Pizzo Campo Tencia: the top of Ticino

A visit to the highest peak entirely in the canton of Ticino, via a route achievable in one very long day or with an evening layover at the neighbouring Swiss Alpine Club hut.

Total distance: 17393 m
Max elevation: 3072 m
Total climbing: 1771 m
Total descent: -1726 m
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Location & Terrain

Nestled between the Italian lakes and the southern Alps, Ticino is Switzerland’s only Italian-speaking canton. The location and prevailing winds typically give Ticino excellent weather, making it a popular destination early and late in the hiking season, or in the summer when the bad weather hits the northern cantons.

This is a high-level alpine hike to the highest mountain entirely in the canton. The route starts on a well-made valley path to a Swiss Alpine Club hut, before entering challenging terrain across steep, rocky ground with remnants of a glacier (both ice and glacial debris). At the end of the summer the glacier itself is a dirty patch of icy mush and a debris field, but it might require more care earlier in the season.

This is an exceptionally long hike for a single day. Topping out at 3,072m, it also enters the zone where some might begin feeling the effects of altitude. The climb from the hut to the summit will feel harder than a lower level hike of a similar profile. For those particularly sensitive to altitude, a night in the SAC hut is recommended.

Transport

By Car (preferred for a day trip): This route starts at a parking area outside the small village of Dalpe, hidden up a narrow single-track road on the way to Piumogna Bar. Google Maps will get you there – don’t be put off by the occasional gate and cows. An asphalt single-track road gives way to a dirt track with concrete grids at a gate. There are few passing places, so be prepared to reverse a considerable distance. Driving allows this to be done in a single day – otherwise it isn’t possible to make it between buses.

The road to the start – this is the right way!

By Public Transport: bus to “Dalpe, Villagio” and follow signs for Cap. Campo Tencia CAS (this is the hut). With this option you will need to arrive the evening before and start the 3h climb to the hut, or plan to stay at the hut on the descent.

Route

Piumogna Valley & Croslina

From the car park or bus stop, the route ascends the Piumogna Valley following signs to “Capanna Campo Tencia CAS”, the mountain hut. Shortly beyond the parking area, a wide riverbed is crossed. During the summer this is empty, but during the spring, when the snow from these vast mountains is melting, water cascades down to meet the Piumogna river. A well-made and signed path ascends the valley through a combination of open ground and forest. The initial climb is straight and not too steep, rising 300m over a couple of kilometres. This soon gives way to a steep zig-zag path in the forest, quickly gaining another 200m up the side of Alpe di Croslina.

Breaking out above the treeline at nearly 1,700m, surrounding peaks come into view behind. The sprawling mountain range on which Pizzo Campo Tencia sits rises steeply ahead, the summits still concealed.

Breaking out of the tree line on Alpe di Croslina.

The well-worn path through the grass swings to the right into a shallow river valley, the mountain hut coming into view on a hill on the left, surrounded by purple. It feels deceptively close, but there’s still a lot of height to gain before getting there. On a day trip the valley provides a relaxing location for an early lunch, the river babbling through green surroundings. A route to the top of Alpe di Croslina branches to the right, but our route carries on to cross the river and climbs to the hut.

The Croslina valley, on approach to the SAC hut (visible on the mound to the left)

Approaching the hut, the valley wall to the left looks impenetrable. It gets no better on arrival at the hut itself. Here, at 2,140m, a solid slab of rock rises for hundreds of metres with no obvious ascent route. Somehow, it must be overcome, for the summit lies behind. A brief rest at the hut allows water to be refilled and nerves to be calmed. With 750m of ascent and 5.7km complete (from the car park), the hike to the hut itself makes for a pleasant day out in itself. There are a number of red-and-white mountain hikes up here, allowing the mountains to be explored without tackling the summit.

Climbing the Wall

For us, a further 900m of climbing awaits. A faded blue and white arrow on a rock on the far corner of the hut’s terrace points the way to the summit. An obvious path heads out across grass and then scree, losing some height initially. Occasional blue and white or red and white markings leading the way, arriving at a notch in the rock between the great north wall of the valley, and the ‘foot’ which flanks the scree to the south-east. Some tricky moves are supported by ladders and cables but in good weather there is nothing too challenging for the experienced hiker. More care is required on the way down to successfully locate these and avoid clambering over bare rock.

