Terror in the Dolomites

December 2, 2015 / Places
Tre Cime del Lavaredo, Trentino Alto-Adige
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Do you suffer from an irrational fear of heights? It’s apparently called “acrophobia” and I am a major sufferer. So, when I recently visited the Alta Pusteria area of the Dolomites and was persuaded to circumnavigate the famous Tre Cime di Lavaredo, I had no idea what I was letting myself in for.

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Arriving at Rifugio Auronzo at 2320 metres above sea level, we donned our wind-breakers, grabbed our walking poles and set off on the busiest trail: the anti-clockwise 101, which was crowded with a variety of hikers in all shapes and sizes.

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After we had passed Rifugio Lavaredo the crowd thinned considerably. Gone were the babies in buggies and ladies in unsuitable shoes. Only those who wanted to walk to the Forcella di Lavaredo at 2454 metres remained to goggle at the spectacular north walls of Tre Cime.

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Italian Notebook l ©ornaoreilly (13)Hiking down to Rifugio Locatelli, we stopped for lunch. And here’s where things started to go pear-shaped for me.

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First of all, I thought that we had already covered most of the 9.5 kilometre hike. Not so.Italian Notebook l ©ornaoreilly (3)

Secondly, as we took Trail 105, I noticed that almost everyone else had turned back to the car-park via Trail 101. I accepted this without analysing the possible explanation: they knew more than I did!Italian Notebook l ©ornaoreilly (2)

Trail 105 was narrow, rocky and steep, and before long we arrived at a narrow shelf overlooking a seemingly bottomless drop. I froze. My acrophobia kicked in so strongly that I burst into tears. My poor companion had a terrible time coaxing me across the ledge. He held my walking poles and took my arm while I walked sideways, facing away from the terrifying drop.

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Unfortunately, we were still a couple of hours and further mind-bending frights away from Rifugio Auronzo and finally, more than five hours after we had begun our hike, we arrived back at the car.

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I was happy to know that I had walked the most beautiful trail in the Dolomites. But, never again.

by Orna O’Reilly

Orna is a former interior designer who practised in South Africa, Mozambique and Ireland. Now writing full time, she moved from Ireland to the Veneto area of Italy in 2013.

She writes her way around Italy by blogging about it (at Ornasite) and is currently writing a novel set in Venice. You can follow her tweets @OrnaOR, and her Travel & Design page on FB.

23 Responses to “Terror in the Dolomites”

  1. Liza Voges

    Just reading about the ledge gave me flutters of acrophobia! Well done!

  2. Maryanne Maggio Hanisch

    I never particularly thought of myself as having acrophobia, but after reading this, I’m feeling a little dizzy! Your description was a little too real. But I have absolutely no problem enjoying the spectacular photographs!

  3. John Bellanti

    You captured the emotional challenges and joys of doing such a hick. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us in such an authentic manner.

  4. Linda Boccia

    good for you for facing your fears. It would not be my idea once I knew about steep and narrow ledges. that’s why the glass ledge that goes out over the Grand Canyon and looks down almost 6 kilometers will not be on my agenda anytime soon.

  5. This is one of the hikes on my ‘to do’ list – precipices an’ all!

  6. Maria Ingham

    I too suffer from this condition and have had similar experiences especially in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and walking the Great Wall of China, The tears, the fears, …. and the glorious feeling that I DIT it despite the fears!

  7. Elise Healy

    Thanks for posting this. Despite your scary experience, you’ve led me to look at a hiking vacation near this part of Italy. Maybe not quite so high though.

  8. Antoinette Shapiama

    Good for you, Orna! I once was a passenger on a road trip to the Tre Cime which scared the living daylights out of me. When we arrived at the rifugio, everyone marveled at the beautiful panorama. All I could see were black dots before my eyes! A few sips of brandy eased my altitude “sickness” so I too enjoyed the scenery.

  9. Nice article and interesting…BUT not a good choice of words to use in your Subject—the word ‘terror’. Perhaps a replacement next time…

  10. marianna raccuglia

    I know I would have fallen off that ledge! Good for you and many thanks for sharing – your picture said it all.



  12. Melinda Jankord-Steedman

    Oh, Orna, what courage you displayed. I would have had the same reaction, but you soldiered on and conquered your terror. Brava! Terrific pictures, too.

  13. Thank you so much for your kind comments. A fear of heights is such an unpredictable thing, overtaking one at the most difficult moments. I cannot describe how terrified I was and how even looking at the photos makes me feel sick!

  14. Ginny Siggia

    I have episodes of vertigo, which creates its own problems, but acrophobia certainly is a much more horrible beast! Brava! My vertigo nixed one tourist adventure because it involved climbing 600 steep steps on a hot day. The leader said people had fallen to their deaths. That was enough for me to seek other, safer adventures. Your photos are spectacular! Thank you for sharing!

  15. Mary Ellen Gadski

    I did this hike solo in 2013 while my husband and the rest of our group of friends continued on the Alta Via with far more strenuous hikes. As a 63-year-old woman, I didn’t find it particularly challenging and in fact left the trail and took a short-cut to Rifugio Langhalm. I must have missed the bad ledges, because my hike through the wildflowers wasn’t scary at all. The Tre Cime are well worth seeing, but they are by no means the most beautiful peaks of the Dolomites. In fact the parking lot and tour buses were a turn-off for me, but as the author remarked, the tourists fall away quickly and only serious hikers continue. My most memorable parts of the hike were the blooming Trumpet Gentian and the apfelstrudel at Langhalm.

  16. Jack Litewka

    What a great experience (minus the severe fright)…and what great beauty you saw. It will provide great material for cocktail-party conversation for years to come!


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