Marmontana and more, from Italy into Switzerland

Published by Stijn , 16 May 2015, 22h45.

Region: World » Italy » Lombardy
Date of the hike: 9 May 2015
Hiking grading: T5 - Challenging High-level Alpine hike
Climbing grading: I (UIAA Grading System)
Geo-Tags: Gruppo Portola-San Jorio   CH-GR   CH-TI   I   Gruppo San Jorio-Monte Bar 
Time: 2 days
Height gain: 2600 m 8528 ft.
Height loss: 2250 m 7380 ft.

Throwing in the following three ingredients...
1) Anxiety to finally properly start the 2015 hiking season
2) A good weather forecast for the whole weekend in the south
3) My intention to do some treks with bivouacs this year ambitious plan was created: a two day hike from near Lake Como in Italy over the Passo San Jorio into Switzerland, sleeping near the pass under the starry sky, and summiting whatever mountains I can assemble along the way.
Day 1:
Garzeno - Monti Cagerimo - Morte Cortafon - Motto di Paraone - Passo San Jorio
13.5km, 1600m ascent, 200m descent, 5h45
Though I have big plans and a long journey from Zürich to the Lago di Como ahead of me, I still allow myself a fairly late start. By far the easiest connection from Zürich to Dongo involves taking the 9.09 train to Lugano, which connects to the "Palm Express" Postauto service from Lugano to St. Moritz (reservation online until 8.30 on the day of departure). In Dongo, I take the local C17 bus (schedule), where I find myself the odd one out amonst lots of school kids. Apparently, children go to school on Saturday morning as well in Italy... The bus saves me some 400m of ascent. The village of Garzeno at 630m above sea level is the end of the line. Here, I can finally start walking.
My map is Swisstopo sheet 277 (Roveredo), which unfortunately is not quite up to Swiss standards for the Italian territories. For example, at L'Avolo, I follow the only clearly marked path, but this unexpectedly brings me the St. Anna church at Monti Cagnao, rather than directly to Monti Cagerimo as the map would suggest. It's not the only detail which is incorrect on the map, but the rest of my route is simple enough: at the hairpin near P. 1231 is join the Monte Cortafon - Motto di Paraone ridge, which I'll stick to for pretty much the rest of the day.
The Monte Cortafon - Motto di Paraone ridge has been explored on Hikr once before by rambaldi (in Italian). I manage to stay on the ridge a little more consistently than he did. The ridge is mostly gently undulating and makes for pleasant, scenic hiking. There are a few section with a more alpine feel (occasionally around T4/I), but most of the way is considerably easier. There are two noteworthy obstacles though. Firstly, P. 1592 (called "Pigosc" by rambaldi) is an inaccessible crag, which luckily can be passed without major difficulty directly along its base on the northern side. Secondly, a 'gendarme' (spiky rock) blocks the ridge near P. 1644. This obstacle can be passed along the northern side as well, but descending down to the foot of the spike is more challenging this time. Climbing through a gap in which a rock has wedged itself inconveniently, involves one move of grade II scrambling. Some footsteps are also visible on an adjoining grass slope, but this doesn't look advisable due to being steep, exposed and potentially slippery. (see photo)
A group of friendly sheep follows me for a while on the Motto di Paraone. Three deer have much less interest in me, as they run by quickly. The descent from the Motto di Paraone towards the Il Govio hut passes some sort of man-made canal and an electricity pylon with a secretive entrance door in a cave underneath. At the Rifugio Il Govio, I meet the only other people that afternoon. They aren't even hikers, but two locals who have driven up to the by motorbike to enjoy the evening views. The hut is closed (even the winter room is locked) and the same holds for the nearby San Jorio hut. I however came fully prepared with Thermarest, bivy bag, etc. There are many sources between the San Govio and San Jorio huts to fill up on water. There are also a number of information panels here about the history, geology, wildlife, etc. of the area. Many of these are covered by a "confine Parco" sign, which you have to flap up in order to reveal the info panel. I must have passed about five of them before I even realised...
I witness the sunset by the chapel at the Passo San Jorio while cooking my dinner. My first idea was to sleep on the lee side of the chapel, but unfortunately the wind is shooting around the chapel in all different directions. In the end, I opt for a less scenic but more sheltered spot slightly lower down.
Day 2:
Passo San Jorio - Cima di Cugn - Marmontana - Toresella - Passo San Jorio - Cima delle Cicogne - Carena
17km, 1000m ascent, 2050m descent, 11h
I was looking forward to seeing the sun rise in the east from inside my sleeping bag. However, I hadn't calculated with how far north from east the sun already rises this time of year. By the time the sun appears from behind the Marmontana, it's already quite high in the sky.
