Tag Archives: Hiking

Great Hiking Treks of the World Compared

Thanks to the success of our European Grand Ski Tours comparison, we have decided to follow up with a summer version. In this case, ten famous treks found around the world. Obviously there are big ones missing, the PCT, Colorado Trail, Appalachian, Annapurna, etc… but we can’t do them all. Nevertheless, there are some famous ones, and others less so but special in their own way. And, we have done all of these so the comparison is possible.

The goal here is to rate them based on several criteria, provide some basic details for each, and then let the readers decide which is best for them should they be pondering a “What next”. Finally, should visitors want to see photos of the treks themselves to get an idea of what they would be in for, our site www.patituccistock.com is the place, just search the site using locations and/or keywords. You’ll get professional imagery that should help you better understand how the treks look.

And now for our Top 10 list…

John Muir Trail : USA

Torres del Paine Circuit : Chile

Huayhuash Trek : Peru

Laugavegur Tour : Iceland

Tour of Mont Blanc : France, Italy, Switzerland

Summer Haute Route Chamonix to Zermatt : France, Switzerland

Dolomites Alta Via 1 & 2 : Italy

Sardinia’s Selvaggio Blu : Italy

Khumbu & Gokyo Valley Trek : Nepal

Langtang Trek : Nepal

The Criteria:

Views and Landscape : All of these tours have great scenery so this category is purely for the sake of comparison.

Wow Factor : Is the landscape and environment unique? Do you have scenery that leaves you stunned? And not just the standard mountain or natural environments, rather, big, awe inspiring, can’t believe where you are kind of vistas. Of course this one is subjective and relative to what else you have seen, so the rating is based on how the trek stacks up against the others on the list.

Food : If there are huts on the tour, and you have to use them, then the food quality there is judged. If your own cooking is required, then I don’t know how well you cook, so we’ll just default to a 4 out of 5 as the potential is there for great food. And, even freeze dried is fantastic when you carried that heavy pack full of cooking gear all day.

Logistics : Is the tour easy to drop in and do or are there a mountain of logistics; fees, permits, guides, porters, hut reservations, navigation, etc…? The number rating is based on how easy it is, a higher number is for how user friendly. Of course for some treks, using a guiding service makes all the difference between semi-epic and complete ease. And some treks, like Huayhuash, pretty much require you use a guide for many reasons which will be explained in the trek description. The rating will take into account all those things you must do to set out on the trek.

Culture : Are you going to experience something beyond the natural environment? Local people, lifestyle, history, etc…

Wildness/Remote : Are you on a journey that really removes you from the busy world? Is the likelihood of seeing others greatly reduced? Are you committed to the journey where that feeling of being “Out There” sets in?

Experience : The big factor and possibly the most subjective – we’ll consider the whole package of the trek. Again, this one must be considered only relative to the others on the list. How does the experience stack up – was the trip big in your life? Difficult situations tend to bring big reward, as do interactions with other cultures. The overall experience is based on what we walked away with in our hearts.

The John Muir Trail : USA

The John Muir Trail

Difficult, 12-20 days. This is the only trail we have not done in one push, rather in sections, so our packs were not as heavy as they might have been, as such logistics were made easier. The JMT ranks high on our list for a couple of reasons, it is very wild and remote and it is a trail you do entirely under your own power, it is the only true backpacking trail on the list. Difficulty comes from being at high elevations, often over 12,000 feet with many passes climbed throughout the length of the trail. Pack weight plays a huge role in the difficulty.

Logistical issues come in the form of permits & regulations. I loathe backcountry permits which may actually prevent you from going, and for the JMT these are required to set out, the dates of which may be affected based on availability. Bear canisters and lots of wilderness common sense are required.

Our great friend and photographer John Dittli has a superb book on the John Muir Trail : Walk the Sky

Torres del Paine Circuit : Chile

Hiking the Torres del Paine Circuit

Easy, 4-8 days. This is one of the tours where weather plays a huge role. Our first couple of days were in thick cloud cover and rain, we could have been anywhere. But when the clouds parted and the view developed, the wow factor was high. This is an all around tour, where there is a truly wild feeling combined with some local flavor in the form of the passing gauchos. For our trek, we used the huts, carried very little and did it quickly. Views of the Grey Glacier after the crazy descent of the “Monkey Trees” is unforgettable as are the glimpses up to the Towers.

