Helen McKerralWildflowers of the Dolomites Part 4

Although we’d planned to complete our hike around Civetta today, crossing the wild terrain around 2476m (8100 ft) Forcella delle Sasse in the thunderstorms and heavy rain forecast for that afternoon would be too dangerous:

Approaching Forcella delle Sasse (aka Moiazetta)

Approaching Forcella delle Sasse (aka Moiazetta)

Instead, we decide to have a short day of just 5 km to the next Rifugia so we can spend the afternoon somewhere dry… with more yummy cake! After a quick pit stop – amazing where you find Gardena click-fittings and hoses!

02 Useful Gardena click hose fittingsWe set off early to beat the weather, the mist already rising in the valley

Mist is rising in the valley

Fascinating microclimates, such as cool, shady areas under enormous boulders that have tumbled from the scree

Large boulders create fascinating little microclimates

provide habitat for ferns and Viola biflora.

Viola biflora grows in the shelter of a large boulder

Viola biflora grows in the shelter of a large boulder

With more weather approaching

06 bad weather approaching there’s little time to snap photos, except for exciting finds on the steep descent to Rifugia Vazzoler, like this beautiful helleborine orchid (Epipactis atrorubens):

Epipactis atrorubens, a helleborine orchid

Epipactis atrorubens, a helleborine orchid

and another orchid, possibly Platanthera bifolia:

Platanthera bifolia...or sp?

Platanthera bifolia…or sp?

With great timing, we beat the deluge to Rifugia Vazzoler and, after stashing our gear,

Staying at Rifugia Vazzoler

Staying at Rifugia Vazzoler

retire to the dining room where I make happy discoveries in the bookcase. As rain pelts down outside, I spend a few fun hours browsing:

A lucky find in the bookcase - a wildflower key

Later the weather clears, and we explore outside. In this high-altitude environment with its short season, growing herbs is a challenge, but someone at the Rifugia is trying, assisted by black plastic:

Meeting the challenge of growing herbs at high altitude - black plastic

Meeting the challenge of growing herbs at high altitude – black plastic

The little alpine botanic garden we visited last time has less in flower but, in the mist, is lovely nonetheless

The alpine botanic garden is pretty in the mist

while the forests around the Rifugia still have plenty still in bloom, such as Geum phaeum

Geranium phaeum

Geranium phaeum

Aquilegia

Aquilegia sp

Aquilegia sp

Horminium pyrenaicum

Horminium pyrenaicum

Horminium pyrenaicum

and more members of the Apiaceae family, covered in hoverflies and demonstrating the value of these plants in our own gardens

Hoverflies love the Apiaceae plants

Hoverflies love the Apiaceae plants

The next day dawns clear. The weather forecast is excellent, but over dinner the previous night an experienced hiker told us that the via ferrata (steel cable, used with a climbing harness) section at the end of our circumnavigation is relatively exposed, and that it might be challenging without harnesses and carabiners. I don’t mind steep climbs and high places, but find exposed paths with drop-offs very scary, so we have changed our route to cross the Forcella but then, rather than following the high route along the flank back to Rifugia Coldai, to drop down into the valley and return to Pecol instead.

The walks proves to be exhilarating. The climb is relentless, but the way is thick with wildflowers, such as hybridising aquilegias

Aquilegia sp

Aquilegia sp

devils claw (Physoplexis comosa) in dry rocky cracks

Physoplexis comosa, devil's claw

Physoplexis comosa, devil’s claw

and little Pinguicula vulgaris in moist rocky cracks

Pinguicula vulgaris

Pinguicula vulgaris

The views are spectacular: The spire is Torre Trieste, and you can see the tiny red-roofed Rifugia Vazzoler in the forest at lower left.

Spectacular view to Torre Trieste

Spectacular view to Torre Trieste

Now that we are no longer on any of the more well-known through-routes, we are overtaken by just one young couple. The trail is delightfully empty, and we have the whole, huge, glorious mountain to ourselves for the entire day. Higher and higher we go, the landscape becoming wilder and rockier.

24 left alone on a less-frequented trail In sheltered bowls, we’re given an array of new wildflowers, including two more orchids, and many different saxifraga:


The more altitude we gain, the faster the vegetation changes.

28 Hooray, a first: edelweiss!

Leontopodium alpinum - eidelweiss

Leontopodium alpinum – eidelweiss

And, in a field of wildflowers,

30 field of wildflowers in the Dolomites I spot a small, white Pedicularis, brilliant alpine forget me nots and the aptly named Doronicum columnae


while the views, unbelievably, become yet more breathtaking.

34 breathtaking views Ahead lies another alpine meadow, a perfect spot for lunch

35 another alpine meadow and lunch spot surrounded by bright pink Armeria alpina (it looks identical to Armeria maritima!), Cerastium uniflorum and Alyssum saxatile


We don’t linger over our cheese, wurst and bickies – I’m getting antsy because, although the forecast is good, cloud is developing fast and beginning to curl over the jagged peaks surrounding us. The paint waymarkers are often difficult to spot in clear weather, let alone mist, and we are at around 2000m (7,000 ft). We need to cross the pass 500 m (1600 ft) higher, and be on our way down the other side before any weather arrives. That’s the pass beyond the meadow:

38 the pass lies ahead One last climb! I snap Ranunculus bilobus

Ranunculus bilobus

Ranunculus bilobus

And pink and white forms of Thlaspi rotundifolium

Pink and white forms of Thlaspi rotundifolium

Pink and white forms of Thlaspi rotundifolium

As slowly, the Forcella delle Sasse comes closer.

Forcella delle Sasse

Forcella delle Sasse

Its sheer scale is a little daunting, but our guidebook assures us that the way up is nowhere near as bad as it looks, just a straightforward zigzag scramble… and indeed it is, the cloud putting a little hurry in our steps:

42 impending bad weather gets us hurrying Hooray! At the top!

At the top of Forcella delle Sasse

At the top of Forcella delle Sasse

All that remains is the long, steep knee-crunching scree descent44 then the long descent And one last mystery flower (can you identify it?)

Mystery wildflower - can anyone identify?

Mystery wildflower – can anyone identify?

45 What a hike. What wildflowers, what scenery, what wild isolation. Glorious stuff, just glorious.

Like this post? Why not share it with a friend?


Helen McKerral

About Helen McKerral

Horticultural journalist, photographer, contributor to many garden magazines, and author of 'Gardening on a Shoestring'. Adelaide Hills, South Australia

4 thoughts on “Wildflowers of the Dolomites Part 4

  1. Helen, great work – such dramatic landscapes and delightful clear shots of their green inhabitants. Thanks! Can I suggest Silene acaulis again for your mystery white flower – I know you’ve shown pink ones in a previous post, but that flower looks awfully Silene-like to me – alpine campion/similar. Stuart.

  2. Libby Cameron on said:

    Thanks Helen,
    I have enjoyed your journey through the Dolomites so very much, what wonderful scenery, what wonderful wildflowers, and you must be so very fit! I am in awe.

  3. frank teigler on said:

    The mystery wildflower could be Silene pusilla…

Leave a Reply (no need to register)