Main Alpine Divide. Section 10. Gottard and Leone Alps

February 9, 2022

Day 65. Olivone to Lago Ritom. 27 Km. 8.5 Hrs. 1700m up. 740m down.

I had breakfast at 0700, which the host serverd with applomb spooning yoghuty into my bowl and adding granola all balanced on a tray on his wrist. By the time I had finished the very cheerful Anne had come down for her breakfast on the patio in the sun before she went off to her retreat. After I had finished saying goodbye to the hosts, Anne and the retired Architect it was already 0800. I strolled through the town passing, an artist, teo electrical shops, a bakery, a photographer, 2 small supermarkets, a builder, a sawmill and a cafe which was full of coffee drinkers having 2 shots before they went off to work. There were a few derelict buildings here too, and a hotel seemed to be heading that way, but by and large the small town of Olivone was down to earth and honest. Many of the gardens I passed on the street heading west out of town had vegetable plots bursting with attention and full of ripening produce. After a little less than a kilometre the main road I was made a hairpin bend to the south and I left it here and started up a lane. 

438. The old church at Sommascona with its bell tower with 4 bells and wheels protruding out of the portals.

Very soon the lane reached the hamlet of Sommascona, with its small modest houses and what looked like a very old small church. The church had a bell tower with 4 bells in the arched opening at the top, one on each side. The wheels to chime the bells were partially external and open to the elements with the ropes on the inside of the rustic tower. The route continued up the hill partially on the lane and partially cutting across the hairpins in decidious woods dominated by hazel trees which were heavy with nuts now. After half an hour it reached the rural hamlet of Alta, where a few houses kept 50 odd hens in a wire compound between the old houses with wonky shutters. There was a nice shaded small square here with tables and a spring under large leafy trees. A bit beyond Alta it reached another hamlet beside the main road called Piera which was not as charming as the other two on account on the road above it. However my route did not go on the road but through the hamlet before it cut across the road and and headed up into more extensive woods and meadows. 

The path climbed quite quickly through the hazel woods and across meadows which had been cut and the grass stored a while ago. In the middle of one of these meadows was the 6-8 house hamlet of Onceda. It was hidden from modernity at the end of a gravel track whigh served it. The houses grew straight out of the meadow really with very little garden at the back and small flowery gardens at the front. I guessed these houses were once summer farms which had been restored and were now simple year round residences, although a few still looked agricultural. The path then went back into the woods for another while before it reached Dotra. 

439. The hamlet of Onceda with its old agricultural houses rising up from a corner of the lush meadow. Some of these summer farms were now homes.

Dotra was a remarkable small village. It had a rifugio which was quite busy already with day trippers enjoying a snack on the tables outside. I think the place called Capanna Dotra, also did overnight accommodation. There was also a cafe in the village. What made Dotra remarkable through was the absence of a road or lane through it. There were grassy strips between the houses and I am sure there were cobbles underneath these lawns but the houses just came straight out of the meadow. I  passed a group of Italian hikers here and they were equally enchanted by the quaintness of Dotra. 

Dotra lay at the lower lip of a higher pastoral valley which stretched up some 3 kiolmetres to a small pass, Cros Potera, 1917m. The gentle valley was open with a scattering of larch and Swiss pines across its floor which was covered in reasonably shallow meadows. Above the meadows were pastures on each side until they merged with the steeper bare rocky hillsides which went up to castellted peaks at about 2500 metres. The path pretty much followed the track on the valley floor beside the dry stream bed with it bleached rounded stones. As I walked up there was the constant hum of dozens of cow bells clunking. 

440. The extensive meadow above Dotra had already been harvested for its hay. Its slopes were peppered with trees as it climber to the small pass of Cross Potera ahead.

From the small pass of Cros Potera the paath dropped into the Valle Santa Maria valley below. It had a reasonably quiet, but large road running up it floor, which opened out in a few places to create grassy alms, which were cultivated for hay. The road continued up the valley to the Passo Lucomagno, probably one of the lower passes on the Main Apline Divide at just 1917m. Just below the pass was the restuarant of Acquacalda, which might have done overnight accommodation also but was nowhere near as quaint as Dotra. I stopped here for a cheese roll and some soda water sitting inside in the shade and away from the motorists and fat motocyclists for whom sitting in the sun was all part of a great day out in the nature. 

After my simple lunch I had choice of routes over two different but adjacent passes, with the two routes merging again on the west side of the passes. The passes were called Passo del Sole and Passo delle Columbe and both were about 2380m and as the crow flies less than a kilometre apart. The southern Passo del Sole was more gentle but apparently busy with mountain bikers, invariably on electric bikes now. The northern Passo delle Columbe was wilder and very steep over the actual crest which prevented bikes. I already had the southern route on my GPS but my hosts in Olivone reccommented the northern. In the end I opted for the more gentle one and I was surprised I never passed a single bike. The routes over the passes forked just above Acquacalda in the large alm of Lareccio which was drumming with the sound of at least 200 cow bells from the herds grazing the lovely meadows here. There were quite a few alm houses, many of which were now hioliday accomodation, and at least 2 large dairies. 

I veered to the south of the gentle shallow ridge which split the passes and climbed easily past the last of the larch trees which petered out as I went up the valley. Soon it was just alpine meadow on each side with a stream in a small gorge beside me. As I climbed the stream came up to the more gentle U shaped valley floor until it reached a shallow tarn called lago di Cane. I could now see the pass ahead and it looked very easy and half an hour from the tarn I was looking down the west side. Again I was hoping for dramatic Alpine scenery with high jagged mountains emerging from glaciers but there was none nearby and just a few in the grey distance. 

441. Looking back to the two adjacent passes with Passo delle Columbe on the left (north) and Passo del Sole on the south. Between then is the craggy Pizzo Columbe, 2544m.

Instead I was looking down a gentle pastoral valley with luch meadows and modest mountains on each side. it was too high for trees and everything below me was grassy while everything above was more rocky as it curved up to the peaks. I started down and made great time across the meadows, some of which were lakes and tarns which had since been filled in with silt. It was easy underfoot and I strode across these passing the fork where the path over the other pass, Passo delle Columbe, joined the path I was on. The route now went down the crest of a very shallow gentle ridge to reach a dairy with abouut 40 cows milling about chewing cud and waiting to be milked in the early evening. There was a stainless steel trailer here to take the milk down. 

442. Looking down Alpe Cararescio towards Capanna Cadagno and the Lago Cadagno lake on the centre right where the Alpe di Piora dairy is located.

From this dairy there was now a track and I could storm down it making great time. In many places beside the track were old dairy building and barns which had been flattened as they fell into disuse. Rosebay willowherb thrives on this type of disturbed ground and it was prolific here. It was just coming into its prime with drifts of purple across the hillside. Bees were all over the groves of purple flower spikes, visiting each flower very quickly before moving to the next without pause. After about 3 kilometres on the track I came to the Capanna Cadagno, a modern tourist hut with a large terrace for day trippers to have lunch. I could easily have spent the night here but it looked very modern and charmless and it would have meant more tomorrow. 

443.The rosebay willow herbs were prolific around the disturbed ground near the dairy at Lago Cadagno. Bees were busy visiting the flower spikes.