As an overall experience the tour ranks high thanks to Chile itself. A visit to Puerto Natales, the bus ride to the park and the kindness of the people all left us impressed.

Huayhuash Trek : Peru

Hiking the Huayhuash Trek, Peru

Difficult, 9-12 days. Another trek critical with weather. Unfortunately our trip was greatly influenced by rain. But, we were a bit early in the season and set out knowing it would be wet. It was torrential. The season is really June – September, we went late April. Difficulty for this trek comes from being at such high elevation the entire time, always above 3500 meters with the majority of time above 4000 meters, camping as high as 4700 meters with passes to 5100 meters. The trails themselves are not difficult, mostly dirt paths.

We used a guide service for this trek, which most everyone does so as to utilize donkeys, a cook and get local knowledge. Also, unique to the tour are the “Protection Fees”. I thought they should be called camping fees, but apparently it is a kind of mafia that keeps trekkers safe. Each morning your camp is visited by a local who charges around US$5/person to pass through. Your guide will also help keep you clear of any issues. There is a bit of an odd feeling with the locals on this trek.

Food rating is low for the Huayhuash purely because the overall food quality in Peru is not great. I am biased as I hate chicken, and chicken is what they eat/serve. Nearly everyone who does this tour talks about food poisoning, I can vouch, I was extremely sick for two days. Bad food and funky logistics aside, the landscape is amazing and you’ll pass through small home sites at 4000+ meters that are truly unique and memorable. The overall experience is great, made complete with famous South American bus rides and strolls through native villages.

Laugavegur Tour : Iceland

The Laugavegur Trek, Iceland

Easy, 4-6 days. Probably a tour few in North America have heard of but undoubtedly one of our very favorite trips, we have done this trek three times! This is a trip that actually sets the standard for Wow Factor as day one and two are truly remarkable in terms of unique landscapes. We have a fully detailed write up here.

Tour of Mont Blanc : France, Italy and Switzerland

The Tour of Mont Blanc high above Chamonix

Medium, 3-12 days. The Tour of Mont Blanc is a unique tour in that if you are new to European hiking, it scores well on Wow and Experience. But, for veterans of the Alps, folks who have other big Euro treks notched on their belts, it is an average trek. Yes, the views are good but they are somewhat limited, it is the nature of having this beast of the Mont Blanc massif in the way all the time. Nevertheless, to walk around Mont Blanc is cool.

Our journey around Mont Blanc was not by hiking, we ran it, in three days. The tour is venue to arguably the world’s biggest and best Ultra Race, the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. Known for quality terrain, we gave it a go and spent the nights in Courmayeur and Champex. To be fair, it is possible that I looked at my feet more than the views when we did it. Still, it is a great tour, and certainly a classic. Our report of the three day run around Mont Blanc is here.

Summer Haute Route : France, Switzerland

Summer Haute Route in the Swiss Alps

Difficult, 12-15 days. Now we’re talking. A long, committing tour, big days, stunning views, culture, alpine terrain, this trek has it all. And it starts in one of the world’s most incredible places, Chamonix, and ends in one of the world’s most beautiful places, Zermatt. In between is a lot of walking up and down passes, through thick forests, and alpine fields.  Due to the length of the trek, weather is bound to be an issue. Carry good maps and take care to stay on course.

My memories of this trek are some of the best I have of hiking in the mountains. Being in the Alps for so many consecutive days, making walking what you do, and living in the mountain huts all make for an unforgettable experience. Instead of walking the Haute Route trail through the Mattertal, cap off the trip with the Europaweg Trail into Zermatt and you have the Matterhorn to stare at all day for the gran finale.

Dolomites Alta Via 1 or 2 : Italy

The Dolomites

Medium, 5-12 days. Both the Alta Via 1 and 2 are listed here as they are so similar. The AV1 is the classic long trail through the Dolomites, but the AV2 rivals it in many ways. Since it is the #2, it loses #1 status, which it may well deserve. Get my drift? Both trails are absolutely superb and while they parallel one another in close proximity, they are quite different. The AV1 stays closer to roads, towns and passes more through busier areas. Much of the AV1 is popular for day hikes making for much heavier trail traffic. Meanwhile, the AV2 is more remote, tougher to access some of the higher points, and it has the option of some very classic Via Ferrata right along the trail.

