The Dolomites boast an extensive network of interconnecting footpaths, marked and numbered at regular intervals with painted stripes of red and white on prominent rocks, trees or signposts. On bare terrain such as stony plateaus, in the absence of permanent landmarks, stones are often heaped into cairns to mark a route; known as ometti (little men) in Italian, they are reminiscent of the prayer stones of the Himalayas. Never continue for more than 15 minutes at most without checking for waymarking, as you may be off course. Faint paths across scree slopes and alongside mountain streams are often erased during the spring melt, so expect to hunt around a little.
The maps provided in this guide are intended as a general aid, and are no substitute for detailed commercial maps such as those produced by Tabacco, Kompass and other publishers. Tabacco puts out a clear 1:25,000 scale series: Carta topografica per escursionisti, on sale throughout the Dolomites as well as at leading bookstores and outdoor suppliers overseas. Smartphone users can download an app from www.tabaccomapp.it and purchase the maps in digital formats for reasonable prices. Relevant sheet numbers are given in the information box for each walk throughout this guide.
The Tabacco maps show the easiest routes as an unbroken red line and moderate paths with a broken red line. A dotted line indicates some difficulty, such as a particularly steep stretch or an exposed passage along a ledge, but it can also indicate paths with poor waymarking, such as those crossing mobile scree slopes. Routes indicated with crosses are aided, and may have a length of cable fixed to a rock face to make a short exposed section safer. However, more often than not they are vie ferrate, aided mountaineering routes. Exposed at length, they are for experienced climbers equipped with a helmet, special harness and karabiners.
Languages and place names
The Dolomite valleys are inhabited by speakers from three main language groups: German, Italian and Ladin. In the Südtirol (accounting for the north-western Dolomites), the majority (80 per cent) speak German as their mother tongue. This region belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918, when it was transferred to the fledgling nation of Italy after World War I. During the fascist period in the 1920 and 30s, Italian nomenclature was zealously applied to everything, with the resulting names more often than not worlds away from the original – the Südtirol, for example, was renamed Alto Adige, a reference to the northern reaches of the Adige river. Nowadays it is a bilingual autonomous region, and place names appear in both Italian and German on signs from offices to streets and mountains.
In the adjoining regions – the Trentino to the south and the Veneto in the south-east – Italian dominates. Just to complicate matters further, the ancient Ladin language, a hangover from pre-Roman times, is still the mother tongue of many inhabitants of the central Dolomite valleys of Badia, Gardena and Fassa, with additional pockets around Cortina and across Friuli.
Consequently, place-naming across the Dolomites is by no means standardised! For the purposes of this guide – and to avoid weighing the text down – names of mountains, places and refuges are given in Italian, flanked by the German or Ladin version where they differ dramatically. One to watch out for is Rifugio (or Hütte), recently transformed into Ladin Ücia.
Walkers will inevitably encounter discrepancies between the names used in route descriptions in this book and on commercial maps, as cartographers and local authorities are tending to reintroduce dialect names and remove longer established versions, on maps and signposts alike – not always a helpful practice.