Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

Out of the valleys and up into the Alps

Posted in Switzerland & Italy by canyoneering on November 5, 2012

Pizzo Campo Tencia
Lepontine Alps, Ticino, Switzerland
09/02/12 – 09/03/12


We awake on a chilly morning in a campground high up in the Valle Leventina, not far from the trailhead for a two day trek taking us out of the valleys and high up into the Lepontine Alps. Before the trek we warm our bones at the campground restaurant with espresso and freshly baked pastries. The hike begins in a verdant field past cows creating a symphony with their cowbells. The sun is finally out in full force. The air is crisp and vibrant. The blues and greens saturated. We head into the forest and pass religious shrines and a Swiss cowboy. The Val Piumogna, the main canyon that drains the area comes in from below. There is so much water down there it appears un-runnable as a technical descent. The trail takes us past a small village and more cows. Everything is fresh and earthy. Even the cow manure doesn’t smell bad. The trail climbs higher as white ribbons of water dance down the mountainsides in all directions. We arrive above the tree line into an Alpine world of babbling streams, powerful waterfalls, mellow meadows, near vertical grass covered slopes, rock towers and snow covered mountains.

After a short while we can see the Capanna Campo Tencia in the distance. Originally built in 1912 and owned by the Swiss Alpine Club this hut features several bedrooms with dozens of of cots, a bathroom, common area, dining room and a kitchen staffed with a chef that serves up the most delicious regional cuisine. We arrive at the Capanna Campo Tencia, 8.5 miles and over three thousand feet of elevation gain from the trailhead. Breathtaking views are 360 degrees. We meet Franco, the hut master. He is an elite alpine mountaineer having been part of expeditions from the Himalayas to Patagonia. He is short, slight of build, is bald and has a mustache. He whistles the same catchy tune over and over again while preparing food in the kitchen with his partner, Nami. The quiet, small Nepalese man has shared many alpine adventures with Franco during the course of their 20- year friendship. Photos of Franco and Nami atop of some of the most challenging peaks from around the world hang throughout the hut. Nami spends his summers in Switzerland working with Franco at the Capanna Campo Tencia. We are lucky to have them as hosts, especially for their culinary skills.

Franco gives us some suggestions of hikes in the area. With his advice that afternoon we walk to the Lago di Morghirolo, just below the ridge line that separates the Valle Maggia (the same one we were canyoneering earlier in the week) and Valle Leventina (an upper branch valley of the Riveiera where we were canyoneering the previous day). Our high altitude position gives us a great perspective of the geography of Ticino and the earth and water that feeds the canyons below. Eric and I take a short and frigid dip in the lake. Laura and I head back to the hut where we rest in our bunk beds and stare out of the panoramic windows. That evening with Franco and Nami in the kitchen, dinner is very special: minestrone soup, fresh salad, braised rosemary beef and pollenta with gravy. We share the dining room with several other small parties of hikers. Two young Swiss Dads wanted to get a quick hike and a tasty meal in before picking up their kids from school. I have to excuse myself several times during the dinner to run outside to the deck to photograph the glowing mountains at sunset.

After an early morning breakfast we venture out to tackle the summit of Pizzo Campo Tencia, the highest peak of the area at 3,072 meters (10,079 ft). Franco assures us the climb is non-technical that requires just a little use of the hands for some of the more tricky spots. The trail switchbacks through jagged rocks and climbs up steep slopes of grass that one would never be able to gain traction on were in not for the path. We climb higher with great views of the Capanna Campo Tencia below. We reach a tiny glacial lake at the bottom of a small glacier clinging to what remains of its life. Nami would later tell us that in the 20- years he has been summering at the Capanna Campo Tencia it has been frightening how much the glacier has diminished. We climb an exposed ridge and then skirt above the edge of the glacier to a rock strewn face that takes us to another ridge which takes us to the summit. Tibetan prayer flags and giant cairns adorn the summit. After a short break we carefully and slowly make our way back down to the  Capanna Campo Tencia. We say goodbye to Nami and Franco, gather our belongings and head back down the trail to our vehicle. We take a slightly different variation of the end of the hike walking through the larger mountain village of Dalpe as opposed to skirting around it. The trail ends in an alleyway between two buildings in Dalpe with what otherwise appears to be a road sign thats says “Capana Campo Tencia – 3.5 ore” referring to a three and a half hour walk to the hut. Hiking is definitively more part of the culture here.


For information and reservations for the Capana Campo Tencia click here.



2 Responses

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  1. Stephen S. said, on November 6, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    Ah, finally a hike with nothing to fall off of. 🙂 Beautiful scenery. Any trouble breathing at 10,000 feet?

    • canyoneering said, on November 6, 2012 at 3:21 pm

      There actually was quite a bit of exposure on the hike to the summit of Pizzo Campo Tencia. A misstep off the trail (if you could call it that in some places) and you would be in big trouble. You just had to be careful and it wan’t too bad. No trouble at all breathing at 10,000 feet.

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