Below the Capanna Cadagno was the Alpe di Piora. It was quite idyllic beside the Lago Cadagno lake and was surrounded by swathes of purple Rosebay willowherbs. It had a big dairy which sold its produce directly to the passing public on foot or electric bike. It was 55 Swiss Francs for a Kilo of cheese which must have made it some of the most expensive cheese in Switzerland, and by implication the world. I think the milk from the upper dairy came here also to get processed into cheeses, yoghurts and butter. There was even a seperate block for all the dairy hands to stay in as I think perhaps 5-10 people worked here in the actual dairy or shop. Just below the dairy wasa cluster of old alp houses beside the lake and I think many of these were now holiday accomodation. It was also were the road ended and I noticed that you could only leave the parking place in the afternoon as the morninng were reserved for traffic coming the other way on this narrow road. 

Just after the houses I passed a rise and then saw Lago Ritom stretched out before me. I had expected an azure sea surrounded by pristine conifer forest. I was dissapointed in that it was a dammed lake but the dam at the far end was high and dry so it was a lake even before the dam was built albeit much smaller. However there wasa broad contour of brown barren devestation between the current very low water level and the maximum water level and it really made for an eyesore. There wasa path on the south side of the lake but I think it was rough and I stayed on the track round the north side of the lake. Both were around 3 km. I passed another small dairy on the side of the lake and then reached the dam. Rifugio Lago Ritom was on the otherside of the dam. 

Again I had expected something quite serene beside the lake and surrounded by forest. Instead it was a collection of ramshackle buildings surrounded by hydroelectric plant below the dam so the eyesore of the lake was not visible. There was a great view to the south over the vast Valle Levantina valley to the Leone Alps on the south side but it was marred by cable car wires. The actual Refugio reminded me of a regional headquarters in a tropical colonial outpost which had not been maintained since independence. It had a rusting corrugated iron roof, wonky shutters and sagging gutters. It think it was probably where the workers ate and socialized in when the dam was built in 1956. They slept in some single storey barracks and thats where I was to sleep. The host was very welcoming but quite eccentric and he was helped by two very young competant waitresses, one from the Dominican Republic and the other half Spanish/half Scottish.  My meal was a pile of potatoes, a pile of sponach and a pile of lentils. He asked me if it was good. I said it was quite unusual but it had all the right nutrients.  There was no mobile signal here at all really. I was surprised how busy the rifugio was and there must have been about 25 people staying here. For me it was perhaps the most charmless place yet but because it was in Switzerland it was also one of the most expensive. 

Day 66. Lago Ritom to Capanna Cristallina. 26 Km. 9.5 Hrs. 1790m up. 1040m down.  In contrast to the dinner and the ramshackle accommodation the breakfast was good and plentifu, again with a few unusual ingridients like a cold hard boiled egg rolling about on the large saucer it was presented on. I have to give the host some credit for trying inspite of the conditions and he was freindly and helpful. He pointed out where the path started down some steps at the bottom of the small carpark below the west side of the dam. I walked below the dam to get to it and found the steps easily. 

The path was quite steep as it went down a series of zig-zags initially. It was well over a metre wide and well constructed with stacked stones making up a terrace on the downhill side. Its surface was covered in cobbles which were worn with thousands of boots and hooves. I am guessing this path was very old and was once the main route from the huge Valle Leventina to the alps around Lago Ritom, Lago Cadagno and beyond nefore the road was created for the building of the dam. It was wide enough for cows and horses but only in single file and there was sometimes a fatal drop of the terrace of stones and down the rocks into the gorge. Ocassionally the wide path traversed down the side of a grassy bowl before goiing out over the gorge again to cross a spur. At one meadow there was the sound of cowbells from the large woods above and just below was a lovely cluster of about 6 small summer farm houses all crammed together on a spur. I think some were still used in the summer to keep an eye on the cows I heard and others were for liesure accommodation only. As I approached I saw a fox dart across the grass from under an old neglected stone barn in disrepair. Below this hamlet perchged on the spur the drove road went back into the woods for another 20 minutes before it reached the village of Atlanca at about 1400 metres and nearly 500 metres below the dam.

444. The small square in the charming village of Atlanca high above the arterial Valle Leventina valley.

Atlanca was very well appointed on a south facing slope with a great view over the valley and across the Leone Alps on the south side. It had a number of farms on the shallower slopes around it and two places which did accommodation, one a agriturismo business and the other a pension, either of which I think would have been better than poor old Rifugio Lago Ritom. Its main street was about 300 metres long with about 20 houses on each side, many covered in geraniums and petunias. In one place it opened up into a wider plaza with a stone trough and seating. 

From Atlanca the route now followed the quiet tarmac road west along a balcony which contoured the hillside for nearly 3 kilometres. The tarmac road was just about deserted and only 2-3 cars passed me during the short hour it took to walk it. However down in the valley far below there was a lot of traffic with a motorway and a railway line and even a small airport. I could see the motorway zig-zag up the mountainside ahead before it dissapeared into the Gotthard Tunnel under the Gotthard Alps. It was perhaps the main throughfare from Northern Italy to Central Switzerland. Across the other side the mountains rose up for 1000 forest clad metres on a steep uniform slope. Then the uniform slope broke up into a series of high cirques with their rocky bowls all facing northwards until they culminated in a line of jagged peaks another 600-700 metres above the top of the forest. I knew I had to climb up to one of the passes between these such peaks in the afternoon. 

At the end of the road along the balcony I dropped down across some fields to the small beautiful village of Madrano which was just before the main slightly industrial town of Airolo. Another hiker caught me up while I was looking at my map. We at once recognized by our lightweight gear, shabby unshaved appearence and bleached drab clothing that we were “Thru Hikers” or in German a “Wietwanderer”. He was called Ben and was Swiss. He was doing a route I had often passed signs for with a “6” on them called the “Sentiero dei Passi Alpini” although it changed it name depending on which linguistic part of Switzerland you were in. It basically crossed southern Switzerland from east to west or vice versa. Ben and myself spent the next half hour walking into Airolo. He had started that morning from near Acquacalda and made phenominal time. He had hiked the PCT a year after me and seemed to be still following the dictum “10 by 10”. 10 miles my 1000 in the morning.

We both went into the Co-Op in Airolo and got some snacks and then dropped into the shaded train station, found a stack of pallets and ate our lunch sitting on them like hikertrash. We spent the whole time reminicing about the PCT and and other hikes we had both done. After our hobo lunch we left the station and had a tiresome 2 kilometres of walking along pavements and across bridges over the railway lines and motorway to across to the southside of the valley at the foot of the gondola. This was ferrying mountain bikers, daytrippers and eaters up the Sasso del Boggia mountain for 1000 effortless meters. The gondola had a half way stop at Pesicum about 700 meters above up, pretty much at the treeline. Ben and myself parted company here after much handshaking and camraderie as we each had our own way to Pesicum and Ben was much faster than I was being half my age. 

446. The beautiful larch forest on the alm track between Persicum and Alpi di Cristalinna. This track connected a number of alm at the treeline.

My route up to Pesicum went on a small direct pasth which zig-zagged up, often steeply through the fir forest. IIn no time I was hot and sweating on this windless day but I was thankful for the shade of the trees. My small footpath frequently intersected a steep mountain biike path where people who had taken the gondola up were blasting down a dusty groove with little room for error. After an hour I passed a small hamlet of summer farms at Culisco and noticed on all the uphillside of the houses and barns where large earthern banks to divert avalanches in the winter allowing the snow to flow over the building rather than knock it down. However the forest was completely intact with large trees which indicated there had not been a major avalanche here for 60-100 years at least. With a sodden shirt and cap I atlast reached Persicum where there was a resturant. I was parched so when in for some soda water asnd drank it on the terrace under shade. The terrace was full of dinners eating above average meals in the alpine surroundings. They had all take the gondola up, wandered about for half an hour looking at information signs, pointed out to their family where they were on the large display map and then beaten a path to the resturant. Here they would eat a large meal over 2 hours and then take the gondola back down again to drive home. I sat amongst in my stinking shirt as they swooned over their schnitzels. 