Both trails can be read about more extensively on our DolomiteSport Alta Via pages AV1 and AV2.

Sardinia’s Selvaggio Blu : Italy

The Selvaggio Blu, Sardinia

Medium, 4-5 days. This is probably the trail you haven’t heard of. While not necessarily deserving to be on the list of World’s Great Treks, it is a very unique experience in what is certainly one of the world’s most beautiful coastlines. Beginning in the small seaside village of Santa Maria Navaresse, the trails heads north along sea cliffs for 3- 5 days. There is almost no trail, only faint blue dots to mark the way. Almost everyone goes with a guide as the way is surprisingly difficult and actually quite remote. Several rappels are required and necessary water drops make logisitcs tricky. Each night, we dropped down from the high sea cliffs to the white sand beaches, which are busy during the day but empty in the evening. There we slept, and this is what makes the trek so fascinating. I really enjoyed this trek as it is not the typical hiking tour.

Khumbu & Gokyo Valley Trek : Nepal

Trekker in the Khumbu Valley, Nepal Himalaya

Difficult, 10-15 days. What has not been said about Nepal? Everyone knows that Nepal is home to Mount Everest and the Himalaya. The Khumbu Valley is the walk to get to Everest Basecamp and while it is very busy and commercial, it is truly a necessary experience for anyone who loves the mountains. The parallel valley, Gokyo, is an alternate to the busier Khumbu and can be done on the same tour as Khumbu, or all on its own. Gokyo Valley is equally as beautiful but without the name and as many famous stops along the way.

For us, Nepal was one of the best experiences of our lives. Not just for the mountains but for the overall experience, the people, the culture, Buddhism, and of course the Himalayan villages and Temples. We are planning our return to Nepal as I write this.

Langtang Trek : Nepal

Trekkers in the Langtang Valley, Nepal

Medium, 5-7 days. I decided to include this trek as it is appreciated more if one has also done the Khumbu or Gokyo Treks. This was the first trek we did in Nepal and while we liked it, we didn’t realize the importance of doing it until after we also did the Khumbu trek. Langtang Valley is a few days journey to its end. The scenery is nice, but not spectacular. It isn’t until the last day that you finally see some high mountains, and much of the trail is under a forest canopy. But, what the trail is for is the culture, the people you speak with, the tea you share with Tibetan nomads, the meals you eat in someone’s home and the time you spend just seeing how the people live in this remote part of the Himalaya. While the Khumbu is now developed as a huge, wide trail, complete with internet points, TV in the guesthouses, and locals very accustomed to seeing foreigners, Langtang is going back in time to a simpler way of living.

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Trail Running Pfunderer Höhenweg


The Pfunderer Höhenweg / Alta Via di Fundres


Late in the fall of 2008, we found ourselves looking at one of the best ridgeline trails we had ever seen. We were trail running in the Zillertal Alpen above Bruneck and wanted to see a summit we know locals frequent for post work exercise, the Sambock. Once on top, the trail dropping off the north side of the summit came into view and for as far as our eye could see, stayed right on the high ridgeline until it disappeared into some higher mountains.

“What is this trail?” Maps would need consulting. The trail is the Pfunderer Hohenweg (Alta Via di Fundres in Italian) and stretches from Sterzing (Vipiteno in Italian) to Bruneck (Brunico). While traditionally done as a 5-6 day trek with huts available each night, we decided to see if the whole trail was as good as the first section for running. In June 2009 we set out with our friend Andreas Irsara to run its approximate 75 kilometer distance – but in 3 days.


Starting in Bruneck, we once again climbed to the summit of the Sambock where the trail becomes mostly runnable for the entire first day. Sticking to the same ridgeline we had seen the year before, the trails goes up and over numerous peaks all while providing unobscured views south to the Dolomites and the high alpine, glacier covered Zillertal Alpen peaks to the north. The trail continues like this for several kilometers before climbing a small pass, La Portella, and then a drop to the Teifrastenhutte (Rifugio Lago della Pausa). This would traditionally be a stopping point and for us it was, but only for a pasta, we would continue on to the Edelrauthutte.


This section of trail gets into some higher elevation and we discovered that the reason we were seeing no one on the trail was because much of it in the coming day would be snow covered. The winter of 2009 was a massive one and all the passes from here forward were still buried. But there are advantages to this – direct lines and fast descents. Cold, soaked feet seem a small price to pay.

