Monthly Archives: August 2015

Cima di Castello

August 31st

Itinerary:  Albigna cable car – Albigna Hut – Cima di Castello (3379 m) – Forno Glacier – Forno Hut (CAS)
Distance:  20,2 km
Walking time:  10 hours 15 minutes (plus 1 hour 15 minutes for the stops)
Vertical distance:  2010 m uphill; 1530 m downhill

Left Pontresina at 5.50 a.m. to meet the new guide, Lukas, at 6.30 at a large car park just below the Maloja pass.  He left his car there and I drove on to the Albigna cable car, where we took the first cabin (only 8 places) at 7.00.  We reached the Albigna Hut from the top of the cable car (just below the massive dam wall) in about 45 minutes.  I had camped near the hut with my brother Rolf in 1962!

The rest of ascent was uneventful except that the route to the summit involved ascending a crevassed glacier and Lukas got the hut warden to show the best path on a map.  This worked well and we found the best way through without once having to retrace our steps.  The way down to the Forno Hut led down another very crevassed glacier and again Lukas found the best (only?) safe route in an uncanny manner, helped by the hut warden’s sketch.  But he had also examined the route from the summit and taken a photograph which he later used.

At the end we had to go down some 4 km of bare glacier ice.  Although the glacier was quite flat, the surface was so irregular and furrowed with streams of running water that our progress was quite slow.  The hut was situated about 250 metres above the glacier level, which was tiring at the end of the day but offered a superb view.


1 and 2.  Camping below the Albigna Hut, July 1962
3.  On the summit
4.  The Forno Glacier. The Cima di Castello is at the back on the right

1962-07-31 R w Rolf nr Albigna hut 1962-07-31b nr Albigna hut C IMG_7246C IMG_7247C

A new start

August 30th

I tried to get a mountain guide in Pontresina for Saturday or Sunday, but they were all already taken – a weekend with good weather.  But I could have one for Monday, August 31st, for at least two days.

The day before yesterday, on Friday morning, after the hospital visit, I needed time to organise my stuff.  So I went by train to Pontresina on Saturday, August 29th, with lots of luggage, and once again enjoyed the hospitality of Fritz and Ursulina.

So what should I do on the Sunday?  I decided to use this day to do an easier section of the border without a heavy rucksack.  I chose the climb of 2100 meters from the Val Poschiavo to the first summit of the mountain chain to the east.

Itinerary: Campascio – Viano – Tegial – boundary stone no. 13 (pt 2648 m) – Pass Portun – Grüm Sur – Viano
Distance: 22.1 km (only 6 km along the border)
Walking time: 8 hours 30 minutes (plus 1 hour for the stops)
Vertical distance: 2220 m uphill; 1580 m downhill

To the east of the Val Poschiavo, the border goes straight up from Campocologno but crosses several cliffs and there is no suitable path.  The climb from Campascio was the only other option.  It was hot and I needed more than five hours to reach the highest point; all the upper part was done without a path, on steep grass and boulder fields. The almost vertical view down to Tirano is superb – see photo. Then I started the border ridge to the north but I had to turn around after a kilometre and a half because of large blocks and unclimbable vertical slabs.

Arriving back at Viano I went into a small restaurant to enquire about the timetable for the postal bus. There was none! Instead, one phones and the little yellow bus comes 20 minutes later.  I was the only passenger.  The journey of several kilometres, on a narrow road, partly carved into the cliff and with countless hairpin bends, led to Brusio train station.  The cost of this special trip, with a half-fare card: CHF 2,20, i.e. the normal price!  Fritz told me later that this is quite normal and cheaper for the bus company (La Poste) than offering a formal timetable.  I took the train from Brusio to Campascio (5 minutes) to pick up the car and drive back to Pontresina.


View of the boundary stone no. 13, at 2648 m, with Tirano (Italy) behind, 2200 m lower


At the hospital – good news

August 20th and 21st

I went to the main hospital in Lausanne (CHUV – Centre hospitalier universitaire vaudois) at lunch time on Thursday 20th, to the Emergencies section and was soon put in contact with the facial surgery department, who could not confirm an appointment but would call me back.  Late afternoon I got a message asking me to report at  8.15 the next day.

