The Cengia Paolina on the Tofane

A mountain trail rich in history, the Paolina’s Ledge

Today, I’d like to discuss the Cengia Paolina, also known as Paolina’s Ledge in English. This challenging and lengthy route winds along ledges and terraces that cut into the western slope of the Tofana di Mezzo and Tofana di Dentro, high above the Val Travenanzes.

Short information

Where is the “Cengia Paolina” located?

The “Cengia Paolina” develops on the western slope of the Tofana di Mezzo and Tofana di Dentro – Dolomites of Ampezzo.

Is the “Paolina’s Ledge” difficult?

It is an exposed alpine path, for experts. The orientation is not easy, especially in case of clouds/fog.

How long does it take to complete the “Paolina’s Ledge” route?

If you want to do it in a day, starting from the Dibona hut and arriving at Fiames, plan for 9-10 hours of walking.

Do you need to bring mountaineering gear with you?

Yes, helmet, ice axe, and crampons are highly recommended.

The Cengia Paolina is a path rich in history, as it connects most of the war routes used by Italian and Austrian soldiers to access the Majarié and Orte de Tofana positions.

Attention: It should be emphasized that the Paolina’s Ledge is a mountaineering path reserved for experienced hikers and presents some climbing sections of 5.1/5.2 grade (here Rock Climbing Grades) . Furthermore, the orientation is not always easy, and in case of fog, it can be challenging. The old red marks that indicated the correct path are now faded or completely disappeared, and the cairns do not easily withstand summer downpours and winter snow.

Although not technically difficult, in case of bad weather, this mountaineering path becomes really challenging from a psychological point of view: solitude, severe environment, reduced or absent signposts… Over the years, the “Cengia Paolina” has been affected by landslides and adjustments. If it rains, there is a risk of falling rocks. Often, the “Cengia” is frequented by inexperienced hikers, and more than once the Mountain Rescue has had to intervene to rescue some lost people.

It is a mountaineering path to be approached with great caution, and therefore, it has been decided not to maintain the signposting of the Paolina’s Ledge. I invite those who want to undertake this important excursion to evaluate their preparation with particular attention and objectivity.

If you do not feel ready to go alone and want to visit the places of the Great War on a challenging but extraordinary path, know that I will be happy to accompany you through “my” wonderful mountains.

Start of the ledge

General information about the Paolina’s Ledge

The starting point is the Giussani hut. Since this is a long and challenging route, I recommend staying at refuge Giussani, which can be reached in several ways. To better decide how to get there and where to park your car, you must first consider where your endpoint will be.

The endpoints are either Fiames or Ra Valles. If you choose Ra Valles, I suggest parking your car at Piè Tofana and hiking up to the Pomedes hut. From there, you can reach Giussani via the Sentiero Astaldi or via the Ferrata Olivieri to Punta Anna.

If you choose the classic route with the Fiames endpoint, you will need to organize accordingly, perhaps by arranging for two cars, one at Fiames and the other at the Dibona hut, a convenient starting point for Giussani.

Finally, if you decide to be accompanied by me, you won’t have to worry about logistics.

Description of the Paolina’s Ledge itinerary

I will not describe in detail the path to follow, but I will only point out the highlights of the itinerary. For a truly impeccable description, I recommend the excellent guidebook “Tofane e Fanes” (In Italian – Publisher: Panorama – Year of publication: 2013) by Fabio Cammelli.

Now let’s begin our adventure! From the Giussani refuge, walk briefly northward on path n° 403, which descends into the Majariè (masariè = large rock debris). After a short while, you will notice a clear trail branching off from the main path on your right. If you observe carefully, you will see a gray paint mark on a boulder that was used to erase the indications for the Cengia Paolina.

Following the trail, cross the scree slope passing under the overhanging wall of Punta Giovannina and head towards a visible snowfield leaning against the wall.

Based on the current snow conditions, you will have to decide whether to cross the snowfield directly or find a passage close to the wall where there is often a gap between the snowfield and the wall itself. Keep in mind that you should not be without an ice axe and crampons to cross the snowfield (hard snow and/or ice is always present), which could also come in handy later.

Beginning of Pauline’s Ledge

After crossing the snowfield, you will reach an evident wide ledge. This ledge was known during wartime as “Cengia Sabelli” (named after Second Lieutenant Bernardino Sabelli, of the 7th Alpine Regiment, who died before his twenty-second birthday on August 22nd, 1916, from wounds sustained in combat in the Majarié area and was awarded the Silver Medal for Military Valor).

The ledge features a very exposed passage, but there are no major difficulties in traversing it. Above your head, like the prow of a ship, looms the impressive edge of Nèmesis (also known as Punta Carugati), where a difficult route was opened in 1943 by Antonio Bettella from Padua together with Bruno Sandi.

