The Ferrata Merlone ai Ciadin exposure is a very vertical via ferrata that climbs to the highest of the peaks of the Ciadin subgroup in the Sesto Dolomites. The via ferrata is characterized by a long series of stairs in the first section and a strong exposure with a couple of challenging passages in the second section. A long itinerary with an absolute height difference to which must be added the ups and downs and uphill saddles for the return.
The starting point of the itinerary is located in the route that connects Lake Misurina to Auronzo Hut. Before arriving at the toll road we will see on the right a clearing downhill where it is possible to park (pay attention to the number of parking spaces in high season). The clearing can be identified after a double curve and thanks to a red and white CAI pole. It is also possible to walk along the dirt road for a certain distance, which goes into the woods for a few hundred meters before a bar which prohibits transit. Directions for Google Maps available here.
From the parking lot in the clearing we follow the dirt road that climbs eastward into the woods following the CAI 115 trail. The moderately inclined path climbs into the coniferous forest reaching Pian degli Spiriti (1895 m) and continues uphill on moderate slope with a wonderful view of the Cadini sub-group characterized by many spiers. We then reach the Fonda Savio hut (2367 m - 1h 30 'from the parking lot) at the Passo di Toce crossroads of many routes in the Cadini area, among which stands the wonderful Bonacossa Aided path that cuts them in a south-north direction. From the hut we follow the indications that lead us into steep climb to the south reaching a detrital valley. At this point we will have to follow the track and the scarce indications that will make us cross the valley taking us on the opposite side where two long stairs are identified some meters higher up to act as a prelude to the beginning of the Ferrata Merlone (30 'from the Hut Fonda Savio - 2h total).
To reach the first wire ropes we will have to go up a few rocks paying attention to their actual stability. Let's do a few meters to the left and meet the first wire rope that goes horizontal for a few meters before facing a first leap a couple of meters where we meet the metal slab with the dedication to the via ferrata. The first section of the via ferrata is characterized by one set of aided rocks rising towards the rocky bastion. We follow the development of the via ferrata which ends the equipment in a stretch and climb (I degree) a couple of easy jumps following the blue trail. The rock in this section is nice and offers the possibility of climbing. We proceed on the rocks moving to the right towards a series of long metal ladders already evident from the valley.
The first staircase starts from a panoramic terrace where before leaving we can turn around to enjoy the wonderful view of the 3 Cime of Lavaredo. The stairs are a bit dated but in good condition and generally offer good stability. Let's start the long climb of the stairs (over 300 steps). This first section does not present technical difficulties but gradually gain exposure making the climb particularly aerial. There first long series of ladders ends on a diagonal stretch to the right, not difficult. Let's go up a short dihedral and a rather leaning wall reaching a new series of stairs in strong exposition separated each other by short connecting passages. Curious sometimes the crossing of the stairs that vertical they bend sharply to the right or left.
Climb up these stairs we reach a sideways exposed to the left beyond which we meet one wooden walkway. Once over the gangway, the traverse increases the slope and rises more markedly in what is the key passage of the via ferrata. We climb on a very exposed traverse that leads us to a new metal ladder - also quite vertical. The staircase ends under a boulder that we go around to the left to then resume at climb vertically. We continue the climb on a new upward traverse to the right that in the vicinity of a more vertical jump bends to the left. We climb this section by using one of the few brackets on the road that helps us win a light rocking. We are in the final section of the route.
Let's go up one attached wall but vertical and exposed that deposits us on a path with which we climb the last drop of about 70 meters reaching the summit Cadin of North East (2788 m) with its spartan red sign indicating to us that it has reached the goal.
The descent from the summit takes place for the Ferrata Merlone which, together with its long series of stairs, will make us lose altitude by returning to the detrital valley (1h 30 'from the summit - 5h total) path in the approach. We now have 3 return options:
The Ferrata Merlone al Cadin is a much discussed ferrata. The abundant use of stairs makes those who appreciate climbing very twisty, however it should be emphasized that the climb without stairs would be of a very difficult level at least according to this line of ascent. The rock is often vertical and due to its conformation it tends to become greasy so it would result in a very demanding climb. The use of stairs - at times too many - reduces technical difficulties, leaving them present only in some sections. The adrenalin-fueled half-way exposure.
The way is traveled in both directions so the risk is that someone will move stones over us so it is absolutely mandatory (as always) to use the protective helmet. The descent of the route is challenging due to the constant exposure to which we are subject and for a couple of passages in the second half rather challenging. Attention also to the sections in free (1st degree) both in the path before the summit and before the beginning of the stairs after the metal slab. There is often sandstone which can make the passages insidious. Calm and prudence.
The valley that we cross before reaching the start of the via ferrata is often covered with snow even in the late season. The slope is modest and therefore the crampons could be excessive. For safety on the conditions you can hear the Fonda Savio Hut.
If traveled with an early start, the Ferrata Merlone could be combined with the longer but less vertical route of the Aided path Bonacossa that cuts the Cadini di Misurina. In this case it might be appropriate to start from Lake Misurina and go up first along the stretch to Forcella Misurina and then Forcella Diavolo taking the Ferrata Merlone as a deviation from the original route of the Aided Path Bonacossa. After the aided path to the Auronzo Hut, you could continue uphill towards the Tre Cime di Lavaredo to travel along some of the most beautiful via ferrata in the Sesto Dolomites: the Via Ferrata delle Scalette or the Via Ferrata Cappellano Hosp at Toblin Tower to the Tower of Toblin or la Innerkofler via Ferrata to Monte Paterno.