Lago Sorapiss and Rifugio Vandelli

Way back in 2004 on my very first trip to the Dolomites, after a long day’s climbing that got me back to my tent at well after 11 pm the evening before, I decided a rest day was in order… and took my first walk to Lago Sorapiss. Totally enchanted with this beautiful lake I decided to come back. A few days later I phoned and booked accommodation in Rifugio Vandelli, the charming hut near the shore of Lago Sorapiss. I was allocated a metal bed in a large room. Had a short chat with Sabrina, and met her family: Emilio (who does not speak any English), and her daughter Jessica, a teenager, and son Daniel, a toddler. The family had recently taken over the running of the hut. Had a typical mountain hut dinner. Followed by a typical few grappas with Sabrina, Emilio and a couple of other hikers. And a long discussion about the politicians that plagued our world at the time: Bush, Blair, Belusconi and Bin Laden. Can’t remember any of the group gathered around finding any good words for and of the four Bs! Then I made my way to my bed. The next morning I spent a few hours walking around and exploring this 8th wonder of the world…

Since then I’ve spent at least one night every year in this friendly hut. Bar one as Emilio reminded me – the year I was climbing Kilimanjaro. (Apparently I phoned to let them know I won’t be seeing them that year…)

Over the years I’ve seen Emilio and Sabrina’s two children, Jessica and Daniel grow into young adults. And the family has adopted me as one of their friends. Always ready to make space for me and the friends I’ve brought along. And making sure that we feel like VIPs whenever we visit.

Regardless of how hot and sweaty I am the lovely Sabrina will give me a huge welcoming hug as soon as I get to the hut! So does Emilio – even though our conversations are limited to the few Italian words I know. A limitation completely made up for with the warm hug and a happy smile! Jessica and Daniel are equally welcoming, each one of them always making me feel like I’m part of the family.

Rifugio Vandelli is also the start or mid-point for many climbers doing the Giro del Sorapiss. Which either starts with via ferrata Vandelli, continues clock-wise around the Sorapiss massif with an overnight stop at Rifugio San Marco, then continue along via ferrata Berti to finish back at Rifugio Vandelli. Or you can do it the other way around, starting with ferrata Berti. Or you can start at Rifugio San Marco and go via ferrata Berti, spend a night at Vandelli, then do via ferrata Vandelli and end up back at Rifugio San Marco. (PS! Some people even complete the trip in one long day. I would advise against that. The views simply cannot be enjoyed if all you’re thinking about is getting the trip done!)

Lago Sorapiss
Lago Sorapiss

The glacial fed Lago Sorapiss, cradled in the lowest part of the Sorapiss cirque, above the Piss waterfall, with the imposing Dito di Dio (finger of god) towering directly above it, is by far the most beautiful lake I’ve come across. Its intense milky blue-green almost translucent colour, caused by algae living in the water, unlike any other lake I’ve seen. When I first visited this lake in 2004, there were a few dozen people around. Today more than 2000 people may visit this lake in a single day. Creating a headache for Emilio and Sabrina. With Emilio regularly having to take a walk around the lake with a bin bag to pick up rubbish left behind by ignorant visitors. Besides empty bottles and tins, he’s found disposable barbeques… tents… sleeping bags… clothes… sanitary pads…

As of 2019, after the completion of an ecological study on the human impact on Lago Sorapiss, swimming is no longer permitted. The combined effect of washed off sweat, sunscreen, make-up, urine, faecal matter, etc, that turned up in the lake was having an adverse affect on its unique colour. And as a result the local government published a law making it illegal to swim in the lake. Personally I will miss taking a cold refreshing dip in these ice cold waters. Straight off a climb or via ferrata, but I’d prefer to still be coming back here in twenty, thirty years and see the lake look much the same as it does today…

While this lake is one of my favourite places on this planet, it would probably be less so if it wasn’t for the warm friendship that Emilio, Sabrina, Jessica and Daniel have extended me over the years. A friendship that makes me come back to visit every year! And makes the mountains just a little more perfect! 

Dito di Dio
Dito di Dio

2 Comments on “Lago Sorapiss and Rifugio Vandelli”

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