This I did and to my great surprise was very quickly being received by a lady doctor in the facial surgery department.  After a few tests she confirmed that I had no functional disorder and that there would be no need to operate.  The fractures were “normal” for this type of accident and were not misaligned.  But she wanted to see me again in a week (Friday 28th) when all the swellings had gone down.  My family doctor should take out the stitches around Wednesday.

Conclusion:  I will rest and eat a lot the next few days and will try to continue the circuit as from August 29th, weather permitting.

Car journeys

August 19th

Yesterday Peter walked back to Bondo but got tired, then benighted and took a couple of falls – not serious – and reached the car at 1 a.m. this morning!  Later, he drove to Fritz Hagmann’s place in Pontresina, arriving around 11 a.m.  Meanwhile Roger left Grandvaux at 5.30 a.m. and arrived in Pontresina just after Peter.

A nice lunch with Fritz and Ursulina, then Roger drove Peter and me back home – over 11 hours driving, a great effort, not to mention the day off work.

Peter will take the train to Milan tomorrow to be ready to fly back to the USA on Friday.

The end of the road?

August 18th

I nearly gave this blog the heading “Disaster”, but it is not quite that.

Low cloud and some rain this morning,  so we gave up all hope of doing Piz Badile and other summits.  Instead, we would traverse along the Via Roma long distance path to the next hut (Rifugio Allievi).

After about 90 minutes I tried to take a short cut in a fairly steep boulder field but somehow slipped and fell awkwardly, crashing my face against a boulder.  A cut just next to my left eye and lots of blood.  No option but to return to the hut, with a makeshift bandage kindly provided by a German couple also on the path.

At the hut they cleaned me up, said it didn’t look too bad but immediately called a helicopter!

Peter decided to return to the car in Bondo, reversing what we did 2 days ago.

The helicopter took me to a hospital in Sondalo, between Tirano and Bormio.

Here I was kept waiting quite a while on a stretcher with an uncomfortable brace round my neck and had to fill in forms.  In due course I was wheeled into the radiography department for scans and X-rays.  Then after another long wait, they told me the results:  brain, left eye, neck, spine, etc all OK, but there were fractures of the cheek bone, which might require further treatment.  I chose to have this done back home in Switzerland.  Then they treated the wound – a few stitches – gave me a detailed medical report and the X-ray photos and let me go.

At 6 p.m. an old friend, Fritz Hagmann,  collected me and took me to his home in Pontresina;  over 90 minutes drive each way.

Result:  I will be unable to continue for at least a week.

Bad weather – and an out-of-order Bancomat/ATM

August 17th

Well, the forecast good weather did not come!  Peter and I left the hut at 7 a.m., the sky was completely overcast and it had rained during the night.  We headed up towards the buttress that is the “voie normale” up the Piz Badile.  Then it started raining gently and fog covered the top of the mountain.  Not wanting to climb wet, cold rocks, we turned back.

Distance: 3,2 km
Time: 90 minutes
Vertical distance: 375 m, both up and downhill

We had another problem – we had just about used up our Euros because 3 places in a row did not accept credit or debit cards.  The hut warden’s wife assured me there was a working Bancomat in the village of San Martino below and that the bank there was open on Monday afternoon. So I decided to go down and get some money.  By now the rain had stopped and the weather improved slightly. Peter preferred to stay at the hut.

It was 1200 m down to the Bagni del Màsino – there are hot springs there – then another 300 m and 3 km to San Martino.  The path was very stony and slippery because of the rain, so great care was needed.  Nevertheless I reached the Bagni in 2 hours and the village centre 40 minutes later.

The Bancomat was out of order!  The thunderstorm of 3 days ago had knocked out the connections. And the bank was open only on Monday morning, not the afternoon, closing at 12.30 (I got there at 12.50).

