Three dreamy days around the Rocky King of Piedmont. Here is my narration, below is the day by day and itinerary description by my companion Anne.
I’ve always seen Monviso from a distance: I grew up in pre-Alpine region of Lake Maggiore, and climbing up my local summits, I always asked my father what was that rocky pyramid on the other side of Pianura Padana. “It’s Monviso, Luca, a beautiful mountain I’ve never seen closer!”.
Last October, I holded a guest speech at Rossana Foto Festival, in West Piedmont.
I went there with Anne, and, at the age of 30, we finally decided to discover Monviso.
We took a map, and designed from scratch a ring of about 30 km and 2800m D+ around the mountain, following some parts of the Giro del Viso, with some wild detours and shortcuts.
The plan was quite ambitious: on Friday morning I had to prepare my exposition at the photo festival, leaving us only two day and a half to complete our ring. But the weather forecasts were simply perfect, and this is always a great motivation.
We left my car in Castello, climbing up the Canalone delle Forciolline in a perfect sunset light. We chose to do the tour in self sufficiency, using only bivouacs and winter huts, as the standard refuges were already closed for the late season.
I leave the hike description to Anne, in the second part of this blog post. What I anticipate you, is that the adventure was not easy.
As we designed the ring from the map, we had to traverse some alpinistic parts: the Sagnette Pass and the Porco Coulour have exposed sections and usually require a rope, that we didn’t have with us. Arriving to the sections, we had to put our experience to best use and keep going.
This kind of risking is not the first thought when I narrate my way of living mountains: a slow pace and deep connection. But it’s a part of the game, especially when you want to explore more and farther.
Associating these exposed passages with the self sufficiency exploring, bringing our own food, the sleeping bags and all the equipment, made the experience simply totalizing.
We hiked for 60 hours in an incredible landscape, with Fall colors all around us and the clear sky of October. My words and even my pictures can’t describe the power of sensation we had in those days.
During the hike, we met very few people, exploring the area our same way.
In the Alps we are over-used to huts and infrastructures in the mountains: long distance hikes and mountain climbing becomes easy when you don’t have to think to anything except the athletic gesture.
Having everything closed is a big deterrent for the majority of hikers.
The summer coming will probably be the one with most hut closed and the wilder Alps in decades. I understand that for most of the people, this will be a pain in the ass, and they will probably give up on mountaineering and exploration. But this is also a unique occasion to create a deep connection with the mountains, and I invite you to hike the same way we did the Abbraccio del Viso (Hug of Monviso).
Below you can find the day by day narration and trail description by Anne.
Elevation gain: 2800m
Starting point: Castello (Pontechianale, CN)
Duration: 2 to 3 days
Recommended period: August till the first snow
Day 1: from Castello (1.614m) to Boarelli Bivouac (2.820m)
We started quite late, at around 4 pm at the parking lot of Castello. The hike begins with a gentle elevation through a beautiful valley that is populated by shepherds, following the Vallanta torrent. At the beginning of the trail you therefore find signs which tell you to take care of the shepherds’ dogs, which we really met after just 10 minutes, but no problem, they were doing their business. We followed the beautiful forgotten valley for about 3 km, when we arrived at Grange del Rio (1.982m), where we needed to take the right way up following another valley, the “Vallone delle Forciolline”. It was a beautiful and wild valley. The ascent was continuous with some passages that were secured by chains, passing the “Canalone delle Forciolline”. It was already becoming dark when we finally arrived at the lakes “Laghi delle Forciolline”, where our bivouac for the night was located. It was the most beautiful bivouac that we had ever seen! It was made of woods with the front part made of glass, so from the inside you could admire the beautiful view. The bivouac was called “Bivacco Boarelli” or “Bivacco delle Forciolline”, named after Alessandra Boarelli, the first woman that climbed Monviso in 1864. We met a group of french hikers inside, who were planning to climb Monviso the next day in the early morning. After having enjoyed a nice dinner all together, we went to sleep early in the very comfortable beds.
