Caution in the mountains
How to enjoy the mountains with tips from those who know and love this environment
If you are a mountain lover, you already know the excitement of hiking at altitude, following a via ferrata or testing your climbing skills: the important thing is to be prudent, approaching these activities in an informed and careful manner.
To help you remember how to stay safe, we have created a handbook and four quick guides, in collaboration with UNESCO Dolomites, the Trentino Alpine-Hut Association, the S.A.T. Trentino Alpine Society, and the Trentino Alpine Rescue and Alpine Guide organisations.
We have also compiled the most frequently asked questions from visitors, like you, who love to explore the mountains and asked various experts for their answers.
Read the FAQs and follow their advice!
Clothing and equipment in the mountains
I am planning a hike at altitude (and/or on a glacier), what should I wear? What do I need in my rucksack for a day hike?
Always adopt a layered approach to clothing, with layers ranging from light to more heavyweight. Take a change of clothes in your rucksack, as well as waterproof and windproof clothing, gloves and a hat, even if the sun is shining. Do not forget sunglasses and high-protection suncream, footwear suitable for the activity in question, a first-aid kit, a power bank to recharge your phone in the event of an emergency and sufficient food and water for the activity.
If you are sleeping in an alpine lodge, take a sleeping-bag liner or lightweight sleeping bag, a flask and a pair of light slippers (if they are not provided by the hut), along with a head torch.
In the mountains, it is essential that you always know exactly where you are. It is important to always take a digital and/or paper topographic map in addition to a wrist altimeter and a compass (a digital compass on a smartphone is sufficient). These tools are useful to find your way, but you must know how to use them correctly, and you should therefore practice before you set off! Walking poles are also very handy.
If there is a section with cables, in addition to standard hiking equipment, you need a helmet, harness, and certified via ferrata kit with shock-absorber lanyard, in addition to a rope and carabiner to position yourself if you cannot continue. It is very important to have a pair of gloves.
To hike on a glacier, it is necessary to be experienced both in techniques to make progress over different gradients and in the use of mountaineering equipment. Equipment you should remember to take: rope, ice axe, crampons, harness, helmet, at least two ice screws, two or three ropes, four or five locking carabiners and technical equipment suitable for emergency manoeuvres for climbing and recovery from a crevasse.
Organising the hike
The Webgis portal of the autonomous province of Trento provides updates on any trail closures. In all areas of the Trentino region, there are communications of openings and closures of tourist infrastructure, including alpine lodges, huts and cable routes. For up-to-date information you can also follow the portal for all trails on the website SAT Trail Commission.
Always follow the red and white markers and carefully read signs to understand the right direction, altitude and estimated times. Never leave the trail and if you are unsure, return to a recognised point and consult a paper or digital map, which you should always have with you if you are not completely familiar with the route.
Generally, tourist trails do not present particular difficulties as they are below 2,000 m altitude. Hiking trails, on the other hand, can have more challenging features given that they often lead to alpine lodges and huts and require good orienteering skills, suitable footwear and proper equipment. Finally, trails for expert hikers cross demanding and steep terrain and require confident footing, experience and knowledge of the mountain environment.
I don’t want a challenging route. How do you correctly interpret indications of changes in altitude and length of hikes in the mountains?
In the mountains, times often depend not only on your level of fitness but also on weather conditions. As a general rule, in one hour at average walking speed you can cover 300–350 m change in altitude and up to 3–4 km on level ground. The distances that can be covered decrease after 2–3 hours walking and if the altitude is over 2,000 m. Be prudent: if you are just starting out, do not take on a very long route, start gradually.
Avoid going alone unless you have no other choice. You will have more fun together and it is safer! If you are a beginner, do not hesitate to ask for advice or consult a mountain professional: an Alpine Guide or Mid-Mountain Guide.
When walking on a glacier it is essential to know how to identify all of the possible hazards (natural or related to the route or group) in order to adopt all possible safety measures and minimise risk to an acceptable level.
If you are a beginner, get a guide who lives and works in the mountains: an Alpine Guide.
Generally, the websites of regional weather centres, available at the following links: http://www.meteoregioni.it/ - For Trentino meteotrentino.it. Or the weather website of the Italian Airforce http://www.meteoam.it/
To check the weather conditions in real time, it is very useful to consult satellite images, radar, data from weather stations on the ground and mapping of lightning strikes.
Is the weather always stable at altitude? Is there a time of day when rain or storms are more likely?
