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Sasso Grande, Alpe Vecchio, Monte dei Pizzoni

Published by Stijn , 22 September 2016, 20h12.

Region: World » Switzerland » Tessin » Sottoceneri
Date of the hike:17 September 2016
Hiking grading: T6- - Difficult High-level Alpine hike
Climbing grading: II (UIAA Grading System)
Geo-Tags: CH-TI   I   Gruppo San Lucio-Monte Boglia 
Time: 2 days
Height gain: 2250 m 7380 ft.
Height loss: 2600 m 8528 ft.

Trying to get away from the bad weather, we headed as far south as possible. The chosen goal ended up being Valsolda, just across the Swiss-Italian border from Lugano. Though not high in altitude, the landscape here is astonishingly wild. It's almost as if a piece of Thailand's tropical Khao Sok national park has been moved to the Alps. Rewarding hikes can be found here at many different levels of difficulty.

Day 1
Villa Luganese - Alpe Bolla - Sasso Grande - Paretina dei Chiodi - Cima dell'Oress - Alpe Fiorina - Alpe Pessina - Alpe Vecchia
1800m ascent, 1400m descent, 9h30, T5- and II

The IC Z├╝rich-Lugano connects well with the bus to Villa Luganese, allowing us to reach our starting point in reasonable time. The path from Villa Luganese to Stabbio is in fact marked (though on the map it is not part of the official hiking path network), so we walk up towards Alpe Bolla this way. Soon after the Alp, we reach the ridge that follows the Swiss-Italian border. We follow the hiking path along the ridge northwards, passing some great viewpoints over the Lugano area. The rock formations along the path are increasingly spectacular as we reach the Denti della Vecchia. The highest rock outcrop here is the Sasso Grande, which can be climbed (T5-, II) from the Passo Streccione following a vague path to the north-west and subsequently scrambling up following large gray-blue markings. The easiest route avoids the obvious couloir and instead climbs up to the left of it. The rock quality is excellent, making the scrambling a real pleasure. Only the fact that you have to climb down the same way, makes the route a little more serious. The views from the top are already enough to make our long trip to find the good weather in the south worthwhile.

Continuing towards the north-east, the marked hiking trail on the Swiss side passes in spectacular fashion (but without any difficulties) along the foot of some cliffs. This path passes below the summit of the Paretina dei Chiodi (P. 1484). Since we still want to visit this eye-catching viewpoint, we climb up through a grassy couloir (past the start of some bolted climbing routes, T4) to reach the parallel path ("scenic trail") along the border higher up, from where the dramatic viewpoint can be reached astonishingly easily (barely T3).

Going in the direction of Pairolo again, both parallel paths join at P. 1398. A little further, we pass above the Capanna Pairolo and start heading east, still roughly following the Swiss-Italian border past the Cima dell'Oress. A little before the Cima di Fojorina, it's finally time to head down into the Valsolda on the Italian side of the ridge.

We follow the (sparingly) marked path through the west face of Il Torrione. Bushes hanging over the path hamper our progress somewhat. At the small saddle between Il Torrione and Monte Prade, we turn left in the direction of Bocchetta del Boj. (There's a signpost here that exaggerates quite a bit by putting Bochetta del Boj at more than one hour away -- the paths in Valsolda are not very quick, but it's not that bad...) The path to the Bochetta del Boj is one of the highlights of the day. It's a wonderful traverse (with some short descents in between) through the south face of Il Torrione, with amazing views over the Valsolda and the surrounding mountains. (T3)

On some maps, there is a path descending directly from the Bochetta del Boy to the Passo Stretto. However, since the establishment of a nature reserve here, the longer route via Alpe Fiorina is the only legal path. At the clearing of the Passo Stretto, there is a signpost for the Alpe di Cima. However, we can't see any path nor markings in that direction, so we opt for the slightly longer route via Alpe Pessina. It's already getting later than expected and there is a cabin at Alpe Pessina as well, but Polder's report of bed bugs gives us the motivation to continue onward to the Alpe Vecchio. We descend past the Alpe di Cima (just some ruins on an idyllic meadow) and further east until we reach an altitude of ca. 1020m. Hikr has a waypoint here called "Passo di San Michele", but I could not find any reference to that name anywhere else. Some attention is needed to find the correct path that traverses southwest towards the Alpe Vecchio. The path is marked, but there are no signposts and the junction is easily missed.

