Mount Civetta –
the Owl – Displays the Dolomites Most Impressive Rock Wall.

The Civetta (3,220 m) is a mountain group belonging to the Dolomites, in the province of Belluno. It separates the Zoldano from the Agordino regions, and is the scenic backdrop to the village of Alleghe.  

It was defined «The most beautiful rock wall in the Alps» by the famous Italian writer Dino Buzzati, who was born in nearby Belluno. On the NW side this mountain  is characterized by an awe-inspiring vertical wall, with a sheer drop of more than 1,000 metres in altitude gradient between the summit and the valley floor . This impressive ridge is 4 km long, as it runs between the Cima Su Alto and the Torre Coldai (2,600 m); in the mountaineering world it is also known as “the wall of walls”, where are traced some very famous routes, amongst which are the Solleder-Lettembauer, the Philip-Flamm, the “Via Dei 5 Di Valmadrera” and other itineraries of different – but generally elevated – difficulty.        

About 200 m away from the summit, on the quieter Zoldo side, is the small Rifugio Torrani, while to the north of the group, by Monte Coldai, is the Rifugio Sonnino al Coldai; in the centre, on the Alleghe side, is the Rifugio Tissi, while at the other extremity is the Rifugio Vazzoler (more on mountain huts below).   

The Civetta is mentioned for the first time in a document dated 1665 as Zuita, while it is being reported in the official cartography only after 1774. The origins of the name were long debated; two hypotheses prevail: the first one likens it to the Latin word civitas (city), as the side overlooking Alleghe resembles a turreted city; others, taking notice of the fact that the mountain is called with the same name also on the Zoldo side – where the characteristic rock wall is not visible – refer it to the nightly creature that in Italy is traditionally associated with ill-fate (‘civetta’ in Italian means ‘owl’). This hints at the fact that somehow the mountain was considered cursed; curiously, however, the name does not seem in any way to bear a reference to the mountain itself resembling an owl, as one would at first think (this sort of resemblance is usually considered to be the most common reason behind mountain names, especially in the Dolomites). 


The first person to officially reach the summit of Monte Civetta was the Englishman Francis Fox Tuckett, with the aid of the Swiss Alpine guides Melchior and Jacob Anderegg in 1867; in actual facts, the summit had already been ‘conquered’ at least once in 1855 by Simeone De Silvestro Piovanel, a hunter from Pecol and later informer of the Tuckett. It may even be that there were other people to reach the top before that – in all likelihood, chamois hunters that were pushed towards the summit while chasing the animals – but unfortunately these were feats of prowess for which today there is no evidence, and so they are deemed to remain in the collective imagination related to this mythical mountain.       


As far as the Alpine ways used by mountaineers, only a succinct mention of them can be made here, as there are very many and the topic could easily become exceedingly technical to the average reader. Suffice it to say that the so-called “via normale” ascends through the eastern side, along the itinerary used by the first climbers, with a start at the Rifugio Sonino al Coldai (see below), while other ascents include many ways along the celebrated north-western wall, of varying degrees of difficulty, all reaching either the summit of Monte Civetta itself or the ‘lesser’ peak of Punta Tissi (2,992 m). Also, the Via Philipp-Flamm and the Via Solleder-Lettenbauer were linked over 17 hours on foot in 1990. 

Mountain huts

The Rifugio Mario Vazzoler at the Col Negro di Pelsa is situated at 1,714 m at the head of the Val Corpassa and at the base of Monte Civetta, in the municipality of Taibon Agordino. It is open only seasonally, but a nearby bivouac is available during the winter season too.

The most frequented (and easy) access to the hut is from the Rifugio Capanna Trieste (1,135 m), through the tarred road that ascends the small valley formed by the Corpassa stream; one can then continue from there on foot along the road that becomes (sterrata); the hut is reached in about 1h30.      

The Rifugio Vazzoler (1,714 m) is located in a strategic position at the entrance of the Val Cantoni, at whose bottom is the Tomè bivouac, from which the ascent to the Civetta is possible through an historic way (third degree; 1,500 m of gradient). Above the hut, the Cantoni di Pelsa open up: these are a real swarm of needles and pinnacles over which many climbing ways have been traced. The most important peaks are the Campanile Pian di LoraPunta AgordoCima dell'ElefanteCima del Bancòn, and the ‘Torre’ and ‘Gnomo di Babele’. Guarding the Val Cantoni are the two grand towers – of massive appearance and well-known in the mountaineering circles – of Torre Venezia and Torre Trieste.

From the hut it is also possible to start a traverse in the direction of Coldai, passing through the Rifugio Attilio Tissi (see below) and the Val Civetta in about 3 hrs. Taking the Van delle Sasse it is also possible to reach the Rifugio Sonino al Coldai with a longer haul of about 4h30, or otherwise reach the Rifugio Maria Vittoria Torrani through the ‘Via Ferrata Tissi’.              

The Rifugio Sonino al Coldai (2,132 m) is situated in the in Val Ziolere, in the municipality of Zoldo Alto, in the heart of the Civetta group at 2,132 m. The hut can only be accessed on foot through the following trails: from Palafavera in about 2h and from Alleghe in about 3 h.   

The Rifugio Tissi (2,250 m) is an Alpine hut situated on the Col Reàn in the municipality of Alleghe, in the vicinity of the great north-western wall of Monte Civetta, at 2,250 m. The hut was inaugurated in 1963, and it is dedicated to the famous mountaineer from Agordo, Attilio Tissi. It can be reached in 1,30h - 2h from the Rifugio Sonino al Coldai through the Forcella Col Negro; another possibility to reach it is from the Rifugio Vazzolèr in about 2 h.

The elevated position of these two latter huts allows rapid access to some of the greatest walking and climbing itineraries in the Dolomites, many of which are of historical relevance – as for instance: to the summit through the Via Solleder-Lettenbauer, the Via Comici, the Via Philip-Flamm or the Via degli Amici; to the Piccola (or Punta) Civetta (2,920 m) through the Via Haupt-Lompel; to the Cima de Gasperi through the Spigolo Ovest; to the Cima Su Alto through the Gran Diedro or the Spigolo nord-ovest and to the Cima Terranova through the Via Livanos.  

Finally, it is also possible to reach – in descending order – the Pan di Zucchero (2,726 m), the Torre di Valgrande (2,715 m), the Torre dAlleghe (2,639 m) and the Torre (2,600 m) as well as the Cima Coldai (2,403 m). 

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