The Sentiero dei Laghetti
Prologue (Sun, 29.9.)
This year Leo picks me up in Heilbronn, where S(w)inging Chariot, the gospel choir in which I have been singing for over 20 years, spent a weekend together at the invitation of Groovin Foxes from Beilstein and now ends with a BuGa visit. I repack the prepared hiking backpack from Stephan’s car in Leos and we start south. Uta, Stephan and Judith drive back to Bonn. Half an hour we are already on the highway, when I realize that my walking sticks are still in Stephan’s car and – much worse – my hiking boots too! I call Uta and after a short consultation with Stephan they turn around. So do we. Half an hour later we say goodbye again.
This is starting well again!
Many traffic jams later – it has long been dark – we arrive in Bedretto, together with two others we are the last guests of the Osteria Lucendro. The very friendly innkeepers close because the rent has been increased significantly. By the way, the owner is the tenant’s aunt!
We drive a few kilometres up the valley and park the car in All’Acqua. First through mixed forest, then through coniferous forest with some spruce and larch methusalems we ascend to San Giacomo, a hamlet with two houses and a small pilgrims’ chapel from the 15th century, which was used by pilgrims on the way from the Formazza Valley to the Gotthard Pass.
Some four centuries younger are other buildings that can be found up here: Bunkers and machine-gun positions built as defences after a road was built from the Italian Formazza valley to the San Giacomo Pass in 1929, from where the Bedretto Pass and the Gotthard Pass could have been reached by Italian artillery. This old military road now leads us along the Lago Toggia, a reservoir, below the dam of which lies the Rifugio Maria-Luisa, already closed to our surprise. After all, there is a winter room – or something similar. A sign next to the door identifies it as a ski room and makes it more accurate: the whole interior consists of two bunk beds with sagging mattresses that look as if they don’t really belong here. No stove and hardly any room to move. The kitchen stays cold today! It is still early and we spend the afternoon in the sun with dam wall, water pipes and high voltage lines. Actually the round we are on is called “alpine lake trekking”. Slowly it dawns on us that this will be a trekking of the reservoirs.
Max elevation: 2325 m
Min elevation: 1598 m
Total climbing: 899 m
Total descent: -343 m
The back hurts after the night in the bed. It was also unpleasantly cold, despite two blankets. In the morning the thermometer shows 8°C – inside. However what at all does inside mean? Actually this ski room is only a corner in the stone building, which is separated by two sheet metal walls from the outside – where it is only two degrees colder.
We walk over the dam and in a loop to the Bocchetta di Valle Maggia, where the clouds are already waiting for us, which rise and lie around us for the descent to the Capanna Basòdino and also hide the ibexes, which we only notice because they carelessly loosened a few stones. The architecturally inappropriate, tower-shaped Albergo at the dam (one more!) of Lago di Robiei is still open. Here we have a coffee before descending to the hut 10 minutes below, which is also still open.
Max elevation: 2636 m
Min elevation: 1855 m
Total climbing: 623 m
Total descent: -934 m
If the first night was too cold, it was now too warm: thick blankets, eight people in the dormitory and a closed window. However, this was the much more pleasant way!
In the morning we climb steeply directly behind the hut and see the technical landscape in all its “beauty”: cable cars, dam walls, high-voltage lines. As a contrast, the Basòdino with its rest glacier shows itself. Actually, we had wanted to follow the lake route, but somehow missed a branch and are now on the direct way to the Rifugio Poncione di Braga. At least a way, as a view to the other side of the valley reveals the alternative as an asphalt road to the next reservoir.
We make a detour to Lago Nero (not a reservoir!), where we take a longer rest, until clouds come in from the north and a light drizzle of snow drives us on. On the way to Bocchetta della Froda it remains cold and draughty. Three ibex show themselves unimpressed by the weather and also by us and let us approach on less than 20 meters, until they slowly turn their backs to us.
Behind the pass, the trail descends comfortably downhill on slightly inclined glacier sections. Sun (jacket off) alternates with clouds and cold wind (jacket on). For the descent to the hut we need actually much too long, today Leo walks very slowly. Hopefully this will be due to the infamous third acclimatisation day, tomorrow’s stage will be much longer!
On the Poncione di Braga we meet Danielle and Thomas, a Swiss couple, with whom we spend a nice evening.