446. The beautiful larch forest on the alm track between Persicum and Alpi di Cristalinna. This track connected a number of alm at the treeline.

It was nearly 1400 by the time I left and I still had a fair way to go with a 6 km walk along a treeline alm track and then another 800 metre climb up into a cirque to the rifugio on a pass. The Alm track was absolutely lovely. It was largely flat as it contoured across the mountainside, going in and out of the side valleys. It stayed just below the treeline in a band of large larch. The larch allowed the grass to flourish underneath so was tolerated by the farmers. However the small firs and pines, especially the dwarf Mugo pine, were not as they spread like a cancer across the meadow. You often passed piles of them where the farmers had cut them out or even shredded them. I passed quite a few diaries, some operating well and others looking like they were in mothballs with no sign of cattle and large leaved dock plants spreading across the pastures. After some 2 hours of this enchanting walk I reached Aple di Cristallina, which was very much a working dairy and I could smell it from hundreds of metres away. Sheets of muslin cloth used to strain the milk were hanging on a line. As I approached some 30 grey brown milk cows were being driven down the track to the dairy from the wooded meadows above for the evening milk. I thought it was early to milk them at 1600 hrs. 

447. The herd of some 30 grey brown milk cows arriving at the Alpi di Cristalinna having been driven down from the meadow above by the dairy woman.

448. Looking up the side valley of Val Torta which led from the Alpi di Cristallina and climbed some 800 metres to the Capanna Cristallina hut.

Here I left the route number 6, which Ben was doing and had probably passed through a couple of hours earlier, and started up the small Val Torta side valley. I was tired and knew I was in for a prolonged and ardous climb, not so much on account of the terrain but more my condition. Initially the path was gentle as it slowly climbed up the hillside to the west of the small clear stream cascading down the centre of the valley. The path then climbed some easy crags above the small cascade and entered a much wilder bowl strewn with rocks and boulders. I stuggled up here running out of steam as I went but realizing I had to keep goiing to get to the hut before dinner. There was a path heading off to the east over a pass and alpine tarn of Lago de Naret on the other side but I had to keep going up the boulders. At last the hut appeared in a U shaped cleft on the ridgge above. From a distance it looked like a shipping container. It still took another hour to clamber up the path to reach it. 

449. The Capanna Cristallina hut sat on the saddle of a high pass over the Leone Alps. From a distance it looked like a shipping container buut it was large modern and rectangular close up.

It was much bigger than I originally suspected and about the size of 50 shiippiinng containers but still the same shape. It had 3 floors a store, boot room and toilets lowest, kitchen and dining room middle and some 12  eight bed rooms on the top. It was surprisingly modern and trendy inside and it was also busy. All the hikers were well dressed and clean and I felt quuite self conscious as I sat amongst them in my hiking clothes as supper was under way when I arrived. It was a good meal with a small truckle of goats cheese for the vegetarians. I sat beside a nice German family who made a great effort to chat to me in their perfect English. I was sharing a room with an Swiss Italian couple. He was an older businessman with a large ego and she looked like an athelete. Remarkable they did not take the lower bunk but the window so I took it. Throughout the night I opened the window from my bed and then they got up to close it. In the morning they were up and away before I was up, and then they ignored me at breakfast. 

450. Looking east in the early morning with the sun rising over the nearby Passo del Naret and distant Adula Alps from the Capanna Cristallina

Day 67. Capanna Cristallina to Rifugio Maria Luisa. 15 Km. 6 Hrs. 810m up. 1230m down. When I got up there was an extraordinary light across the mountains. To the west the mountain of Basidino, 3272m, dominated the view. It was covered in what once must have been a mighty glacier but it was now a smear of thinning ice spread out across the summit plateau. It was still 2 square kilometres but the area of recently exposed bare brown rock below it was probably bigger at 3 square kilometres and this had no douubt just appeared in the last 50 years. To the east and the rising sun the light was even more stiking with an orange alpen glow which illuminated the near crags while the diistant ridges remained at shadows. I took a few photos and they looked like they could grace a coffee table book.

451. Looking NE early in the morning from Capanna Cristallina down the Val Torta side valley which I climbed up last nigh to reach the modern hut.

The breakfast was very poor but this hut was stocked entirely by helicopter. The cereal was very perfunctory and the milk was diluted 10 to 1 with water so it was virtually transparent. Otherwise it was mostly sweet bread and small packets of jam. On the plus side it was self service so had 3-4 helpings and left around 0800. By now the remarkable early morning light had gone but in its centrestage place were two large male Ibex on the track. They reluctantly moved out of the way when I approached and then appeared to tussle with each other, perhaps in a show of force for me. I guess they were 200 kg and if one hit me I would have been bowled over with ease, perhaps with a broken limb. I skirted past them never really turning my back on these confident animals until I was 30 metres away. 

452. The two 200 kg male Ibex who were reluctant to move off the path when I approached. As I passed they put on a show of strength and butted each other.

I then started the long descent. Initially it took me down to a lake with no outlet but with a cascade pouring out of a hole into it. It was all part of a hydro electric scheme and I assume the water at the bottom of the rocky dip would have once been a much larger lake, but it had since had a outlet bored underneath it to extract water as necessary. There were plent of signs demanding no swimming with a cartoon of a man dissapearing down a whirlpool. After this lake in the bottom of its crater the path traversed the rocky turf clad hillside for half an hour before coming to a craggy ridgge to descend. All around me I could see concrete dams and half empty reservoirs behind them as part of this large interconnected hydroscheme. 

I over took a few people and then caught up with my disgruntled roommates from last night who had to endure fresh air. The young atheletic woman was skipping down across the crags in her boots, while her middle aged partner was struggling and frequently clambering down the easiest steps using hands. When I cauught up I could see why. He was wearing the most ridiculous boots I have ever seen on a mountain in his vain effort to be trendy. They were like neoprene gloves for his feet with a flexible reiinforced sole and individual protrusions for each digit. At the end of each protrusion was a lump of neoprene or rubber to cushion his toe incase he inadvertently kicked anything. He would not let me past ouut of spite which gave me the opportunty to observe him closely. With his baggy black trousers and black neoprene foot gloves he looked like a centeaur with the top half man and the bottom half, not the traditional horse, but gorilla. I eventally sauntered past him as he sliithered and stumbled down tryying to keep ahead and not lose face. His partner let me past and even smiled as she waited for him. At the bottom of this craggy ridge was one of the few natural lakes in the valley which was surrounded by lovely pasture with 50 cows grazing on it. There were plently of small trout rising around the fringe of the lake. 

