Canyoning in Ticino II

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Saturday 22nd

I had a strange feeling of deja vu. Here we were, getting up at 4 am, taking a bus and a train to Stansted, frantically repacking hold bags at the airport, grabbing a quick pint at a very crowded Spoons, shoving our way onto a little tram, making our way to the utter arse-end of the airport and sitting for another hour whilst Ryanair located a plane to whisk us off to Bergamo Airport near Milan. It must be time for a week of canyoning! Rhys and I have been going canyoning every two years pretty much since we met, with a rotating cast of naive, impressionable companions who we cajoled, begged and bribed into indulging out neoprene and Italian food fetish.

In 2014 we stayed right next to the Swiss border, and commuted every day into Switzerland for canyoning in Ticino, the southernmost and Italian speaking canton of Switzerland. It was a trip in which a lot was learned, we spent most of our time stuck in traffic at the border and we also got very cold.

In 2016, we went to Val d’Ossola, also nestled up next to Switzerland, and spent another week canyoning, this time in Italy. The weather wasn’t great and one day a sudden flood pulsed trapped us in a canyon for several hours whilst we waited for the water to subside.

Canyoning is very relaxing.

Part of the problem on these two trips was the guidebook, Canyoning in the Alps by Simon Flowers, aka the Book of Lies. Much of the information was inaccurate or missing, which compounded our inexperience. In addition, the guidebook only had a handful of canyons per region, and so it was difficult to find enough easy canyons to do to keep us out of mischief. This year, however, we’d managed to get a copy of the elusive, long out of print “Eldorado Ticino”, written by a Ticinese couple with extensive experience of all the canyons in the area. It has six full colour pages for each of the 60 canyons covered, with plentiful detail. Coupled with a careful reading of Descente Canyon (the French canyoning database) we were able to pick an excellent trip every day, and avoided any exciting incidents.

Anyway, back to the narrative. We were four people: Rhys, myself, Chris Bradley (recently back from Slov, had been deeper than most) and Alex Betts (my partner, recently moved to Bonn, a smidgen of caving and canyoning experience). Alex was joing us via train, so Rhys, Chris and I piled out of the plane onto the baking Milanese asphalt and went in search of a hire car.

A clearly stoned escaped convict sitting behind the Hertz car hire desk informed us that he didn’t have the car we had paid for, but he’d give us a VW Beetle, which would make “all the women look at you”. I don’t know what Rhys made of this, but I was non-plussed. The Beetle was very small, and Rhys returned to argue for a car that was actually large enough for four people, had a boot and was even vaguely resembling what we paid for. The man grumbled, made angry phone calls, stormed off, slammed drawers and seemed to be about to lurch over the counter to throttle Rhys before finally giving him a new car. We’d paid for a class C – they had no class C cars, no class D cars and no class E cars. So we got a class F, a huge and lovely Peugeot 5008. No wonder he was mad.

Some canyons have fish.

We cruised along the Italian motorways, pausing only to buy about three days worth of groceries, and then up into Switzerland, past the odd exclave of Campione d’Italia and round to Bellinzona, where Alex was waiting at the train station. We followed Google’s directions up winding roads to our apartment, Casa Scerina. This was perched on the steep cliff, with four apartments, two on the bottom, two on the top, with patios and balconies overlooking a small swimming pool with a vineyard behind. The apartment was more compact than we’d expected, with a double bed in the same room as the dining table and kitchen, and another small bedroom next door for the bunk beds. However, the large outside area was great for drying our kit, which is pretty key for a canyoning trip.

Our host, Andreas, was excited that we were going canyoning, and took the train down from Zurich to meet us, with a trip planned for the next day. He provided a bottle of grappa, which certainly didn’t help the decision making process, and we settled on some overly optimistic canyon before collapsing into bed.

Sunday 23rd

Val Progero Superiore – V3A3 II

Canyoning grades

Waking up the next day, I padded outside to consult the guidebook. Whatever we had decided was clearly not the best canyon to start in – Chris, Alex and Andreas had never used a fig-8 or pirana to descend before, and this canyon was all abseils. Instead, I flicked through the book and spotted Val Progero Superiore [NB: Superiore and Inferiore merely mean upper and lower, rather than better and worse!] which looked ideal – ten minutes drive into the neighbouring village of Gudo, a short walk up and an easy descent.