Once at the Edelrauthutte we were greeted by Anton Weissteiner, quite possibly the kindest hut warden we ever had the pleasure of meeting. We were his guests for the night, and having been open only one day, we were able to take advantage of his early season enthusiasm. A four course meal satisfied our 33 kilometer effort. Seeing how disgustingly full we were, Anton saw fit to provide us with multiple glasses of grappa to aid in digestion, it did little for our stuffed guts but we did sleep well.


The next morning we set out on a modified route. Anton warned us of too much snow to cross a pass where ladders must be climbed. But a variation to the trail was no problem and we were on our way to the Bodenalm Hut and a quick late morning strudel before once again entering the high snow covered alpine areas. For us the second day was both roaring hot and ice cold. Dropping down low above the Pfundertal had us on south facing slopes and sweating. From here we climbed and climbed until we were on north facing slopes to climb the pass below the Punta Riva. In a completely white world we began questioning why we were doing this, in running shoes and lycra. Soaked and a bit frozen, we reached the col and were rewarded with a direct, snow covered line to the Brixner Hut 400 meters below. Minutes later, we were drying out and drinking coffee.


So far the trail, the terrain and the huts had been perfect. One day remained for our itinerary and it looked to be a different kind of terrain as we would be lower in elevation before dropping to Sterzing. But first more snow covered passes, the Rauhtaljoch is the morning’s climb to 2800 meters, and here we were once again in a white world all the way down to the Lago Selvaggio which was still frozen solid. Luckily all the snow was hard enough for us to stay on top of which actually made for faster speeds. Yet another pass above the lake before an enormous drop to the Simile Mahdalm, a small farmers home which looks deceptively like a hut but is in fact a working farm. And here the Pfunderer Hohenweg began to fall apart. Until this point the trail, while even snow covered, was very obvious. But now the trail became a faint goat path and climbed as steep as any trail I have ever seen. Vertical dirt is not easy to run. But we gained elevation quickly like this and soon were on top of the final pass, the Passo di Trens (Trenserjoch).


Overall the Pfunderer Hohenweg gets a B. For running it is perhaps a bit steep in places, but overall very runnable and high quality. For hiking, it is beautiful although there are many other trails a bit more interesting. The area around the Edelrauthutte is the best in terms of mountain environment while the rest of the trail is very indicative of the the lower Zillertal Alpen Group. One thing I realized after doing this trail was that I had seen the region, from the lower slopes with goat and cow farms to high rocky ridges and alpine terrain. The huts were superb, the food fantastic and being a point to point, a rewarding journey. The Pfunderer Hohenweg is recommended.






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A Dolomites Hiking Masterpiece

The entire ridge traverse, from the right to left and back to the where the photo was made before the last descent to the Val San Nicolo (below) >click to enlarge

Val di Fassa’s Val San Nicolo Ridge Traverse

After twelve years together, living, working and playing in the mountains – Janine and I may well have just discovered our perfect day. One of the very best of about 4000 days together in the mountains. Janine found it, right there on the Val di Fassa map; a feature, some trails, a little creative route planning and then an announcement that we’ll be doing a “big ridge traverse” this week. Ok.

First up, I need to make a disclaimer if this is to be used as a route planner. This trail is NOT for everyone, it is far from easy, includes exposed climbing sections, requires comfort in high places, and a bit of route finding. Nevertheless, it is all there and certainly not an epic unless you choose to make it so. We saw just two other people on the trail, I asked them in Italian if they too thought it was amazing, the answer, “Ja, aber nicht so einfach”. Okay, they’re weren’t Italians and they’re weren’t enjoying it quite as much as us, but you might. If the following sounds good to you, and you are in the Dolomites, do not miss this experience.

Highlights: Via Ferrate, exposure, no crowds, abundant World War 1 history, tunneling, caving, scrambling, countless summits, two huts, and quite possibly the best views of any location in the Dolomites (if only the afternoon had been clear!!).

