Marmolada: new words for building the future

The mourning and grief for the eleven people who lost their lives on Marmolada on 3 July has fuelled debates on the causes and consequences of the tragedy in recent weeks. While the debates result from a real need for insights, the overall effect has been to create an uproar in the media that emphasises the need to find the right words for understanding the future of the mountains, in light of the climate crisis. This was also the purpose of a trek to the Falier mountain hut below the southern face of the Marmolada, accompanied by writer Matteo Righetto, who has always placed the mountains as experienced, inhabited and heard at the centre of his novels. The trek, which had already been planned as part of the ‘High-Altitude Encounters of Another Kind’, took place a fortnight after the tragic event.

A story with several voices

Through the voices collected by the programme ‘Noi Dolomiti UNESCO’, which was broadcast on the day of the event in the areas marked by the dramatic search for the victims, the UNESCO Dolomites Foundation has attempted to put forth a narrative that is as accurate as possible, as well as attentive to the response of local communities to the tragedy. We gave space to rescuers, institutions and, of course, to experts such as glaciologist Jacopo Gabrieli, who emphasised both the unpredictability of the detachment and the need to reflect on a broader responsibility that involves everyone in the effort to mitigate the climate crisis by ceasing CO2 production and limiting the increase in temperatures, which, particularly in the months leading up to the tragedy, were up to five degrees above average. The responsibility is therefore not only global but is also shared on a local level in efforts such as that referred to by the parish priest of Canazei, Don Mario Bravin, who is involved in the relief effort as a volunteer with the fire brigade: “We call on everyone to work together and stop the acceleration of this process of climate change. We who live in the mountains know the damage it can sometimes do, and we carry this in our hearts. And we still love the mountains.”

Marmolada, in primo piano il Crollo del seracco avvenuto il 3 luglio 2022

This picture was taken on the 3rd of July from photographer Riccardo Masut , supporter of the Foundation 

Coming face to face with Marmolada in order to find the words

“We must not stop walking in the mountains. We are part of this landscape and, as Mario Rigoni Stern said, we can only give meaning to our existence if we become its custodians. We must not allow the mournful events of a few days ago to make us forget that these places have their own vital flow which, due to the climate crisis, is continuously weeping with sorrow and calling out for shared responsibility.” These are the words of writer Matteo Righetto who is leading the literary trek organised by the UNESCO Dolomites Foundation as part of the ‘Incontri d’Alt(r)a Quota’ event for the second time.

This year’s event was planned along the path leading to the Falier mountain hut, below Marmolada’s Silver Face, and was held there on Saturday 16 July as planned in order to provide a participatory opportunity for reflection on the tragedy of 3 July and to rethink our ways of living and inhabiting the mountains in the face of the climate crisis.

“Words matter”

Mara Nemela, director of the UNESCO Dolomites Foundation, considers the correct use of words to be a fundamental starting point: “We can use words that are actually not new at all,” Nemela comments, “but which enable us to change our relationship with the environmental asset we need to care for. We can choose to speak, for example, of the climate crisis instead of climate change, and we can emphasise the unpredictability of one-off events such as that which occurred on the third of July, without denying the predictability of the fact that we will increasingly have to face extreme events. We can speak of taking precautions in the mountains, rather than safety, a term that seems to imply a zero risk that does not exist. We can speak of hikers rather than tourists, a term that restricts the enjoyment of the mountains to a recreational level. In a more general sense, we can consider the mountains as an environment to be experienced, known, studied and respected. Behind the choice of words is the responsibility we have to share at the political, administrative, economic and social levels, starting with the local communities”.

“Listening to the mountains”

The theme of the relationship between global and local, particularly with regard to the choices to be made in order to contain the climate crisis, was at the centre of the reflections conducted by Matteo Righetto along the walk guided by medium mountain guides Laura Olivotto and Tommaso Zamarchi. The author of La stanza delle mele emphasised the importance of listening to the environment and of grasping that ‘genius loci’ – that creative capacity that the geographies of places are able to express, all the more so when they are fragile and sublime like the Dolomite Systems.

Listening to nature’s message, we ultimately hear once again the clarion call for human responsibility, symbolically reaffirmed by the 40 or so participants in Valle Ombretta, where the geographical centre of the World Heritage Dolomites is located.

It would be unthinkable not to include the contribution of those who, like the mountain hut managers, are at the forefront of these issues, both with regard to conscious mountain visits (also promoted by the UNESCO Dolomites Foundation through the #mountainhutlife campaign) and with regard to the protection of the Dolomites environment, of which they are the first sentinels: “It was not only the June heat that caused the events of 3 July. It was the accumulated heat of the last twenty years”, says Dante Del Bon, manager of the Falier mountain hut, from which he has observed the changes that have taken place over the decades since his family, who first arrived in Val Ombretta in 1953, began managing the hut. “I am delighted that you have chosen our hut, which is located in the geographical centre of a World Heritage Site of which we consider ourselves to be the custodians.”

Upcoming events

The second of the ‘Incontri d’Alt(r)a Quota’ event will take place in the Brenta Dolomites on 27 August at the Agostini mountain hut, the arrival point of a geotrek organised in collaboration with the geologists of the MUSE Science Museum of Trento and the Adamello Brenta Nature Park – UNESCO Global Geopark. And the final event will be a photographic workshop curated by Moreno Geremetta at the Alpe di Tires mountain hut on 17-18 September. For information and registration, please send an email to