Our changing spot at the top of Val Progero Superiore.

We all packed into the car and drove off, with a minor detour to buy chocolate bars. Andreas opted to walk up barefoot to avoid damaging his diving shoes, which proved an exciting choice given it was chestnut season and the ground was littered with spikey caltrops. We stopped to admire Val Progero Inferiore from the bridge (V4A4 II, a bit of a step up) and then continued to our start point, where we changed in dappled sunlight.

The second abseil (the first was blocked by fallen trees!).

Descente Canyon had warned us that there were lots of trees washed down by a storm, and indeed the first abseil was completely blocked. We picked our way around, down through the trees and soon we rejoined the river. Rhys rigged the first abseil (C17 RS: a 17 m cascade on the Riva Sinistra, or orthographic left, compared to riva destra, on the right) which plunged down to a waist deep pool. It was a nice, easy abseil, perfect practice for our novices and I went down first to provide a fireman’s belay in case any of them fumbled. We were down without incident and pulled the rope – now we were committed!

Time to practice some toboggans – Chris demonstrates the posture, arms tucked in and legs bouncy.

The canyon developed into a series of short pitches, jumps and toboggans. We moved relatively fast given we were five people, and three inexperienced ones, and we hadn’t yet set up our leapfrog system in which a pair stays with their rope and alternates rigging pitches. There was one interesting abseil from a tree with some rather old rope as the anchor – we backed this up with a loose sling and derigged it for the last person down. Rhys rigged a nice C12 with a canyoning style drop off a good three metres above the water – falling into a deep pool is much better than trying to derig your descender whilst treading water.

The most interesting pitch was one jammed with fallen trees. I spotted the bolts and edged out to rig, but fortunately it was up to Rhys to find the right way down, weaving the rope through the mass of trees to the water below. The others followed quickly and there were surprisingly few problems, though pulling the rope down took my entire body weight when it briefly got stuck somewhere. As this canyon isn’t much used by guided groups, there’s very little incentive to clear the dead trees out, and instead it probably needs a good few winter storms to shift them downstream.

The canyon was over relatively quickly, within about three hours. We changed and dried ourself by the bridge that marks the beginning of the deeper, tougher Progero Inferiore section, and then wandered back to the car. Andreas bought us some beers and we sat on our patio, eating copious amounts of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and bread until we were full enough to make dinner.

Monday 24th

Val Cugnasco Inferiore – V3A3 III

Beginning of Val Cugnasco Inferiore.

The previous day’s canyon had left everyone wanting more, but there was no enthusiasm for increasing the difficulty yet, simply the length. Fortunately, in the next village over from Gudo was Val Cugnasco, estimated to take about twice as long with some slightly longer pitches, but otherwise no significant challenges. We drove our equipment to the upper parking place and left Alex and Chris to guard it before parking right opposite a primary school down in the village. Dressed only in very tight swimming shorts and t shirts, we picked our way carefully up the hill, passed a load of builders with very nice Petzl gear. It was only halfway up we realised we’d forgotten the chocolate bars, so we descended past the builders, grabbed a pocketful each and then went back up again, looking more and more like a bunch of useless tossers with every time we passed them.

On the way back up we were passed by the post bus, which suggests that an organised canyoner could get an easy shuttle to the top of this canyon. A short walk into the canyon landed us amongst the boulders, where we quickly changed and bathed in the water to acclimatise. The flow was not particularly high, which suited us fine, and the short pitches which followed allowed you to get a slight shower without fully pummelling you.

The flow wasn’t particularly high.