Janine in the early morning headed to the Zeni Bivouac and the start of the Via Ferrata F. Gadotti

Via Ferrata F. Gadotti and the Alta Via B. Federspiel

What Janine discovered on the map was the Alta Via B. Federspiel starting from the Val San Nicolo above the Val di Fassa just outside Pozza di Fassa. The feature is a massive circular ridge system with a trail tracing its crest, alternating between Via Ferrata and “advanced” hiking route. But she added to the trail, starting on the Cima Dodici (Sas da le Duodesh) on the Via Ferrata F. Gadotti above the Zeni Bivouac. From the summit, trails and more ferrate link to the Forcella la Costela and the start of the Alta Via B. Federspiel. From here, one thing is immediately obvious. It is going to be a long day. And this was just the first part, for this ridge system terminates at the Rifugio Passo delle Selle. But the ridge continues, becoming the Sentiero Atti Bepi Zac which mostly follows a WWI trench and tunnel system all the way to the Costabela.

This section is certainly the most raw for WWI history, for much still remains from the war 95 years ago. It is not prettied or tidied up, it is a mess of barbed wire, artillery placements, tunnels, living quarters and stone barriers. We found bomb shrapnel, pieces of old leather boots, and oddly, very oddly – many bone fragments of unknown origin. We have never seen bone fragments elsewhere, why here? While traversing this section the pace will certainly slow to have a morbid look at human history. The Austrian and Italians had it out on this high and lonely ridge. The Austrian tunnels have gun turrets facing south, the Italian versions with windows pointing north. Trenches are still in place right on the crest and dotted with caves built as sleeping quarters – it is this very system of trenches and exposed ledges that the trails follows.

Dan; How big is the Zeni Bivouac? This small...

From the Costabela the trail plummets from the crest down deep into the cirque at the end of the Val San Nicolo. Here we found another trail, not on the map, that connected us to the parallel ridge starting at the Pas de San Nicolo where a well placed hut awaits. This is the beginning of an all new ridge and the second, and return, section of the traverse. From the Rifugio Pas de San Nicolo the remainder of trail is much more well traveled and less rugged. While the entire first section is straight up & straight down in rocky terrain, this section is singletrack through grasses and wildflowers traversing up and down until it ends at the ski station Col de Valvagin. From here, we took the service road 800 meters down to the valley below where we had left the car at the Malga al Crocifisso.

We did the entire trail in one day, beginning at 6am, we returned to the car at 8pm. Stops were made for photos/views and a sizeable lunch of pasta (of course). The trail is slow going, especially due to the Via Ferrate and rocky terrain in the first part. We thought to run much of it but the running really only comes towards the end.

As described, the tour could be done in many ways, even using the huts for overnighting. Or, the first big peak climb and Via Ferrata could be skipped. All names are from the Tabacco Map 06 Val di Fassa. It is very difficult to say how long this trail is with how intricate the route is, we estimate 26-28 kilometers and about 3800 total meters of climbing. An interesting note is that the tour begins on Dolomite rock, turns to a long section of Gneiss (complete with a completely different feel), and then turns back to Dolomite.

What allows this trail to have such magnificent views is its position. The ridgeline is part of what separates the southern Dolomites from the northern. Therefore, when on top of the crest nearly everything may be seen. I have never seen one area where so much is visible; from the Sas dla Crusc, Tofana, Sassolungo, Catinaccio, Odla to the Pale di San Martino, Civetta and even the Agner. It is the perfect location from which to see the Dolomites.

Janine at the start of the Via Ferrata F. Gadotti

From the summit of the Cima Dodici looking into the Val di Fassa, the Cattinacio and Pozza

The second peak of the day, the Sas Aut

Via Ferrata F. Gadotti with the approach trail far below

Janine descending in caves from the summit of the Sas Aut

Long, steep descent through a chasm from the Sas Aut

Finally, the ridge traverse begins here, at the Forcella de la Costela. Far in the distance, at the top left is the Rifugio Passo delle Selle and the end of this section, just the beginning

Endless up and down on the ridgeline in this terrain getting to the first hut

Before the Rifugio delle Selle is the beginning of the War area with ledges that served as the frontlines

The majority of the day is spent right on the crest

War ledges

Dan having a pasta at Rifugio Passo delle Selle

Immediately after leaving the hut is a long climb and the real War trail through tunnels and trenches for about 3 kilometers

Barbed wire and religion

The trail leads through tunnels that were the network for moving around without being exposed to gunfire

Windows can be seen in the cliff faces that were gun placements

Finally some terrain for running, the original goal for the day, comes after the Rifugio Passo San Nicolo

