Hiking and climbing in Switzerland: Grimsel Pass and Ticino

My first pandemic international travel. I’m a little embarrassed to admit I hadn’t heard of Grimsel Pass or Ticino even (!) before this trip. Seb had some free time between work meetings in southern Germany and offered to pick me at the Basel airport in a caravan for about ten days of climbing. I’m also embarrassed to admit that, having hardly climbed in two years, at first I wasn’t very excited. What?, a friend who knows the region very well and has a camper van, of course you have to go! That was Ferda’s mother’s reaction. Yes, a pretty fantastic opportunity, isn’t it?

Seb picked me up on the French side of the airport, and we stayed in France only long enough to eat some quiche before crossing into Switzerland. France, Switzerland too, both require a pass sanitaire to eat in restaurants (among other things). The woman who sold the quiche at the boulangerie asked to see it when I said we wanted to eat there (rather than takeaway). My Turkish covid 19 card with a QR code worked (as I had been told it would)!

Switzerland and Turkey (the US too) have about the same covid vaccination rates (~65% — lower than France (76%) and, interestingly, Sri Lanka (71%)), but the pass sanitaire makes travel feel safer (from a covid standpoint) in Switzerland than in Turkey since you can be more confident that fellow diners and bus passengers are not infectious. (France would be even better, I suppose.)

Ok, let’s get started. Shortly after leaving Basel we saw the sign on the highway for the Roman ruins of Augusta Raurica. I’m a sucker for these things and was tempted to ask Seb to stop until I remembered that I had visited those ruins six years ago.

A bit later on the way to Grimsel Pass Seb stopped at this pullout on Brünig Pass for the nice view:

I stopped at this same pullout (on Brünig Pass) 16 years earlier on my first trip to Switzerland. by bryandkeith on flickr

wait a minute! Check out this photo I took 15 years earlier on my first trip to Switzerland!

20060906132939-bryan by bryandkeith on flickr

At this point Seb was a bit exasperated: “Bryan, can’t I take you anywhere you haven’t already been?” he exclaimed. We drove down the pass and made a sharp left turn away from Interlaken to head east up the valley to Grimsel Pass. I assured Seb I hadn’t been there before. Indeed (thankfully) it turned out to be true — everywhere we went for the rest of the trip was new for me.

Grimsel Pass looks like this from one side:

IMG_20211009_092920 by bryandkeith on flickr

and this from the other side:

IMG_20211009_080909_11 by bryandkeith on flickr

and this at the top:

IMG_20211009_082119_22 by bryandkeith on flickr

Here is Seb with his father’s caravan at our first breakfast of the trip.

My first breakfast in Switzerland by bryandkeith on flickr

Grimsel Pass is known for its bolted granite slab climbing. See, you just climb straight up this blank wall, up to the right of where I am.

IMG_20211009_120751 by bryandkeith on flickr

This was Foxie, an easy (4c) fun 10 pitch route with nice views.

IMG_20211009_125644 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211009_131708_15 by bryandkeith on flickr
Tightening a bolt hanger by bryandkeith on flickr

We were in a cloud less than 5 minutes after topping out. In spite of the weather, the many rappels went quickly and easily.

Top of Foxie -- we were in a cloud about five minutes later by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211009_143416 by bryandkeith on flickr

The next day I got my ass kicked following nearby Neuholz (5c; that’s German for “new wood”, but it could more accurately be called “no holds”). Kudos to Seb for eight pitches of hard leading with only taking small falls.

We spent the day heading up blank steep slabs like this:

They were really blank steep slabs.  Seb led everything this day. by bryandkeith on flickr

Mostly I was too cold, tired, and scared to take photos. We actually bailed just before the last (easier; 5a) pitch because we were both shivering.

Seb certainly earned his beer and soup that day.

IMG_20211010_183038 by bryandkeith on flickr

Enough of Grimsel Pass’ featureless slabs. We spent the rest of the trip in Ticino. Of course, everyone’s heard of Ticino (or least they should have?!). It’s Switzerland’s Mediterranean, Italian-speaking canton with banana and palm trees, warm weather and sunshine.