Day 2: Boarelli Bivouac (2.820m) – Passo delle Sagnette (2.990m) – Rifugio Quintino Sella (2.640m) – Rifugio Vitale Giacoletti (2.741m) – Coulour del Porco (2.920m) – Punta Udine (3.022m) – Rifuge du Viso (2.460m)
We had a tough day ahead of us so we got up early and started walking into the direction of Monviso following for a while the “Sentiero Ezio Nicoli”. We passed along the lake walking on a ledge, the so called “Cengia dei Camosci”. We followed the path uphill for about 1,5 hours, when we arrived at the “Passo delle Sagnette”. From here the “Sentiero Ezio Nicoli” continues uphill until the Andreotti bivouac, which is one of the classic tracks to climb Monviso. Since this was not our goal we started to go down from the pass instead, heading to the valley and the lake “Lago Grande di Viso”, where the famous “Rifugio Quintino Sella” was located. Arriving at the start of descent we discovered that it was actually not a normal descent but a “via ferrata”, a very steep climb, protected with some stairs and ropes. Signs were clearly telling that this climb should not be taken without harness, helmet and ropes. We did not bring any of those gears. Clearly I was not very happy about the idea of climbing down there, suffering much more from altitude and exposure than Luca, but I also did not like the idea of cancelling our trip and walking back to the car. Another round-trip from the pass unfortunately was not possible. I am quite a scared person, but also ambitious so I could not just turn around. So we started climbing down the steps, secured by ropes, watching every step very very carefully. We could not afford any error or any wrong step. So we climbed down concentrated on the very exposed stairs. I was so released when we finally arrived on the foot of the via ferrata! I definitely would not recommend this to anyone. Next time we would bring our gears for sure. Released and like reborn, we started walking along the valley, when we finally arrived at the Rifugio Quintino Sella after another 30 minutes of walking. The Rifugio was open so we could not resist to have a giant piece of cake. The break needed to be short though, since we still had a long way to go ahead of us that day.
We continued walking into the direction of the lake Chiaretto. It was much more busy on this part of the trek since it is a very common and popular route, close to parking lots and public transport and the source of the famous river Po. After having crossed lake Chiaretto, we took a less common route again, which headed to lake Lausetto and the Rifugio Giacoletti. The way became steeper again and on the last part before the Rifugio we had to climb up on huge rocks, not dangerous at all but very very exhausting if you are already tired. We had a short break at the hut, which was closed and checked the map: Still a long long way to go until the French hut where we planned to sleep. No time to rest, up to the next pass! We headed to the next pass in front of us, the “Coulour del Porco”, or the “Pig’s walk” at almost 3.000m. After around half an hour of walking, we arrived at the bottom of the ascent – and surprise – it was a via ferrata again! It looked much easier and less dangerous than the first one, but we were very tired at this point. Turning back was not a choice, and this climb was really easy compared to the first one. So we started climbing up, watching every step highly concentrated. A group of people was coming the way down and they also did not have any gears, so that made me feel much more relaxed. It was really not that bad and after around 30 minutes of climbing, we arrived safely at the pass. The pass is located in an incredible position between two peaks just above 3.000m: the Punta Udine at 3.022m and the Punta Venezia at 3.095m. Luca decided to climb up another 100m to the peak of Punta Udine, where he could admire a beautiful view of Monviso. I could not do it – just too tired!
It was already quite late when we headed downhill on the other side of the pass following the valley for another 2 hours until we finally arrived at the Refuge du Viso, which was already the french side of the Monviso area. The hut was closed, only the winter bivouac was accessible. We had dinner in the common room together with about ten other hikers. We sat a while outside to watch the beautiful stars and the silhouette of Monviso before we went to sleep after this long but amazing day.
Day 3: Rifuge du Viso (2.460m) – Monte Losetta (3.054m) – Colle Losetta (2.872m) – Vallone di Vallanta – Castello (1.614m)
For the next day we had tracked ourselves a route leading to a nearby mountain called Monte Losetta at 3.054m. The path was signed on our map, but impossible to find in reality. So we somewhat started walking randomly uphill on the path, that seemed to take to the peak. After about 2 hours we finally saw the first track. It was at the end of the alpine meadows and the start of the rocky mountain. The path was all covered by black stones, it felt like being in a rocky desert or on the moon. It was a really steep way up, exhausting and long, but after around 1,5 hours of walking up we finally arrived at the top of Monte Losetta with a stunning view. It was beautiful! In front of us we saw Monviso, his neighboured peaks and the Vallanta valley that opened up on the foot of Monte Losetta. We stayed there for a while, enjoying the wonderful view and taking some rest after the last two long days. The descent along the valley was beautiful. We walked along idyllic meadows, wild rivers and forgotten houses. After a few hours of walking we arrived back at Castello, where we had left. We were happy and surprised about how wonderful this round-trip has been, in this completely unknown area for us, with a round-trip that we had designed by ourselves. We decided to name this round-trip like we felt in this moment of happiness, it was a hug to the beautiful Monviso, l’Abbraccio del Viso.