Summer adventures in the Pala Group (Pale di San Martino)
A wonderful July weekend in this summer 2020 gives us two marvelous sunny days without expected rainfalls; a gorgeous glimmer of fine weather to face one of the majestic peaks of the Dolomites UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site!
As usual, we start every summer with a dense program of hikes to deal with, but we are always compelled to postpone a good part of them at the end of the season; these are the “disadvantages” of living in a region, our Agordino, so rich in wonderful mountain destinations to visit. We have been thinking about the Croda Granda since many years, and considering the wonderful weather conditions, we have eventually decided to reach the summit of this beautiful peak of the Pala Group (Pale di San Martino). Here’s our report about this wonderful Dolomitic experience, we hope you’ll like it!
The Croda Granda is one of the most important peaks of the Agner – Croda Granda Subgroup in the UNESCO Dolomites System known as San Martino – San Lucano – Vette Feltrine – Dolomiti Bellunesi (the 3rd of the 9 officially recognized and protected Dolomites Systems according to the UNESCO Dolomites Foundation). Croda Granda is an imposing, majestic peak that dominates from a remarkable height the western part of the Conca Agordina.
Institutionally, the Croda Granda marks the boundary between the Agordino (Province of Belluno) and the Primiero (Province of Trento); the Regional boundary crosses indeed the top of this mountains that divides the Val del Mis and Conca Agordina on the Belluno side from the Val Canali on the Trentino side. Croda Granda is a relatively high peak (2.849 meters of altitude) which is characterized by remarkable altitude gaps; furthermore, to reach the summit of the peak there are some 1st degree passages that, even if not too difficult, are definitely something that is suitable exclusively to guests that know how to move on high-altitude context, hikers with a good knowledge of mountain paths and with a basic knowledge of rock climbing.
We started our hike from the hamlet of Sarasin in the Municipality of Gosaldo in a beautiful summer morning; we already dealt with the path towards the Bivacco Menegazzi in an article from some years ago, so we won’t repeat it here; let’s start our report from this beloved and popular bivouac.
Immediately behind the Menegazzi Bivouac we found the hiking signs of the CAI PAth 720 that winds up towards the Vani Alti area among the wonderful peaks of the Agner – Croda Grande Subgroup (that are in this place the Sforcelloni, the Pala de la Madona and the Sass d’Ortiga). This path is very famous among the enthusiasts of hiking in the Dolomites, and signs are always clearly visible and well marked both on the meadows at the beginning and on the high-altitude path.
The ascent here, honestly, is very steep and challenging. While we were climbing the foot of the Croda Granda group, we had several stops to rest, but this pause moments gave us the chance to enjoy a marvelous view of the Cimonega Supbroup (Vette Feltrine) behind us. A view that never lets you down!
This part of the path is strenuous and it requires an excellent physical condition and a good familiarity with mountain hikes, even if the natural landscape around us was really something that was worth it.
Once we reached the beginning of what is commonly known as the “Scaletta”, we began with the most demanding part of our hike with an amusing first-degree rock climb; this passage requires a basic knowledge of rock climbing and familiarity with the high-altitude environment, above all in the second part that leaded us to the Vani Alti area.
After climbing the Scaletta, we found ourselves inside a steam cloud rising from the valley floor; besides the wonderful day, the high temperature gathers humidity coming from the valley floor in dense clouds that often surrounds the Pala Group in July and August. After the initial discouragement, we noticed that the cloud was covering almost only this part of the ascent, and that the cloud often opened up and left room for wide views on the valley floor. Considering the features of the area, we definitely suggest everybody to face this hike in September or October, months in which the conditions are definitely the best ones to visit the Pala Group, being days drier and the heatstorms rarer.
From here we moved on, with no remarkable altitude variations, among the peaks of the Vani Alti area, on a charming plateau; we found effortlessly the hiking signs to Bivacco Reali and the Croda Granda.
We followed this amazing high-altitude path that crosses the Vani Alti with breathtaking views on the surrounding peaks and on the Gosaldo area at the foot of the steep Valle Sprit. This path, on the other hand, has a marked altitude gap as we were approaching the summit of the ascent, but the landscape around was so beautiful that we didn’t even notice the fatigue.
As we reached the summit of the mountain pass, we enjoyed the first, majestic view on the Croda Granda in front of us, a wonder of nature that we weren’t expecting.