During the summer, downpours and storms are frequent, particularly in the mountains and narrower valleys. In the mountains, storms normally occur in the afternoon or evening but sometimes they can develop in the morning or during the night. For this reason, you are advised to hike in the morning unless a weather front is forecast to pass through. It is also useful to monitor gathering cumuliform clouds. If you see clouds that stretch very high upwards in the morning, this means that the atmosphere is unstable and it is therefore prudent to plan the hike to ensure you reach a safe place (building or car) in a short time in case conditions worsen.
Are written forecasts preferable to those that use icons? In a text, the forecaster can describe the forecast indicating the different levels of uncertainty. Forecasts using icons alone are approximate and cannot communicate the level of uncertainty and/or variability of the forecast. While the icons for full sun or a cloud with two rain drops indicate good and bad weather, respectively, the icon with a sun, cloud and raindrop together may indicate an uncertain forecast or good weather in the morning and bad weather in the afternoon or vice versa.
The website of the Trentino alpine-hut association indicates general opening for all alpine lodges. To be sure, it is always best to contact the lodge directly (particularly at the beginning and end of the season).
A hut is a structure that is unstaffed, without a meal service and generally without toilet facilities. It is a very simple structure, without heating and is primarily only used in emergencies.
An alpine lodge is accommodation that is managed or supervised and open to the public, designed to meet the needs of mountaineers and hikers and conveniently set-up and run to offer hospitality and the option to rest, eat and sleep, along with associated services, and is always prepared to offer first-aid assistance. There are alpine lodges at different altitudes, some historic and some newer, and they are all equipped with beds, generally divided into dormitories and private rooms. Bathroom facilities are usually shared.
It is always necessary to book to sleep in an alpine lodge. In the majority of alpine lodges, it is mandatory to use a sleeping-bag liner and it is necessary to take your own towels, slippers and toiletry kit. Always ask the alpine lodge for confirmation.
The local tourist boards and the Trentino Board of Alpine Guides can provide information and contact details for mountain professionals that can take you on hikes.
In the mountains, you cannot always count on your mobile phone and internet connection. This is why you should plan and research the route you intend to take before departure, as well as paying the utmost attention to signs along the way that provide the necessary information on the destinations of trails. Despite the presence of these signs, do not forget to always take a topographic map, which may be needed if you get lost and cannot use your mobile phone. Try to remember points along the way when your mobile phone did have signal in case you need to return to one to make a call.
In an emergency, call 112 (one one two), the universal number for all emergencies. Even if you do not have network coverage from your operator, the emergency number may still work if another operator has signal in the location where you are (generally indicated by “emergency calls only”). If there is no coverage from any operator you can always return to the last place you remember having signal.
When making the call, it is important to remain calm and answer the operator’s questions in detail. The main information you must provide is:
- the exact site of the accident (e.g. place name, GPS coordinates, trail number, altitude, orientation of face [e.g. north face, south face, etc.], name of via ferrata or face you are climbing, etc.)
- activity engaged in
- number of people involved
- number of people injured, their state of health and the details of the accident
- weather conditions at the site of the accident
- telephone number to call you back on.
Remember to keep the line free so that emergency personnel can call you back if necessary.
The mountain habitat is home to many species of wild animals. Humans should be respectful, taking care to minimise their impact on the environment. If you encounter a wild animal, you should try not to disturb it, avoiding approaching it or making noise that will attract its attention. Instead, it is best to move away cautiously and leave it in peace.
If you become aware that you have been bitten by a tick, it is important to remove it as quickly as possible. Simply take a pair of tweezers, grip the parasite close to the skin and pull it, delicately and without brusque movements, until it is removed. Once the tick has been removed, disinfect the wound and monitor it for around one month. If red marks appear on the skin or other symptoms, consult a doctor.
Not all species found in the mountains are edible. Only species of mushrooms, herbs, berries and forest fruits that can be identified with 100% certainty should be collected and eaten, and only if permitted in the location where they are found (in parks or nature reserves this is usually prohibited).
You can take dogs on the trails, but it is recommended to keep them on a lead (in certain areas this is mandatory) to avoid them bothering wild animals that live in the mountains or getting in the way of other hikers. If they get loose, you should not follow them into particularly challenging terrain, as this could put you in serious danger.
Contact cable-car operators and alpine lodges to find out if dogs are welcome where you are hoping to visit and follow the rules they provide you with. Owners are responsible for the behaviour of their dogs in the mountains too!
Muzzles are not always mandatory, but it is best to bring one to be prepared for all circumstances.