Hut issues and storm damage on the Tour of Mont Blanc, the GR20 and the Dolomites

By Kev Reynolds, Paddy Dillon and Gillian Price
6 minute read

We have had news from several customers and authors about storm damage and hut issues in several key trekking areas. Please check our information below and let us know if we have missed anything.

The Refuge d’Ortu di U Piobbu has burnt down. Image from Corse Matin.
The Refuge d’Ortu di U Piobbu has burnt down. Image from Corse Matin.

Refuge Building and Burning on the GR20

Long before I had any involvement in the GR20, the mountain refuge of Altore was burnt to the ground in order to ‘encourage’ trekkers to detour off-route and stay at a struggling hotel. The refuge was never rebuilt and the hotel has done well with the increased footfall. Two other refuges, Prati and Pedinieddi, were blasted apart by lightning strikes, and while Prati was rebuilt, Pedinieddi was left in ruins.

In recent years announcements were made that a number of refuges along the GR20 would be rebuilt to accommodate more trekkers, as the number of trekkers far exceeds the number of beds available. The Refuge d’Asinau was scheduled for a rebuild, but in March 2016 it was burnt to the ground and has been in ruins ever since. In May of this year the Refuge d’Ortu di U Piobbu was burnt and arson was immediately suspected. On the plus side, that solves their recurring bedbug problem!

Piobbu is the first refuge on the GR20 for anyone going north to south and it’s out of action until such time as it’s rebuilt. The next refuge along the trail is at Carrozzu, and that is currently being rebuilt, so it is out of action for the rest of this year. It’s not a great start to the trail or to the season, but there are alternatives.

Anyone carrying a tent will not be inconvenienced as camping places and water supplies are unaffected. Ready-pitched hire tents and cooked meals are also available. A low-level route, fully described in my guidebook, can be used to by-pass Piobbu and it’s also possible to pass Carrozzu and head directly to Ascu Stagnu.

In order to keep track of ongoing developments, the GR20 accommodation booking site – http://reserver.sitecresa.fr/c... - will automatically prevent you from booking into an unavailable refuge and will offer camping alternatives.

It is also worth reminding trekkers that while it used to be considered ‘safe’ to start the GR20 early in June, that is no longer the case since part of the route (Stage 4) was taken considerably higher in 2015, onto slopes that hold snow and ice throughout June. Always check conditions locally as they can’t be forecast reliably too far in advance, and always be prepared to back out of any awkward situations.

If you are interested in the politics of refuge burning and rebuilding, see - www.corsematin.com/article

Paddy Dillon

Ref Lac Blanc 003
Refuge Lac Blanc

Alpine Huts – closed or not this summer

Among the casualties of the extra-heavy snowfall in certain parts of the Alps this past winter and spring, the Totalp Hut in Austria’s Rätikon Alps was destroyed by avalanche, along with its supply lift. This popular hut was used by walkers and climbers making the ascent of the district’s highest mountain, the Schesaplana, while trekkers following the Rätikon Höhenweg would often divert to spend a night there too. Please note that the large Douglass Hut, standing on the barrage wall of the Lünersee at 1976m, offers useful alternative accommodation until the Totalp has been rebuilt. (See Trekking in the Silvretta and Rätikon Alps.)

Walkers tackling the Tour of Mont Blanc should note that Refuge La Flégère above Chamonix will be closed throughout the summer season due to construction work on the nearby Flégère cableway. The nearest alternative accommodation is at Refuge Lac Blanc (https://refuge-lac-blanc.fr) where a new guardienne has taken over following closure due to a long-running legal dispute. As Lac Blanc will attract heavier than usual TMB usage this year, it is imperative to book in advance via the refuge website (see above) or email: contact@refuge-lac-blanc.fr or (from mid-June to October) by telephone on 07 67 56 74 14.

Kev Reynolds

Tempesta Vaia Motta (image from https://www.gognablog.com)
Tempesta Vaia Motta (image from https://www.gognablog.com)

Storm Damage in the Dolomites

Seven months ago, in October 2018, the Italian Dolomites were hit by devastating Tempesta Vaia. Winds up to 200km/hr caused widespread damage to villages, houses and roads, and there were several deaths. Millions and millions of trees were toppled and forestry workers and sawmills are struggling to deal with the massive amount of timber that needs removing.

Naturally, hundreds of kilometres of paths in the Dolomites were affected by landslides, rockfalls and fallen trees. Despite the late snowy winter season plenty has already been done to improve the situation - the authorities as well as volunteers have been hard at work clearing timber, rerouting, and affixing new signs where possible. The Italian Alpine Club, CAI, as well as SAT, the Trento branch, are involved as are the hard-working staff from the refuges.

Things are looking up - and even Rifugio Venezia on the Pelmo will open (albeit later than usual) for the summer season despite having had its roof torn off, the top floor with beds and mattresses ruined, and its jeep access track blocked by rockfalls and landslips. Another refuge with supply problems is Rifugio Pordenone in the Dolomiti Friulane. Thankfully the building was not damaged but its access road all but washed away. But they plan on 'business as usual' this year too.

Visitors to the Dolomites in summer 2019 need to be aware of possible problems regarding paths. The situation is ongoing. The best advice is to check locally with Tourist Offices and refuges, do not under any circumstances take risks, and be versatile - if your planned route is closed, be prepared to change your plans and take an alternate path.

The following web site lists all the paths by number in the Belluno province (central-southern Dolomites) with notes about what's open and possible problems. It's updated regularly. https://docs.google.co... 'Non percorribile' means 'not walkable' ie closed. As regards the Trentino area (south-western Dolomites), see this web site: https://sentieri.sat.tn.it/wp/?p=2444.

Gillian Price

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