Thursday, July 5, 2012

Hike: Airolo to Ronco (Strada delgi Alpi and Cristallina hut)

A hike to some real mountains:

I took the train to Airolo, then their (short) tram up to 1745 meters, and up the Val Bedretto on the "Strada delgi Alpi" trail (not to be confused with the famous and outrageous Strada delgi Alpini route in the Dolomites).  I took a side trip up to the Cristallina hut (Capanna Cristallina), and then north to the hamlet of Ronco.  Here are a few pictures.

The impetus for this particular trip is the Swiss Federal Railways (known to you and me was the SBB CFF FFS - it just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?) was having a sale to Airolo.  I marched on down to the train station, waited in the cue, and was fairly amazed when they gave me round trip train and cableway tickets for $14 total.  Travel tip: the SBB's sales are very good.

Airolo is right at the outlet of the Gotthard Tunnel, the busy hub of north-south travel through Swizerland, and the ski area is a little threadbare.  In this sense, it reminded me quite a bit of Loveland Pass back home, where we had passes for a few years.  It took me awhile to find someone to give me a ride in the tram, and I had the big car to myself:

According to the signs, the ride saves you about 90 minutes of hiking (more on that below) (and those 90 minutes turned out to save me a lot more time than that, also below).

Soon I was hiking along the main trail towards Ronco:

The trail up to Cristallina hut is steep but scenic:

(there's the hut up against the rocks)

The north side of the pass is still pretty snowed in:

Cristallina (2912 meters) is a popular climb, but this is all I could see of it:

And here's the hut:

The remarkable building is a replacement for one crushed in avalanches.  It's striking inside and out.  The "myswitzerland" web site describes it as follows: "The hut carries the fame of Ticinese architecture high up into the mountains and causes a stir far beyond the circles in architecture."  Okay, it's a bad translation, but I think it captures the place.

Everyone seems to know this already, but you don't take your shoes into the hut, instead exchanging them for slippers:

Here's the restaurant inside:

The weather was turning from bad to worse, so I headed back down:

Near Ronco:

(Wait a minute - Ronco?  As in, "it slices, it dices, the Veg-o-Matic?"  Reminds me of an article I read on Ron Popeil awhile back.

I arrived in Ronco at about 5:15 to face an utterly confusing bus schedule:

The best I could tell is the last bus to Airolo came at about 5:30.  Indeed, after a few minutes standing in the rain, a little van came by and we zipped on down to town (I don't know how much it cost - I showed the driver my Swiss Card, and he told me in Italian to sit down.  Free?)  So, while the tourist pamphlet for the area depicts a happy PostBus waiting to carry you back to the train station, the reality is you'd better check the schedule in advance (or hitch, I suppose):

A few things I'm learning about hiking here:

-There are trails everywhere.  Everywhere.  The regional trail maps are just an incomprehensible maze of lines going all over the place.  But the trails are very well marked.  Yesterday, I just made up a route as I went using all the trail signs.  

You will see that I was also on some longer trails, the 6 trail (Sentiero dei passi alpini), and the 5.9 trail (Sentiero Cristallina).  These also are pretty much everywhere.

The signs are wonderful, but unfortunately include hiking times rather than distances.  So far, my hiking pace seems to be about half of the listed time on climbs, and maybe 2/3 on flatter sections.  On this particular hike, I thought it was funny that some of the times had recently been revised:

What I'm getting at here basically is that it's a hiking/backpacking wonderland (but rainy, at least yesterday).

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