A loop around the Sorapiss range: solitude and breathtaking views
Two days are needed to complete the loop around the Sorapiss (also known as Sorapíss or Sorapís). Two days of true mountaineering, a long “walk on the edge” reserved for hikers who are well-trained and accustomed to moving on ledges and rocky balconies. The circular tour of Sorapiss is an itinerary that allows you to cross all the slopes of one of the major mountain groups of the Dolomites, offering solitude and stunning panoramic views.
Description of the loop of Sorapiss
Since it is a circular route, the hike can be done in both directions. The route described here allows for the Sorapìss circuit to be completed in a clockwise direction. This way, the via ferratas can be overcome in the morning, a good choice especially in the months of July and August, when afternoon thunderstorms are not uncommon.
The itinerary includes two overnight stays in a refuge: the Rifugio Vandelli, where the Sorapiss circuit begins, and the Rifugio San Marco. I suggest ascending to the Vandelli refuge in the late afternoon when the multitude of tourists who have come up there to admire the beautiful Lake Sorapiss will have started on their way back.
You can certainly avoid the first night at Vandelli by starting early from the Tre Croci Pass. However, in this way, the first stage becomes much longer and more tiring. The choice is yours!
Early in the morning, after breakfast, we begin our tour around the Sorapiss, leaving the refuge behind and heading along the trail number 243 towards the Vandelli via ferrata on the Croda del Fogo.
In the morning, the first encounter with the via ferrata, completely in the shade, can be intimidating, but as soon as you climb a little, just turn around and the view of the lake immediately warms your heart. Among ropes and ladders, after a spectacular aerial passage, we emerge into the sun on the northeast ridge of the Croda del Fogo.
The via ferrata allows you to quickly gain altitude and the cables provide excellent protection. A quick reminder: they only work if you clip yourself onto them! A harness, helmet, and via ferrata kit are necessary.
At the end of the via ferrata, you continue along the path, losing altitude, until you reach the Comici bivouac (2050 m).
From the bivouac, you climb to the Forcella Bassa del Banco (2,128 m), the beginning of the Minazio Trail. Here, a narrow ledge equipped with steel cables allows you to overcome a steep wall with very exposed passages. If you prefer to avoid this exposed section, from Forcella Bassa del Banco you can climb up the grassy ridge to Forcella Alta and from there, along an easy gully, descend to finally rejoin the aforementioned exposed and equipped trail coming from Forcella Bassa del Banco.
The very long trail leads us through grassy ledges and overgrown with shrubs until we reach the junction of Alta Val di San Vito (about 2,090 meters), in front of the magnificent Torre dei Sabbioni.
On the map, the Minazio trail looks flat like a path by the sea, but in reality, it offers us countless ups and downs, always on the edge of airy ledges. Here, the lack of water sources, the heat of the shrubs, and the view of the Torre dei Sabbioni that for long stretches always seems distant and unattainable make us understand the vastness of the environment and the intensity that real mountains require.
At the end of Minazio, a junction would allow you to climb up to the Slataper bivouac, a choice that I feel inclined to advise against. In fact, the Comici and Slataper bivouacs, given the limited number of beds (respectively 4 and 3 bunks), should be considered only as emergency support points. Considering the scarcity of water in the area and to avoid overly heavy backpacks, I recommend relying on the mountain huts.
We then head towards Forcella Grande and descend to the beautiful San Marco refuge, where a well-deserved rest awaits us, along with delicious dishes skillfully prepared by the chef.
We depart early and laboriously climb up the trail descended yesterday to Forcella Grande. We continue on the left to the Slataper bivouac, and from there to the Forcella del Bivacco (2,670m), which marks the highest point reached on the Sorapiss tour.
We are at the beginning of the Berti via ferrata, which descends vertiginously on the opposite side. The 1500 meters of emptiness below our feet are quite impressive, but the ferrata is well-equipped. After a first ledge, we descend even further along a series of shady chimneys, then continue to the right and climb a ladder that takes us to the “Cengia del Banco“. In Italian, cengia means ledge.
The Cengia del Banco cuts the Croda Marcora in half, from south to north. We walk along the balcony, crossing the western slope of the mountain.
At the end of the Cengia del Banco, we reach Forcella Sora ra Cengia del Banco, and from here we descend on easy rocks to reach the Tonde de Sorapiss.
Now we are faced with a choice on how to conclude the Sorapiss circuit.
There are two possibilities: turn left and climb to Sella di Punta Nera and then descend to Forcella Faloria and the Tre Croci Pass where we left our car (longer route), or descend directly through the valley to Lake Sorapiss and from there continue to our vehicle (shorter route).
Whatever our choice may be, we will certainly arrive at the end of the Sorapiss circuit a little tired but undoubtedly happy and satisfied with our small-great achievement, two days of true mountaineering in the presence of his majesty the Sorapiss.
Highlights of the loop around the Sorapiss
Three via ferratas:
Via Ferrata Alfonso Vandelli – Some sections are very exposed.
Carlo Minazio equipped trail – Easy but not trivial, requires a steady pace.
