The Marmolada, the highest mountain of the Dolomites
The Marmolada is the highest and most renowned of the Dolomites mountain range. It is located in the north of the Veneto region. It can be easily accessed from Val di Fassa, Canazei or the Cordevole valley. The Marmolada is an immense ascending slope that rises gently from Lake Fedaia.
The Marmolada, which houses the Punta Penia peak at 3,342 meters, is the highest summit of the Dolomites. These unique mountains in the world are located between the Veneto region and Trentino-Alto Adige. They were inscribed in the UNESCO Natural Heritage in 2009.
The Marmolada was marked by war between 1915 and 1917. Today, it houses the highest museum in Europe in memory of the many missing on its rocks.
Originally covered in forests, the mid-height vegetation has gradually decreased to make way for more sparse vegetation around 2000 meters altitude. At the top, there is a glacier, offering the possibility of skiing in summer, accessible by cable car.
At the foot of the massif lies Malga Ciapèla, a small basin surrounded by mountains. It is located at the top of Val Pettorina in the municipality of Rocca Pietore at an altitude of 1,450 meters. From Malga Ciapèla, it is possible to take the cable car that will take you to the top of the Marmolada, the Queen of the Dolomites.
The cable car
The cable car located on the Marmolada comprises three cable car lines.
Antermoia Bank, the first station, is located at an altitude of 2,350 meters; the second, named Serauta, is located at 2,950 meters; and the third, named Punta Rocca, is located at 3,265 meters of altitude. Punta Penia, culminating at 3,343 meters, is the highest peak of the Dolomites. The cable car covers a vertical drop of 1,815 meters.
These installations, erected in 1965, underwent a complete renovation in 2004.
The melting of the ice, a drama at Marmolata
On July 3, 2022, it was 10°C, tons of ice and rock detached from the summit of Marmolada, located at an altitude of more than 3,000 meters.
The mountain, nicknamed the “Queen of the Dolomites” and appreciated by hikers traversing the Italian Alps for ages, has finally succumbed to abnormally high temperatures for the season and recurrent episodes of drought.
The event caused the death of 11 people and many others were injured. Although this episode may seem exceptionally violent, it is nevertheless part of the continuity of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)‘s forecasts, which published a study in winter 2021 on the observed and expected impacts of climate change in mountain regions.
It is a sad illustration of the disruptions currently underway and to come if humanity does not take radical measures quickly to change course.
The images are striking and the noise accompanying them is deafening: the partial break of the Marmolada glacier, which occurred this Sunday, July 3, was quickly relayed on social networks and in Italian media. We can see tons of ice and rock rushing down the valley at a speed of more than 300 km/h, carrying everything in their path, including hikers who had come to explore the Italian peaks.
The warning signs
The gaping hole left by the collapse is located at one of the peaks of the massif, called Punta Rocca, at an altitude of 3,309 meters, which is the highest point of a route frequently used by hikers. Temperatures on the north face, where the glacier is located, were around 10 degrees Celsius a few hours before the tragedy.
Yet, other people had already noticed certain signs of what was to come. This is particularly the case of the alpinist Reinhold Messner, born a few kilometers from the Marmolada and famous worldwide for being the first person to climb the fourteen peaks of more than 8,000 meters of the planet.
During an interview on an Italian national television channel, he commented on the event saying: “With climate change, and particularly the high temperatures of recent weeks, the ice is becoming very thin in some places, it is no longer the glacier of fifty years ago”.
A direct consequence of climate change
This exceptional climate has clearly accelerated the melting of the snow already observed for several years. “This glacier has lost 30% of its ice volume in ten years. If nothing changes, we think it will have completely disappeared by 2042,” said Jacopo Gabrieli, glaciologist at the Venice Institute of Polar Sciences.
The glacier, as we see it today, is the same size as in September after a dry summer. With these temperatures, a pocket of water formed under the glacier and when the serac detached, it found no support and slid at great speed.
“We can clearly observe the effects of the excessive temperatures that have persisted for several months!”, explained Jacopo Gabrieli, glaciologist at the Venice Institute of Polar Sciences.
The report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published on March 1st highlights the melting of ice and snow as one of the 10 major threats caused by climate change, disrupting ecosystems and endangering certain infrastructures. The IPCC specifies that glaciers in Scandinavia, Central Europe and the Caucasus could lose between 60 and 80% of their mass by the end of the century.