Lavertezzo is famous for its clear water and over-crowded stone bridge.

IMG_20211011_130220 by bryandkeith on flickr

We parked the car higher up in Brione and walked steeply up 1000m to Rozerra that afternoon.

The following morning we climbed through this notch:

We're heading to the obvious notch. by bryandkeith on flickr

but this evening we spent the night at the top of the slabby rounded peak at the top of this photo:

IMG_20211011_162145_50 by bryandkeith on flickr

This is our shelter, Rifugio Rozzera (aka Bivouac Scorpion).

Rifugio Rozzera, our camp for the night.  There were even sleeping bags. by bryandkeith on flickr

The terrain up here is impressive,

IMG_20211012_091006 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211012_091047 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211012_101934 by bryandkeith on flickr

and the trekking route, well, kind of improbable.

IMG_20211012_104013 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211012_110344 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211012_110701 by bryandkeith on flickr

Once the scrambling ended, we followed a good trail to the summit of Poncione d’Alnasca.

IMG_20211012_114859 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211012_115429 by bryandkeith on flickr

Here’s that notch we climbed through.

IMG_20211012_115623 by bryandkeith on flickr

On the way down we got this great view of our shelter at Rifugio Rozzera, on the impressively flat area in the center of this photo:

Now we're looking across (and just a little down) at Rifugio Rozzera, where we spent the night. by bryandkeith on flickr

In Ticino I was, perhaps, more amazed by the stone architecture than anything else. We saw a few examples on the way up to Rozzera and even more on the way down.

IMG_20211012_144038 by bryandkeith on flickr

Here is the same roof from the inside and outside.

IMG_20211012_145041 by bryandkeith on flickr
This is looking at the inside of the roof in the previous photo. by bryandkeith on flickr

I guess these used to be mostly shepherds’ huts, but, with Switzerland being what it is now, I think they’re now mostly vacation homes.

IMG_20211012_141342 by bryandkeith on flickr

After two days of walking, Seb and I spent the next two days doing a little climbing at Ponte Brolla. One of the classic routes in this area is Quarzo at Speroni. It goes up the long, leftmost non-vegetated rib in this photo (see? I wasn’t joking about the palm trees!):

The leftmost non-vegetated rib is where we climbed the day before -- Quarzo at Speroni by bryandkeith on flickr

and looks like this when you’re a pitch or two up:

IMG_20211013_145343 by bryandkeith on flickr

It’s an 11-pitch route, but we only did the first six pitches (5b). Again, Seb led the whole thing after I backed down from the 2nd pitch. Again, he earned his reward — a swim this time.

IMG_20211014_152734 by bryandkeith on flickr

The next day was almost a rest day — we only climbed two pitches. I had the good fortune to finally lead something in Ticino, the first pitch of Fortuna (4c).

Our last three full days in Switzerland were perhaps the best, a trek up to Capanna Cornavosa above Lavertezzo. We started with a fairly quick (~5 hour) 1500m climb via Rancone and Pincascia to get to the hut.

IMG_20211015_133335 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211015_160051 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211015_165202 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211015_181036 by bryandkeith on flickr
Capanna Cornavosa, but not the hut where trekkers stay

The next day we walked up to the ridge above the hut and spent almost five hours scrambling on the ridge to climb (and descend) Poncione Rosso. This was one short section of the somewhat famous Via Alta Verzasca.

IMG_20211016_111624 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211016_115727 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211016_134655 by bryandkeith on flickr
It's amazing that you can just walk right up those slabs to the summit.  It looks a bit steep from here. by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211016_145253 by bryandkeith on flickr

Wow, that took longer than I expected!

IMG_20211016_141021 by bryandkeith on flickr

Sorry this is the only photo I have of the inside of my first paid Swiss mountain hut (like Rifugio Rozzera, Solvay Hut on the Matterhorn was free).

