The Pelmo-Croda da Lago system, forming one of the nine areas of the Dolomites protected by the prestigious Dolomites UNESCO World Heritage Sites recognition, covers a vast, elongated strip of land running in a NW to SE direction, stretching down from Monte Penna to Passo Giau (2,236 m), between the Boite Valley, the val Zoldana, the val Fiorentina and the small but charming side valleys of the tributaries Codalonga and Costeana.
This is how John Ball – one of the pioneers of climbing in the Dolomites – described the area in "A Guide to The Eastern Alps" (1868), a classic of Alpine literature:
«From whatever side it be seen, but specially form the E and S, (the Pelmo) shows as a gigantic fortress of the most massive architecture, not fretted into minarets and pinnacles, like most of its rivals, but merely defended by huge bastioned outworks, whose walls in many places fall in sheer precipices more than 2,000 ft. The likeness to masonry is much increased by the fact that, in great part, the strata lie in nearly horizontal courses, and hence it happens that many of the steepest faces of the mountain are traversed by ledges wide enough to give passage to chamois and to their pursuers».
The area is dominated by the imposing and solemn bulk of Monte Pelmo (3,168 m) – one of the most beautiful and characteristic peaks of the Dolomites, whose concave shape reminds of a gigantic throne.
Precisely for that reason, it is nicknamed ‘Caregon del Doge’ in the local patois – literally meaning "the Doge’s Seat" – while the lower summit is known as Monte Pelmetto (2,990 m).
The area protected by the UNESCO comprises several other groups, amongst which are Monte Formìn (2,657 m), Monte Cernera (2,657 m), Becco di Mezzodì (2,603 m) and La Rocchetta (2,469 m), while the other important mountain that gives its name to the area is Croda da Lago (2,701 m), also visible from Cortina.
The overall effect of the mountain chain is truly spectacular, and the succession of sceneries and views that can be admired from Passo Giau towards Croda da Lago represents one of the visual icons of the Dolomites.
The geological features of these mountains are also extraordinarily interesting; the impressive, powerful succession of rocks and fossils illustrates with impeccable detail the history of a period which lasted more than 100 million years.
In particular, the lightly coloured fossil cliffs of Monte Cernera, completely covered by dark volcanic sediments, and the subsequent recovery of the reef formations after the volcanic crisis – as it can be appreciated here – provides a natural, almost didactic cross-section of Triassic history, which has always been regarded with wonder.
Also, at the foot of the Lastoi di Formin sub-group and at Monte Pelmetto, was discovered the first evidence of the presence of dinosaurs in the Dolomites, and their traces can still be seen imprinted in the rocks. These findings have helped to rewrite the geological history of the area.
The Pelmo mountain system offers a wide range of features linked to deformation of the terrestrial crust and climatic changes. There are also characteristic examples of geo-morphology connected to the action of ancient Quaternary glaciers and to successive cycles of freezing/thawing.
Finally, there are also numerous interesting landslide phenomena, such as those on the Pelmo itself, or at the Lastoi di Formin.
It is also worth mentioning that most of the evidence found at Monte Pelmetto (such as the dinosaurs' footprints), as well as the important finds connected with the nearby archaeological site at Mondeval de Sora, can be viewed in the newly refurbished Archaeologic and Ethnographic Museum «Vittorino Cazzetta», in Selva di Cadore.Hikes and Ascents to Monte Pelmo
One of the easiest ascents to the base of Mount Pelmo can be taken from the village of Zoppè di Cadore to Rifugio Venezia (see below). From there it is possible to descend to Vodo, Borca or San Vito in the Boite valley – but of course the traverse can also be approached the other way round.
The Rifugio Venezia (1,947 m) is one of the first mountain huts to have been erected in the Italian Dolomites at a time when most of the region still belonged to Austria (1892). In the vicinity pass two Alpine Highways ('Alte Vie'), Number 1 and Number 3, so the Rifugio is conveniently located in a pivotal position at the entrance of the Dolomites' heartland.
Let us now close off with another quote, this time from Amelia Edwards, who was one of the first woman travelers in the Dolomites, and who in 1872 wrote a seminal account of her travels, "Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys":
«(...) Next, on the same side as the Pelmo but farther up the valley, appears the Rocchetta – a chain of wild, confused crags, like a line of broken battlements, piled high on huge buttresses of sward and pine forest».
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