At the end of the ledge, 670 meters above Val Travenenzes, you will find yourself in a first cirque to the north of Nèmesis. You will continue on the scree, always skirting the rock, until you encounter a second nevaio, which is best to circumvent below (the nevaio is hollow in many points), ascending towards the ledge beyond the snow cone.

You will proceed along the track that stays under the rock, on stony terrain, being careful not to lose sight of the few and faded trail markers. Now, with some zig-zags, you will gain altitude and veer to the left. This will lead you to a channel about twenty meters long (scrambling up) and a steep scree that takes you to the foot of what remains of the Potofana glacier (second cirque).

Route Paolina's Ledge and escape routes

From here (at an altitude of about 2450 m) it is possible to leave the Paolina’s Ledge and descend into Val Travenzes. The path is not marked and reaches the intersection with the Val Travenenzes trail at an altitude of 1781 m, near a right-angled bridge.

For the Paolina’s Ledge, however, one must continue downhill along the wide moraine valley, leaving it on the right to eventually take a large, obvious ledge.

The ledge, which narrows at its end (here, remains of Austrian war barracks), in its final section climbs to lead us to the entrance of the wide North amphitheater (third cirque) of Tofana di Dentro (Tofana de Inze in Ladin or, still, Tofana Terza).

Now, we have to climb a ramp-channel (some exposed passages) and continue on steps dirty with debris.

Cross the third cirque with modest ups and downs until reaching its right orographic side at an altitude of around 2180 m.

Descend for another fifteen meters, keeping close to the wall, and enter a gully that serves as the climbing direction (above, well visible on the left of a rocky gendarme, a wooden pole stands out against the sky as a very important reference point).

The ascent to the third cirque

In this area, before the final climb that will take you to see Ra Ola, it is not uncommon to come across another small snowfield; in this case, you will rediscover with great pleasure the usefulness of crampons! Continue uphill with a varied path, leaving the green Orte de Tofana below us. We continue to climb and at the top we cross to the left, until we come across the trace of an old war path coming from the Orte. This path leads us to a small pass (around 2270 m), the point of entry into the Canalon de Ra Ola.

From here, we descend briefly and cross the entire canyon, then climb up to the nearby Ra Ola pass (at an altitude of 2321 m). Now there are two possible routes to complete our adventure on the Paolina’s Ledge.

  • 1 – Descent to Fiames. Descend along the steep Canalon de Ra Ola (trail marker 407) to the Ponte dei Cadorìs, then continue on trails 401 and 10 to Fiames.
  • 2 – Climb to Ra Vales. In this case, from the Ra Ola pass, continue uphill on trail 407. This option should be considered if you left your car in Pié Tofana, reachable on foot from Forcella Ra Vales in about 50 minutes, or by Ra Vales – Col Druscié cable car and from there in 15 minutes to Pié Tofana.

Time needed

The travel times are always subjective, of course. However, considering that the trail on the Paolina’s Ledge must be tackled by people in excellent physical condition, the average times indicated here are referred to experienced hikers who are used to moving on paths of this kind.

1 – From Refuge Giussani to Fiames 9-10 hours. 2 – From Refuge Giussani to Ra Valles 8-9 hours.

Fun fact

The Cengia Paolina became famous thanks to the spirit of the young men of ’39, who first explored and then valued this magnificent alpine path.

Two Scoiattoli, Carlo Gandini and Bruno Menardi “Jimmi,” were the first to identify this route. They did so during one of their many explorations of the Ampezzo area. They immediately involved their friends Luciano Bernardi and Giuseppe Biz to mark it with cairns and red marks. Thus was born the famous Cengia Paolina, known for its beauty and severity. The inauguration took place on July 10, 1966. Few know the origin of the name of the Cengia.

Carlo and Bruno, who attended elementary school, were lucky to have Paolina Colleselli in Delazer as their teacher, who was originally from Colle Santa Lucia. During her teaching, Maestra Paolina paid particular attention to nature, places, flora, fauna, and transmitted to her students a deep love for the surrounding landscape.

Each student created a personal herbarium, drying the flowers between absorbent papers pressed between boards and describing their characteristics and medicinal properties.

During the inauguration party of the Cengia, held at Rifugio Cantore, those boys of 1939 decided to pay tribute to Maestra Paolina by dedicating the famous mountain path to her.

Enrico Maioni Mountain Guide Dolomiti

Enrico Maioni

Certified Mountain Guide, with a wide know-how of the Dolomiti.
I was born in the heart of the Dolomites, where I live and work to this day.
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