We switched into two teams to leapfrog. Each pair had a 50 m rope in a bag. They would go and rig a pitch, getting the rope length roughly right and putting a block with a clove hitch around the spine of an oval krab. The next pair would arrive, and one of them would descend. Using hand gestures, they signalled whether the rope could be shorter (for a drop off) or whether it was just right (conservative rigging meant the rope was rarely too short!). The block was reset to get the rope length as requested, and the second person from the pair would descend, and that pair would head off to rig the next pitch. Now the pair who had rigged and were waiting patiently descend, the final person carrying the rope bag on their back, carefully feeding out the pull rope as they went. At the bottom, the pull rope is pulled, the descending rope goes up, through the bolts and the whole rope falls down to be packed away. This pair then moves on, finds the pair in front and descends their rope. For short pitches (25 m) this works well, resulting in rapid and fluid motion through the canyon. For longer pitches, the two ropes must be tied together so that one can serve as the pull cord, which slows things down a bit as both team must wait for the derig.

Rainbows lurked at the bottom of every pitch. What do they want from us?!

After three pitches in rapid succession, the canyon broadened into boulder hopping or short wades through the water. We avoided a 7 m jump and climbed around to the left, before reaching our first big pitch, a C30. There were plentiful bolts, but we stuck with the suggested RD with an in situ traverse line. The descent was broken by ledges, and the pool at the bottom was relatively shallow so it didn’t feel as intimidating as a C30 could have done. At the bottom the spray raised a beautiful rainbow which you could walk through.

After this were a series of short pitches where we encouraged Alex and Chris to have a go at rigging. They soon got into the spirit of it, carelessly chucking some length of rope down and leaving it for the first descender to determine if it was enough. A couple of interesting new challenges followed, with a deep, spray-lashed pool where the deriggers had to tread water and pack rope at the same time. The canyon was beautiful, with luxurious green vegetation and clean water flowing over smooth, textured rock.

It takes two…to pull the rope whilst treading water in a pool.

The pitches were generally rigged to avoid the water, which suggests that much of the time the flow is far larger, as we rarely had any problems at all getting down easily. One later pitch was cut more deeply, and the water flowed faster, with the rope passing right through it, an exhilarating glimpse of what a more aquatic canyon would be like. The jumps were generally low and the pools not too deep, and we all had a chance to practice jumping. Our technique was terrible, mostly landing butt first and making a huge splash, but it was fun and we avoided some of the huge 10 jumps by abseiling instead.

All too soon the canyon was over, in only 3.5 hrs. We grabbed our dry clothes from the car and retreated back into the canyon to avoid changing in full view of the primary school. Already we were thinking of tougher, deeper canyons.

Tuesday 25th

Val Corippo – V4A4 III

Andreas had told us about Val Corippo, which he’d first done as part of a 15 person group on a stag do, with a single, hard-pressed guide. He enjoyed it so much he went back twice with friends, and highly recommended it. There are two halves to the canyon, though the guidebook presents it as one canyon. The upper part is more technical with several long rappels, and the lower part is more playful with lots of toboggans and jumps, and this is the section Andreas had previously done. Confident from our previous trips and happy to increase the difficulty, we opted to the whole thing.

The walk up started in the tiny hill village of Corippo, and we immediately got lost amongst the winding alleys. After we exited the village we realised we were on the wrong side, and plunged back in, randomly walking our way out to the correct path. This climbed steeply past a small shrine to Snow White and the Seven Dwarves before contouring through a small hill village and then down into the deep, shaded canyon. The canyon was NE facing, and much colder. The water was really chilly and we spent a while acclimatising and checking we had our neoprene hoods on.

The first pitch (C20 RD) started with a traverse, which Rhys rigged as a releasable line, self-belaying using a rope looped through a bolt and tied to his harness. This worked very well, and the pitch that followed started easily, down a flat, broad slope, but then drops you into a fast flowing jet of water. We had varying degrees of success here – those that went with the flow did fine, but those who tried to avoid it often got tangled and took a bit longer. Sometimes you’ve just got to get wet!

A 45 m pitch – it’s a long way down!

