Italy's wild side: ridge walk in the Val Grande

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    Italy's wild side: ridge walk in the Val Grande

    The Parco Nazionale Val Grande, west of Lake Maggiore, promises seclusion and wilderness - and a solitary hike.

    Day 1: Cicogna - Alpe Curgei

    We turn up the narrow road to Cicogna and are glad that it also appears narrow to the taxi driver. Shortly before that we drove from Lake Constance across Switzerland Hotel Dislocanda parked the rental car and told the host - of course not without the obligatory espresso.

    Now we stand in the slightly foggy Cicogna, align ourselves and our backpacks and descend to the river. The road is slippery and in fact the first hiker of our group of six lies down for the first time. With a slightly bent telescope stick we start the tour. Leaving the coolness of the river behind, we ascend to the other side. It is suddenly humid, every sweat is in vain. Always further, we climb and puff more and more steeply, no stretch of flat road offers rest. The group pulls apart, the distances shorten again. Old, crumbling houses of raw stone, the dark, dripping forest, silence.

    Slowly I feel the calves. No steps, no kicks, just steep forest floor. On the top of the ridge opens the view and the heart: what an area! A deep, narrow valley, densely wooded. Cicogna is clinging to the hillside, breaking out of the forest. One thinks to see thin columns of smoke rising from the chimneys.

    It starts to drizzle, I'm not sure if that means cooling down now or I should cover my rain jacket. According to the map, there are still a few meters and we would have to arrive at the daily destination, the Rifugio Curgei. In fact, this soon emerges from the fog. But what does "soon" mean on a multi-day hiking tour like this. A short exploration tour: well, house with kitchen, sleeping places upstairs, even some dry wood, a toilet and in the next house a little more wood. We light a crackling, warming fire in the old oven, change clothes and settle in comfortably.

    The Rifugio culture here in the Val Grande opens with the kitchen cupboard: there is everything here! Pasta, rice, oil, salt, candles, dishes and much more. Obviously you towed something up here to deposit it in the closet for the followers. Next time I know that and bring something with me. For this time I like to accept the offer and cook a big pot of coffee.

    How helpless you can stand in front of such an old, steel stoneware furnace. Many openings, shops, levers, drawers - and the description figuratively on the wall - but inscribed in Italian. Somehow we get the thing going, the coffee is ready and we are completely fogged. Someone comes up with the idea to open the fireplace from the outside. However, we are not sure if opening the hatch has really made a difference. Again and again we open the door to let out the smoke and let oxygen in - and fall after the meal soon exhausted in the beds, sleeping pads and sleeping bags.

    Day 2: Alpe Curgei - Passo del Diavolo - Rifugio Forno

    The morning in this cabin is so comfortable that we leave a lot of time for breakfast, tidying and packing and do not leave until around ten o'clock.

    Away from the hut, higher up, we are surrounded by ever-increasing fog. We trot, gently rising, and take a short break at the chapel Pian Cavallone.

    In good weather and good visibility, it is certainly nice up here, but currently you can see no 20 meters. The signs point towards Monte Zeda, below the summit is our destination for the day, Alpe Forno. With our rudimentary knowledge of Italian, we decipher that the way will be more difficult now. Difficile stop.

    In fact, we'll soon have to use our hands to help, but thick iron chains are everywhere to hold on. Of course I enjoy such an interesting route, secretly I also hope that it will last even longer. Again and again, rock bars block the way that they want to be climbed over. If we do not get any nice views today, we'll have fun on the mountain path.

    As on every mountain tour, there are now less photos, the concentration and the hands are needed for more important things. The weather forecast is buzzing through my head: from late noon thunderstorm - and we are not even on the ridge. Another upswing, and another. Soon we should be on the Passo del Diavolo, from there it is not far to the hut. 

    A less experienced fellow moans and curses: he is afraid of heights. My comment that it is then quite good that you see nothing, he commented, rightly soberly, harshly. We steer him over the riskier places, help where we can. I'm torn. We have to get down from the ridge as soon as possible, the rumbling thunder is right above us - and we're still on the ridge, everywhere there are safety chains torn out of the wall. But driving a frightened hiker can be risky in this terrain. He already feels the pressure himself and he fights his way through. Slow but steady. Respect for this achievement, not a few would have probably sat down and cried, he commented dry: "That's probably no more hiking, that's after climbing!".

    For example, at the Capella Marona it rips something up. The chapel would have been our first and only way to retire to the dry and safe interior of a solid building. In fact, the sun breaks through the otherwise dense cloud cover for a short time. We take our time, stretch and stretch, even make coffee.

    Hardly again on the way we get into the center of the thunderstorm. The terrain does not become easier, chains torn out everywhere, bent posts. Visibility is about 20 meters, in this soup you do not even see the lightning. It is always briefly light gray, almost white, then dark again. Finally, the branch that crosses the eastern flank of Monte Zeda. Staying on the same contour line, well developed, it is now progressing briskly. The water just shoots over the rocks, I hold my water bottle in the creek for a moment. Ice cold, the water runs into the sleeve. There should not be any water at the hut, so it's time to fill up. Go on quick.

    Suddenly it is over, as through a wall we step into the sun. A rainbow, at the end of which the hut can be found! We stand in wonderment, just glad that the storm has passed over us and that we have rushed through it. Drenched, trembling, we go slower to the saddle. From here you can see the hut, three little houses. After a breather and sunbathing, we descend the steep path carved into the rock face and cross over to the hut. 

    Steaming, the shoes lean against the fireplace, we eat and palate for a long time and then crawl into the sleeping bags.

    Day 3: Alpe Forno - Alpe Archia - Manegra

    Again we come late. The ascent to the pass is brought quickly behind us and above us the sun welcomes us. We absorb the sun, the mountain air and the panoramas, while we have a second breakfast.

    Today is pause day, only about five kilometers and manageable elevation can be overcome, and on well-developed, old military routes of the Linea Cardorna, On beautiful paths, high on the ridge between Monte Zeda and Monte Vada, it goes on leisurely. I take the Monte Vada with me and am surprised: Trenches and goats I find up there. What a madness that has eaten into this world, right up to its most remote corners.

    At Bivacco Vada we enjoy fresh, cool water from the fountain and refill our bottles. From now on, it gently falls and well-developed on an old military road downhill. Further down we rest in the shade and continue to Alpe Archia. It is early afternoon, Archia is an organic farm with accommodation and restaurant and thus our long-awaited destination for the day. However, we have to conclude that the Alpe Archia is closed. There is little to debate, between here and the destination of our hike, the village of Manegra, there are no more open huts.

    We decide to hang tomorrow's final stage and leave. To create these last 13 kilometers before dusk, we push on the walking gas pedal. We leave Il Colle and come to Cima di Morissolo. This cliff towering over Lake Maggiore is riddled with holes, as it was an old ammunition dump. A short exploration later we march through to Piancavallo, where thankfully still an espresso for me and beer and coke for the others in it. The small bar closes after we have finished our drink.

    Maybe through this little break and the joy of licking espresso and cold beer we miss the branch of the trail, and much too late we realize that. So we walk down the many serpentines on the road down to Manegra. The street spits us right at the hotel.

    After a short, puzzled back and forth we get from the rather cool host of Hotel Dislocanda Beds for the extra night and extensive rich food. Since we have saved a day, we waste our last day with coffee and ice in the town of Verbania and its beach, go out in the evening to eat - of course pizza - and then plunge into the nightlife on the promenade.




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