A House Built 9,000 Feet in the Air Leaves Authorities Puzzled
If you find yourself in the Dolomites region in Italy, we suggest you look up–way up. Of course, it’s impossible to see from the ground, but if you could see 9,000 feet up, you might spot a peculiar little hut on the side of a mountain. And you might wonder to yourself, how did it get there?
A cliffside dwelling thousands of feet from the ground is a real head-scratcher. Imagine seeing such a sight and thinking, “We should build another.” Well, that’s the exact thought the team from the architectural firm Studio Demogo had! Their recent construction of a second mysterious mountain hut was a bold and wild endeavor.
A Mountainous Marvel
The daring team saw a need for another shelter structure in the area. They completed its construction in 2021, despite the extreme difficulties and challenges posed by the location. Knowing the struggles encountered in 2021, the achievement of building the first hut, the Buffa di Perrero, several decades earlier is even more impressive.
The new structure, dubbed the Bivouac Fanton, is a remarkable feat. Situated along the Dolomites’ Marmarole trail at a staggering 8,750 feet above sea level, it is nearly as high up as the iconic Buffa, which stands roughly 250 feet higher.
A New Hiking Refuge
The Bivouac Fanton was designed with hikers and climbers in mind, providing much-needed accommodation for those trekking the route to the tallest peak in the region. But the construction process was not without hardships.
Despite advancements in 21st-century technology and the additional advantage of a lower altitude, the construction of Bivouac Fanton was a challenging and labor-intensive process. The team overcame numerous obstacles and pushed the limits of what was thought possible to erect the modern hut.
Challenges Along the Way
The team at Studio Demogo faced challenges in transporting building materials to the site. In total, it took three attempts by helicopter to carry materials to the remote location safely. However, the high altitude wasn’t the only obstacle—the surrounding area also presented its own problems.
Plans for delivering building materials to Bivouac Fanton by helicopter were hindered by inclement weather. Though waiting for favorable conditions did add some delay, it was still a faster option than other alternative means of transportation.
Reaching the Hut
Even with a ski lift to cover part of the journey, it takes an experienced hiker five hours to hike to the shelter’s location—unencumbered by materials, that is. It’s worth noting that during the construction of the first hut, the option of using helicopters was not present.
Reaching the hut requires significant effort, even for well-equipped hikers and climbers. Visitors do not have the option of taking a gondola to ease the strain of their expedition. In fact, the current ascent up is similar to what it would have been during construction, making it a true test of endurance and determination for those who are brave enough to undertake it.
Experience Required: The Iron Path
Without a gondola at your disposal, visiting Buffa di Perrero is a formidable pursuit that requires a considerable amount of time—at least an entire day. Therefore, it is a path that hikers should only attempt if they possess a high level of experience and fitness due to the demanding nature of the journey, including the utter length of the path.
The hut is situated along the Via ferrata Ivano Dibona, which translates to roughly “Iron Path” in English—an apt description for this taxing and treacherous route! Despite its grueling nature, the Ivano Dibona gained fame as the location of a ’90s blockbuster movie starring Sylvester Stallone. It was no easy feat to produce the film, The site provided a scenic but burdensome setting for the crew.
A Breathtaking Hollywood Backdrop
The movie in question is Cliffhanger. Many of the action sequences were filmed along Ivano Dibona. For example, the iconic scene of the anxiety-inducing bridge explosion. Though the film didn’t receive great reviews at the time of release, many viewers agree that the action scenes were intense and visually spectacular.
And despite the movie’s hefty $60 million budget, the production team faced many difficulties in shooting along this challenging and frightening mountain range, not least because the leading man himself had a fear of heights!
Mountain vs. Movie Crew
The filmmakers took all necessary safety precautions while filming along the Ivano Dibona, but the location’s nature still presented its challenges. Shooting at elevations that reached 13,000 feet meant even a minor change in weather conditions could force production to halt.
This further proves how challenging and unlikely building the Buffa di Perrero was. The logistics of accessing and constructing the structure in such a remote and harsh place is tricky even today, let alone several decades ago.
Who’s Up for a Challenge?
Accessing the Ivano Dibona is even harder for those without the benefit of a $60 million budget. Realistically, even reaching the start of the trail takes a considerable amount of effort. Hikers must trek for approximately two hours before they even reach the beginning of the trail! Of course, once they reach the starting point, there are still more obstacles to overcome.
Modern-day hikers begin their ascent using a chairlift, but it only takes them to the base of a now-defunct gondola ride. From there, they face the daunting task of a steep climb uphill for 2,300 feet. The complete lack of conveniences makes the mountain’s ascent barely accessible to most people.
The Arduous Journey On the Way Up
During their ascent, hikers must climb shaky, dilapidated metal stairs—plus a ladder. Assuming climbers can conquer these obstacles and several short tunnels, they will finally find themselves at the Cliffhanger bridge. There, they can have a moment to rest and recover while taking in the stunning views, and maybe have a bit of fun by reenacting their favorite scene from the movie.
