Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

Last day – Val Lodrino intermedio & inferiore

Posted in Switzerland & Italy by canyoneering on December 4, 2012

Val Lodrino intermedio & inferiore, V5A5IV
Riviera, Ticino, Switzerland


Two days earlier…

After descending Val d’Iragna, Eric and I stop by it’s next door neighbor to check out the level of water flow at the bottom of Val Lodrino. Lodrino is a big drainage and does not have a hydroelectric dam controlling its flow. It exists in its natural state. Before we could see the water we could hear its power. Those sounds create an immediate emotional response of anxiety and wonder. When we see the final waterfall we compare it to the photographs in our guidebook, “Eldorado Ticino” by Luca and Anna Nizzola. They are in fact high, very high. The recent rain has not yet run its course through Lodrino. Eric and I have serious doubts if descending this canyon and all of its technical challenges is in the cards for us at these levels. Back at the parking lot we run into nearly a dozen canyoneers who are sleeping on the black top under the bright sun. They look like they are right out of a Red Bull commercial. We speak with the one guy who is awake, filming his friends snoozing with a GoPro camera. They are Brits who reside in Switzerland. They have just come down Lodrino. We ask about the flows. “Flows are good,” says the man with a sizable scar across his face. He then qualifies, “It could get dicey if you don’t jump everything.” Referring to the dangers of rappelling and hydraulics in big flow. With only a few days left before returning to the States a descent of Lodrino now seems unlikely.

Pascal, who took us down Val Bodengo II and III just across the border in Italy, told us that above all else do not miss an opportunity to descend Lodrino. Luca and Anna Nizzola describe it this way, “This is the most beautiful and majestic canyon in Ticino, listed as the one of the most famous routes in Europe.”

One day earlier…

Not wanting to give up on the possibility of a descent, we return to the checkpoint of Lodrino. Water levels are perhaps slightly lower but still high. The following day would be our last chance. After some discussion we green light it.

We are not alone at the staging area at a cemetery on the outskirts of the small village of Lodrino. A half dozen other groups are getting ready. Some appear to be guided. Others are canyoneering teams wearing matching clothes. Group by group they slam the sliding doors of their vans adorned with what appears to be sponsorship signage as they are shuttled to near the top of the route. No matching jump suits or car shuttles for us. We attack the mountainside on an easy to follow trail through a dark forest. When we stop to catch our breath we get magnificent views through the trees of the Riviera valley below illuminated in the morning sun. We can see the side canyons of Cresciano Boggera and Osogna Nala across the Riviera that we descended earlier in the week.

At the start of Val Lodrino intermedio we suit up. I am both nervous and excited. We say goodbye to Laura who decides to sit this one out. The first obstacle is a fairly straightforward jump over a powerful hydraulic. Eric jumps first without his pack. I toss his bag from above but not far enough to get past the hydraulic. It gets sucked in. After I jump down to join Eric with my bag on, I realize the potential seriousness of my mistake. Eric dives into the hydraulic, fishes out his bag and then has to swim like hell to get out. I breathe a sigh of relief when he and his bag come through. It would not be the last of our hiccups of the day. Moving on we encounter a few more jumps and slides before reaching a powerful 160-foot waterfall rappel. At the bottom I can see Laura waving from atop a bridge that spans the canyon hundreds of feet above. She is very small. From here the canyon gets hauntingly deep and dark. We encounter a half dozen obstacles before a surprising long section of river walking. The canyon then narrows again into the famous Val Lodrino inferiore.

The power of the water has seemed to eliminate all hard angles in the rock. The deep saturated bluish-green of the water throws a cool cast on the tubular space that exists between the silver, polished rock. The obstacles are continuous and challenging. We are feeling a deep connectivity to this rock, water and space and the moves required to fluidly achieve the obstacles. Eric and I alternate leading. The intensity of the flow requires total concentration. I am  existing in a deeply spiritual place.