Janine on the last section of ridge before the big descent back to the Val San Nicolo. The first ridge's earlier sections can be seen in the background

The final section on perfect running terrain. The ski station, the end of the ridge, can be seen in the distance

Dan, end of the day, end of the ridge - the final meters to the last summit

As we descended, our first climb came into view, the beginning of our giant circle. The bright orange Zeni Bivouac can be seen in the green below the walls

In the valley, the final obstacle to the car

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Rifugio Lagazuoi and the WWI Gallery

Walking through WWI trenches, Monte Lagazuoi

The bottom entrance to the Lagazuoi Gallery

A Historical Walk to Dinner through the Lagazuoi Tunnels

Part of the culture of life in the Italian Dolomites is to share a dinner with friends in one of the many mountain huts (rifugi) – for us, this is habit. Sometimes we hike, other times it’s a ski approach, maybe a trail run, or even a mountain bike ride. But last night was something unique, we arrived to the Rifugio Lagazuoi via a pitch black tunnel from WWI that ascends nearly 400 meters to the top of Monte Lagazuoi.

Our friend Carolyn is doing the Alta Via 1 and called to invite us for dinner at the hut. It was the perfect summer evening to head up and see her as well as the hut’s owner and friend Guido Pompanin. Dinner was set for 6:45 – we arrived at the trailhead at 6 and immediately took note of the trail sign indicating a two hour walk to the hut. “Merda, RUN!”

Inside the Gallery

A couple hundred meters above the parking area the trail splits; options include a long hike around the peak to it’s backside and up to the summit hut, or a tunnel going straight up within the mountain itself. The tunnel is a kind of museum as it is a perfectly preserved piece of war history. Built over a period of many months by the Italian army during WWI, the tunnel was meant to access the top and ultimately blow up the strategically located Austrian artillery placement. The monumental effort of boring through a mountain simply to then blow it up paid off and the Austrians lost there stronghold. Today, where men once lived in misery and fear, iPhone wielding tourists now strut about bound for the hut and a pasta, I was no exception.

Janine, aka Little Red Riding Hood, exiting the Gallery on top

We opted for the tunnel as it is faster and more direct and we had done it many times before – but never in a rush to make dinner. Up we went, each step inside the inky darkness gaining us a half meter. The lights from our headlamps passed over the many interior features; the soldiers living quarters, a water cistern, and many portholes in the tower’s side for dumping the stone and debris from the tunnel. Finally, we arrived at the top, exited the tunnel and like the Italian army in WWI, found not a soul about. But while the Austrian army made a rapid departure after catching wind of the impending arrival of the Italians and a potential large explosion, today’s summit inhabitants were gathered inside the Rifugio enjoying an aperitif.

After the Gallery there is an easy walk to the summit

Our own dash for the hut ended with the front door opening and Carolyn stepping out to greet us – promptly at 6:45. From the dank tunnel we suddenly found ourselves in a room full of cheer. Guido handed us towels for washing up, drinks arrived, and many friends gathered about. A fun feast was next, storytelling and a beautiful sunset making silhouettes of distant Dolomite towers. The evening became late, people wandered off to bed, we said good night, put our headlamps on and headed back to the tunnels.

The final steps to the top and the Lagazuoi Hut


Travel in Italy’s Dolomites

A visit to the Heart of the Dolomites should certainly include a day or two exploring the Lagazuoi and Cinque Torri area. This is some of the most rugged and scenic terrain in all of the Dolomites and is accessed from any of the surrounding valley’s; Cortina d’Ampezzo (Passo Falzarego from the east), Alta Badia (Passo Valparola) or Arraba (Passo Falzarego from the west).

Rifugio Lagazuoi is accessed by trail on foot, via the tunnel described above, or by cable car (open seasonally). The common summer itinerary is cable car up, hike around the summit, lunch & nap on the Rifugio Lagazuoi’s famous deck with unrivaled views of the Dolomites, then a descent of the WWI tunnel. Headlamp required, helmet recommended.

Visit Rifugio Lagazuoi for complete information, pricing, and booking.

Also, the hut keeper, Guido, is a great photographer and thanks to the situation of the hut, gets incredible weather photos. Follow the Hut’s Rifugio Lagazuoi Facebook Page or on Twitter @rifugiolagazuoi

Guido Pompanin & Dan Patitucci inside the Rifugio Lagazuoi

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Climbing in Paklenica National Park Croatia

Paklenica National Park's Anica Kuk, 350 meters of perfect rock

Visiting Croatia?

