirt trail for 220ft (70m) and up some steep wood steps. Go Right (N) and up a few steps and Left onto a dirt road. About 330ft (100m) NW on this to meet a wide concrete road. Turn Right onto this and go uphill 625ft (190m), first NE, then N, then W, then N.

See sign for "Medale" and turn Left off onto dirt trail, soon more Left to go SSW 220ft (70m) to a junction of trails - (trail to right is the bottom of the steep shortcut descent route). See sign for "Via Ferrata" and continue SW on narrow dirt trail about 2000ft (600m), which some downs + ups. Look for red paint circles. Turn Right up five steep steps on dirt to find metal plaque and chain at bottom of Via Ferrata Gruppo Alpini.

climb Via Ferrata: Follow the chain, then later the steel cable. In many sections there are both chain and cable. Cable for to clip with carabiner(s) of Via Ferrata kit for protection. Chain to grab (with gloves?) for aid.
. (Warning: There's nothing magic about using a Via Ferrata kit to clip the steel cable. If you fall while any significant distance above the next lower cable anchor post, you will most likely get hurt - perhaps by hitting the anchor post if not the rock).

The VF route leads up to a cross with a nice view. Which is not the highest point of the peak, but nobody seems to care.

descent hike: The normal way back down is on well-designed marked trails around the west and south sides of the peak and via ferrata route. But I didn't go that way, so I can't say how they're marked. So bring a good hiking map, or get good instructions from somewhere else).

The steep shortcut way I took starts very steep and dirty. So if it's rained at all in recent days it would be very slippery muddy. Partway down it even has a section with fixed chains to grab where it crosses steep exposed grass. Long hiking poles recommended, to reach the tips way down for steep moves.

From the cross, start down about 650ft (200m) on a narrow trail (around the west side of the true high point) first NW then N onto a ridge. At a marked trail junction at lat long (N45.87786 E9.39335), turn Right down very steep narrow dirt trail about 330ft (100m), at first NE then E. Reach a chain, zig R zag L on that, then 650ft (200m) down steep E, then 200ft (60m) N, then less steep 900ft (270m) E then SE then SSE (with a little up) to meet the approach trail at junction with sign. Left (NNE) on this to reverse the route of approach.

Fortunately it was very dry when I did this descent, so no problem with sliding. But lower down lots of loose stones lying on the trail, so I didn't feel confident to run. When I met my approach route, fortunately my GPS was still working, because it was not so easy to remember the transitions and turns in reverse.

overall ...
Nice afternoon out. Would do it again, except start earlier cooler - (and perhaps continue farther N higher to the bigger view on Monte Coltignone).

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 12,184

My German-language guidebook for the lakes region hinted that there was on difficult via ferrata around the lakes better than the combination of Corno Medale with Monte Coltignone. How much better could it be? As it turned out,
rather great ...

via ferrata Centenario CAO on Monte Grona
- - > See on Map < - -
. (If it were in the Dolomites it would be famous).
It offers ...

  • Lots of interesting climbing on sound rock with positive holds ... in the range 4th class to 5.6 (also some worthwhile 3rd class). Some overhanging bulges, at least two interesting wide chimneys, and several aretes.
. . (not as sustained as VF Corno Medale -- instead offers lots of nice rest/snack breaks).
  • Big views over of multiple lobes of big mountain lakes.
  • Straightforward approach hike and descent,
. . with a hut for snacks.
  • Fairly difficult as a pure VF: D on a scale of A to E.

protection seemed a bit sparse from a rock-climbing perspective.
. . (? but maybe pure via ferrata cable-grabbing chain-grabbing practitioners don't notice or care?)

. . warning: If you might be doing this route with someone who might get fatigued or intimidated by low class 5 moves later higher in the climb, bring a short rope and belay carabiner + device, perhaps a couple of slings to connect to anchors -- and have the weaker climber tie in to the rope and get belayed on some of the "run out" moves that are significantly above the last cable anchor.

driving: Starting from near Menaggio, I used GPS and entered lat long for a parking option (below). Up mountain road with lots of curves, mostly asphalt but a couple of dirt sections. Might seem intimidating to visitors, but not narrow by typical European standards.
Big wide flat parking lot at lat long (N46.0599 E9.2299) by start of hiking trail. If that's full or the road seems too intimidating, there are several lower opportunities, down as far as (N46.0529 E9.2338) in the village of Breglia.

approach hike: Up the road 30 feet NE from the high big parking, see sign for Rifugio Menaggio and turn Left (W) then up (with some turns) generally West about 1000ft (300m), next up N about 650ft (200m), then W about 2500ft (800m), then South 330ft (100m) to the hut Rifugio Menaggio (N46.0605 E9.2187).