A road came down from a dam high above this natural lake and I now followed it down the valley above a deep gorge for 2 km until it passed above a summer farm with perhaps 200 goats who were being milked at the time. Just after the goats the road turned a corner and I was looking at the large Lago di Robiei dam. It was pretty much the resevoir which all the other resevoirs fell into. It must have been very pretty once with a much smaller natural lake in a deep alpine cirque and a largge pasture in front of it. It was now ruined with the dam and a large cable car which was used to transport buildings and maintainence materials for the hydroscheme, and also people, on a large platform suspended from cables from the valley far below. If this was not enough of an eyesore there was also the Albergo Robiei, a mountain hut. It must take the prize for the ugliest mountain hut in the alps, and probably by quite a margin over the next contender. Even the ramshackle Rifugio Lago Ritom could simply not compete. Albergo Robiei was a 7 storey octagonal tower block which rose straight up out of the Alpine pasture. The concrete eddifice was without any redeeming features and even had a faded Swiss flag drapped out of a upper window with the same finesse a student would hang a bedsheet from their window with a slogan dauubed on it in black paint. I previously said the Swiss may have a flair for aesthetics, like the Irish have a flair for conservation. I should have taken this comment back on a number of occasions but Albergo Robiei was certainly enough. It was used initially to house the workers to build the various dams in this hydroscheme.

453. Looking west towards the mountain of Basodino, 3272m in the early morning. The glacier on top has shrunk hugely in the last 50 years as the clean brown mountainside shows.

I did not stop at Robiei but continued west and started to climb the hillside for half an hour until it gained the lip a high alpiine valley. After a hundred metres the lip of the valley blocked the view down to Robiei and I was now back in the pristine Alps with the scarred cirque out of sight. The valley was beautiful with a small shepherds hut half way up it. I saw the shepherdess but could not see any animals. I think the goats I had seen previously getting milked come up here as there were droppings everywhere. Above me to the south were the glaciers of Basodino which I had seen this morning in the remarkabke morning light. The stream in the valley I was following however was crystal clear so the silty meltwater from the glacier must have been flowing the other side of a small rocky ridge. The ridge was covered in bare slabs of rounded rock with glacial strations where boulders embedded in the previous ice had scrapped over these slabs leaving small furrows.

454. The high alpine Velletta di Fiorina valley leading up from the hideous Robiei area towards the Bocchetta di Val Maggia pass, 2635m (centre right) on the Swiss/Italian border.

I crossed the clear stream and found somewhere beside the water to eat the remainder of my cheese, bread and tomato lunch I bought yesterday. As I ate a team of very jolly middle aged hikers went past speaking Italian. They did not see me buut I heard them. A bit later they stopped and I cauught them up. They were Swiss Italian and very open and chatty as I find people in the canton of Ticino to be. We climbed together for the next hour across difficult terrain with lots of big boulders which had fallen down from the cliffs to the north above the route. many of the boulder were car sized and difficult to get round or over however they were very rough and abrasive and my boot soles stuck well to them. Nobody spoke much as the climb was quite steep in places and it needed our full concentration. The pace was also good and I think a few of us, including me were often out of breath as we climbed in the hot midday sun. At last we reached the top and the Italian border where I had hoped for a cooling breeze but there was none. The Swiss Italians all stopped here for lunch but I had already had mine so carried on undered darkening skies and towering cumulus nimbus clouds visibly contorting into billowng mushroom forms.

455. Looking back up to the Bocchetta di Val Maggia pass, 2635m, from the Italian side. Beyond the top of the grassy lip is a boulder strewn bowl with the actual pass beyond in the main saddle.

The descent down into Italy was also slow as the boulders continued and it was perhaps more tricky to go down them than up. Within half an hour I was reaching the end of their akward domain and approaching a large grassyy covered plateau with two large shallow tarns across it. Thgere was a beautiful clear cold springg juust before the lake and I stopped here for a drink before stepping onto the grassy plateau. Gentians had been prolific here abd I think they were the Red Gentian variety which are about the same size as the Spotted Gentians. However they were all spent now and the flower heads were dry and shriveled with seeds forming within. Indeed it seemed most of the alpine flowers were over now. The path went between the lakes where there were small fish rising and then headed across the plateau to the south end of Lago Toggia where the day’s goal was. The path past a working dairy where it turned into a track. As I walked past a few small tarns I could see the ripple from rain drops all over them and the sky to the north was turning opaque as rain fell. I increased my striide and rushed down the last kilometre under the dam of Lago Toggia and to the Rifugio Maria Luisa beside it. I think it too was built to houuse the workers who built the dam but it had some character to the building. Inside it was very welcoming and busy with walkers and electric cyclists who had come up the valley to the south. I had a coffee at once which was genuine rich Italian and not a expensive Swiss replica and was show a perfunctory small room crammed with two bunks. I had a charging point but there was no wifi or mobile cover here. The Swiss Italians from the boulder strewn pass arrived soon afterwards and just before the rain came. I found a small alcove and wrote in it as the rain dripped off the roof and the occasional thunder clap sounded.

I felt very content and cosy while the Swiss Italians in the main room settled down at a table and it was soon roaring with laughter. I had to rewite the Olivone to Lago Ritom day as I had somehow lost the unsaved and backed up copy, and that took 3 hours. I had just finished when another group from Capanna Cristallina arrived. They were two German families and had taken a more adventerous and alpine route for the first half which was a couple of kilometres longer but 3-4 hours longer also. I chatted a lot with them as they took off their wet clothes and told me abouut 2 thunderstorms they had to endure this afternoon. The Swiss Italians were still laughing at their table as the hut filled with tonights guests. In all it wasa very sociable evening I was seated at a table with an Italian banker from lake Magiore area who spoke good English. In all it was a lively evening and there was loud chatter from all the 6-7 tables. The food was also good and plentiful and no doubt half the price I had paid for anything in the last 10 days. It was nice to be back in Italy. 

Day 68. Rifugio Maria Luisa to Alpe Devero. 26 Km. 9.5 Hrs. 1370m up. 1890m down. The very accommodating staff at the Rifugio Maria Luisa allowed me to have breakfast at 0530. It was a long day and there was rain and lightning forecast in the afternoon by which time I wanted to be over both passes. After many slices of bread and jam and a jug of strong coffee diluted with another jug of hot milk I was off at 0600. It was easily light enough to see. My route followed the track down to the valley initially. Once I had gone a kilometre or so it appeared below me heading south into Piedmont. The track I was on zig-zagged down to the floor of this valley where there was the small settlement of Riale, 1730m. It was composed of two clusters of houses and farms with a white stone church on a knoll near the larger cluster. The smaller cluster had about 10 buildings and the larger about 20. Above them in the valley was a long dam with the dark blue waters of Lago di Morasco behind it. There was a path which cut across all the zig-zags the track took down to the valley and it was easy to follow them all the way to the valley floor. The path led me to the larger of the two clusters of Riale. It was a beautiful hamlet with lots of old houses under the heavy stone roofs. Most of the houses had been done up and were in very good condition and covered in colourful window boxes. I noticed there was a guesthouse in both the clusters of buildings so I could have had my day off down here too just a short hour from Rifugio Maria Luisa. 

At Riale I turned NW and headed up to the dam. En route I passed a large car park with about 60 campervans parked in it. It was good meadow land but obviously the farmer realised there was more profit in campervans at 20 Euros a day than hay. As I approached the dam I came across the Rifugio Bimse where I could also have stayed. It looked nice but I am sure many of the clientele here would be from the campervan park just below. The road now turned into a track as it climbed to the south end of the dam and then it became a footpath round the south side of the lake. I could see fish rising as I walked along the shore. There were various hydro schemes which fed into the lake with small power stations, but they built inside small buildings which tried to masquerade as alm houses. After about half a kilometre the path I wanted branched off from the shoreline path and started its 800 metre climb up to the pass.