Stable weather, friendly locals, good food, inexpensive, easy access, Mediterranean swimming, flawless limestone – lots of bolts, abundant routes, huts… this is Croatia’s Paklenica National Park. A little piece of heaven. Yet while most European climbing destinations are somewhat packed, Paklenica is like a step into the past, mellow and relaxed. Imagine taking part in the Italian film Il Postino but with climbing as the subject matter.

Swimming in Paklenica's many pools

Accessed from the sleepy seaside town of Starigrad, Paklenica is an oasis in a somewhat dry and inhospitable landscape. Here temperatures soar into the 30′s (90′s) creating more desire to soak in the Adriatic than to go climbing. In fact climbing seems an almost unlikely activity upon arriving. But, enter the park, just a few kilometers from Starigrad, and the entire scene undergoes a rapid change thanks to a deep canyon, lush forest and flowing small river. Paradise found. On our first morning we weren’t so sure about Paklenica, by evening, we were in love.

Starigrad is not the postcard seaside village of Croatia, there is no colorful bay, no fishing boats in a small harbor and no cute, quant little village. It is touristy but in an old school, traditional, authentic village kind of way. It is not expensive, camping is about €6/person, hotels top out at about €45/person, restaurant prices are reminiscent of Europe 10 years back. But here too you can stroll town with a gelato, get seafood fresh from the fishing boats, sit in a bar with other climbers and, best of all, easily pedal your bike to the crag where a small store provides gelato and drinks just 3 minutes from the start of the climbing walls.

Topping out on Anica Kuk

Paklenica National Park itself is all about big, limestone walls, deep canyons, hikes to 1800 meter peaks from sea level, and a lush forest with a hut system. The star attraction being Anica Kuk, a 350 meter wall of impeccable limestone with over 100 multi pitch routes of all grades. As one enters the park, the canyon narrows and immediately both sides form perfect climbing walls with countless routes from 5a to 8a. For the beginner-intermediate climber, it is paradise as there is an abundance of routes from 5a-6b, all well bolted with bomber anchors. It is very user friendly.

Starigrad Lodging

As you enter town it will become immediately obvious that lodging will not be a problem. There are many campgrounds, hotels and private rooms in homes (look for the word Sobe in Croatian). The campgrounds are very user friendly with, quite possibly, the cleanest bathrooms I have seen. We stayed at the seaside campground on the south end of town, Paklenica Camping, our car was a 4 second walk from swimming in the Adriatic, there is a bar and Bancomat in camp and the staff is super friendly and informative.

We also checked into the Hotel Vicko Villa for a few nights; 4 star, free Wi-Fi, great breakfast, super friendly, fantastic seaside position. €45/person.

Getting Around Starigrad and Paklenica

A bike is the absolute ideal form of transportation. We parked our car and never touched it for a week. From the center of Starigrad to the climbing is only 15 minutes on the bike, slightly uphill, but not steep. In the evening, it is a refreshing, fantastic end to the day as you coast into town and the gelato stand. At the road’s end in the Park there is a bike storage area.

Paklenica National Park Logistics & Climbing Info

> There is one primary entrance to the Park on the south end of Starigrad. Each day you must pay to enter, it is 40 Kuna per person (€5.50). Be sure to ask about multiple day passes.

> There is a small store within the park, 5 minutes from the parking and right at the beginning of the climbing area. A well with drinking water is found on the trailside about 10 minutes uphill from the main climbing area.

Big gear, or little person?

> Near the Park entrance from the main road is a climbing shop with all the necessities.

Key Climbing Website for organizing a trip, visiting and climbing in Paklenica is Climb Croatia. There is a good Climbing Guidebook readily available throughout Starigrad, recommended.

> Climbing: The climbing is sport, with big, new bolts. Anchors are single massive rings or chains. For the easiest classic route on Anica Kuk, the 5c Mosoraski,some crack gear may be appreciated depending on your level and comfort running it out. A 60 meter rope is pretty much mandatory. Climbing style is classic limestone; pockets, tufa, greasy if a popular route, but always well equipped and on perfect rock. Some routes have small tags with name & grade at the bottom, but most do not. A guidebook is helpful.