Via Ferrata Francesco Berti – Very exposed. Considering that the proposed itinerary presents the Berti via ferrata in descent, it can be affirmed that it is the most difficult of the three.
Positive elevation gain: 1760 meters / 5770 feet
Length: about 26 km / 16 miles
Route difficulty: difficult
Indicative times and other details
First day – About 9 hours
From Rifugio Vandelli, take trail no. 243 to the start of the Alfonso Vandelli via ferrata, which is part of the Alta Via No. 4 circuit. The ferrata ascends the western slope of Croda del Fogo (Col del Fuoco), which is one of the last northeastern extensions of the group. It consists mainly of a long ledge frequently interrupted by short chimneys and vertical walls, and some quite exposed traverses. At the end of the ferrata, descend through meadows and scree to Busa del Banco where the Comici bivouac is located. It takes about 4 hours from Rifugio Vandelli to reach this point.
Climb up the grassy slope that leads to Forcella Bassa del Banco (2,128 m), and then take the Minazio trail No. 243, which develops on ledges and easy rocks in continuous ups and downs, until you reach trail no. 226, which runs through the entire Val di San Vito. Finally, you reach Forcella Grande from where you descend quickly to Rifugio San Marco. It takes about 5 hours from the Comici bivouac to reach Rifugio San Marco.
Second day – about 9 hours
From Rifugio San Marco, take trail no. 226 to Forcella Grande. Before reaching Forcella Grande, you will notice signs indicating the junction for the Slataper Bivouac, trail no. 246. It takes about 2 hours from Rifugio San Marco.
Briefly stop at Forcella del Bivacco, where the ferrata Francesco Berti begins, which crosses the entire wall of Croda Marcora from south to north. Continue along ledges and steps for a long time on the high traverse, always with modest ups and downs until you reach the limit of the Cengia del Banco. From here, descend to the deep valley of Tonde de Sorapiss.
Now it is possible to descend directly to Rifugio Vandelli, passing under the Eastern Glacier all the way to the Rifugio Vandelli. It takes about 5 hours from the Slataper Bivouac.
Alternatively, climb up the steep slabs to the narrow Sella di Punta Nera (2,738 m), from where you descend to Forcella Faloria and Passo Tre Croci. In this case, it takes about 7 hours from the Slataper Bivouac.
Useful tips for loop around the Sorapiss
- The Sorapiss tour should only be done with good weather forecasts. During the summer, afternoon thunderstorms are very frequent. September, when the rain showers calm down, is the best month for this tour.
- Bring a map (I recommend the Tabacco map no. 3) and study the trail numbers and landmarks you will encounter along the way. The trail is marked, but sometimes the signs are not entirely clear and the markings are faded.
- Bring enough water, as you will hardly find clean water along the trail.
- Plan an initial overnight stay at the Rifugio Vandelli so you can ensure an early departure. Otherwise, starting from the Passo Tre Croci, you will have to add a couple of hours of walking to an already long day.
- If you are not a true athlete or experienced mountaineer, don’t be tempted by those who suggest doing the Sorapiss tour in a day. And if you decide to do so, be prepared for a long and difficult day.
- I imagine it is the current record: Andrea Piccoliori, a friend and colleague, completed the Sorapiss tour – without descending to San Marco, but continuing directly to the Slataper bivouac – starting and finishing at Passo Tre Croci, in 4 hours and 52 minutes!
- The name Sorapìs comes from the waterfall generated by the emissary waters of Lake Sorapiss. The lake is carved into the rock and lacks surface outflows; its waters reach the large rocky threshold of the glacial plateau underground, flowing out in the waterfall “el Píš”. The term Píš (meaning “to pee”, urinate) is widespread in the toponymy of the Ladin area to indicate waterfalls and cascades. It is precisely from this name that the name of the mountain group “Sora el Píš” derives, which means “above the el Píš waterfall.”
There are mainly three options to get to Rifugio Vandelli. The shortest and easiest route is along trail no. 215, starting at Passo Tre Croci. However, I recommend trails no. 213 and no. 216, also starting from Passo Tre Croci. This route is, in my opinion, much more beautiful. Additionally, you can take the shortest route back (trail no. 215).
The third option is to start from Federavecchia (1368 m) and follow the steep and strenuous trail no. 217.
Unless you are a sky-runner, the average time for a strong walker, skilled and fast also on via ferratas, is about 9-10 hours (without passing through Rifugio San Marco, but instead taking trail no. 247 at the end of the Minazio Trail). If you do not have athletic ambitions, I strongly recommend doing the loop in two days!
A small stream is located a couple of hundred meters before the Slataper Bivouac (on trail no. 247). However, do not rely on it 100%, as it may be dry. Not bringing enough water on the Sorapìs loop is one of the main mistakes you can make.
Naturally, it depends on where you are when the thunderstorm arrives. Evaluate the distances and the time needed to reach one of the two bivouacs or the refuge, and hurry to reach the closest one. DO NOT look for an escape route on trails no. 277 (from Bivacco Comici) or on trail no. 241 (junction on the Cengia del Banco), as they are closed due to landslides and are really dangerous! I also suggest you take a look at the page on thunderstorms and lightning on this website.