456. Heading up the alpine Vallone Nefelgui valley to the Passo di Nefelgui which is the U shaped saddle in the centre.

It zig-zagged up the hillside with the trees getting smaller as I climbed for half an hour to reach a rough track which was virtually level as it entered the small alpine valley. The valley was called Vallone du Nefelgiu and it was wild and pristine except for this grassed over track and the old stone alm house under its stone slab roof. A small clear stream tumbled down over boulders on the valley floor fed from tributaries which cascaded down the steep craggy valley sides. I was lucky in that the mist which was lingering on the tops cleared a bit as I ascended up the easy path revealing high jagged peaks. Three hours after leaving Rifugio Maria Luisa I was taking the final steps to the Passo di Nefelgui, 2583m, which was largely covered in gravel. 

The descent down the other side was a dream. It was never steep but underfoot it was soft gravel and sand. Before me I could see two lakes, Lago Sruer on a shelf beneath a semicircle of peaks, and below that the larger Lago Vannino. I think both lakes were natural but both had a dam to enlarge them from their original size. I made good time down the path and soon dropped below the level of the higher Lago Sruer as I aimed for the Rifugio Mangaroli at the east end of the larger Lago Vannino. Just before I got there I passed a large cow dairy but all the cows were out in the pastures and I heard no bells. I went into the Rifugio at 1000 and ordered lunch, which was Platte Caminoare translated as The Walkers Dish. It was polenta, cheese, fried onions and 2 fried eggs but unfortunately the polenta dulled the dish so it was not that tasty but it was very filling. 

457. Looking down the easy grassy slopes to the Lago Vannino. The Rifugio Margaroli is hidden from view at this end. The afternoons pass, Scatta Minoia is up the slopes across the lake and centre of picture.

By way of conversation I asked the host the best way to go to Alpe Devero. I already had the route in mind and on my GPS so it was more idle chat. He said another way altogether and when I looked at the map I could see what he meant. The seed of doubt was sown and it grew quickly. When I left at 1100 I went his way towards Passo Busin and the two Busin lakes beyond. It meant I could saunter down the better wide level path on the south side of Lago Vannino rather than take the stony small footpath on the north side. However when I got to the west end of the lake I realised I had made a mistake and the hut host had probably not had his hiking boots on for a while. I had to rectify the mistake by going off piste up a steep grassy slope for nearly half an hour to reach the path I should have been on. These slopes were covered in the fluffy heads of the Alpine Pasqueflower, Pulsatilla alpina, which were now forming seeds, the flowers having long gone. At last I reached the path just before the boulders started. It probably took slightly longer to go this convoluted way rather than the original way I planned on the north shore of Lago Vannino. Within half an hour I was at the second pass, Scatta Minoia, 2599m. There was a solid stone shed up here which was a CAI bivouac. I went in and it was surprisingly clean with two rooms, one for cooking and sitting and the other with about 12 old iron beds with old mattresses. It was only just after midday and it was all downhill from here. 

There were a few people coming up this pass from the west side. They were all German and reluctant to chat as I think they were a large group and had to keep up with the leader. However a dutch couple followed them and I stopped for about 15 minutes to talk to them. They were also doing the Route 6, which had been altered recently to veer into this part of Italy. Below them was a small lake where two young women tested the water in their underpants, then came out stripped naked and went in again up to their necks with a care I was approaching. They stayed submerged which I sauntered past so I assumed the water was quite warm despite being well over 2000 metres. Well below the swimmers I came to the first of many alms in this valley. It was called Alpe Forno and it looked like it was very productive as there were about 4 people in gumboots working here. It was just above the treeline and was served by a steep track. 

458. The busy Alpe Forno which had a few people working at it. It also did some Agriturismo to the passing walkers. The small red truck had to negotiate the difficult track with churns of milk.

I followed this track for the next 7-8 kilometres to Alpe Devero. Initially it dropped from Alpe Forno down the hillside in sharp zig-zags. They were so sharp there was no room to turn so the little truck had to go forwards on the longer sections and reverse up the shorter sections. As I descended this steep track there was a great view down to a greenish shallow lake with clear water so I could see all the boulders and slabs on its bottom. Above the lake rose steep craggy mountains making a great backdrop. The sun was out now but the sky was very patchy with clouds so there was a lot of contrast in the landscape. 

459. The beautiful shallow lake with the slabs and boulders visible at the bottom of the clear water and the impressive backdrop of jagged peaks 800 metres above it.

By this picturesque lake the larger larch trees became more prolific. The track went down between them passing dormant dairy and a couple of houses which were about to fall into disrepair. It dropped all the way to the damned Lago di Devero. The lake was about 3 km long and the dam was quite small so I think it was an artificially enlarged natural lake. The track here was easy underfoot and I made good time in the darkening skies. The threat of rain felt very real all of a sudden. There were some nice views across the lake but the water was low exposing a brown contour of devastation. Just beyond the end of the lake I rounded a corner and was looking down on a postcard perfect hamlet of old houses which had all been restored. They were mostly constructed of stone but had some wooden walls. They were all under the solid heavy stone slab roofs. There were perhaps 30 houses in all and I suspect they were once all summer alm houses which had now become prime liesure estate. Three of the larger houses or barns had been converted into restaurants and all three also had rooms available. It would have been a lovely place to stay but preferably not on a weekend as this hamlet of Crampiolo was just about the requisite half an hour from the large car park just below Alpe Devero. Being a Sunday it was busy here today with day trippers and eaters. 

460. The lovely old restored hamlet of Crampiolo consisted of about 20 traditional houses and 3 larger barns which were now restaurants. The hamlet had a stream running through it.

From this very special preserved hamlet of Crampiolo the good track continued to descend to Alpe Devero. It passed above a deep gorge with a long vertical drop from the edge of the road. It was no place to have hyperactive children or untethered dogs chasing squirrels as a step off the edge would certainly be fatal. The track then dropped more quickly than the bottom of the gorge and passed through lovely old larch with red bark and huge wispy crowns. I caught sight of some houses to my west as I descended and then as the trees thinned a large round flat meadow opened up. It was Alpe Devero and the meadow was almost certainly a glacial lake which was now filled in with cobbles and silt. It was about a kilometre in diameter and it was very lush. There were houses scattered about the perimeter of it and the hamlet I had seen through the trees even had a Rifugio, called Refugio Castiglioni. However I was going to the south edge of this meadow where there was a village. I got there just as the rain started so I hurried past many gorgeous houses. There was a very characterful cafe cum Albergo, which I am sure would have been cheap, called the Pensione Fattorini and as I passed it I felt sorry I was not staying there. A little further I entered the village with many other places to stay and unusual places to eat like a dairy. I went through the village to the very bottom where there was a barrier to prevent cars from coming up. Beyond the barrier was a large public car park. My B&B, The Casametta, was just before the barrier. It was essentially a cafe with two rooms above. I was soon in the shower washing my clothes which were already damp with the rain. 

461. The beautiful and tranquil Alpe Devero was probably a glacial lake which had since been filled in with stones and silt. It was very lush and watered by a few meandering streams.