Next up with the big challenge, the impressive C45. This is in a wide, open canyon and you can really see all the way down. The water starts off to the right, but you’re soon in it and there’s only a short pause at a ledge before you drop into the water below. With so much rope, there’s a tendency to set the friction on your pirana quite low, but as you descend the friction drops and you could end up going quite fast, so beware! I was derigging so I was more concerned about the pull rope spooling out cleanly than looking around, but I did pause every now and again to admire the sheer scale of the canyon. The bottom pool was cold, and we packed rope quickly to warm up.

Chris’ rigging is confident and safe.

A few pools down was a short pitch which Chris rigged. He had some difficulty derigging as the pull rope got wrapped around his rope bag, and whilst he was sorting himself out, Alex and I went forwards to check out wht was marked as mandatory 3 m jump. After some umming and arring we found a chockstone to rig a handline off and Alex slipped down to check the depth below. Finding it okay, Rhys quickly jumped in, and Chris lined himself up for the jump. After much prevaricating and many false starts, he eventually decided not to do it and slipped down the same alternative route that Alex had done. I did the jump with minimal hesitation, though perhaps I should’ve aimed a bit more carefully as the pool was not as deep as I’d thought. Still, we were down and what followed was a series of deep, beautiful pools of green water set in high sculpted canyong walls, with vines and roots dangling down.

There was one interesting pitch where the rope went underneath a waterfall into a deep pool, and so the lower person had to swim out before giving the all clear. I waited for a while for Alex at the bottom here – we’d agreed he should derig most of the pitches as his neoprene was less thick and he got cold quickly in the pools. I observed a huge, pure white spider desperately struggling to stay out of the water on the slippery rock, and eventually falling in and being swept away. Sometimes the pace of canyoning is so fast you barely pause to appreciate your surroundings, and so to have some time to really focus on such a small drama was a real treat. The swim afterwards was through a long deep pool, which I found easiest on my back, using only my legs – on my front the neoprene bouyed me up strangely, and it was tiring to make any progress.

Soon we were through the upper, technical section and into the water park below. This section starts by an old mill, and begins with a ferocious 10 m toboggan. The pool was clearly deep enough, so I carefully lowered myself into the water flow and was swept quickly down, with the chute chucking me out two metres before the bottom for some extended air time. Rhys put it best when he said the whole process was too fast for memories to form – I simply remember being at the top and then at the bottom. We all did the toboggan and enjoyed it thoroughly.

Deep green pools to swim through.

The next section was mostly picking our way through boulders and finding small pitches and routes down. Some of the pitches were very sloping, and barely counted as abseils at all. My camera ran out of battery here, so I sadly have no photos, but it was a really lovely bit of canyon, full of narrow, twisting passages where the water ripped through at a fair pace. I wish there had been slightly more water, the canyon felt a little stagnant and the water was slightly green, but it was still very fun.

Towards the end we could see all the extra bolts placed by the guides to enhane their trips. My favourite was a beautiful tobggan that terminated 4 m up. I went down first, and fumbled under the waterfall to release my descender. I signalled for Alex to raise the rope a few metres off the water, but when he came down the stretch was so much that he still struggled with his descender. Making direct eye contact with Chris, I signalled for the rope to go even higher. He wasn’t sure whether to believe me, and certainly when he saw the end appear over the lip of the waterfall he must have suspected something was up. Still, it was a beautiful descent, slipping down under control for a few metres before letting going, being swept over the edge and dumped into an incredibly deep pool where it took several seconds (almost a lifetime underwater) to surface.

Abseiling through the waterfall.

After the final pitch we noticed some more bolts heading down into a big lake below. We could tell the water levels were very low and we decided not to abseil into the lake in case we couldn’t escape on the other side, which turned out to be wise. Instead, we climbed up on the left to find a way out. As we did so, a helicopter slewed into sight, and strafed over the top of us. It was very low and very loud, and when it reappeared it was carrying a large bag on a long line. Back and forth it went, ferrying construction supplies to a small, isolated hill village from a truck parked on the main road. Helicopters pervade this part of Switzerland to the point that even getting a ride to the top of the canyon by helicopter is economically viable.

We climbed up the steep cliff and back into the village, then down to our car where we devoured bread and cheese before the long drive back to the house. We were exhausted from three days of canyoning and needed a rest day – that night we slept for 12 hours!

