By Andy Hyslop
Area & Style of ClimbingVal Masino offers a wide range of climbing from bouldering, bolted sport routes, trad style cragging to long alpine rock routes.
OverviewThis an important and historic alpine rock climbing area encompassing several sub valleys which are well served by alpine huts. The Italian side of the range is south facing and has relatively simple approaches to the climbs which are usually completely free of snow by mid summer. Most of the mountain routes are between 2000m and 3000m. Some of the best alpine granite climbing in Europe is situated in this area. The rock is superb and often weathered into fins and flutings which enable unlikely looking faces to be climbed at moderate grades. There is some fixed gear but you still need a full rack of nuts and friends. Belays and abseil points are often well equipped on the classic routes. Some of the shorter routes close to the huts are fully equipped sport climbs which are useful when the weather is uncertain.
Bad Weather AlternativesThe area is well known for the rock climbing of the Mello Valley. The climbing is at least a 1000m lower than the mountain areas so there is a good chance the weather will be better in the valley if it is bad in the mountains. While there is a wealth of fantastic granite climbs in a Yosemite like setting, in Mello there is a lack of easy classic routes. You would need to be confidently climbing E2 to make best use of the valley routes. Right: The big mountain feel at the start of the Molteni Route on The Badile D+. Just down the road from Mello there is a popular sport climbing area with a full range of routes from French 5 to 8c. Most of these routes are situated on a group of huge, (hotel sized) boulders next to the road. The down side is that this area can get very busy. Within an hours drive of the valley base of San Martino there are numerous ‘Euro Cragging’ sport climbing venues, some of which are excellent.
Best Time to Go and ConditionsLate June is favorite. The huts are open but not busy. There is less chance of afternoon storms and the days are long. The disadvantage of June may be that some of the routes will have snow at the base and you may need a light mountain axe and crampons to approach/descend the longer mountain routes. July and August are popular months and September would also be good, with the possibility of long settled spells as the weather cools down. Right: The ultra classic 18 pitch Gervasutti Route, Punta Allievi.
Getting ThereUnless you are planning a trip of more than 2 weeks, flying is the best option from the UK. Several budget airlines fly to Bergamo airport near Milan. This is a convenient location for accessing many of the best Italian climbing destinations. Val Masino is around 2 to 3 hours drive from Bergamo. Jet2.com fly to Bergamo from Leeds/Bradford airport. Ryan Air fly to Bergamo from Glasgow, Liverpool, East Midlands, Luton, Stansted, Bristol Dublin and Shannon.
AccessibilityHiring a car is time efficient and will give you more options in the event of bad weather. If you have time on your hands then you can get the bus into Milan followed by a train to Morbegno and finally a bus up to San Martino.
Accommodation & ProvisionsSan Martino is the main valley base. Having been spared the curse of ski resorts and lift systems the small town is relatively undeveloped and, in stark contrast to other alpine centres, it is a pleasant place to spend some time. It is strategically positioned at the junction of the valleys with Mello to the east and Bagni to the west and has a selection of small shops and bars including a climbing shop. Right: 'Euro Cragging' on hotel sized boulders, guide book not required. If you are only in the valley for a night before heading up to a hut there are plenty of bivi spots on the road between San Martino and Bagni or you could stay in one of the reasonably priced hotels for around 40 euros/night. Once you are up in the hills the options are either camping or staying in a hut. The huts are excellent but cost around 38 euros/night including breakfast and dinner. If you choose to camp there are plenty of excellent grassy sites close to the huts. If you are climbing in Mello for an extended period there is a campsite about 1km up the valley from San Martino but vehicle access is restricted at peak times so you may have to leave your car in the town.
There are at least 4 guides covering this area. Schweiz Plaisir Sud - This guide has less routes than Solo Granito but the topos are a world apart. Recommended. Bernina and Bregalia - This is the Alpine club guide. The layout is dated but the route topos are reasonably accurate and the additional route information is very useful. Being relatively small in size it’s an easy guide to carry on routes. Right: Superb granite climbing near the top of the Dente Della Vecchia F5+ (Friend 3 useful on the last move!). Solo Granito - Has a good selection of routes including all the classics. It also includes some routes in Mello. On first inspection this guide has everything you need but in practice the topos for the longer routes are poor to the point of being utterly useless. The layout and indexing are also badly designed. Mello Boulder - Covers the wealth of bouldering in the area.
Grade Spread and Recommended RoutesThe area offers something for everyone from hard bouldering to long classic mountaineering routes. You will get the most out of the mountain areas if you can confidently climb HVS to E1. Mountain routes which have long descents and may be difficult to get off if the weather turns bad:
- Piz Bidile SE Face, Molteni Route D+ (Gianetti Hut) Punta Sertori - South Ridge AD+ (Gianetti Hut)
- Piz Cengalo - South Ridge, Vinci Route TD (Gianetti Hut)
- Torrione di Zocca - South Face, Parravicini Route TD- (Allievi Hut)
- Punta Allievi - South Ridge, Gervasutti Route TD- (Allievi Hut)
- Dente Della Vecchia F6a (Gianetti Hut)
- South Ridge, Punta Torrelli F5c+ (Gianetti Hut)
- Top Ten F6b (Allievi Hut)
- Lady D F6a (Allievi Hut)
- Guronsan F5c+ (Allievi Hut)