My host was the son of an older couple who had a very nice B&B I had walked past 10 minutes previously. He had booked me in there for a meal as he was only a cafe. It was a bit of a nuisance really as it was a 15 minutes walk away and probably expensive. I had wanted to eat at the Fattorini but I did not want to hurt his feelings. I walked up after I had done some of the blog. It was completely out of the way on a knoll surrounded by huge larch. It was a gorgeous wooden building which was beautifully restored. It was called Casa Fontana and it did exclusive B&B. The restaurant was the whole of the ground floor and it was oozing character from all the wooden beams and panels. But it was well above my station. I shunned the wine list and ordered sparkling water. The food was exquisite but the portions were for sedentary gentile folk. I wolfed my salad and pasta down and then asked for the bill all within 15 minutes of arriving. The skies were really darkening and I wanted to get down before the heavens opened. I dropped into the Fattorini enroute back to my B&B to get an ice cream. As soon as I stepped back in the B&B a massive thunderclap sounded and it kept up all evening with heavy rain and squalls of wind. 

462. The characterful Pensione Fattorini on the edge pf the village of Alpe Devero was quite simple and honest inside. I stopped here for an ice cream after the ostentatious Casa Fontana dinner.

Day 69. Alpe Devero to Rifugio Citti di Arona . 14 Km. 6 Hrs. 1000m up. 850m down. The thunder and lightning in the night died down around midnight and it seemed to have removed all the moisture from the air. It was a beautiful morning with hardly a cloud in the blue sky. I had breakfast at 0700 which was typically Italian with plenty of sweet pastries and breads, but also good coffee and was off by 0800. I went back up through the village to the edge of the alp and then turned west along the southern edge of the meadow. The grass was still wet in the morning dew as the sun had not warmed it enough yet so it sparkled. At the western edge of the alp was a small hamlet of 15 old traditional houses all under a heavy stone roof. I think these stone roofs must be about 300 kg per square metre, because not only were the slabs thick but they were stacked on top of each other. I went through the hamlet which was beautifully restored and well looked after and decorated with flower boxes.

463. The lovely hamlet on the western edge of the Alpe Devero meadow comprised of about 15 houses, all off which were under a heavy stone roof.

Just here the path forked by a bridge, but then merged again after 5 kilometres. I took the smaller fork up the south side of the stream as promised to be more in the shade for the climb. There were many notices to keep dogs on a lead as this was apparently a prime site for the ground nesting black grouse. The path climbed for about half an hour through beautiful larch woods with plenty of open grassy glades. The ground cover between the trees was small berry bushes, alpine rhododendron and juniper scrub and this must be what attracts the black grouse. I then heard the clunk of cow bells and soon saw a metal roof of a refurbished dair, called Alpe Misanco. 

464. The lovely dairy at Alpe Misanco seemed a happy and tranquil place with about 20 cows grazing nearby and a herd of about 40 goats wandering about the adjacent meadow.

The dairy seemed very busy as not only were there some 20 milk cows hanging around but there were also 40 brown goats. Most had a small bell which jingled and was drowned out by the clunk of the cow bells. The couple who ran the dairy were sitting outside drinking coffee and waved cheerfully as I passed by. Soon the goat started to gather around me and it looked like I was leading them off as they followed me for a hundred metres. There were some small dogs at the dairy but they paid scant attention to me and a wolf would have dispatched all of them in no time. 

As the path climbed the woods became more beautiful with long glades of browning grass between the copses of larch. In some of these glades there were large flocks of thrush. I don’t know if they had roosted among the long grass or they were here hunting for insects. It was late for them to start the day if they were roosting, even if they were teenagers. There were perhaps 50 thrushes per glade. I passed a couple of hikers who were going to a lake up here called lago Nero. We looked for it on my map and it was just a 100 metres away over a rise. They explained it was supposed to be very beautiful which did not surprise me as everything here was stunning. I did not see the lake but carried on up a pristine small valley with a bubbling brook flowing down it and larch trees on each side. It was a little Shangri-La and it gently led up the hillside for nearly half an hour until it reached two alpine houses which looked dormant and forgotten but still in good shape. 

As I climbed above the trees I could look back over Alpe Devero far behind. I could not see the vast meadow but could see where it was in the valley. I could see the Lago Devero lake through and the large high plateau where I walked down yesterday. The view was magnificent and made more so by the craggy mountains to the north which was a main spine of the Leone Alps. The more I climbed the better the view became and soon I could look down on the alternative path which split from this one at the gorgeous hamlet in Alpe Devero itself before the climb started. It too looked like it went through a large dairy, called Alpe Buscagna. Above this dairy was a lovely alpine pasture with a stream gently meandering through it. With the browning grasses, scattered larch trees and the mountain backdrop it looked like a postcard from the Rocky Mountains in the pioneer era. 

465. Looking NE from the climb up to Passo d’Orogna back down the larch forest I had climbed up with Alpe Devero just centre left hidden in the valley and yesterday’s pass of Scatta Minoia above it on the ridgeline.

As I carried on up my path the other path came up to meet it. Here I came across a swarthy shepherd with a large herd of sheep and goats which were grazing as they picked their way up through the stonefields. There were about 200 animals all with their bells jingling. I noticed a sentry marmot overseeing the progress of the herd. I tried to see how close I could get and slowly stalked it. When I was about 3 metres away it backed into its burrow but I got a few photos first. I climbed for another half hour passing a large herd of cows before I reached the final rocky steps leading up  to the pass. Just as I approached it an eagle went soaring past at a tremendous speed. It soared to the end of the ridge then found a thermal with about 10 rotations climbed a few hundred metres to enable it to cross the valley. It was the icing on the cake of a beautiful morning. 

466. A sentry marmot who let me get very close before he disappeared into his burrow under a large stone. I think he was quite relaxed because a herd of sheep and goats had just passed nearby and did him no harm.

467. A herd of milk cows in the upper part of the meadow in the Buscagna valley not far from Passo d’Orogna pass. These content cows had udders covered in veins to help milk production.

This pass, called Passo d’Orogna, 2477m, was the first of two passes today but the other was just a hour away across the head of the Valle Bondolero valley. To get to the other pass I just had to traverse the slopes at the head of this valley. It involved a small descent and ascent up the other side to reach Passo di Valtendra, 2431m. There was the odd steep bit on this hours traverse and one place protected by chains. The path mostly went over rocky ground but occasionally went across a small side valley with a meadow. The grasses here were not grazed, even by Ibex it seems and they were tall with large heavy seed heads swinging in the breeze. 

From Passo di Valtendra the route was all down for the rest of the day. After 20 minutes or so, I rounded a spur and could see the massive bulk of Monte Leone, 3553m, with a few steep glaciers on it. To the north was a pass, Chaltwasserpass, 2770m, and it looked very steep and craggy. I hoped it was just a foreshortened view as this seldom used pass was my route tomorrow. If the pass was too dangerous it was a very long detour around the entire mountain. Immediately below me down a steep slope with a zig-zag path across stoney ground was a large open meadow at the treeline. I could see cows moving about slowly. It was the start of the complex of meadows and alps which made up the Alpe Veglia, which was supposed to be similaar to Alpe Devero but with less tourism. 

468. The serene meadows in the Pian du Scricc, 1933m. This meadow seemed to be a place for mountain brooks to gather. In the distance is Monte Leone, 3553m and the Chaltwasserpass, 2770m to the right of it. Alpe Veglia was a kilometre downstream.

