Thru-hiking the Dolomites: how a hammock would have been perfection!
In the past weeks we talked about how a hammock can improve our hiking and adventuring time around the world. Now it is time to take this topic one step further.
Last summer I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life: I thru-hiked the Dolomites for two weeks, with my backpack on my shoulders and some incredible landscapes in my eyes. It truly was one of the most amazing adventures I ever had. And even though I loved it more than anything, I still think that a hammock would have made it even better. How?
So this is why I’m here. I would like to tell you not only about my hike of Alta Via Nº2 in the Dolomites, but also how a hammock could have really been the cherry on top.
First of all, let me introduce you the Dolomites. The Dolomites are a mountain range located in Italy, famous all over the world because of their geological history, which earned them the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What makes the Dolomites so special is that they once were completely submerged by the oceans and used to be a seabed, full of corals and inhabited by many species of ancient animals. All of it can still be admired on their rocks, which are filled with fossils of all kinds.
This mountain range is part of a wider chain, that of the Alps, from which they differ also thanks to the peculiar kind of carbonate rock they are made of, dolomia, made of mineral dolomite, from which these mountains gain their name.
Made of smaller, sub-ranges, 27 to be precise, the Dolomites are one of the most famous mountain groups in the world together with the Himalaya and the Andes, and welcome millions of tourists from all over the world every year. They all come here to enjoy all sorts of outdoor activities: from climbing crags and big walls to vie ferrate, from hiking to mountain biking, through all sorts of activities that can be played in nature and aim at enjoying the beauty of this place.
Because nature truly is a masterpiece here. Protected by its “double title” of National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, together with one of the most active tourism industries in Europe, the Dolomites are incredibly looked after, turning this place into a real paradise.
The reason why I visited the Dolomites last summer was, as I said, to hike Alta Via N°2, the second longest “High Route” of these mountains, that crosses them from Brixen to Feltre.
Tips and tricks to hike Alta Via N°2
A bit less renowned than Alta Via 1, this Höhenweg is also known as the High Route of Legends and is 185 Km long (i.e. 115 miles), for an overall gain in height of 11,000 meters (the equivalent of 36,000 ft).
It goes through six sub-ranges: Plose-Putia Group, Odle and Puez Group, Sella, Marmolada, Pale di San Martino and Vette Feltrine. It takes about 12 days (no zero days included) to be hiked and you can either decide to sleep in the Rifugi (huts) that you will come across on the way, or you can take a tent with you and sleep wherever you find a nice spot away from indiscrete eyes, as free camping is not always allowed in the Dolomites. However, if you are respectful and you pledge to leave no trace behind you, then no one is going to bother you.
Some sections are particularly hard, so I suggest to keep your backpack as light as possible.
First of all, get yourself a book guide. There are many websites that can help you to gather information about it, but a paper guide to always have with you, no matter phone the coverage and battery, will be a real savior.
For what concerns food, the best thing to do is to carry with you some protein bars and highly energetic food to have during the day in order to keep yourself energized for the long hours of steep walk, and then eat a warm meal at one of the huts as soon as you arrive, or at the last one before you head for the woods to set camp for the night. Stock up on them when you come across villages, which are three in total, in order to save money: indeed, huts will sell them too, but for much higher prices.
If you want to cook something for yourself, then don’t make a fire but use portable camping stoves.
One thing could be a bit of a problem: water. Although many guides state that you will come across sources of water on your way, the reality is much different. Indeed, the Dolomites are undergoing a very tough period of drought. Due to climate change, it doesn’t rain nor snow enough to provide these mountains with the actual amount of water they need. In 2017, Overshoot day hit on August 2nd. Many huts didn’t have any water for days and many of the water sources mentioned in the guides don’t exist anymore.
You might come across rain puddles and water drippings every now and then: a water filter will help you to make the best out of all the water you will come across. This is also true for huts: the majority of them doesn’t have potable water and you would have to buy it (so you won’t be able to employ your reusable water bottle either, and you will have to consume single-use plastic).
One piece of advice I feel like giving you - which is actually more of an invitation - is to always pay attention to the use you make of water when visiting the Dolomites and when traveling in general. To save it is one of the most important things we can do to save our planet.
How could a hammock have improved my hike
Now, Alta Via 2 truly was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I will never forget the beauty, the struggle, the awareness and the enrichment that it gave me.
However, I don’t lie when I say that there is one thing that could have made it even better: a hammock. How does a hammock improve your thru-hike? Here are some examples.
We talked about how to keep your backpack lighter is of great help on these occasions, especially on the very steep and unstable screes of the countless saddles you come across during the hike. So if instead of a tent you had a hammock with you, it would be much easier to reach this goal.
Of course, you can always decide to not bring a tent with you and sleep in the huts, that's for sure. However, as we said the Dolomites are a very touristic venue and prices rise to the stars during the high season. To sleep and eat in the huts will require you to invest a lot of money on this trip. One more reason to opt for hammock camping and make your hike even more adventurous.
Indeed, exception made for one or two sections, the Dolomites are filled with strong trees and beautiful woods where you will be able to set up your hammock and enjoy a beautiful starry night. And that’s not it: by hanging a hammock instead of planting a tent you will be able to leave even less trace behind you while you camp.
Of course, I would never recommend leaving with a hammock only: weather can change quite quickly in the mountains and rain might always come unexpectedly. Bring a rain tarp with you and always set it up over your head in order to make sure to always stay dry and protected, even from the wind. Or opt for a hammock tent, which will allow you to get all the comforts of both a tent and a hammock. And of course, if worst comes to worst and the weather gets very bad, then don’t play hero and do look for shelter in one of the huts.
Even in this case, having a hammock with you will guarantee you a place to sleep even if the Shelter is full. Instead of sleeping on one of their benches, you will have a comfortable place where to spend your night...and for a very cheap price!
And of course, let’s not forget that a hammock can add great comfort to precious moments of relax during the day. Whether it was to have a very quick nap, to eat a snack or to simply enjoy the beautiful peace around me, a hammock would have made my pauses a lot sweeter and re-energizing. Especially the one near a gorgeous river we found right before Rifugio Trieste...if you ever decide to embark on this amazing adventure, don’t miss to pay it a visit and dip your toes in its frozen waters!
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