The sunrise on Marmolada, the highest mountain in the Dolomites, Italy, can be a beautiful and breathtaking experience. The mountain provides panoramic views of the surrounding Alps and the valleys below, creating a stunning contrast between the golden hues of the sunrise and the snow-capped peaks. If you plan to witness the sunrise on Marmolada, read on. I am sharing my photos and tips on how to experience this spectacle below.
Marmolada – the Queen of Dolomites
Marmolada is a wonderful mountain. Being the highest peak in Dolomites it got its nickname, the Queen of Dolomites. Mt Antelao being the rightful king with its dramatic, pyramid shaped peak. Its glacier is the largest in Dolomites and very popular with skiers in winter and mountaineers in summer. The highest point of Marmolada is Punta Penia (3343m). At the top there is a steel cross and a modest refuge.
The best thing about Marmolada is the views from the top. Regardless if you are at Punta Penia or at one of its lower peaks, the views are spectacular. Practically all of the prominent peaks of Dolomites are clearly visible from here, Mt Antelao, Mt Pelmo, Mt Civetta, the Pala group, Mt Piz Boe (Sella group), the twins Sassolungo and Sassopiatto, Mt Sorapiss, Mt Cristallo and Tofana group among others. On clear days, the views extend well into Austria towards Stubai and Otztal Alps. The Grossvenediger and Grossglockner, the two highest peaks of Austria can also be seen. All these 360 views make it well worth getting to the top. Either the old school way by foot or the easy way, using the gondolas to the top.
Gondola to the top of Marmolada for Sunrise
It only takes 15 minutes to get from the foot of the mountain to the very top station at Punta Rocca (3265m). The gondola operates during daytime in Winter and in Summer – one should check the schedule on the official page of Funivie Marmolada for operating hours. The base station is located in a small village of Malga Ciapela and it takes three different gondolas to reach the top. It all runs super fast and smooth and one can only marvel the ingenuity and the engineering how all this works.
Usually the problem for photographers is that the gondolas and cable cars operate during daytime only. There is no way to be on location for sunrise or sunset. What a bummer.
But not here at Marmolada! When I was doing research for my regular Winter in Dolomites photography workshop, I discovered a way to experience the sunrise on Marmolada. The Funivie Marmolada organises sunrise experience a few times each year in winter! When I saw that I emailed them and booked seven places for my group. The cost per person is 50EUR and it includes a return ride with gondola and a wonderful buffet breakfast at rifugio Serauta (2950m). The experience is only confirmed the night before, when it is clear that the weather is favourable. No guarantees.
Photographing Sunrise on Marmolada
We checked out of our hotel in Cortina D’Ampezzo at 5am and drove to Malga Ciapela. There was no waiting time and at 6.15 we were already on our way up! It was still pitch dark so we did not see how steep and high the first station is. We arrived to the very top in about 15minutes and realised there is no shelter from the cold. It was supposed to be -26C according to our weather apps. Freaking cold and sooo hard to operate the camera!
We set up our tripods indoors and put our cameras on before heading out to the viewing platform. The challenge outside wasn’t only the cold temperature but also wind and the unstable platform. The best tactics to get sharp photos before the dawn was high ISO (I was shooting at 800) and taking multiple shots of the same subject to improve the odds of getting one image sharp.
When the sun finally came out the magic happened. The surrounding peaks were glowing in strong warm light and we were all running around the platform to shoot toward different directions. I was mostly using 24-70mm and 100-400mm lenses.
We stayed there until the light was nice. I am grateful to the staff of the gondola for not rushing us down. When we decided to go down to the Serauta rifugio, it was more than an hour after sunrise. The breakfast was another nice surprise. A buffet with fried eggs and bacon, nice cappuccino, fruits and a wide variety of desserts. What a conclusion to an exciting morning!