But the journey is far from over—there is still a considerable distance before they reach the storied Buffa di Perrero. Hikers can count themselves lucky they are not burdened with the added weight of building supplies. It is much more manageable to hike to Buffa without them, which becomes evident as they begin their descent through the Dolomites.
Hanging on for Dear Life
The first step in the final push towards Buffa di Perrero is to climb a ladder to a small peak and then start trekking along the ridge line. Hikers must closely follow the cables that extend along the route.
The wires serve an essential purpose and are not merely for decoration. Instead, they provide support and safety for anyone attempting to hike the trail. They help hikers navigate the unforgiving terrain and give a sense of security during their journey. Therefore, it’s vital to keep close.
Hikers' First Glimpse of Buffa di Perrero
After that long journey, travelers will finally catch a glimpse of Buffa di Perrero. At this point, the adventure will have taken them as long as four hours of hiking. This remote mountain hut is not easy to access, so it’s no surprise many people have been left bewildered by this mysterious edifice—it’s a strange sight to behold!
The first taste might be quite unexpected—the hut itself is unusual, as it seems as though it has been carved directly into the face of the cliff, almost giving the impression that the mountain grew around it. This aesthetic adds to the mysterious aura of the little hut. It can be a pretty striking sight, and hikers may question if they are still on the same trail they had been on for hours.
Inspecting Buffa di Perrero
The unique and unusual structure is sure to pique visitors’ curiosity, with many feeling compelled to take a closer look and examine the hut in detail. It’s clear the structure is quite old, making it hard to comprehend it could have been built all those years ago without modern technology—a simply remarkable feat!
Nevertheless, workers managed to transport building materials and construct it. A testament to human ingenuity and determination, it’s plain to see why it leaves many visitors in awe.
The Mountain Dwelling's Materials
The exterior walls of Buffa di Perrero appear to be made of stone, which blend seamlessly with the surrounding rocks of the mountain like a natural camouflage. It’s possible these stones were sourced from the mountain, which makes sense. However, the wooden interior, framed windows, and chairs are not easily explainable—these materials were most likely brought up to the location from elsewhere.
The roof is also exceptional. It appears to have been fabricated from a combination of wood and stone. The creatos clearly put a lot of time, effort, and resources into making it a secure hideaway in the hills. However, despite its solid construction, the mountain environment can be unpredictable and change rapidly.
An Utter Collapse
In 20021, Buffa di Perrero became another victim of the Dolomites’ unpredictable and relentless weather conditions. When inclement weather hit the mountain range, the roof buckled under the pressure and the interior beams supporting it broke and bent. As seen in the images shared by an Alpine rescue organization, substantial internal damage took place.
Without thorough investigation, the integrity of the structure was unknown and likely dangerous. The 2021 incident serves as a reminder of the destructive power of wind and snow in the Dolomites and that even the most secure and well-built structures are not immune to the harsh mountain environment.
A Curious Novelty
The Alpine rescue organization advised mountain goers to refrain from entering Buffa due to potential hazards such as sharp wooden debris, among other risks. In spite of this warning, it’s highly likely some curious thrill seekers were still interested in approaching the collapsed structure. After all, it is not every day you come across a mysteriously abandoned mountain hut.
In the past, hikers could use the hut as shelter. But now that the structure has sadly collapsed, it has become more of an object of curiosity. People come to admire and appreciate it and see it as a place to take in beautiful views. However, if travelers explore the damaged hut, they may also contemplate how the structure could have come to exist in the first place.
Fighting in the Alps
An in-depth examination of history may provide valuable insights. The Dolomites mountain range, which includes the Buffa di Perrero, was the setting of one of the most devastating battles of World War I—it was the site of the so-called White War, a brutal battle between Italian forces and their Austro-Hungarian counterparts.
This conflict that took place between these wartime adversaries happened throughout the Alpine mountain range along the border, in some of the most inhospitable conditions imaginable. Troops fought at elevations as high as 12,000 feet and in temperatures as low as -22°F. These conditions made warfare even more challenging and dangerous for the soldiers, who had to not only face the enemy but also the extreme weather.
All the Right Conditions for a Hut
The mere notion of engaging in combat at such heights and in such harsh conditions is virtually unimaginable. Despite this, the men soldiered on for almost the entire duration of World War I, making the White War a historical event of courage, endurance, and sacrifice.
Here we may gain a clue to the origins of the mysterious hut at Buffa di Perrero. Because the soldiers needed more than harsh language and gestures to survive and fight in this environment, i.e, specialized equipment, the Dolomites were to be a stage for some of the most significant innovations of the war.
Soldiers on the Mountain
Historically, the only individuals who ventured to the great heights of the Dolomites region were foragers, shepherds, or mountaineers. Since there was no mountain infrastructure to speak of, troops on both sides of the conflict were forced to create paths either through the mighty Dolomites. Suffice it to say the conflict forever altered the mountain’s landscape.
