British woman plunges to her death while climbing in Italy’s Dolomites

A British woman has died after plunging 100ft to her death while tackling a tough climbing route in the Dolomites, in northern Italy, that traces its origins back to high-altitude fighting in the First World War.

Louise Atkinson, 55, from Ripon, North Yorkshire, was climbing with her partner when the accident happened in the Catinaccio massif near the town of Bolzano, the capital of the autonomous area of South Tyrol.

They inadvertently found themselves on a “via ferrata” – meaning iron way – a precipitous route across cliffs and rock faces that involves grappling with iron cords, rungs and ladders.

The climbing routes have their origins in the First World War, when opposing Italian and Austro-Hungarian troops vied to occupy positions higher than each other. They fixed iron ladders and ropes onto rocks so they could transport ammunition, weapons and food to high-altitude positions.

The protocol on such routes is for climbers to be equipped with a harness fitted with two karabiners, as well as helmets to protect their heads from falling rocks. At least one karabiner is meant to be attached to a rung or iron cord at any time.

Couple ‘took the wrong trail’

“The British couple had intended to take the easy hiking path, the normal route. But instead they took the wrong trail and ended on a high-level via ferrata,” an officer from the alpine rescue service of the Guardia di Finanza police told The Telegraph.

“That’s why she was not clipped onto an iron cable. She had none of the right equipment – no harness or karabiner or helmet, nothing. They realised their mistake and turned round, and at some point she fell.”

The route onto which the couple strayed is demanding, with an ascent and descent of 850 metres and an estimated completion time of five hours.

Ms Atkinson’s body was recovered by alpine rescue specialists with the help of a helicopter.

“This ‘via ferrata’ is not particularly challenging, but of course it depends on who is tackling it. If it’s someone who lives in the city and is not used to the mountains then it could be a very extreme experience,” an alpine rescue official in Bolzano told The Telegraph.

It was the second fatality in a few days after a 55-year old Italian man died on the same route on July 16.

In the bilingual Dolomites, the Catinaccio range is known in German as the Rosengarten or “rose garden” for the way the limestone peaks and jagged towers turn pink at sunset.

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Nick Squires