It took a careful half hour to descend the rocky path down to this meadow with me scarcely taking my eyes off the footpath for fear of tripping. It was with some relief that I finally reached the valley floor and could stride out across the meadow past the cows and into the small upper larches at well over 2000 metres. There was only about 3 km to go to reach Alpe Veglia and I was quite excited to see it. However the last 3 kilometres themselves were an absolute delight as the path descended down through the browning meadows between the beautiful larch trees. I passed 2 more dairies, both of which seemed to be in use. More and more clear brooks came tumbling down the mountainside to then meander across the meadow before joining the main stream in the valley. Just before I reached Alpe Veglia itself the larch woods became much thicker with some very grand old trees, and the forest floor was covered in berry bushes. There were few blueberries left so I suspected someone or birds had been here earlier. I suddenly burst out of them into an old hamlet of stone houses on the edge of the large open meadow which was Alpe Veglia. It was not as big or as flat as Alpe Devero but it was nicer and more characterful. There were 2-3 hamlets scattered round its edge and many cows grazing its open grassland. I suspect the cows were allowed in here now the hay had already been harvested. However what really made Alpe Veglia was the huge Monte Leone which started to rise just on the other side and loomed over the whole valley. 

469. Looking across the gorgeous Alpe Veglia to Monte Leone rising on the other side from the terrace of the homely and friendly Rifugio Citta di Arona hut. On the left hand side is one of 3 summer hamlets.

The Rifugio Citti di Arona was in the hamlet I had just arrived in and it looked quite characterful and old. There were about 40 people sitting at tables on the stone terrace outside in the sun and I think most were day hikers who had come up from the end of the road. Inside it was quiet and I was given a small garrote room in the attic with a bunk bed and sunny velux window. After changing I went down and found somewhere to write in the dining room and was just finished in time before I was chased out when the tables were laid at 1730. I then went out to the terrace to enjoy the early evening sun. Here I met 4 English hikers who were doing part of the GTA. They were tall strapping guys who looked like Oxbridge University rowers with an easy cheerful manner. At dinner I sat at a table with an Italian who spoke no English. Somehow we managed to get along. He was a bit younger than me and a professional gardener. He lived in Italy but travelled to Switzerland each day to work in salubrious villas doing the more skilful tasks rather than pushing a wheelbarrow of manure. 

Day 70. Rifugio Citti di Arona to Simplon Pass. 14 Km. 6.5 Hrs. 1100m up. 870m down. I did not sleep that well in the garotte with the old iron bunk and woke frequently. So when I woke at 0630 I did not feel that well rested. breakfast was at 0700 and it was perhaps the worst breakfast of the trip. A pitiful bowl of muesli and 4 slices of weightless sweet white bread with a single pat of butter and sachet of jam. We only got a single sachet of sugar for the coffee also. There was a jar of biscuits each also but they were gone in a flash. I reckoned I would use up my entire breakfast calories in an hour. It would be like rocket fuel and gone in a flash while I wanted diesel. The hosts were very nice and the place was cheap, but I still should have complained. The 4 English lads also looked horrified at the paltry breakfast. It didn’t take long to finish it off so I was away by 0730. 

470. Looking up the Chaltwasserpass, 2770m, from Alpe Veglia. The route goes up to the smaller buttresses on the right, traverses under them and then climbs with a few metal steps and chains up the steep gully to the left and above the larger buttress in the centre of the pass.

471. The very active dairy just below the Rifugio Citta di Arona. It sold some of it produce to the passing public.

As I wandered down through this hamlet I noticed there was another pension here in the lovely hamlet. There was also a working dairy which sold produce and as I went past the dairy hands were just cleaning up after the mornings milking. The milk cows were all now rushing across the meadow to the lusher grass in the middle of it. It really was a stunningly beautiful pastoral scene with the cows grazing under the scattered palls of morning mist and the benevolent larches surrounding the meadow protectively. 

I followed the track round to the west and came to another hamlet. It had a large cheap looking hostel in it and there was a mini market attached to it. I went up to see if the market was open but it was not. Peering through the window I could see lots of non-perishables and also a chilled counter full of local dairy produce. It would have been a good option to stay in the adjacent Albergo Lepontino rather than the CAI Refugio. As I carried on anticlockwise round the meadow I passed the old school where there was a bridge over the stream and then started heading south. Veglia alm meadow was circular in size and perhaps 800m in diameter and was slightly sloping. It was as if it was a filled-in lake which had then had alluvial debris brought down and deposited onto top of the once flat surface. There were about five streams all flowing into the meadow from the valleys radiating away from it. I walked south now down the west side with a nagging suspicion I should have gone up the valley by the bridge and the old school but I was trusting my GPS route I had previously planned. 

At last my turnoff came and it took me through a small cluster of restored farms and then left the meadow on a small path which was signposted to Lago delle Streghe. The path wove through the large trees and my feet had to push through the blueberry bushes which carpeted the forest floor and overhung the path. Luckily it was dry or my feet would have been quickly drenched. After 20 minutes I came to the lake. It looked like it had been created by beavers as it was mostly damned by logs and branches and the gaps plugged by twigs and leaves, but it was natural as there were no beavers here. The lake was shallow and clear and I could see submerged logs lying on the bottom of the lake covered in a grey silt. There were actually 2 lakes, both small and shallow and the second was just after the first. 

The path now veered less to the south and more to the west and started to climb up a small ridge. As it climbed I could see the path which looked to me the obvious choice across the small Aurona valley less than a kilometre to the north and on the other side of the stream. However this path also looked rocky and went through some boulder fields so perhaps mine was the right choice after all. As it climbed to around 2100 the trees vanished and the going on my path became quite easy as I sauntered up a more level slope of turf. My path had to deviate round an outcrop and once on top of it the path contoured across the ungrazed alpine meadow to the Aurona stream which it crossed on an old log bridge.Just on the other side of the bridge my path and the one which originally looked the obvious choice but had some doubts about now both merged.

There was now a lovely respite as the valley levelled off and climber very gently to the west. To the south of the valley Monte Leone towered over everything. It had a precarious looking glacier which hung over the valley and I was conscious of the recent disaster on Marmolada in the Dolomites as I passed under it. To the north were some very steep 3000 metre peaks strung out on a jagged skyline. However between them where I was the gentle valley floor covered in small stones and gravel and easy underfoot. As I went up the easy valley the map showed a lake but it was now filled in with alluvial debris and the stream meandered across its flat surface. The map also showed I was about to walk onto a glacier but it was gone and all there was to show for it was a pile of larger boulders which settled on the valley floor as the ice which carried them there melted around them. There were also the two walls of lateral moraine where the glacier had dumped debris along its sides as it flowed between them. These moraine walls were exposed now the ice had gone and were steep loose walls of rubble at least 100 metres high. They would have been a nightmare and quite dangerous to climb as they were loose.

472. Looking up the east side of the Chaltwasser pass, 2770m. Tge route goes to the right of the cascade centre right. Then zig-zags with chains to the left of the light rock above the top cascade. Then traverses left to the gully with cloud behind and then up steeply on iron rungs to the top of the gully.

After this easy half hour the valley began to climb more steeply towards its headwall which looked very steep. I would have to go up it but could not see a path, although I knew it was marked with painted flashes on boulders. Then I saw two people coming down the crags a kilometre away and they were on the north side of the headwall and just to the north of a small cascade of white water. The last kilometre in the valley was much more troublesome and had the potential to be dangerous. This danger was mostly from avalanches and rockfall in bad weather. I had to cross a few fans of rock and mud which must have come down in violent episodes when there was heavy rain. The whole valley floor was essentially covered in recent debris and there were no colonising plants growing here as they would get buried with another mudslide. In wet weather in spring this valley should be avoided. 

