Monviso (Mount Viso, 3841 m)
Cottian Alps, Piedmont - Italy
valle Po, provincia di Cuneo
Starting point: Pian del Re
Height to climb: 1821 m (from the Po Valley)
7h from car park at Pian del Re to the summit (2h 15min from Pian del Re to the Sella Hut + 4h 45min from the Sella Hut to the summit). Allow at least 5h 30min for the descent.
First climbed: agosto 2007
A few words
Very little introduction is needed for Monte Viso (Monviso), the highest peak (3841 m) in the south-western Alps (Ligurian, Maritime and Cottian Alps).
Due to its isolated position, "il Re di Pietra" ("the King of Rock", as it is also known) towers over the Po valley and surmounts the nearby peaks by at least 500m; small wonder if Mount Viso was long believed the highest mountain in the Alps!
The very name "Viso" (like the Latin name, "Vesulus") derives from the word "visible". And visible Monviso is indeed; its unmistakable pyramid-like shape can be seen from hundreds of kilometers away.
The first climbers of Monviso were W.Matthews with W.Jacob, J.B. and M.Croz, who gained the summit on 30 August 1861; the first Italian expedition (the 3rd ever to reach the summit, on 12 August 1863) was led by Quintino Sella, more fondly remembered as co-founder of the CAI (Alpine Italian Club) than as Minister of Finance in the newly-born Italian state (the infamous "tassa sul macinato" - ultimately, a tax on bread - is sadly associated with his name).
The normal route to the summit of Monviso goes up its southern face (picture n.2).
The starting points can be either the Po Valley or the Varaita Valley (see map). Pros and cons for the two starting points are given below (see "Notes").
Getting to the starting point
From the town of Saluzzo (79 km to the S/SW of Turin) take the Valle Po road (direction: Pian del Re). The mountain village of Crissolo (1338m) is a 32 Km drive from Saluzzo; once there, a very narrow scenic paved road leads up to Pian del Re (2020m) (9 km from Crissolo)(car park, 5€ per day in 2007).
By public transport
Saluzzo is connected to Turin by bus and by train (about 1h 15min); from Saluzzo there is a bus service to Crissolo. Regione Piemonte have a search engine for bus timetables.
It is strongly advisable, if not necessary, to divide the ascent into two days, overnighting at the comfortable Rifugio Quintino Sella (2640 m).
This manned mountain hut can be reached with a 2h 15min walk from the car park at Pian del Re (2020 m), from which you enjoy a breathtaking view of Monviso (picture n.1). For the description of the route - in Italian only - and for more pictures, see here.
Day 2, most people leave the Rifugio Sella between 4.30 and 5 a.m. (a headlamp is essential) heading S, slightly downhill, coasting Lake Grande di Viso, on a very large signed path. This is both part of the GTA route and of the Monviso circuit: from Q.Sella Hut it goes up to Passo Gallarino, reaching the nearby San Chiaffredo Pass before descending to the Vallanta Valley and to Castello (Val Varaita).
Those heading for the Monviso, however, will leave this large path very soon: not far along is a fork (signs on a boulder), where you need the R branch for Passo delle Sagnette.
This narrower path slowly zigzags up (due W, roughly), past a water source (2700m), and leads up to the border of the Canalone delle Sagnette (Sagnette Gully) where the so-called "Via delle Guide" (Guides' Path) begins (40min from Rifugio Sella) (picture n.3).
Here is where people put on their helmets and the less experienced hikers wear their harness and tie into climbing ropes.
The "Via delle Guide" is actually almost everybody's alternative to the ascent of the Sagnette Gully, where the risk of falling rocks is high (the ascent would be very steep and tiring anyway). Actually, after a huge rock-fall in July 2009 from Punta Piemonte into the Sagnette Gully, the “Via delle Guide” is now the only one to follow.
Warning! After the 2009 rock-fall the “Via delle Guide” was also changed and – according to friends who did it - is now more demanding than before.
