A long ridge of mountains separate the Swiss cantons Ticino and Graubünden. Apart from Rheinwaldhorn/Adula, Piz Terri and Pizzo di Claro, these summits are very little known. One of the most interesting groups in this chain lies in the triangle between Val di Blenio, Riviera and Val Calanca: The small group of Torrone Alto. On the north flank of this group, a couple of small glaciers, the southernmost of Ticino, resist the climatic changes (for the time being).
Although the normal routes are not particularly difficult (easy climbing until grade II), according to the summit log, Torrone Alto and Piz da Termin get less than 10 visitors per year. The other peaks have no summit logs.
Torrone Alto has seven distinct peaks, but only the southernmost summit has an altitude measure on the map. It seems, however, that a couple of the other summits are slightly (some 5 metres) higher. One of the most challenging climbs in the area is the traverse of all seven peaks. This is a rather demanding route, it is rated AD and contains several sections in grade III.
This page , by the late German climber Jürgen Brenneis, gives you some information about this climb (only in German).
The Italian "Torrone Alto" literally means "high tower". In earlier books and on ancient maps, the group and the summits used to have various different names:
The entire group was referred to as "Torrentone" in Val Pontirone, while the people of Val Calanca called it "Fil de Biancalan".
The summit of Torrone Alto used to be called Torrone d'Orza (from Alpe Örz in Val d'Osogna). This name is still widely used - for example, the local section of a mountaineering and hiking club in Biasca (owner of Cava hut) carries the name. On the newest maps, the name was changed once more, to Torent Alto.
The summit of Torent Basso used to be called Torrone Basso or Torrone della Motta (from Alpe Motta in Val d'Osogna).
Basically, there are three places to start from:
-) Cava hut in Val Pontirone (a side valley of Val di Blenio)
-) Osogna (a village in the Riviera, between Biasca and Bellinzona)
-) Landarenca (a tiny village in Val Calanca)
Val Pontirone is best reached by car. Leave Gotthard-Autoroute at exit "Biasca", drive in direction of Lucomagno pass until Malvaglia, where a long and narrow road in direction of Val Malvaglia and Val Pontirone begins. Follow this road until Ponte di Sceng (1221 m). A rough road goes further to Alpe Cava, but it's closed for tourist traffic.
From Ponte di Sceng, a good path brings you in about 2 hrs to Cava hut.
The hut can be reached directly from Biasca, by following one of several very steep paths leading to Forcarella di Lago pass. This interesting access takes some 5-6 hrs and it is the way to choose if you're travelling by train.
Osogna is reached by car on the road Biasca-Bellinzona (leave the autoroute either in Biasca or Bellinzona). There are bus services every hour. Note that Osogna has no hotels, the next options are Biasca or Cresciano.
Landarenca is a tiny and lovely village without road access in Val Calanca. Take the autoroute Bellinzona-Chur until exit "Roveredo". Drive to Grono and enter Val Calanca until you reach Selma. From here, a cableway brings you to Landarenca whenever you wish (automatic service). This installation was reconstructed in 2004.
There is a very good bus service between Bellinzona and Grono. The busses from Grono to Selma are a bit less frequent.
Timetables are available here
Climbing and other history
First (known) ascents
It is probable that some of the summits had been reached centuries ago by local chamois hunters. However, the first tourists found no traces of human presence on the main summits.
Darmstaedter with guides Stabeler climbed several summits of Torrone Alto in 1892 (from northwest). This was during a campaign which led them to the first climbs of a number of summits between Ticino and Graubuenden. An very interesting account of their successful month in the alps can be read in the yearbook 1893 of the DÖAV (alpine club of Germany and Austria).
Gotthard End (the author of the monography mentioned below)climbed Torent Basso's E-ridge in 1903.
Before the invention of ice machines
Back in the late 19th century, ice was cut from Ghiacciaio di Basso on the N-flank of the mountain. The ice was then transported with rudimentary cableways to the valley and from there by train to Milan and other main towns, where it was used for example to cool the beer.
The lumberjacks of Val Pontirone
Val Pontirone today has no population, but only loads of secondary residences. Until the the mid-20th century, a small local population lived in this small valley all year round.
