The Roda Val della Neve had intrigued us for some time. Although it is located right next to one of the most popular mountains in Bergell, a granite rock-climber's paradise in south-eastern Switzerland, it sees almost no traffic. The Swiss Alpine Club guidebook puts this down to the slightly longer approach times, and the fact that the mountain's impressive NW-face gets virtually no sun. Climbers who are willing to wear an extra layer and ready to walk an hour longer, however, are promised the finest quality granite and interesting, worthwhile climbing away from the crowds.
Although the Roda is an unimpressive granite bulge when seen from its eastern side, tucked away between the popular Spazzacaldeira
to the north and the Vergine to the south, its NW-face is approximately 500 meters high and very impressive to look at, especially considering the mountain's overall modest height. This intriguing western aspect, and the heaps of praise that the guidebook lavished on it, attracted us to the Via Canali, the oldest route on the face.
While several easy routes exist on the eastern (Albigna) side of the mountain, this page will focus on the Via Canali, adding seperate route pages only when this is required to maintain clarity.
As with all the other routes in the Albigna area, access to the Roda is made easy by the cablecar that leaves from Pranzaira and takes you up to the foot of the big Albigna dam. A return ticket costs CHF18 (2010). Alternatively, you can also take the red-white marked footpath up to the dam that starts just slightly up the road from the cablecar station in Pranzaira. On foot, getting up to the Albigna lake will take approximately 2-3 hours.
Once the Albigna lake has been reached, walk up to the western side of the dam and follow the trail that starts behind the house built there. After a few minutes this trail will split, with the lower track going off in the direction of the Piz Frachiccio
and the slightly higher path taking you to towards the Vergine. Take the latter path and follow it upwards to its heighest point, which puts you right at the north-eastern side of the Roda and at the top of a gully that leads down to the mountain's base. (The path continues underneath the Roda's eastern side towards the Vergine).
In late-july 2010, we found this gully to be largely filled with hard snow. Crampons and an ice axe are therefore required for the descent. The first part of the gully is crossed easiest by traversing slightly to the right (as seen from above) and then downclimbing the rocks thus reached. After several minutes the snow itself become accessible, which is followed all the way to the base of the mountain and the start of the climbing. It is approximately 1.5-2 hours from the dam to the start of the route.
The Roda (center) and its neighbors.
Descending the gully.
The Via Canali
The first few pitches as seen from the base of the mountain.
The crux pitch.
The route is difficult to see from the valley, but easily recognized once you're standing beneath it. Three or four leftwards slanting pitches (depending on where you can cross the small bergschrund) on slab (III+) take you up to the obvious chimney that represents the route's crux.
The guidebook rates the chimney-crux at V/A0, but the passage of time has made this slightly more difficult. While there are numerous pitons in place, most are very old. One came free when I tugged at it, and several have broken in half due to rust. Without pegs of your own or very small cams (< 0.4), these can be hard to replace. The goal is to navigate two small 'roofs' which turned out to be more like collections of large rocks jammed in the chimney. Some were dangerously loose but nevertheless had to be used in order to progress upwards. The final part of the chimney is the trickiest, and we could not avoid having to use the old pitons as aid. Exiting the chimney you reach a comfortable plateau with some old belay-pegs which need to be backed up.
From here onward the route becomes technically easier (lots of II and III, one pitch of IV) but finding the right way can be challenging. Leaving the plateau you start an approximately 300m long leftwards traverse over slabs that will finally lead you to a series of chimneys and cracks which give access to the last part of the face. Although a pitch-by-pitch description is not really feasible, some observations can be helpful. After the first or second pitch from the plateau, the route crosses the Via dei Gufi, so take care not to be misled by a series of pegs leading straight upwards. Continue going up and leftwards as much as possible, always taking the easiest line. Several old pegs and slings can indicate that you are still on-route. The climbing becomes very grassy at times, and while never difficult, these pitches can be hard to protect and are dangerous when wet.
A typical pitch in the middle part of the route.
Continuing along in this manner, always following the most natural and straightforward line upwards, you reach a chimney-esque pitch with lots of moss and some mud. Climb upwards and you will eventually come across 2 pitons, indicating your are on the right way and have reached the upper part of the route.
After the chimney-crack system (1-2 pitches, IV), a III'd grade slab awaits that is angled leftwards. At its end there is a rock horn with an old sling and a peg slightly below it on the left. Although the guidebook indicates that only two more pitches are left until you reach the Roda's ridge, we found this to be incorrect. Instead, it took us another 4-6 pitches to reach the ridge, crossing some very grassy terrain and climbing some shorter steep sections before difficulties subside and you can scramble to the ridge.
From the ridge you can walk/scramble upwards towards the summit, or make your way down.
In our opinion, the route was not as worthwhile, or on as great rock, as the guidebook made it out to be. The middle part, with its many grassy pitches, was sometimes too much like vertical gardening to be truly enjoyable. On the other hand, it was a much more 'alpine' outing than many of the routes on offer in the Albigna area and challenging in the way that such classic, seldom repeated, outings can be. To those looking for a bit of a 'classic' and solitude, it might just hit the spot!
: besides numerous old pegs of dubious quality, there is no in-situ gear.
The Via Canali was first climbed on July 26th, 1959 by E. Bozzi, J. Canali and R. Merendi.
We found the easiest descent to be along the NE ridge of the Roda. After reaching the ridge at the end of the Via Canali, downclimb until this becomes too tricky and exposed. At this point you should be able to see an improvised abseil station. With dual 60m ropes it is possible to abseil to the base of the mountain in one go. Those with shorter ropes will have to utilize one of the intermediate abseil stations (also improvised) or set up one of their own.
The start of the 'final' chimney system.
Several other routes exist on the NW face of the Roda:
Via dei Gufi
IV with one pitch of IV+ and one pitch of V. A more pleasing (direct) line to the summit, but the guidebook recommends hammer and pegs, which we did not have. Furthermore, the routefinding appears to be trickier.
VI with A1 and A2. This line goes up an impressive crack and was climbed in 1975 by the famous Max Niedermann and his friends.
A good selection of cams (ie 0.4 - 3).
A small selection of stoppers.
Plenty of slings.
Crampons and ice axe.
Guidebooks and maps
Ruedi Meier and Peter Alig, Alpinführer Bündner Alpen 4: Südliches Bergell-Disgrazia
, (SAC Verlag: 2006).
Map: Swisstopo 1:25000 #1296 'Sciora'.
The campsite nearest to the cablecar station and the footpath leading up to the Albigna area is called camping Mulina and is located just outside of the small town of Vicosoprano, a mere five minutes drive from the cablecar station.
The nearest hut is the well-situated Capanna da l'Albigna, run by the Swiss Alpine Club. See their website
for more details.
Camping or bivouacing in the mountains is forbidden in the Bergell as it is everywhere in Switzerland. There are, however several, very good locations in and around the cablecar station at the foot of the dam.