After half an hour of walk, we went down to the altitude of the Reali Bivouac, a marvelous mountain shelter of the Pale di San Martino. The bivacco appeared to us framed by the peaks of the Marmolada Group in the background, with the unmistakable Southern Wall of the Queen of the Dolomites that we enjoyed from this privileged panoramic terrace. The Reali Bivouac was already crowded, thanks to the proximity of the Fiamme Gialle Via Ferrata that climbs here from the Val Canali.
After a quick lunch break, we went on along the descent towards Forcella Sprit and consequently the last part of our hike, the final climb that leaks to the summit of the Croda Granda. This path was not marked on our maps, but the traces of the hikers that preceded us were clearly visible on the scree at the foot of the Croda Granda. Honestly, we had some difficulties in finding out the right path at first, because some winters might have modified the original path. Thinking about the route, what we thought as the only possible way was indeed the right one to take, so after a few minutes we were able to find out the green trail signs that put us on the right path.
The final ascent is very steep and has many first-degree passages that require attention. Especially on busy days, as it was this one, we had to put special attention to other hikers, because the floor is made mainly of unstable rocks that can easily roll downstream. We waited at some points for people being adequately distant before proceeding on the way, and it is more than recommended to wear a helmet in this part.
The last part of our ascent took place on the rocks and on a path marked with red signs; almost exhausted here, we faced with no hurry the last meters.
Once we reached the top, the summit of the Croda Granda welcomed us with the unmissable mountaintop book, a small Madonna statue and a wonderful view on the surrounding Dolomites peaks. The Pala Group was partially covered by clouds, unfortunately (Mount Focobon and the nearby Mount Agner weren’t visible), but the view was nevertheless so impressive that we spent a good half an hour there. Everything considered, the hike left us very satisfied and happy to have had the chance to visit another beautiful peak of our beloved Dolomites UNESCO. We went back on the same way as for the outward journey, thanking the lucky stars that still allowed us to enjoy a decent view for most of the day.
To complete our hike we spent 10 hours, with many tactical pauses; no one of us had visited the peak before, so we had also to learn by ourselves on the way. The path we walked along is clearly marked on most of the hiking maps of the Dolomites region (we used a Tabacco map of the Pala Group), at least until the Reali bivouac. From the bivouac on, the path is not marked on maps but can be found out relatively easily, with the sole exception of the starting part at Focella Sprit that requires a little bit of concentration. But nothing too difficult or too time-wasting.
The altitude gap is remarkable with frequent ascents and descents on high-altitude paths and screes, snows and exposed trails. Two points require the help of hands to be crossed (the Scaletta and the first part of the ascent to the Croda Granda), and even if these parts are nothing impossible, they are passages that need a good knowledge of hiking and courage. The whole excursion, as for the length and the overall difficulty, is suitable anyway only for good and experienced hikers, and if you’re not one of these, you should ask a qualified Mountain Guide for assistance.
This said, the area is marvelous and we knew it before visiting it; there are plenty of wonderful views and landscapes along the whole way and the place is crossed by a dense net of hiking trails and via ferrata that offer other unforgettable adventures in the Pale di San Martino.
As for the mountain scenario, in addition to the many peaks of the Pala Group you can enjoy a complete view on the northern Agordino (above all on the Marmolada Group) and on the Valbelluna; in some days, it was told us, it’s possible to see Venice and the Adriatic Sea from the summit of the Croda Granda; this was unfortunately not the case this time, but we’ll return here in the future! As said above, the best period of the year to come in these places in late Summer and Fall, when the weather conditions allow to avoid cloudy days or afternoon heatstorms.
The summer that has just begun will be probably a decisive one for the whole Dolomites, but at the moment it seems to have started out in the best ways, besides the coronavirus. The accommodation facilities and all the people involved in tourism are already at work to ensure everybody the most comfortable and unforgettable stay in the heart of the Pale Mountains, so we wait for you as usual to share with you all the beauty of our mountain region. Also, don’t forget to like our brand-new Facebook page (click here) to be constantly in touch with us. We invite you, as usual, to leave a comment if you like to share with us some of your experiences in the Dolomites; we’ll see each other soon for new adventures and stories from the Heart of the Dolomites – Stay tuned!
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