The "Via delle Guide" we followed in 2007 climbs up a narrow and exposed ledge ascending from R to L. The ledge is equipped with two long lengths of chain to ease the ascent, and implies some hands-on clambering (it was dark, so I cannot say how exposed the ledge is; on our way back we went straight down the Gully).
At the end of this tricky part a dim path leads in few minutes to the Sagnette Pass (2991 m)(1h 20min from Rifugio Sella), from which, to the N, you enjoy your first breathtaking view of the southern cliff of Monviso (picture n.4), pink with the first sunbeams, while, down to the left (SW), you get a glimpse of the stunningly-located lakes (Laghi delle Forciolline)(picture n.5).
At the Sagnette Pass, harness and helmet off, you follow a dim path (cairns) descending onto the bottom of the chaotic morenic valley, unfortunately losing some of the hard-earned metres. It's more or less here that our path meets the track coming up from the lakes and the Forciolline Bivouac.
The chaotic valley is ascended on a dim track, roughly on its left side, at the foot of the old moraine of the Viso Glacier, where tracks lead you up to a big cairn (2h 5min from the Rifugio Sella, 3130 m).
An uphill stretch to the R, through a stony basin, leads to the reddish rocks at the base of the cliff, where almost hidden stands the emergency shelter Bivacco Andreotti (3225 m)(2h 20min from Rifugio Sella, 1h from Sagnette).
At Bivacco Andreotti people take their time to get their breath back, take pictures (picture n.6) and get rid of unnecessary or cumbersome loads (eg walking sticks), before embarking on the scrambling proper.
From the Bivacco Andreotti a 15 minute steep zigzag on scree terrain leads to the start of the cliff, where an evident ledge cuts its base from R to L (picture n.7)
Helmets and harness on again, this is where the "real thing" starts: from here to the summit of Monviso there is 500m in elevation to gain, with a mix of scrambling and hiking that goes on relentlessly for about 2h 10 min, following the yellow paint splashes (at times, red too) used as waymarking.
Past this first ledge you'll find yourself at the foot of a smooth rocky face; you ascend it on the right (picture n.8 and n.9), then move up a rocky couloir with some small drops. Past a rocky crest (picture n.10) you're out of the most dangerous area (with regard to falling rocks).
Further up, scrambling up a system of cracks and small chimneys, a ridge leads to an easier and safer place, where you (try to) get your breath back and have a look around. The place is aptly called "la Sala da Pranzo" (the dining room).
Rocky couloirs, cracks and small ridges must then be ascended to approach a reddish spur ("Duomo di Milano", Milan Cathedral) at about 3500m, from which your clambering goes on to reach a more demanding smooth face (picture n.11), not far from a place called "Fornelli".
At last you reach the Testa d'Aquila (Eagle Head), a characteristic rocky spur that climbers meet just before the so called Passaggio della Est (3770 m)(picture n.12), a (possibly tricky) traverse where the normal route turns right to reach the eastern ridge. From here it's just a last scramble up large rocky steps to ascend the last couloir and gain the summit of Monviso (3841m), surmounted by a big iron cross (2h 10min from the base of the cliff, 4h 45min from Rifugio Sella)(picture n.13).
The summit enjoys a sweeping view in all directions. To the NE and NW all giant peaks of Graian and Pennine Alps are visible. Just to name a few: Mt.Rosa, Cervino/Matterhorn, Mt.Bianco/Mont Blanc, the Gran Paradiso, and the French Dauphinè Alps.
To the S the Cottian and Maritime Alps look pretty small from here (picture n.14). To the E stretches the Po Valley, but clouds prevented us to see in that direction.
To get back to the Andreotti Bivouac retrace exactly your steps; allow 1h 50min for the descent.
The path is often crowded, for especially people with no rope take their time to go down and you may have to wait (picture n.15), not to mention the chance of meeting parties of late-climbers still on their way up. It is crucial at this point not to dislodge loose stones on climbers below; this happens all the time, unfortunately, and people get seriously injured.