I was amazed that there is wine and beer available at the hut.  There is no warden.  It's all on the honor system.  You tally your bill and put the money in a box. by bryandkeith on flickr

I could hardly believe that they sold food, wine, and beer all on the honor system (no warden). You write down everything in a book (including your stay (23 Swiss Francs/person/night)) and put the money in a box when you leave! Wow.

We got a somewhat early start the next morning for the long descent back to Lavertezzo. We went via Eus which meant there was a bit of up and down for the first few hours. Until we got into the sun on the ridge above Eus, we were quite careful on the very frosty and, at times, icy rocks.

IMG_20211017_084233 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211017_100747 by bryandkeith on flickr

Seb had been to Eus multiple times before, and I can see why. It was probably my favorite collection of stone huts, situated high on a saddle with sunshine and nice views.

IMG_20211017_104322 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211017_104612 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211017_104745 by bryandkeith on flickr

We were even invited to coffee and schnapps by Lorenzo, the owner of one of the houses at Eus. He was happy to talk in his broken French (as bad as mine; he throws in Italian when he doesn’t know the French while I use Spanish for the same thing; Seb’s French is better than either of ours). Many people in Ticino (but not Lorenzo) speak German (which is why Seb did most the talking while we were there).

While we’re on the language subject: most of the trekkers at the hut spoke English, but I also used Spanish (with a Spaniard) and French (with a Ticinese (is that the correct demonym?)). I never once spoke Turkish the whole time in Switzerland. Ticino is confusingly called Tessin in French. It took me longer to figure that out than it should have!

Frost and colors — I guess fall is here.

IMG_20211017_123001 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211017_122609 by bryandkeith on flickr

Back down in Rancone:

IMG_20211017_155407 by bryandkeith on flickr

After a short drive Seb and I wandered around the surprisingly deserted and uninteresting center of Locarno before a celebratory final dinner of the trip at a pizzeria in Losone.

IMG_20211017_171858 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211017_173109 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211017_182238 by bryandkeith on flickr

The next morning we drove all the way south to north across Switzerland from the Italian border to the German border in about three hours, passing through the 16.9km St. Gotthard tunnel, the 5th longest in the world (Seb and I drove though a 14km long tunnel earlier this year!). Seb dropped me at the Basel airport, and I was back at home in Antalya late that evening. Airplane magic.

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5 Responses to Hiking and climbing in Switzerland: Grimsel Pass and Ticino

  1. Jennie & Derek Werner says:

    Beautiful! Enjoying Sudan and hope to head to South Sudan in a couple of days, God Willing.

  2. Curt Bradner says:

    The photo of Brünig Pass and then the one of your bike in the same place from 15 years ago was freaky enough – the fact that you’re so organized you could find that specific picture from 15 years ago is just down right sick – I can’t even remember where I left my coffee cup – on a good day, Geez.
    The other funny thing is that we’re still using a pair of Madden Panniers similar to the yellow ones on your bike of 15 years ago – having killed the red pair similar to the ones you have on the front.
    Anyway, another great adventure, another great read.
    Still good biking weather in Portugal, we’ll be biking to the Algarve for Christmas, weather willing.

    • Bryan Keith says:

      Hahaha, thanks. My digital photos are fairly well organized. Pre-digital are hopeless.

      You can’t see in that photo, but the yellow Madden is paired with a different model purple Madden. Last I heard Kira in Boulder was still using them. As for the front, well, there’s a red one and a black one. I believe Kurt is still using those. He gave me a pair of black Madden (same model of the yellow) that I still use for my front bags as you can see here:


      Hope Algarve works out. I’m cycling in Sri Lanka (only rear bags; no Madden!) and expect to be here for Christmas. With covid uncertainties I haven’t bought my ticket out yet.

  3. Jennie & Derek Werner says:

    Beautiful! We are in Sudan at the moment and have had a very nice time the last couple of weeks. Best, Derek and Jennie

  4. Mike Painter says:

    Wonderful, as always!

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