At the end of this kilometre I reached the bottom of the crags at the same time as the people descending did. They should not really have been here as they were both well out of shape, had large messy rucksacks with bits hanging off them and the girls boot had at least half the sole detached and flapping about on one boot. I watched as she clambered down one rocky outcrop covered in muddy gravel with the sole folded back on itself and possibly her sock on the loose foothold. I doubt her boot would make it to Alpe Veglia 2 hours away. I never really spoke to them as they shuffled past. 

The crags were not that high at perhaps 20-30 metres and at 45 degrees. But they were covered in gravel as recent slides had come down here too. There was a cascade of aerated water coming down just to the south side of the crags. Indeed the cascade was so closed I occasionally got splashed. In wet weather this cascade would be roaring down carrying stones and gravel with it. At the top of these crags the route went up a steeper boulder field for another 50 metres of ascent. There were some paint flashes on the largest boulders here but I think the flashes on the smaller boulders were buried under recent stones and mud, which was now dry and set like concrete. At the top of this boulder field was another set of crags up a buttress. 

This second set of crags was much steeper at about 50 degrees and a bit longer as it ascended some 40 metres also. However the rock was clean and dry and the whole pitch was protected by chains. I was wary of the chains as a couple were damaged so scrambled up paying lip service to them. When I did use them I checked their anchoring before I put any weight on them. The chains went up to the left initially and then after 20 metres they went to the right to reach the top of the buttress. The whole time I climbed I thought about the plump lady descending this with her sole flapping about. 

473. The airy traverse across the top of the crags (centre bottom) to the steep face in the gully where the bent rungs and chains are to get to the pass.

At the top of these crags the route traversed across the top of them on a loose broken self which was level and about 40 metres long. It was probably once a good path but must have been damaged by a rockslide, possibly in the same apocalyptic weather event which caused the other slides around here. It was protected by chains also but two 3 metre sections were broken where falling boulders had snapped them. This would have been the worst place to lose a footing as the slope was convex and disappeared out of sight over the crag I had just climbed up.

This level but loose and possibly exposed traverse ended in a gully. It would have been possible to clamber up the gully on the large wedged boulders and there was little exposure. However there was also a set of 12 metal rungs with a chain beside them up the steep side wall of this gully and it seemed safer. The lower half of the rungs though were all bent virtually flat against the rock were boulders coming down the gully in a deluge had hit them. Nonetheless they were solid and led up to a shelf above the gully where it was easy to clamber up and reach the flatter easy slopes some 20 vertical metres above the lowest bent rungs. From here it was all plain sailing up to the indistinct pass 5 minutes away. There should have been a stone bivouac here but I failed to see it. Chaltwasserpass was at 2770m.  The whole climb up from the valley floor where I met the plump couple took well over half an hour during which I climbed 150 metres.

I continued west from the pass across a great flat basin of boulders to reach Chaltwasser lake. On the map it was marked as one lake but in this dry summer the level had fallen so it was two smaller lakes. Above it on the north side was the Swiss Cabane Monte Leone, 2848m. At the west end of the lakes there were some more boulder fields to negotiate for a few hundred metres until I got to the main path between Simplon Pass and Cabane Monte Leone. Here now were the views I had been hoping for and before me to the west were the giants of Valais with ridge upon ridge of heavily glaciated 4000 metre mountains. Most were clear but a few were in the mist. In the next Section 11 I will be walking along their northern foothills for about 10 day until I reach Mont Blanc. 

I could also look down to Simplon and see the buildings at the pass at about 2050 metres. The huge Napoleonic edifice of the Simplon Hospiz was easy to spot as it was the largest. Before I started my descent I took time to look at Monte Leone and mourn the glacier here. I would once have been massive and bulging over the mountainside in a convex shape. Now it was perhaps a quarter of its area from 250 years ago and was a concave smear of ice across underlying rock slabs. There were vast slabs below the edge of the ice which were smooth bare rock. The ice would have covered these just 100 years ago. Small rivulets of meltwater came off the lower edges of the ice and flowed down these slabs forming small cascades which merged into larger streams, all ferrying away more ice in this hot dry summer. 

474. Looking down one of the streams of glacial meltwater from the glacier on Monte Leone with Simplon Pass below and some of the Valais Alps in the distance

The path went down across easy eroded turf and gravel for half an hour and Simplon approached fast. It then veered south across the lower of the bare rock slabs uncovered by the ice for another half hour. As it traversed across the slabs it crossed about 3 large streams of meltwater which were shooting down grooves on the bare rock. It crossed the streams on solid wooden log bridges which must frequently be submerged in heavy rain. At the bottom of the slabs the path continued again in the rocky turf. At one point I took my eyes off the path and looked north and was completely taken by surprise. There were the 4000 metre giants of the Bernese Oberland. I did not have the maps to work out which was which but I did not recognize any of them as the ones I had been up were all on the north side and they were not visible. Beneath the high rocky summits were some 20 glaciers I could see. I saw a small flash of white deep in a valley below all the peaks and realised it was the Grosser Aletscherglacier which drained the Concordia glaciated region and flowed down to about 2000m but is retreating rapidly. The final two kilometres were all beside an irrigation channel and then down beside meadows to reach the enormous Simplon Hospiz at the Simplon Pass, 2028m. 

475. Looking over to the Bernese Oberland from above Simplon Pass. All these mountains are around 4000m. The enourmous Aletscher Glacier can just be seen as a white speck well below all the others centre left of photo.

The Simplon Hospiz was initiated 220 years ago by Napoleon. He commissioned it as a hospice for travellers between France and Milan in 1801. However after he was captured the building works ceased for some 20 years but resumed again in about 1830. It has been through various incarnations and hosts and the current owners are a religious order of monks who also have the hospice on the Great St Bernard Pass. So I was greeted at the spartan reception by a monk. He showed me around the huge 5 story building which was a good 100 metres long. The basement floor was all vaulted with huge stones and arches. On the first floor were the reception, dining room and large chapel , kitchens etc and the floors above that were all large bedrooms. The stairs and passages were all laid with vast heavy flagstones and I estimated the roof was covered with about 1000 tonnes of stone slabs. My room was large and had 3 single beds and an old sofa in it on a parquet floor. It was entirely wood panelled but the furnishings were simple and spartan. 

476. The vast edifice of Simplon Hospiz was initially commisioned by Napoleon in 1801. It is about 100 metres long and I estimate it has over 1000 tons of stone slabs on the roof.

I had a shower and washed my clothes and then realised I was very hungry. The only food at the Hospiz was the meal at 1900 so I went to a nearby cafe and had some cheese rolls and some coffee to stave off the hunger after the paltry breakfast. I then wrote for a couple of hours and went down at the appointed time of 1900. There were about 50 guests and we all sat at long tables on benches. I was at the vegetarian table but the only friendly person on it was an old French Architect who was the single carnivore. The meal was simple but very good and I was full for the first time in a while after a half pension meal. I escaped after the desert and I still had a lot of paperwork to do and an early start tomorrow. 

I had enjoyed the Gotthard and Leone Alps more than I thought I would. This section took a while to warm up but it really came to life in the two alpine meadows of Alpe Devero and Alpe Veglia in Northern Italy. 

Section 10. Gotthard and Leone Alps. 122 km. 46 Hours. 7770m up. 6620m down.

Section 10. Gotthard and Leone Alps. 03 August to 09 August 2022.


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