It's already getting dark as we do this final traverse on a narrow and sometimes exposed path, spectacularly above the Lago di Lugano (T4-). When we finally reach the Bivacco Alpe Vecchio, we are rewarded for our long day by a superb cozy cabin, that we share with the friendly couple from Menaggio. A few minutes south of the cabin, there is a spectacular viewpoint over the eastern part of the Lago di Lugano, where you can see the lights of the town of Porlezza flickering far below.

Day 2
Bivacco Alpe Vecchio - Forcola - Monte dei Pizzoni - San Mamete
450m ascent, 1200m descent 4h30, T6- and II

After a long and tiring day yesterday, we only have a shorter hike over the Monte dei Pizzoni planned for today. Departing from the Alpe Vecchia, we climb to the saddle of Forcola. Here, a path that is marked (but non-existant on most maps) turns left towards the Monte dei Pizzoni. The path stays in the north face below the eastern part of the Monte dei Pizzoni ridge, with some narrow and exposed traverses through grass slopes (T4+). It might be preferable to ignore the markings and to stick to the ridge instead, even when (like today) there is mist and no views to be had from ridge.

When our path finally joins the ridge, the spectacular rock tower of the Monte dei Pizzoni is directly ahead. The path (now more comfortable) traverses north of the summit. After descending a little, we reach a junction with a route to the summit ("vetta") to the left, while the main path to Drano continues on the right. My hiking partner decides to stay here, while I aim for the summit.

The summit route traverses a little further (well-marked) and then turns left into a steep couloir (only vague old markings). Some huge rocks are wedged in the upper part of the couloir. You can do a spectacular scramble (II) underneath the wedged rocks. The larger rocks seem pretty solid, but there are lots of smaller loose stones as well, so be careful if there is more than one person in the couloir. Getting out of the couloir above the wedged rocks is the crux of the route. For a couple of metres, the terrain is very steep, with grass and loose stones and hardly anywhere trustworthy to put your feet (T6-).
The strange thing is: this couloir has been described on Hikr before (compare Delta's photo from 2008 with my photo, and also read Zaza, chaeppi and marmotta's report from 2013), but nobody has ever mentioned scrambling under the wedged rocks. So either I missed a way out of the couloir below the wedged rocks, or there has been a large rock fall since 2013 that dramatically changed the couloir...
When I've understood the other descriptions correctly, there must be at least two other alternative routes: another couloir further west (see e.g. morgan and Poncione) and (presumably the easiest option) following the west ridge all the way.

My couloir reaches the ridge where there is a small rock pinnacle. After a short scramble out of the chasm on the left of the pinnacle, the remaining ascent to the summit is straight-forward. In the fog, the Monte dei Pizzoni summit is rather featureless (the summit cross is still missing) and less impressive from above than from below.

I descend back through the couloir to rejoin my companion. We follow the marked hiking path traversing through the north face, until this path climbs a little to join the ridge further west. From here to Drano, the path roughly stays on the ridge. The path is sometimes a little vague, but the markings are so frequent that you immediately notice when you've strayed off the intended route. The fog starts to lift and amazing views over the Lago di Lugano (with the Monte San Salvatore at the far end) open up. Lower down, the woods above Drano are filled with tasteful wild brambles. We descend through the decaying villages of Drano and Loggio to reach our destination of San Mamete, at the shores of the Lago di Lugano.

After some extensive studying of the bus schedule, we figure out that we are nicely in time for the 15.12 bus to Lugano. We buy tickets, have a quick drink and start waiting at the bus stop. However after a while, we are told that the bus has already passed, which must have been at least 5 minutes ahead of schedule... We get a refund on our tickets and try hitchhiking, which (to my astonishment) is already successful with the fourth car that passes.

Hike partners: Stijn

Click to draw, click on the last point to end drawing


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