> Language: Many locals speak English, but perfect German and Italian are also spoken.

What else to do in Starigrad?

Exploring Starigrad's coastline

> Cycling: Cruise the coastline north and check out some of the the sleepy little villages. Croatian coastal roads are an ideal combination of perfect asphalt, stunning scenery and no cars. A trail system is being developed that parallels the coastline on the edge of the park, we didn’t do it, but info is available at the tourist office.

> Hiking: Get an early start and hike up to the highest peaks. Sea level to 1760 meters, you’ll cross numerous zones en route to some great views. The Paklenica Hut, about 2 hours from the parking lot, offers lodging. 20 minutes below is also a small hut providing food and drink during the day. And 10 minutes further above is the small, incredibly friendly Ivancev Dom, also offering lodging.

> Take an evening trip to Zadar (45 minutes in car) and stroll the ancient town. Do not miss the seaside walk along the city walls where you will find a series of man made blow holes in the stone that create music based on the waves frequency as they hit the wall.

> Stop at a roadside fruit & veggie stand and stock up on tomatoes (consistently the best) and especially the figs – the sweetest, most flavorful we have ever had.

The Paklenica Hut

Ivancev Dom, Paklenica National Park

When to visit Paklenica?

I had mixed reports on this one (some said all year, others the spring and fall) but basically decided: April – early July then again September & October. We went in mid June and the temps were certainly high in town, but okay for climbing in the shade. The mid-day descent off Anica Kuk was something I wouldn’t be in a hurry to repeat. Thankfully, the many pools in the canyon’s river provide perfect swimming. And of course having a bath-like Mediterranean is quite wonderful.


Croatia is a special place, while very European, it is a bit of a step into something more gentle, less hectic. Everything is there as in Europe, but so too something from the past that gives it a unique feeling. It is a place one can spend a great deal of time and not feel like life is rushing by.

And the climbing… it is not so common that I have said, “That was one of the best routes I have ever done.” but in Paklenica… over and over again throughout the day.

As we only scratched the surface of things to do, in addition to the well written Lonely Planet Croatia guidebook, these websites are helpful:

Paklenica National Park |  Croatia Travel |  Find Croatia

Finally, Dubrovnik is a few hours south and undoubtedly one of Europe’s greatest destinations, it is well worth 2-3 days all on it’s own. Do not miss it.

Paklenica local

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Laugavegur Tour | Iceland

Trek in Iceland

Iceland is one those places that will have your face pressed with enthusiasm against the window of your arriving flight. Upon descent to this small North Atlantic island, you fight to get a glimpse of what is to come. It has a reputation; poor weather, stunning landscapes, massive ice caps and Gnome-like creatures living in all the moss covering much of the island. There is something special about visiting a cold island as opposed to a more common Pacific destination.

We have now been to Iceland three times and each visit has involved the Laugavegur Tour, a 55-75km trek from the interior to the southern coast. The first visit was to hike the Laugavegur Tour, the second to run it, and the third to do other things in Iceland. And yet we still managed to return and do our favorite sections of this phenomenal tour. It is just that good.

In fact here, I will say it… The starting point to this 4-6 day trek, Landmannalaugar, is the single most beautiful place I have ever been. It is sublime. Nowhere else have I stood in such utter disbelief at the unique beauty of a landscape.

We have an entire post already dedicated to the Laugavegur Tour, and its logistics, at DolomiteSport, click here.

Why is it so good? It is purely unique, there is no landscape that I have seen that matches its appearance. You will look at things in nature that you have never seen before, it is an art piece. It is the painting on the art gallery’s wall that has viewers commenting, “Wow, someone was thinking outside the box when they created this”. In fact, it does look to have been created on an easel by an artist who has mastered the use of color and composition. Pastels, earth tones, and simple black & whites have been applied to graphic elements such as volcanoes, lakes, lava flows and glacier filled bays. It is a landscape that forever leaves you wanting more.

The Laugavegur Tour itself is a journey through some of Iceland’s highlights. From the Central Highland’s geothermally active start, freshly hardened lava flows, natural hot springs, boiling mud pits, sulphur vents and wandering creeks – to the southern coast’s high glacier caps and black landscape – the entire trek is fascinating, and for those interested in a trekking trip out of the ordinary, the perfect destination.

Iceland Photo Gallery


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