Wednesday 26th

Ponte Tibetano (walk)

There were many hikes in the area, but several needed a cable car ride to access, for the princely sum of 20 CHF (about 15 GBP). This seemed a bit much, so instead we drove as far as we could up the mountain behind our house and hiked to the Ponte Tibetano, or Tibetan bridge. This vast suspension bridge was built about six years ago to attract tourism to the area, and it was certainly impressive. We had a bit of a wander around, meeting lots of other tourists, before heading back, collecting lots of sweet chestnuts on our way. That night we had a BBQ in the big fire pit near the house, with roasted sweet chestnuts for dessert. They weren’t very good, either blackened or undercooked, but as they were on sale for 10 CHFs/Kg we felt like we’d got a good deal collecting our own. The walk had been nice, but not great – we were here for canyoning after all, and we were keen to get back to it.

Thursday 27th

Val Giumaglio – V4A4 III

For our fourth canyon we decided to take it up a notch and tackle some bigger pitches in what was described by the guidebook as ‘a wonderfully varied route…and will leave you on a real high.’ We found the canyon quite disappointing, as I’ll describe below, but potentially we went when the water levels were too low for a real thrill.

We parked just outside the village, next to the municipal bins and recycling and changed in full view of the main road. Charming. On the walk up we met an old man who was keen to show off his huge bag of chestnuts, which we admired and said Italian-sounding things like “Bravo” and “Bellisimo” until he trotted off. The canyon was easy to find due to the blue triangles painted during the canyoning conference which had been held in Ticino a few weeks before. The canyon also faced NE, and with high walls it was quite cold, with the sun barely reaching the bottom by the end of the day. We ate a cold and slow picnic amongst some huge, house size boulders before reluctantly changing and preparing to get into the water.

My camera had fogged up the previous day (not a good sign for a waterproof camera) and so there are no worthwhile photos of the canyon and I don’t remember that much of it. There was long swim through a relatively narrow bit of canyon where the walls were coated in brown algae, which smelt bad and made it impossible to stand up, resulting in swimming in very shallow sections.

There were several long pitches which required us to team up so we had enough rope, which slowed things down. I derigged the first of these, which had some quite intense rob rub, rigged from a set of wedge boulders with a ten metre drop below. At the bottom here was a short pitch down to a pool where Rhys spotted a drowned rat, slowly circling around, its legs splayed out comically. We avoided getting in the water here, and instead abseiled down the quite impressive 40 m pitch into a series of pools which lead to a local bathing spot.

The canyon hadn’t taken long, and by the end I was getting into it, but I think it’d be best to do with more water, and a more experienced team. Long abseils can take a long time with canyoners who aren’t used to using their legs to keep themselves away from the wall, and it often felt painfully slow to do a single pitch. This was a useful experience though – we clarified what we liked about canyons, lots of short pitches, jumps and toboggans, as opposed to a few difficult or long abseils.

Friday 28th

Val d’Ambra Superiore – V3A4 IV

Val’d’Ambra had caught my attention when I first flicked through the guidebook. Impressively long and remote, but staying at a V3A4 level with some possible escapes made it an attractive day out. I didn’t think we’d get to the level where it would be possible, but as we approached the end of the week we were looking like a strong, capable team that could do a long day out, even if we weren’t so confident with white water or long abseils.

The old stone bridge in the middle of nowhere trick.

The walk up was long, though mostly in the shade, which contributed to a sense of foreboding that I had and Rhys admitted afterwards that he had shared. We passed through many seemingly abandoned hill villages, accessible only on foot – why do they exist? Simply as holiday homes? We did meet one shepherd with a large flock of impressively brawny sheep, which he herded off the path with the help of a very swift dog. We looked down the side canyons that would be our escape routes, and pondered how hard it would be to scramble out that way, gaining hundreds of metres of elevation. At the head of the valley we found a tall stone bridge over a gorge that must have taken a huge amount of work to build, and on the other side was an abandoned village, covered in sheep poo. Here we were meant to leave the path and scramble down into the ravine below. It took some time to find the correct route – we think you were meant to go through the village and look for a tree with an orange arrow painted on it on the left, and then try to find the least sketchy route down.

