The last via ferrata of my Italian trip was the easiest, but the beginning was almost as dramatic as the day before. Having decided not to take the cable car from Falzarego, we were coming to the end of what should have been an easy hike up to the top of the mountain where the via ferrata started when the voices of the gods roared, the heavens opened, and we were caught in a mighty thunderstorm. We were only about 20 minutes away from the refuge, but with the path turned into a small stream and rivulets of water streaking down the mountain, 20 minutes was plenty of time to get soaked.
It was perfect timing for the owners of the refuge, however, as we weren't the only ones that took advantage of it being lunch time to order a hot meal and dry out before making our way out across the ridge to where the via ferrata started.
It's hard to tell amongst the jagged stone of the Dolomites, but an enormous chunk of the mountain above Falzarego is missing, not because of natural erosion or disaster, but because during World War One, the Austrians were dominating the ridge from the top and the Italians were lurking lower down. Neither side was making much progress until the Italians, who had created a network of tun.nels in the mountain below, used explosives to blow away a giant section of the crest. The tunnels have now been turned into an outdoor museum and you can rent an audioguide and read information pannels as you make your way along the iron cable to the bottom.
The via ferrata was only a level 1 and we didn't use harnesses, but we were glad of our helmets, torches and fingerless gloves for holding on to the cables. Spending an hour inside a mountain in dank tunnels isn't exactly pleasant but it does give you some inkling of what life was like for the poor soldiers who carried not only all their provisions but tonnes of explosives and weaponry up the steep paths, then slept in the stone caves in inadequate clothes for the subzero winter temperatures. What is harder to understand, of course, is how these men were able to put up with such circumstances for so long, especially with the hindsight of knowing what a terrible waste the whole war turned out to be.