From north to south.
In mediaeval times, Romans, knights and travellers attempting to cross the Alps often found that they had bitten off more than they could chew. Technical pioneers later connected north to south by building the Gotthard Tunnel. But for mountaineers, the mountain massif remains one thing and one thing only: a giant playground. We journeyed from north to south with Dani Arnold, starting in Andermatt and ending in Locarno.
From Andermatt to Rotondo hut
Gemsstock, 2,961 m a.s.l.: peaks, couloirs and deep-snow slopes extend as far as the eye can see. Our destination – the Piazza Grande in Locarno – light-years away. Dani Arnold propels us onwards. The mountaineer and mountain guide, born in the canton of Uri, is leading us from north to south, through the heart of the Alps.
Our first turns through the snow make us focus on the task at hand and give us a boost for the ascent to Gloggentürmli. The Gotthard Tunnel lies 1,800m under our feet. Cars and trains speed through the tunnel, crossing the Alpine region in a matter of minutes. It’s a surreal thought from up here in the snow-clad mountains. But the tracks that we are leaving in the deep snow leading down to the Gotthard Pass are real enough. And deep is the word: the mountain pass road is covered in metres of the white stuff.
With Pizzo Lucendro in sight, we summon up every last reserve of energy for the next ascent. And as we drive into the depths once again, the snow is bathed in late-afternoon light. An evening beer on the Rotondo hut terrace takes some beating.
Ice crags and rock faces are his life: Dani Arnold is a qualified mountain guide – and first and foremost a mountaineer, holding several records for difficult climbing routes around the globe. Growing up in Biel, a mountain village in the canton of Uri at 1,720m a.s.l., he discovered a love for mountaineering at a young age.
Rotondo hut to Cristallina hut
As we step out of the hut and into the first light of dawn, we are greeted with some impressive weather conditions. We are right on the meteorological border here. Clouds rush up the valley from the north and encircle the peaks, only to be blown away again by wind from the south. Time to head south.
We quickly reach the Rotondo Pass; the Pizzo Rotondo beckons but we decide to save this mountain for another day. Perfect spring snow gives us a morning rush of speed down to the Val Bedretto. Our final swing drops us right outside Ristorante All’Acqua, where a Ticino platter and soup await. We need this fortification: a four-hour ascent lies between us and our beds for the night.
The Cristallina hut heralds our arrival on the southern side of the Alps – on a cultural level as well as a geographical one. Emanuele, the hut warden, serves a Ticino Merlot with dinner. The social scene is lively and he won’t let us turn in for the night until we’ve had a grappa with him.
From Cristallinahütte to San Carlo
The next day is our last stage. By sunrise we are already sitting on the Cima di Lago – surrounded by the prominent peaks of the Valais Alps, striking Central Switzerland peaks and countless Graubünden peaks too. To the south, the valleys are lost in the vast Po Valley. The imposing Basodino Glacier silently witnesses our last turns towards the south.
With our thoughts still in the snow-covered mountains, we soon find our ski boots stepping onto the spring meadows of the Val Bavona. As we disembark from the PostBus in Locarno, Andermatt could not feel further away. Our eyes wander over Lake Maggiore. The mountain peaks glisten with snow.
- 38,4 kilometers of distance have to be walked.
- 3789 meters of ascent have to be managed.
- 4833 meters downhill reward all of your efforts.