The Austro-Hungarian and Italian military forces engaged in the toilsome task of altering the natural landscape of the pristine Alpine mountains. Such work involved cutting down the mountains’ peaks and excavating through rocky terrain. They also undertook the building of roads, laying cables, and even installing telephone lines.
Working to Live the High Life
Two primary objectives drove these efforts: enabling soldiers to quickly and efficiently reach the front lines of battle, and establishing long-term outposts in the bitter mountain environment—places that could endure whatever weather conditions presented themselves.
Consequently, a significant amount of equipment was hauled up to the high-altitude locations to support the war effort and also to provide for the daily needs of the soldiers. An efficient logistics and supply chain system was built to manage this task.
Reaching the Pinnacle
Perhaps the apex of this Alpine existence was demonstrated in 1916. The specific location was the Marmolada, the most prominent peak in the range. The Austro-Hungarian army had devised a plan to dig a tunnel through the glacier in order to approach their enemy’s position covertly. However, as it began the excavation, the soldiers made a significant discovery they most certainly had not anticipated.
At this point, they were familiar with the snowstorms, avalanches, and freezing temperatures that constantly threatened their survival. But while working inside the glacier, many of these concerns were less of an issue. For many, it was preferable to the brutal conditions outside—perhaps they felt a sense of safety and comfort inside the glacier compared to being exposed to nature’s elements.
A Subterranean Ice Community
As one development led to the next, soon, the Austro-Hungarian military forces were vigorously digging through the glacier. They were steadfast in their efforts, dedicating ten months to the excavation. Ultimately, their labor resulted in a subterranean space large enough to sustain a population of 200 men.
The result of their extraordinary undertaking was a network of tunnels that spanned over seven miles, connecting the various positions of their troops. However, the tunnels were not the only thing that could be found inside the glacier.
The "Ice City" Compound
The area where these tunnels and underground compound were created has since been referred to as the “Ice City.” This underground compound was indeed an impressive achievement as it provided soldiers with a place to sleep, cook, and even practice their faith. Additionally, it had storerooms to keep food and supplies and sick bays to attend to any soldiers who were injured.
The compound essentially contained everything needed to provide the troops in their fight against the Italian forces. And the war did indeed extend to the specific sector of the Dolomites known as Buffa di Perrero.
Mountain Warfare Intensifies
In 1915, an intense and unforgettable battle raged in the region surrounding Monte Cristallo, now the location of Buffa di Perrero. This conflict occurred during August and September. It was distinguished by the fact that a bombing campaign was launched directly on the mountain itself.
Incredibly, the troops had found a way to transport WWI-era artillery to their strategic positions and use them to fire upon the enemy. However, the battle was affected both by the troops’ actions and the unpredictable nature of the weather, which always played a crucial role in the area.
A Game of Push and Pull
The soldiers were constantly hampered during the fighting by the persistent mist, snow, and freezing temperatures that often plagued the area. As a result, when the battle was ultimately over, both sides had accomplished very little.
A significant number of casualties had been sustained, and the destruction was widespread—all for the acquisition of only a handful of trenches. However, despite the lack of significant territorial gains, this determined and brutal fighting style in the region may give way to some understanding of why Buffa di Perrero exists.
Could It Be..?
The Ivano Dibona trail was one of the key paths the Italian military forces utilized during World War I. Even today, hikers who traverse this via ferrata route have the opportunity to encounter remnants of the barriers and trenches constructed during the war.
Moreover, the very footholds used along the trail today are the same ones the soldiers of the war used. Given this history, it can be inferred that the troops are likely the ones who built Buffa di Perrero.
Still No Solid Proof
It is worth noting that no concrete historical evidence regarding the soldiers constructing the hut confirms this is indeed the case. However, this is the generally accepted explanation among most historians.
Understandably, Buffa would have been an ideal location for the soldiers, as it would have provided them with a strategic location for planning their subsequent maneuvers, storing supplies, or simply taking a break from the battlefield. Of course, it is no longer used for those purposes today.
A Matter of Public Concern
When word got out regarding the extensive damage Buffa di Perroro suffered, the primary concern among many who posted on Facebook was if the shelter would be repaired. This location was a place of refuge for current hikers and an integral part of Italy’s historical heritage.
Currently, there is yet to be an official announcement about a plan to restore Buffa di Perrero to its original state. Yet, despite the lack of information, the desire to preserve this important piece of Italy’s past is palpable.
What Remains to Be Found
The Dolomites range in Italy is an example that highlights the fact many historical artifacts remain hidden among the world’s mountains. The mountains have also revealed various artifacts and remains from World War I as the glaciers have begun to recede.
This discovery raises the question of what other untold stories may be hidden within different mountain ranges. It is not just the Dolomites that hold secrets of the past, but it’s a reminder that many more discoveries are out there waiting to be uncovered!