Looking back to the hut during the ascent.

At the notch, a loose path climbs steeply up a wide gulley: the impenetrable rock face is thus circumvented, to the relief of everyone involved.

The steep climb onto a rocky outcrop at 2,400m.

Exiting the top of the gulley reveals magnificent views across the valley and the mountains beyond. The valley from which we came is revealed as a corrie surrounded by a horseshoe of mountains – perhaps a challenge for the experienced climber. There are moments of exposure as the path skirts the edge of this rocky ‘foot’. Some 350m above the hut, at around 2,400m, the path turns south-west towards the ridge which will eventually lead us to the glacier and the summit. We are now in the high altitude zone.

From the top of the ‘foot’, Lago di Morghirola can be seen, while the hut is but a tiny grey spot in the centre, 1/3 of the way up

Pizzo Croslina’s North-East Ridge

Our final target is Pizzo Campo Tencia, but to get there we make use of the north-east ridge which more naturally belongs to Pizzo Croslina. To get there, relatively straightforward hiking leads us from the rocky outcrop across a broad grassy scree field, climbing for another 200m. Remember the view and route here – on the descent, it feels like you’re way off course, but the outcrop is the target and the only way down!

Climbing grassy scree field with the rocky ‘foot’ behind.

This broad shoulder is just a preamble to the real magnificence that awaits on the ridge. Grass and scree gives way to weathered rock as we enter the former footprint of the glacier.  An aquamarine glacier lake shimmers in the sun and provides a scenic rest stop. While it looks very inviting, it is, of course, almost freezing. The glacier has retreated considerably, but there is still a snow field up here at the end of August, ensuring the bitingly cold lake water is replenished.

Glacier lake on the south-west ridge

Admiring the view from the lake shore it’s not immediately clear where to go next, but the ever-present blue and white markers guide the way. In this case, up a very steep, loose rock face. This is the true start of the ridge which will transport us to a col between two mountains, before we start our final summit attempt.

While climbing onto the ridge, keep the markers in sight. It is possible to pick a path through without them, but convenient ironwork provides a helping hand in some especially steep and slippery areas. Gaining elevation above the lake, the east-west ridge to Pizzo Penca can be seen. Yet another 3,000m possibility.

The ridge to Pizzo Penca, for those after an extended route.

A short narrow ridge traverse provides some exposure and tricky moments on the broken red rock.

The narrow north-east ridge: broken red rock above the glacial lake

The path soon drops onto the footprint of the glacier. The area is defined by glacial debris, but recently shattered rock is the last evidence of the Croslina glacier in total retreat. At the end of August, the smallest it gets, the “Ghiacciaio Grande di Croslina” is not very grand at all – some small patches of wet snow and some frozen mud.

A glacier. Once.
Frozen mud at 2,800m, the remnants of the glacier

Our journey on the north-east ridge continues, clambering over boulders and through slush, to reach Bochetta di Croslina, a col at the foot of Pizzo Croslina. Standing at 3,009m, a detour to Pizzo Croslina is possible here, though the ground is rough going. This col, which sits at the foot of the north ridge of Pizzo Campo Tencia, provides great views to famous Swiss mountains, including Dufourspitze (Monte Rosa), the highest in Switzerland.

Playing ‘name that mountain’ before the final climb to the summit

The Summit

With the col at 2,864m, only 200m of ascent remains. More steep, rocky climbing takes us up Pizzo Campo Tencia’s north ridge. On the way up, keep an eye out for a path zig-zagging up from your left. This is the descent route, which leads directly back down to the remains of the glacier and avoids the detour to the col. This may be impassable earlier in the season.

Climbing Pizzo Campo Tencia’s north ridge

Large slabs of rock act as a bulwark to the summit area, a quick clamber over bringing you to the top of this fine mountain. Ahead, a long ridge of mountains stretches to the east: possible further destinations if time allows.

Summit panorama showing the mountains of Switzerland and Italy, with the ridge extending east.

Further on from the pile of rocks marking the high point, a cross stands guard, with the SAC visitor book at its base.

The summit cross

Descent

Return via the north ridge, taking the short-cut path to the right rather than returning to the col. Once back at the glacier, return via the ascent route.

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