Alta Via Stage 1.
Lago di Braies to Rifugio Sennes
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||Elevation in meters
Blue figures estimated from Toni Sanmarchi write up
There is a bus service from Dobbiaco covering the 10.1 miles to Lago di Braies (also called Pragser Wildersee or Lake Prags) situated at 1,500m elevation, and takes around 28 minutes. Lago di Braies is surrounded by the imposing Seekofel massif (2,810m). Lago di Braies is a so-called damming lake as there is no obvious outlet for the water; in fact its outlet is underground and it emerges much lower down the valley.
The walk starts at the Hotel Lago de Braies at the north end of the lake. The hotel was built for the famous Tyrollean innkeeper Emma Hellensteiner (1817-1904), who made a name for herself as "Mrs. Emma" as a pioneer of early Tyrollean tourism. The hotel was opened on 10th July 1899. From the hotel there are two ways to start the AV1 walk, but the path along the eastern side of the lake has the better views over the lake and is shorter. At the southern end of the lake you take a path going south.
Many people starting at Lago di Braies break for the first night at Rifugio Biella, 2,327m just after going over the pass Forcella Sora Forno. This is a good stopping place if you want to climb the nearby Croda del Becco, which is especially popular for the sunset. However Lago di Braies to Rifugio Biella is a 3-hour uphill slog (900m of ascent and 60m of descent); after that it is downhill, so many people carry on until they reach Rifugio Sennes. It is said that Rifugio Sennes offers better value than Biella for non CAI members. Rifugio Sennes is another 3.1km with 200 m of descent and takes about an hour.
Courtesy of Dolomites Trekking by Henry Steadman
- The path leaves the lake at its southern end on an appropriately numbered trail (Trail 1) to the east of a dry rocky bed on a scree slip through dwarf pines.. The zig-zags increase in frequency as you approach the head of the valley until you meet a junction with Trail 4.
- Keeping right and continuing up the hill on switchbacks until you leave the trees and walk in the shadow of a cliff face until you reach Trail 3, where you keep right again. This is a high altitude bowl called "Ofen Forno" due to its ability to retain heat.
- Tre Cime may be visible to the east if it is a clear day.
- You finally reach Forcella Sora Forno 2,389m where you get a view over Rifugio Biella ahead.
- Dropping down towards Rifugio Biella you enter the Parco Naturale delle Dolomiti d'Ampezzo.
- After Rifugio Biella you have a choice. The road route (blue in the map above) may not look enticing but offers better views with the Croda Rossa, Cristallo and Sorapis to the east.
- Most take the red route above, climbing up a short rise to a bowl with the sheer side of Croda del Beco to your right.
- At the end of this bowl the path drops to join a track leading to Rifugio Sennes.
- From the Hotel, take the little road to the south which goes along the western edge of Lago di Bràies until the first inlet, then go onto the convenient path marked n.1 which follows the river bank until its most southerly point.
- From here begins a climb which becomes increasingly steep and tiring along the valley overlooked by the first spurs of the Croda del Becco. After going up a basin thick with mugo pine trees you reach a narrow passage created by two rocks, from where you go round the leap passing to the left and then reaching the upper furrow.
- After a wood you come to a concave clearing, go up an easy rock plate and reach an area scattered with boulders where, if you look carefully, you will see a small spring.
- Proceeding in zigzags you will then reach the opening known as Forcella Sora Forno, 2388m near a chapel.
- Going down a little you come to the Rifugio Biella 2327m, (3H30) under the huge sheer rock face of the Croda del Becco, 2810m.
- From the Rifugio Biella to the Rifugio Sénnes you can follow either of the following routes:
a) a road marked n.6 which goes round in a huge “s” shape and takes you to Sénnes in about an hour, or
b) along the road for about 1km, then take the path which branches off to the right (south-west; altitude 2260m; also marked n.6) and goes up through moorland to the nearby wide crest. Then go down the grassy depressions opposite or go down to the south-west, then to the south, until the dirt-track from where you will soon reach the Rifugio Sénnes, 2116m. This route takes about the same time as route a), but it offers more intereresting flora and better views.
- 1 hour from Rifugio Biella
Lago de Braies
Lake Braies is part of the Fanes-Sennes-Braies nature park, in a side valley next to the Val Pusteria.
Altitude of 1,496 m (4,908 ft), the 77-acre lake
The chapel on the lake
On the West side of the lake, there is a small chapel that was built in 1904. The location has a curious bit of history, in that during World War II a German SS commander chose it as a meeting place for aprisoner exchange to ensure his own safety.
Hiking around the lake
Lago di Braies Hotel
The trail heading away from Lago de Braies
The path ahead
Easy via ferrata section after the butte
Croda del Beco
Seekofel / Croda del Becco / Sas dla Porta easily is the most popular mountain of the Prags / Braies Dolomites. Located at the language border of three peoples (German to the north, Italian to the south-east and Ladinian to the south-west) it carries three utterly different names. While not the highest mountain of the range - Sas dla Porta comes in at number four - it is no doubt the most photographed one. However, more than 80% of the pictures are taken from the same spot, the northern end of Pragser Wildsee / Lago die Braies, a dark mountain lake, spread out underneath the north face of the mountain. From this spot the north face apears to rise vertically for 1300m above the southern end of the lake, a perfect face for epic big wall routes. At closer inspection, however, the it loses its attraction. While no doubt steep, it is far from vertical and in the end it is made up from the horrible choss, which is so typical for the Prags / Braies Dolomites.
However, once you turn to the far side of Seekofel / Croda del Becco / Sas dla Porta, aspects change dramatically. The south face is far from being as steep and high as the northern one, however, the rock composition is far more solid. Here firm limestone prevails which rises up to the summit in big 50° - 60° slabs. At a vertical height of 250m some of the slab routes reach up to 350m in length, the longest slab routes anywhere in the Dolomites. And there is an abundance of them. The face is divided in three sectors, all separated by brittle rockfall areas and each containing some 10 - 15 routes. The proximity of a climbing hut, Seekofelhütte / Rifugio Biella, makes it one of the most attractive climbing destinations in the Dolomites, certainly by far the most attractive one in its own smaller subrange.
The normal route to the mountain leads across its east ridge, which starts directly above the hut. Starting there, you'll find the climb short, steep and moderately exposed. The ascent takes less than one hour but should only be undertaken in secure weather conditions. Thanks to its popularity the route has been worn down considerably so that you have to choose between highly polished limestone and choss of horrible quality. In its central part the route has been secured with chains, which due to their placement across the route increase rather than decrease the danger of a fall.
Without the proximity of the hut Seekofel / Croda del Becco / Sas dla Porta would be a formidable hiking destination. The closest trailheads are either at Pragser Wildsee / Lago di Braies, 1300m underneath the north face or at Malga Ra Stua 1200m lower and about 10km away to the south. A third trailhead is at Ücia Pederü again 1300m beneath the summit and about 8km to the south-west. Still all three routes are recommendable and can be done on a long summer day.
Croda del Beco with Rifugio Biela in the foreground
Heading away from Rif Biella
Approaching Rifugio Sennes