Rifugio Pietro Crosta
To get ready for the 4000-ers in the Monte Rosa group, I needed to acclimatize. I choose Domodossola as a base, and explored the surrounding mountains a few days at a time. Since it was still early in the season, most of the refuges were still closed. But by asking around, I learned that Rifugio Pietro Crosta was open, and, even better, there was a permanently open shelter high up on the slopes of Monte Cistella, at around 2800m. Perfect for acclimatization!
Having a late start, on the first day I only hiked for a few hours, from the village of San Domenico to Rifugio Pietro Crosta (1751m). At the refuge, I asked about the shelter, and Enrico, the warden, confirmed that it was indeed open. Normally, there was a trail up there. That is, I'm sure that it still existed - but Enrico warned me to be prepared for snow as low as 2000m! The next day I found that there was indeed snow that low in the center of the Vallone di Solcio, the steep-walled valley which was my route, but the trail stayed a bit above it, on the western slopes, and was free of snow until around 2300m. But from there on, it was no longer a hike, it now was an alpine climb.
Bivacco Giovanni Leoni
Going up, the snow was soft enough not to need crampons. As I couldn't see the trail anymore, I just made my own way up. As I approached the Piano di Cistella Alto
, I'm sure I was off the normal route. The terrain didn't have enough features to orientate accurately, but I knew where I was, and I had a pretty good idea about the direction I should go to get to the shelter, so I simply scrambled up the steep mixed terrain right below the edge of the high plains. The relatively soft snow made it easy and safe.
Eventually I got to my destination. The weather was deteriorating, so I left my gear and quickly made my way up Monte Cistella. It was too late though. On the summit I had no visibility at all.
Back at the shelter, I couldn't see far, so I settled in. As luck would have it, a few hours later the weather started to improve. Good! I can make it up to Pizzo Diei today after all!
By the time I got back from Pizzo Diei, the skies over Monte Cistella were clearing. If you look closely, you can see the shelter where I'm heading. It's a good thing that visibility has improved - in a whiteout, finding the shelter could take some time!
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