We got to the start of the canyon at 12 pm. It was later than we wanted, the canyon was cold and dark, and the water freezing. We tried to eat lunch as quickly as possible and get going, and I was already feeling that we might have bitten off more than we could chew. It was clear once we started to move that the water flow was far higher than in the previous canyons, and several of the pitches opted to avoid the flow altogether.

The flow was much larger, but the pitches mostly avoided it.

The first pitch immediately presented a technical challenge. A single bolt on the left was meant to give access to a ledge from which you could do a 6 m jump, but the pool below had a large tree in the middle which made the jump unsafe. We spotted another bolt further down and on the left, and so I abseiled down and rigged a traverse line for the others to clip into before we rigged the final hang into the water below. I waited on a ledge below the overhanging rock to help Alex with the pull rather than get into the water. Unfortunately the ledge was slippery and I fell badly on my coccyx. For a moment I was truly worried, but the pain passed and I was able to move again. Still, this put me further on edge and I might have been a bit short with people for the next few hours until it was clear that we would be fine.

Further down stream, several toboggans were marked. What we found usually seemed shorter than the marked toboggan, and the toboggan itself seemed to land in a shallow pool, making it quite dangerous. We usually avoided these and kept moving. There was some excitement at a 15 m toboggan, but it really didn’t seem that long and potentially it’s only that exciting in full flow. Mostly it was boulder hopping in knee deep water, which made for slow going. After and hour or so of this we had made little progress, and we seriously discussed whether to exit the canyon early, as the exits became fewer and tougher the deeper we got. Fortunately we decided to press on, but we agreed to avoid being in the river on the flat sections, instead moving quickly on the banks to make better time. The sun was overhead now and we began to warm up slightly.

The canyon was deep and rarely lit by the sun – can you spot the two canyoners here?

The pace picked up and the canyon walls rose. There were long periods of swimming in deep, dark pools, where one could gently scull whilst floating on one’s back, staring up at the high cliff walls above and the trees clinging tenaciously onto them. Some of the more insane technical jumps we bypassed by abseiling, but some we indulged in, building up to a 5 m jump that wasn’t for everyone. One very aquatic pitch forced you to abseil in the full flow of the water, and here it was very clear that the flow was much higher than in previous canyons. I was derigging and found myself having to adopt the defensive chin-to-chest technique to clear a breathing space and avoiding being waterboarded. At the bottom I braced my legs on either side of the waterfall and pulled the rope down blind – I was worried that if I swam away the turbulent water would tangle to rope and make the pull harder.

At one point a large chaotic boulder choke seemed to block the way, but Rhys cunning slipped through, and found a route with some jumps in narrow slots and interesting free climbing until we were through and back into more open walking. We were now more confident, moving faster and tackling the challenges with ease.

Rhys waits at the bottom of the turbulent waterfall.

The only remaining challenge was an enigmatic C7. This was marked in the guide as needing 20 m of rope, so that the first person down could rig a zipline for a guided abseil, allowing the others to avoid the turbulent pool below. I went down first, and saw the current dragging foam back underneath the waterfall, but with a small jump I was clear, and even Chris who plunged straight into the waterfall was fine. Clearly in higher water this was a serious obstacle!

A few easy toboggans later and we climbed out of the canyon, walked around the dam which separates the upper and lower canyon, and then back to the car. Some curious Bernese campervanners stopped to ask us questions and then we left them to their sunlit dogging spot.

The canyon had taken us only 4.5 hours – we had budgeted on 6. Despite the slow start, we really got going and it was an incredible experience I won’t easily forget.

Saturday 29th

Val Iragna Inferiore

Our final day, and we wanted a short canyon so we could dry our kit. Given the low water flow in some canyons, I didn’t want to do some of the easier looking V4A4 canyons. In 2014, our bad canyoning experience happened in Val Iragna, which turned out to be longer, tougher and colder than we had anticipated. Our new guidebook broke up the lower section into two, and we decided to do the lowest part, which we had only done one abseil from last time before exiting the canyon, vowing never to return.

