Day 1 with the Via Ferrata: Paolina Hütte (2125 m) – Kölnerhütte (2337 m) – Santner Klettersteig – Santnerpasshütte (2734 m) – Gartlhütte (2621 m)
- Distance: 6.3 km
- Difficulty: (Moderately) Difficult
- Altitude Difference: 609 meters ascending / 113 meters descending
- Time Needed: 3.5 hours
- Special Equipment Needed: Via Ferrata Kit
- Trail: 552
Alternative Day 1 without the Via Ferrata: Paolina Hütte (2125 m) – Kölnerhütte (2337 m) – Tschagerjoch / Passo delle Coronelle (2,635 m) – Rifugio Paul Preuss (2243 m) – Rifugio Vajolet (2243 m) – Gartlhütte (2621 m)
- Distance: 7.85 km
- Difficulty: Difficult
- Altitude Difference: 1118 meters ascending / 392 meters descending
- Time Needed: 4 hours
- Special Equipment Needed: None
- Trails: 552, 550, 541, 552
A note about the Santner Via Ferrata
This was the first intentional via ferrata Kati and I did. The assisted climbing section was surprisingly short. And, it wasn’t very difficult. At all times, we felt extremely secure. I was nervous throughout the whole route, always anticipating that the “hard stuff” was coming up. But, it never did. It just looks intimidating. So, when we finished the route, it felt surprisingly easy.
We know our readers have different hiking backgrounds. So, let me add this. If you’ve done a via ferrata, the Santner Klettersteig will likely be easy for you. If you’ve never done a via ferrata, but have a lot of alpine hiking experience, are conditionally fit and comfortable using your hands to climb, and don’t suffer any vertigo, this will be fun and only moderately difficult. If you hike a lot in coastal areas or on generally flat terrain (not in the mountains), then this will be a challenge.
If you decide to do the via ferrata, make sure to wear a full kit.
Paolina Hütte to Kölnerhütte
From the Paolina chairlift mountain station (Rifugio Paolina Hütte), take trail 552 to Kölnerhütte (Rifugio Fronza alle Coronelle). It took us 1 hour and 10 minutes to hike the mostly level balcony trail to Kölnerhütte. The views of the Latemar mountains are marvelous.
Kölnerhütte to Santnerpasshütte (2734 m) via Santner Klettersteig
From Kölnerhütte, the trail ascends immediately behind the hut. After a short steep section, the trail splits. If you’re doing the Santner via ferrata, take the left trail numbered 542. If you’re doing the hiking route, take the right trail numbered 550 in the direction of Tschagerjoch (Passo delle Coronelle).
After turning left at the trail intersection, the path is quite level initially. After 30 minutes of mostly flat walking, the trail ascends. You don’t need any equipment initially, but it’s a good idea to put on your harness and helmet right here. Follow the red-painted trail markers, which are either lines or “Ss.” The markers will guide you through the mountains along the route.
It took us 2 hours to hike from the Kölnerhütte to Santnerpasshütte, the mountain hut at Santner mountain pass. However, the via ferrata was clogged up with two large guided groups, so we spent a lot of time waiting. If you’re not following guided groups (hopefully), then it should take far less time.
When you reach the Santner pass, the views open up and you can see the magical Vajolet Towers. As you descend to Gartlhütte, this views continue to marvel.
Where to Stay the Night
You have lots of options for Day 1:
Location-wise, we recommend staying in either Gartlhütte (Rifugio Re. Alberto) or Santnerpasshütte (Rifugio Passo Santner). That way you can catch the sunset and sunrise at the towers. If you stay in Rifugio Vajolet or Rifugio Paul Preuss, you’re a good 40 minute-hike away from that picture-perfect scene of the towers.
- Showers: Currently none (possible in 2021).
- Drinking Water: Tap water isn’t drinkable. You can purchase water bottles, or purify.
- Electronic Charging Stations: Readily available and free.
- Payment: Cash, or credit cards
- Half Board or à la carte: Half board only with a 4-course dinner.
- Rooms: Dormitory Only.
- Open: June 6 – October 25, 2020 – depending on snow conditions.
- Cost: 65 EUR for half board.
- Showers: Yes, Coin-operated (4 EUR for 4 min)
- Drinking Water: tap water isn’t drinkable
- Electronic Charging Stations: In the dining room
- Payment: Cash Only
- Half Board or à la carte: Both available.
- Rooms: Dormitory and private rooms available.
- Open: June 13 – end of September (2020) – depending on snow conditions.
- Cost: 55 EUR for half board. 38 EUR for breakfast and board.