Keep Wild Climbs - Vogorno and Gaggio

Published by som , 1 July 2013, 21h47.

Region: World » Switzerland » Tessin » Locarnese
Date of the hike:29 June 2013
Hiking grading: T3+ - Difficult Mountain hike
Climbing grading: V- (UIAA Grading System)
Geo-Tags: CH-TI   Gruppo Cima dell'Uomo 
Time: 2 days

With the girlfriend working in the weekend the calender was marked with climbing and A was up for it. The weather forecast spelled Tessin all week, but the lack of a car and a wish to avoid the Ponte Brolla crowds demanded some creative planning. Hence a long look in the “keep wild climbs” guidebook let to a simple plan. Leave from work Friday and get up to Alp Bardughe, climb the WSW rip of Pizzo Vorgorno with all the gear Saturday and hike on to Capanno Albagno from the top. Then a quick run up the east face of Maggio Sunday and A could be back in Zurich for dinner at 18.00. Let's file it under A, for adventures, or ambitious.

I left it up to A's language skills to call the huts and he decided to skip the 60 chf lift and instead suggested we warm up with 1100 meters Friday night. All in we found ourselves in the last bus heading up to Vogorno where a chat with the driver ended up with a local passenger promising to show us a short cut through the town in order to get us started. He proved an interesting chat but also seemed suspicious concerning our climbing plans. “No need for a rope there, it might do for kinder bergsteigen”.

Two hours later and now in the dark we found the alp just in time to wake up the three German hikers, and having missed the fact that a separate kitchen existed managed to come of as total jerks by having our late supper in the bedroom. We completed the picture when A's alarm went off at 7 the next morning sending him on a frantic hunt through the cabin to turn it off. Awake, there was however no reason to linger, so off we went.

The approach to the WSW grat was smooth, with generally easy trail finding and only a minimal of bushwalking after leaving the regular path at 1890 m. Though having scouted what rip to climb from below help as they somehow all look the same up close. Up close the climbing also looked a lot better, with free choice of a 7a overhang start for the daring. I skipped that, and the neighboring crack due to a slight miscommunication on what friends to bring. But racked up we got and up we went.

In the spirit of the adventure I will omit the details of the climb. We enjoyed climbing the towers on the first half of the route, and found no need to pass any of them in the gully, instead climbing everything more or less straight on. Enjoying the challenge of the free climb, and the excitement of finding ones own way. When considering if one will find a hold above that lip, or force oneself into a mantle of desperation, it is often worth considering if a move can be downclimbed. That vital alpine skill. I find it hard to judge the difficulty when hanging above my smallest nut, but lower fifth grade my define the crux of our choice.

Further up the ridge was less sharp and more easily passable on the right, but for the sake of climbing we kept roped up and had a good time simu-climbing, all the way across the regular hikers trail and onto the summit. Where lunch awaited and a little more was revealed about A's mighty backpack. In the pre-trip mails I had pointed out that we would leave nothing at the base, and hence was slightly surprised by the ipad, flip-flops, apples and carrots produced from the bags interior. And less surprised by the grunts and complaining in the crux. Well, each to his own but I had my jokes about it. Packing light is another alpine skill.

From here on the hiking shoes were in demand, as we set out for Cap. Albagno. In good Swiss tradition the trails were well marked and signed so no one should get lost, or enjoy reading a map. We stuck to the trail except for a shortcut above Cap. Borgna, saving us some elevation on a day slowly getting longer. Enjoying the extremely quit day with hardly a breath of wind and a layer of thin clouds to complete the feeling of solemn, we took it easy and enjoyed the view. Our eyes stretching from Locarno to Lugano so far away below us.

My hiking shoes did well, despite A's skeptical look. Since to save weight when climbing they were indeed shoes. But his surprise was due to a classical language misunderstanding. The use of bergschuhe in german for what everybody else would consider boots. Only on the short north side after Cma. dell'Uomo when crossing snowfields did I miss the boots. But there were good tracks, and the slopes were mild with long runouts providing plenty of opportunity to stop should a slip occur. And then after some ten hours under way we finally climbed out of the last gully, into sun and smiles and half an hour of walk to the hut and the beers. Enjoying them in the sun satisfied with a long and active day.

The evening was one of those for which mountain huts are made. A mix of people and languages all brought together in the moment by a lust for the high. And everybody talking with everybody with an open heart and a mind to share. Golden until A decided to wake up at 4 the next morning. It is already light he said. 15 minutes I grumped but up I got and twenty to six we were off for the east face of Gaggio.

The approach started well, following an old alp trail in that special morning light promising a clear day, but let me break the tension and immediately warn the reader. The east face of Gaggio is not a climb worth doing. With the trail slowly disappearing we turned the east ridge of Gaggio and immediately laid eyes on our target, and the tense bush covered slope leading there.

What followed was all the worst bush walking has to offer. The alder (Ge. Erlen) insisted on growing sideways down the hill, forcing us through over or under it. Grappling it, fighting it and cursing it. At one moment following a animal track, or rather crawling since no animals there had our height. Standing up again to see nothing while hoping for a few meters of open grass before once again getting engulfed. It was the worst approach I have ever done, but fortunately did not last long. We managed in the 1.5 hours prescribed the guide book. And then finally could look up at the climb.

To utter disappointment. What met us was not a wall, but a long slab of compact gneiss. So low angle that a tennis ball would likely have landed on a terrace, had I thrown one up there. Silently we donned our harnessed but skipped the ropes deciding to solo on until we might encounter something meriting the promised 4c climbing. And thus we proceeded to the ridge. The slab, to easy to climb and anyway too compact to protect. For me a good climb follows a line, like a ridge or a crack, or offers one the joy of finding the easiest or most aesthetic line through the rock. This a climb would force an artificial zig zag between mini cruxes to be anything at all. At the top it did indeed steepen for the final 15 meters, but having come so far we just soloed an easy route to the ridge. Where we did rope up, though it was really to short to merit it.

And so, after three hours we sat under the summit cross as the sheep approached. Those vile aggressive beast would leave A no calm, offering a tug of war for his lunch bag without being bothered by the threat of punches. I guess they beg food of the hikers. From here it was down, to Mornera and the lift, to Bellinzona and home. Satisfied by seeking the adventure even if not always finding what expected.

If anyone should be inspired by this journey, I strongly recommend exchanging the east side of Gaggio with the west ridge. It is a much better climb, well protected and not hard for the 5b rating. Instead of going to Albagno one could then drop down to Cap. Gariss. The approach gully for the west ridge is however still filled with snow, but looked manageable from the top of Cma. dell'Uomo.

Hike partners: som

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