Then I was lucky:  I noticed a bus going to Val Màsino and got on just before it left for the Bagni and saved me an hour’s walk. The remaining 1200 m took me 2 hours 45.

August 16th

Itinerary:  Bondo – Bocchetta della Tegiola – Passo Porcellizzo – Rifugio Gianetti (CAI)

Distance: 18,8 km
Time:  8 hours (plus 1 hour 40 minutes for the stops)
Vertical distance:  2620 m uphill; 910 m downhill

Cloudy all day, just a few minutes sunshine;  light rain from 2.30 p. m . onwards.  Fog above about 2500 m.

Moved the car 3 km up the valley because the guide book advised against starting in Castasegna – path no longer maintained.  So we started at 8.30 at Bondo (820 m) for the long climb of 1670 m to the Tegiola pass.  All the way we had many boulder fields and stony paths.  Highest pass was the Porcellizzo at 2961 m.  Arrived very wet at the hut just after 6 p.m.  Hoping for better weather tomorrow.


August 15th

A rainy day.  I had forgotten that today is “ferragosto”, a public holiday in Italy.  But it made little difference.  Our hotel – Albergo K2 – was fine and our stay allowed us to get all our clothes and gear dry.  We took the bus to Chiavenna where we had time to do some shopping and have an ice cream.  Peter bought himself a new genuinely waterproof anorak for a very low price, his old one having let in too much water yesterday.  Then a second (Swiss postal) bus up to Castasegna, the first Swiss village.  We immediately found the car and checked in to a small hotel.  We spent most of the afternoon watching the rain, planning the next few days and updating our blogs.  Supper in a pizzeria just across the border in Italy, 2 minutes’ walk away.

Night: Hotel Garni Post, Castasegna

Incomplete maps

August 14th

Almost a disaster – we ended up in the wrong valley!  How?

There was a thunderstorm last night and it rained on and off all day.  Sally and Roger offered to take my car (still with kayak) to the Bregaglia valley where we should be in two days.  After a lot of sorting out of clothes, maps, food, etc we all left for the Splügen Pass.  Sally and Roger left us here and drove on in two cars.

Very strong cold wind, some rain.  No summits possible so we took a lower level route to the Rifugio Bertacchi.  Here we sat out a thunderstorm and heavy rain, and left again at 2.20 p.m.

Two very recent Swiss maps (2009 and 2014) showed a marked trail from the Passo di Niemet, half an hour from the hut, over the Passo di Sterla into the Valle di Lei, without any other paths.  At the top of the climb we were in fog and greeted with a very strong wind and driving rain, and followed the red/white and yellow marks. In these conditions we must have missed a turnoff.  Later, much lower down, we emerged – very wet – from the fog and began to realise something was wrong – too late!  No other option but to go down to the village of Madèsimo (as it turned out to be) and find somewhere to sleep.

Night: Hotel Ristorante K2, Madèsimo

Distance:  22,0 km
Walking time:  6 hours 40 minutes
Vertical distance:  1140 m uphill; 1710 m downhill

Happy birthday!

August 13th

Part 1.  Breakfast 6h30, off at 7h10, descent to Cama.  5,2 km; 930 m downhill.  Time:  1 hour 45 minutes (hut warden said 2 hours maximum, signpost said 2 hours 30).

Part 2.  Post bus to just before Bellinzona, where Peter and I found the car after some phone calls.  Drove over San Bernardino pass (tunnel) to Splügen and on to Splügen Pass.

Part 3.  Started up to Pizzo Tambo (3279 m) at 12.00 noon.  4,5 km; 1100 m uphill (and down again).  Time:  2 hours 20 minutes up (plus 20 minutes resting), 1 hour 55 minutes down.  Peter turned back about half way up (altitude?)

Part 4.  On arrival back at the pass, met by Sally and Roger, with a bottle of Prosecco and a birthday cake!  They had driven over especially from home to celebrate with me.  Later, we all (with Peter) had dinner together at the Hotel Suretta in Splügen (where we also spent the night). Yum, yum!