Old books mention that the men from Val Pontirone were the best woodchucks in Switzerland. They used to cut timber in very remote areas. To transport it to the lowlands, they built a kind of runways, looking somewhat like a run for bobsleighs. When the winter came, these constructions were covered with water which soon froze. During the nights, the summer's timber was rushed downwards on these runways. This must have been a rather dangerous business, which became unnecessary when the first cableways appeared.
When to climb
All summits of the group are usually climbed in summer or fall. Torrone Alto has been done in winter (from Landarenca), but it isn't possible to ski from the summit and a lot of portage is involved in the steep forest between Landarenca and Alpe Piöv.
Note that there are small glaciers and steep snowfields on some routes. In late summer, crampons may be indispensable. E.g.: Bocchetta del Torrone from Cava or Bocchetta Alta from Alpe Örz.
Camping is tolerated in the area, if you stay away from the more popular places (like Alpe Cava or Val Pontirone).
A good base for all summits of the group is the nice Cava hut. This site has lots of information on all the huts in Ticino. The hut is always open and there is a warden between mid-June and mid-September. Reaching the hut by mountain bike is a popular feat for local cyclists. If you're a member of FAT (the Alpine club of Ticino) or a local section of SAC, the tariff is somewhat reduced.
There are no huts on the eastern side of the mountain, but you can stay at a small hostel in Landarenca (this building used to be the school). This is inexpensive and you can either use the kitchen or eat at the small restaurant Osteria Torrione. Call Rodolfo Keller for info (091 828 10 09 or mobile 079 665 49 43).
Osogna has no hotels, but you may stay in Biasca or Cresciano. Find out about hotels in Ticino here (search by town).
There are a few tiny huts in Val d'Osogna, but they are closed and you should get hold of the key in Osogna if you wish to use them.
Books and maps
You'll need 4 sheets in 1:25000 scale for the Torrone Alto group:
Find out about the newest available editions here
Giuseppe Brenna has written five excellent guides covering the mountains of Ticino and Graubuenden's Mesolcina. You'll want "Guida delle Alpi Ticinesi 3", SAC-Verlag 1994. This book is also available in German.
In the yearbooks 1922 and 1923 of the Swiss Alpine Club, Gotthard End published an excellent and detailled monography on Biasca and Val Pontirone. There's also a chapter about the Torrone group. This invaluable historical document was translated into Italian and published by the "Gruppo Ricreative Val Pontirone" in Biasca in 1996. It has no ISBN number and may therefore be difficult to find. A most recommendable read!
Other summits in the area
Torent basso, 2820 m
This beautiful summit has two rather easy routes:
a) From Passo del Mauro (2428 m, 1-1.5 hrs from Cava hut, path) an ascending traverse of the SW-flank leads to the SE-ridge. On this ridge to the summit. This route is waymarked in white-blue and a chain has been installed to facilitate the most difficult part (used to be a III climb). Difficulty PD/T5, some short sections in grade II.
b) From Bocchetta del Torrone (2665 m, 2.5 hrs from Cava hut) climb the E-ridge. This is rather easy (F/F+), some sections are grade II and somewhat exposed.
Cima d'Örz, 2706 m
This summit is easily reached by scrambling the E-ridge from Bocchetta Alta (2535 m). Bocchetta Alta pass is best reached from Landarenca (4 hrs).
Piz da Termin, 2899 m
This summit is usually reached on the easy E-ridge from Motton (2739 m). Motton is reached either on the northern slope, from Alpe di Pradaccio or on the NE-slope (Gagna del Motton). These slopes are more comfortable if there remains still a good snowcover, i.e. in early summer.
Pizzo Scarion and Pizzo Bidensc, 2335/2265 m
These smaller summits are best reached from the upper slopes of Alpe Pradaccio, which can be reached on a good path from Ponte di Sceng (or from Cava hut, by traversing Senda del Bo pass). Go to Passo Bidensc and follow Scarion's N-ridge (PD, somewhat exposed). Pizzo Bidensc is reached from the pass by climbing the steep SW-flank (F).
Other, more demanding routes
Giuseppe Brenna's book is the source for many unusual routes in the mountains of Ticino. He describes the following:
-) Traverse of all summits (described in both directions): AD
-) Complete W-ridge: D
-) S-face and W-ridge: D
-) Torent Basso W-ridge: D
-) Torent Basso N-face: AD, IV