Eric wades in Val Lodrino inferiore.

We reach a 20- foot drop that requires either a traverse along a ledge before jumping in the pool below or a rappel in a very tight channel where all of the water is funneled. We opt to rappel. I watch Eric as he makes his way down while being pounded by the current. Half way down his upper body disappears into the white water. I can still see his legs below him but he has stopped descending. He appears to be struggling. I am unsure of what to do. He is not signaling for me to lower him but I wonder if he is unable to to locate his whistle as the waterfall is blowing him up. My mind is racing. After what seems like minutes, but was probably no more than 30 seconds I see Eric’s red backpack come flying out of the current and disappear into the canyon below. I then watch Eric make his way down the remainder of the rappel. Not wanting to follow in his footsteps I pull up the rope, bag it, make the traverse along the ledge and jump into the pool below. I swim down canyon between narrow walls to Eric standing over a 150- foot waterfall with a concerned look on his face. When I stand right next to him (which is required to verbally communicate in the deafening roar of the water) he tells me that his bag got swept over the 150- foot waterfall after he had to remove it off his back after becoming pinned by the current on the previous rappel. We now have a potential problem as one of our two ropes is in Eric’s bag somewhere down canyon. With my rope we can rappel down the 150- foot drop, but without the second rope we will not be able to pull and recover our rope after the rappel. If Eric’s bag got swept down a second drop where a rope will be necessary than we will be lampooned in the canyon. Eric seems confident that it is relatively flat at the bottom of the drop and with a little luck that red bag will be waiting for us in the pool below. With my nerves getting the better of me I am not so sure.

Our plan… I will rappel down, search for Eric’s bag, after hopefully finding the bag, attach the rope bag to our rappel rope, signal four whistle blasts letting Eric know he can haul the rope bag up. I make my way down the rappel scanning below from the bird’s eye view for anything red against all of the grays and blues. Suddenly, with 30-feet to go it dawns on me that I better stop and check to make sure that there is enough rope below. When I stop there is only three feet of rope below my right hand. Yikes, kind of a close call. I whistle signal to Eric to lower me the rest of the way. Upon touch down I aggressively begin searching. I make a quick look left and right of the tennis court sized pool and see nothing. I then venture downstream 50 meters and realize there is no chance that the bag got swept down a second drop. This is a relief and it is just a matter of sniffing her out. Not finding the bag I return to the pool for a more thorough examination. I swim along the entire shoreline, in some places fighting against the current, systematically searching every nook and cranny. In the final corner I find the bag amongst driftwood hidden in a crevice. I am elated. I swim back to the rappel rope, attach the rope bag and then signal four whistle blasts between heavy breaths. Eric spends the next 20 minutes hauling the saturated 220- foot rope back back up against the current of the powerful 150- foot waterfall. A few more rappels including one that drops through a massive granite arch concludes the canyon. We are exhausted and all smiles as we reunite with Laura waiting for us at the bottom.

In the morning we will fly out of Milan’s Malpensa International Airport but we don’t want this adventure to end. Before the two hour drive to Milan, we stop in downtown Bellinzona to attend the Grape Harvest Festival. The town square is filled with several thousand people eating regional cuisine, drinking the local Merlot and reveling in the festivities. The centerpiece is a stage set up along the steps of the church with traditional music, dance and costume. A row of five, 6- foot long wooden horns known as Alphorns herald the celebration. It starts to get dark and we realize it is our time to say goodbye. These nearly two weeks were over in a blink of an eye. It was an adventure that tantalized all of our senses. We left full with experiences and memories, leaving nothing behind and feeling very fortunate.



2 Responses

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  1. Vaporman said, on December 9, 2012 at 5:38 am

    Sounds like a wild canyon & of coursebeautiful photos. =)

  2. Eric Luth said, on January 21, 2013 at 3:52 am

    That sure was one wild scenario and one hell of a canyon!!! Great way to finish up an epic adventure!

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