A bit of History
The significant events of the 19th century
In 1802, don Giuseppe Terza, chaplain of Pieve di Livinallongo, made the first attempt to climb the Marmolada, but unfortunately, he disappeared into a crevasse on August 2nd.
1856, Pellegrino Pellegrini, considered to be the first guide of the Dolomites, led Gian Antonio de Manzoni, Antonio Marmolada, Pietro Mugna and don Lorenzo Nicolai to the summit of Pizzo Serauta on August 26th.
In 1860, John Ball, John Birkbeck Senior and Victor Tairraz conquered Punta Rocca.
1861, the Punta Rocca was climbed for the second time by Pellegrino Pellegrini and Anthon von Ruthner.
In 1862, the Punta Rocca was climbed for the third time by Pellegrino Pellegrini, a porter, and Paul Grohmann. They found the thermometer left at the summit by Ball and Birkbeck at the end of July.
On September 28th 1864, Paul Grohmann, Pellegrino Pellegrini, Angelo Dimai and Fulgenzio Dimai made the first ascent of Punta Penia by the North face, thus marking an important step in the history of climbing Marmolada.
On June 2, 1865, François Devouassoud, G. H. Fox, Douglas William Freshfield, Peter Michel and Francis Fox Tuckett made the second ascent of Punta Penia, thus confirming the feasibility of the ascent and contributing to the development of mountaineering in the Dolomites.
On June 17th 1872, Christian Lauener, Santo Siorpaes and F.F. Tuckett traversed the West ridge of the Marmolada, thus marking a new important step in the history of climbing this iconic mountain of the Dolomites.
On July 31, 1878, Clemente Callegari, Alberto de Falkner, Giovanni Battista Della Santa and Cesare Tomè climbed the West face of the Marmolada, thus opening a new route of ascent to this mythical mountain of the Dolomites.
On August 5th, 1882, Emil Zsigmondy, Otto Zsigmondy and Ludwig Purtscheller accomplished the first traverse of the Marmolada, from Punta Rocca to Punta Penia, without taking the ridge. This feat of mountaineering was an important step in the exploration of the Marmolada and contributed to the rise of mountaineering in the Dolomites.
The Marmolada in the 20th century
In 1901, Michele Bettaga and Bortolo Zagonel climbed the South face of the Marmolada, thus opening a new route of ascent of this emblematic mountain of the Dolomites. This achievement was hailed as a technical feat and contributed to reinforcing the reputation of the Marmolada as a major summit of alpinism.
In 1929, Demeter Christomannos, Luigi Micheluzzi and Roberto Peratoner climbed the South Pillar of the Punta Penia of the Marmolada, thus marking a new step in the history of climbing this iconic mountain of the Dolomites. This achievement was considered a remarkable technical feat and contributed to reinforcing the reputation of the Marmolada as a major summit of alpinism.
From August 29th to 31st, 1936, Gino Soldà and Umberto Conforto achieved the ascent of the South-East face of Punta Penia of the Marmolada. They managed to climb this impressive wall in thirty-six hours of climbing, thus marking a new step in the history of the Marmolada’s climbing. This accomplishment was hailed as a remarkable technical feat and contributed to reinforcing the reputation of the Marmolada as a major summit of alpinism.
In 1936, Giovanni Battista Vinatzer and Ettore Castiglioni climbed the South face of the Punta Rocca of the Marmolada, thus marking a new step in the history of climbing this iconic mountain of the Dolomites. This achievement was hailed as a remarkable technical feat and contributed to reinforcing the reputation of the Marmolada as a major summit of alpinism.
In 1964, Armando Aste and Franco Solina opened the way of the Ideal at the Punta Ombretta of the Marmolada, thus marking a new step in the history of the climbing of this emblematic mountain of the Dolomites. They managed to climb this route in fifty-four hours and with five bivouacs, which was hailed as a remarkable technical and enduring feat. This achievement helped to reinforce the reputation of the Marmolada as a major summit of alpinism.
In 1969, Reinhold Messner achieved a variant of the Vinatzer route by directly and solo climbing the South face of the Punta Rocca of the Marmolada. This ascent was hailed as an exceptional feat of technical and endurance skill, contributing to reinforcing Messner’s reputation as a renowned alpinist and the Marmolada’s reputation as a major summit of alpinism.