The Cima di Cugn is quickly reached from the Passo San Jorio. The views are exceptionally clear this morning, and especially towards the west the panorama is stunning. Pehind the Piano di Magadino and the beginning of the Lago Maggiore, the western Alps are stretched out in their full glory: from Monte Rosa across Wallis and Berner Oberland to the Sustenhorn.
From the Cima di Cugn, the ascent of the Marmontana looks really steep. However, this proves to be an illusion, as the path (an easyish T3) is hardly more difficult than on the Cima di Cugn. The Lago Maggiore has disappeared, while the view to the Lago di Como on the Italian side has opened up again instead. On the Marmontana east summit, a 5m wide strip of snow, still treacherously hard after the cold night, has to be crossed. At last, I didn't carry my ice axe and Microspikes up for nothing! Those 5 metres would be the only use I would get out of them all day, though...
I decide to continue along the ridge to the next major summit, the Toresella. The ridge crosses a marked hiking path with two signposts. The Italian sign calls this place the Bocchetta di Stazzone at 2123m. The Swiss sign claims that it's the Bocchetta del Lago with an altitude of 2122m. To defy each other a little more, both sides have put their sign on the 'wrong' side of the border...
The Toresella proves to be considerably more demanding than expected. There are many bits of track along the slopes, but they're more like sheep tracks that don't really go anywhere useful. Regardless whether I try to stay close to the ridge, or try to stay lower down south face of the Toresella, the going is arduous. Steep terrain, a continuous up-and-down trying to find a passable line, dealing with loose rock and slippery mud... Climbing the Toresella is a slow, frustrating and energy consuming business. If you're better a finding the best route than me, you might be able to find a T4 route to the top, but I'd rather be prepared for a T5.
It's a relief when I'm finally back at the Bocchetta del Lago/di Stazzone and I can follow the marked "Alta via del Lario" back to the Passo San Jorio.
I'm rather tired, but since I would have to wait for a bus in Carena anyway, I decide that I might as well still include the next mountain along: the Cima delle Cicogne. The path from the Passo San Jorio to Biscia (T2, occasionally T3) is a beautiful "high route" with stunning views towards the Piano di Magadino and the surrounding mountains. However, the path could do with some maintenance, as numerous fallen trees and one landslide cause minor obstructions.
I intend to try the south-east ridge of the Cima delle Cicogne, but I don't see any trails going there until I'm already traversing below the south face. I decide to climb the south face directly, which is steeper than it looks and not advisable. The normal route would be along the west face, except that the access to the summit on that side is completely blocked by a huge telecommunications installation. It looks a bit like a cable car station, but it's massively ugly anyway. Other reports on Hikr have pointed out that the balcony of the building is usually unlocked, so if you're a little naughty you can pass by without major difficulty. It didn't occur to me to try, so I instead scrambled past the building on the south side (an unpleasant T5). If there's any worthwhile route onto the Cima delle Cicogne at all, it must be the south-east ridge, as described by giorgio59m (in Italian).
It's now time to descend to Carena, a slightly tiresome descent from Alpe Pisciarotondo down through the forest. The bus service from Carena is rather infrequent, so timing is of the essence here. In my case, I just about have the time to wash the sweat away at a fountain and eat an ice cream at the (small but friendly) local restaurant, before jumping on the Postauto. The bus drives down a spectacular road to the Giubiasco train station, where my adventurous weekend is definitely over, and it's time join the ordinary world again.
With the 'rigufi' still closed, the Passo San Jorio was really quiet. Hiking and sleeping in this stunning scenery all by myself was a great experience. The Morte Cortafon - Motto di Paraone ridge, the Marmontana and the Passo San Jorio - Biscia path come highly recommended. On the other hand, Toresella and the Cima delle Cicogne unfortunately didn't prove to be worthwhile... But all in all, I had a successful weekend, a good condition test, and a proper start to the 2015 hiking season.

Hike partners: Stijn

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Comments (4)

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igor says:
Sent 17 May 2015, 15h45
Complimenti !!! Bellissima montagna ciao

Stijn says: RE:
Sent 17 May 2015, 19h19
Grazie per i complimenti, Igor.

ivanbutti says:
Sent 17 May 2015, 16h13
Many compliments, really a very good job, well done.

Ciao, Ivan

Stijn says: RE:
Sent 17 May 2015, 19h19
Thanks Ivan!

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