Once back at Passo delle Sagnette we went down the Sagnette Gully instead of following the Via delle Guide, but it's not advisable to do so, unless you know exactly where to descend onto the gully. We descended the gully on the right, very close to the cliff. It was slippery and a little tricky but not so bad after all (picture n.16). At the base of the gully we traversed to the left to reach the path going back to the Sella Hut.
It took us 1h 50min to reach the Sella Hut from the Andreotti Bivouac, and 1h 50min more to descend to the car park at Pian del Re; that makes a total of 5h 30min for the descent.
Which starting point? (Valle Po vs Val Varaita)
Another starting point for the normal route is from Castello (1608 m), close to Pontechianale, at the head of the Varaita Valley. It can be reached by car or by bus.
From Castello you start to ascend the Vallanta Valley, then fork R up the Forciolline Gully, to reach the eponymous Lakes, where at about 2835 m a Bivouac stands. It is a new unmanned shelter, dedicated to Alessandra Boarelli Re, the first woman to climb the Monviso in 1864, and this is the obvious choice for the night. The following day you walk up to the plateau, where you join the route coming up from the Po Valley and the Sagnette Pass, to reach the Andreotti Bivouac.
This option implies a less strenuous ascent the second day (200 m less), and you skip the tricky path up to the Sagnette; as a whole, however, you have 2230 m to ascend (instead of 1820 m from the Po Valley), not to mention that you have to bring all your food and water; in addition, to my knowledge there's no way to book a place at the Bivouac, and you never know how many people you may find there.
For a number of reasons I'd say that the ascent starting from the Po Valley (Pian del Re) described on this page is the one to prefer, especially if you are not familiar with the area.
I have another page on this site with pictures of the Forciolline and the route description (in Italian): look here
The normal route to the Monviso is a very popular destination from early/mid August to early September, and there is little risk of being there alone; in addition, the route is all marked with splashes of yellow (and red) paint; if you stick to them you shouldn't get lost.
There is, however, a tricky fork where yellow signs seem to lead in opposite directions. The R branch must not be followed, as it shows the way to climbers escaping from the (more demanding) Eastern Ridge route and trying to join the much easier Normal Route. Ask at Sella Hut for details on this fork.
The scrambling involved is rated as of I and II degree (with the odd III degree passages), hence the "PD-" for the overall rating of the ascent; people with some climbing experience shouldn't find problems at all to reach the summit.
The ascent, however, can be tricky: there is a very high risk of falling rocks (this is why not wearing a helmet is pure folly); given the altitude, rime and verglas on path and on handholds are not unlikely to be found; the scrambling is very long and tiring; the isolated position of Monviso accounts for sudden weather changes that may make things far more complicated.
If helmet and headlamp are necessary, a rope is strongly recommended. Crampons and icebreakers may also be needed, according to the weather; people at the Sella Hut will tell you if this is the case.
As a "Homo Appenninicus" (i.e very ordinary hiker, very poor scrambler) I could have never done it on my own. This is why I contacted the Guide del Monviso (the official Alpine Guides of the Monviso area; see their site at www.alps.it); I was given a very competent and efficient Alpine guide (a young man, but at his 60th ascent on the normal route!) who led me from the Sella Hut to the summit, with no problem at all. At a price, obviously; but it was good value, and not for a second did I regret the choice.
If the ascent of Monviso is too much, consider doing the Monviso circuit instead; this memorable 2-3 day route is a well-worth objective in its own right. You hike from the Varaita Valley into France and then back into the Italian Valle Po through the Buco di Viso, the first Alpine tunnel ever made (by the Marquis of Saluzzo, in the 15th century)(click here for some pictures of the Buco di Viso and the route description).
Don't miss www.kaps.it.
This guy has got plenty of beautiful pics of the route on his website. His pictures show you the scrambling part on the cliff almost step by step, and the route description is also much more detailed than mine (but unfortunately in Italian).
La descrizione di questo itinerario risale ormai a parecchi anni fa e non verrà più aggiornata. Nel frattempo, però, i luoghi, le vie di accesso ed i sentieri potrebbero essere cambiati.
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