Max elevation: 2707 m
Min elevation: 1845 m
Total climbing: 1089 m
Total descent: -943 m
Leo is fit again today. Not me. I didn’t sleep well (will this be a tour of strange nights?). The single beds looked comfortable, but had mattresses that were much too hard, that felt like they were arched in the middle and I had to slide down left or right. And even though I didn’t actually slide off the bed, at least the duvet really tried to slide down on the smooth silk sleeping bag.
Through larch forest we descend 700m steeply into the Peccia valley. From here, the lake trail climbs a bit up the valley and then climbs about 1.000m to the east to the Bocchetta di Pisone, in order to descend from here again about 1.100m to Fusio. But the transition to Fusio doesn’t look so inviting and the outlook for further descent meters doesn’t look that good. We change our plan: Fusio is cancelled, we walk directly to Rif. Cristallina.
From the north, the wind is blowing coldly down the valley, at narrow places it blows so hard that we feel like in a wind tunnel. In spite of unrestricted sunshine it is icy, but scenically a pleasure: we walk through a lonely high valley, in which the view only gets stuck at a mountain pasture.
What’s the matter with me today? I feel as if I have to carry my rucksack unacclimatized to an altitude of three thousand meters. After crossing the Passo del Sasso Nero we reach the Lago del Narèt, of course again a reservoir, but this time a very beautiful one. Maybe this is due to the fact that the dam wall is a whole kilometre away at the other end of the lake, which reflects the cloudless sky in deep blue.
From here, it is supposed to be only one hour to the hut, but then a sign suddenly shows 2 std 40 min. That must be another way! Of course it is not, there is no other way. In fact, we first have to ascend again over a pass – the Passo del Narèt – then a fairly good way down and another 300 height meters and about 3.5 kilometers up to the hut that lies on top of the Passo di Cristallina. Originally it had been built the said 300 meters lower. But after it was caught twice by an avalanche (last in 1999), it was rebuilt up here. The one-hour-to-the-hut sign was probably from the time before.
Tired and broken (at least me) we arrive after 10 hours at the surprisingly still managed hut. Again we can’t (must?) cook – this way the backpack never gets lighter!
Max elevation: 2576 m
Min elevation: 1400 m
Total climbing: 1754 m
Total descent: -1180 m
Finally I slept well – no wonder after the exhausting day yesterday, which was not mine. Since there will be rain or snow in the afternoon, we want to descend to All’Acqua again today. In principle we have two alternatives:
a) we cross the (crevice-free) Valleggia glacier and then descend through the Val Cavagnolo without a trail (proposed by Thomas, the Swiss)
b) we walk along Via Idri southwards past the peaks of Cavagnolo and Grandinagia and back to the car over the San Giacomo Pass.
Variant two is much longer, but probably more beautiful. So let’s go! The view to the Basòdino is clear, the path remains more or less at the same height on the slope and passes small works of art made of quartz: spirals, crosses, ying-yang symbols and others. Some of the last snowfall has left behind in the shady areas. After a while we have to search longer and longer for the next marking, because some are hidden under the snow. There is not necessarily a path on this blue marked mountain trail, nor are there tracks – the last ascent was probably longer ago. Well, this takes too long, especially since clouds are already coming up from the northwest. So we decide for the third of the two variants: we go back to the Cristallina hut and descend from there to Ossasco in the Bedretto valley, where this year’s tour ends with a car stop to All’Acqua.
Max elevation: 2699 m
Min elevation: 1308 m
Total climbing: 312 m
Total descent: -1578 m
All about marketing! “Trekking dei laghetti alpini” sounds like a string of mountain lakes and evokes associations of “pearls of the Alps” or “eyes of God”, just everything that alpine literature so far has poetized. And indeed there are many lakes in this region of northern Ticino. The fact that these are mostly reservoirs is concealed, as are the many high-voltage lines that cross the valleys and passes and transport the electricity generated there to consumers. But well, hydroelectric power is one of the most environmentally friendly forms of energy, so we have to accept that it has to come from somewhere. A “Of course I am for environmentally friendly power generation, only not on my doorstep / in my hiking area ” does not help. And as Lago del Narèt at least has shown, reservoirs can also be very beautiful – after all, you don’t have to stand under the wall!
And here’s the big picture again:
Max elevation: 2707 m
Min elevation: 1308 m
Total climbing: 4682 m
Total descent: -4983 m
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