Up a few steps from the hut to find sign for VF, next Left (SW) about 1300ft (400m), then NW for 650ft (200m) up to a small col, over and down to the bottom start of the Via Ferrata (N46.0592 E9.2136).

climb via ferrata: Follow the cable and chain, with several downhill or gentle breaks between the steep sections. Two marked escape ("uscita") routes for those who get tired or overwhelmed. Finish up to a cross (N46.0619 E9.2112) with a big wide view, because it's the summit of Monte Grona.

descent hike: I think I heard there's three trail options. I took the steepest and quickest, the Direttissima (which had been visible at many points from the via ferrata up-climbing route). I first hiked 200ft (60m) N from the summit to a signed trail junction, there turned down Right (SE). Direttissima is marked by standard red+white paint. Meets the approach trail or otherwise gets back to the hut Rifugio Memaggio, then the main trail back down to the big parking (or further if you are parked lower).

  • Approach from big parking to VF bottom start = +1200 vertical feet over 1.4 miles distance (+370m over 2.3km).
  • Climbing up Via Ferrata = +1175 vertical feet (+360 meters).
  • Descent hike back down to big parking = 1.55 miles (2.5 km).
  • Total = +2375 vertical feet upward over 3.2 miles (+730m over 5.25km).
. . .
  • Views over the Lakes = incomparably unquantifiable.
Alex Rogers · · Sydney, Australia · Joined Sep 2010 · Points: 40

They sound really good fun - Rockfax have a great new(ish) Dolomites climbing guide including some via Ferrata - its on my birthday list

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 12,184

I think it's great that RockFax Dolomites is giving more credibility to VF routes in a rock climbing guidebook.
I own a copy and I was just looking at it today for both Multi-pitch Trad and VF routes.

But I suggest that you'll do better at selecting and planning a VF route if you purchase a guidebook focused on via ferrata. There are way way more VF routes in the Dolomites (and out of the Dolomites) -- and useful detail about VF routes -- than in the new RockFax book.


kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 12,184
Sentiero del Fiume (near Mandello del Lario)

Not a Via Ferrata route (contrary to my hope). Rather a quiet shaded hike up a gorge with some short scrambling sections and some pretty slab waterfalls, with lots of pleasant picnic spots.

. . (I like VF routes in gorges, so much so that I've repeated some of them. Despite my hope, this turned out not to be one of those. I got the idea and description from a German-language via ferrata / klettersteig book. Actually the book did say that it wasn't much of a via ferrata, but I didn't read it so closely. There was indeed some fixed steel hardware in about six places, but no use for a via ferrata kit).

I'd say the scenery in the gorge was nice but not outstanding -- for me not worth the labor it took to do the loop. The descent (outside above the gorge) was nice and easy, which helped me forgive the labor it took to get up.

. . (Perhaps a better ratio of scenery to labor is instead to take trail 15 from the same parking up to the chapel at (lat long N45.9347 E9.3428) -- one-way +920 vertical feet over 1.15 mile distance (+280m over 1.85km).

driving: Tricky to navigate to the trailhead Parking by latitude longitude (N45.9311 E9.3273). I entered the lat-long as "45.9311, 9.3273" into my phone map app, and that worked for me. The start is in the Somana section of the town of Mandello del Lario.

up hike + scramble: Follow trail 15B -- for which there is a sign on the streets by the parking. While at the sign, note where trail 15 goes, since that's your descent route.
Start on an asphalt street going SE, soon curves East, then becomes dirt / grass, then becomes a trail. Then keep following signs for 15B or Fiume. Later the trail turns NE. Reach the creek at around GPS lat long (N45.9365 E9.3477). Sometimes the trail is marked with red+white plate 15B, other times just by Red paint. Later turns NNE and then N, finally NW. Much steep uphill, at last reach trail junction at (N45.9459 E9.3500). Optional to go farther up to the hut Rifugio Era (but I was short on time that day).

down hike: Follow trail 15, with signs also mentioning Somana or Mandello. Very well designed and maintained as of 2016. At first SW, then S, SW, S to a chapel with a big view over lakes and city. Then W and SW down into town. SSE on streets back to Parking.
Fat Dad · · Los Angeles, CA · Joined Nov 2007 · Points: 60

I have a copy of a via ferrata guide that I bought from Michael Chessler's that was real handy when the wife and I went to Italy on our honeymoon. No scrambles, unfortunately, but rather exhaustive when it comes to via ferrata. Can't remember the title or author since it's been 15 yrs. since I've used it. The Dolomites seem to get short shrift when climbing in the Alps is discussed, but there's a lot of great stuff to be had if you've got the info and the time.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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