There was some sense of deja vu changing and walking up the twisting path, past the dam and the shrine to Mary. Now blue triangles pointed us to the start of Inferiore, and we changed in the sunshine and ate our picnic. As we abseiled down a C3 from a tree into the canyon, another team of six showed up, having come down from the upper section. We thought they might be faster than us, but they wanted to stop for food, so we pressed on.

The epic first abseil in Val Iragna Inferiore, 45 m down the rock face.

The first abseil is an impressively exposed 40 m, rigged from the far left clear of the water (wetter options available). The rope rubs alarmingly on the rock as you slip over an overhang, which leaves you dangling until a similar ledge half way down again interrupts a smooth descent. It is anything but swift for someone not confident with abseiling, and the pool at the bottom is a chilly place to wait, but it is stunning to look up as others descend.

Some short but fun toboggans lead to another big pitch where again we chose the dry descent, reached along a broad ledge on the left. The toboggan after this was too shallow to do, which leaves an unsatisfying C4, reached by an exposed scramble up on the right which makes you wonder if you would have been better down climbing. We were thoroughly enjoying the canyon at this point, and were still ahead of the five Swiss canyoners behind us. We passed under the bridge that marked the half-way point and got to the really awesome jumps and toboggans section.

5 m jump – it’s long enough to have regrets as you fall.

Immediately there is a 5 m jump. 5 m may not sound like much, but it’s approaching the height of a two storey building. Looking down you have a clear sense of how far it is to fall. Alex went down on a rope to check it out for us, and at that moment the Swiss arrived. Not wishing to slow them down, we left them go first and two immediately did the jump. It looked awesome, and no longer so intimidating. The other three Swiss opted to use our rope rather than jump, and they filed through leaving the pool for us.

Chris went first, with much less hesitation than usual, taking the camera to Alex who then photographed me and Rhys. The jump was certainly high enough for you to have a really good think about it on the way down as the air ripped past you. I was underwater for a long time, and surfaced grinning broadly. Rhys followed behind, with similarly mediocre technique and then Alex went to rig the next pitch, a smooth toboggan with an exposed traverse to the pitch head.

The 28 m toboggan, rigged nice and short.

Rhys was down first, and commanded us to wind in a lot of rope. Really quite a lot of rope. I couldn’t see what was happening, so I was informed purely by the splashes and screams from below until it was my turn. The water starts off in a broad chute which rapidly narrows, and begins to curve, the walls banking to keep you inside, until finally you are dumped out a few metres above a deep pool. It was incredibly good fun, and a big step up from our previous toboggans.

Next followed a 6 m jump, though I found it less intimidating than the previous 5 m. Chris took a while at it, but to his credit he did do it and we swum around in the deep pool as the final pitch was rigged. From there it was two short slides into the broad pool at the base of the canyon. A very quick trip (1.5 hrs) but very, very fun and it easily banished the demons of the last trip from my mind.

We returned in the sun, dried all of our kit and had a relaxing evening of drinking shandy in the sun. The shandy was half lemonade, half 8% steampunk beer Rhys had got from Lidl so the net result is that we got quite drunk.

Sunday 30th

We packed up and drove into Bellinzona, where we hiked around two of the three castles before finding a place that did calzone style pizzas for slightly less than the extortionate rates charged elsewhere. Sated, we dropped off Alex at the station and drove back to Italy, taking an overly complicated route to pick up food and fuel before ending up at the airport. Out flight was delayed, as always, but we were home in bed by 11pm. What a glorious week.

Thoughts for the next trip

  • It’s worth paying a bit more for a bigger car, especially if you’re going to do a big shop in Italy.
  • Do a big shop in Italy, the groceries are wine are easily half the price or less. Simply buy bread and fruit in Ticino and you’ll save a lot of money.
  • The Swiss Motorway pass is less useful when you’re in Switzerland – most of the canyons are only accessible via minor roads anyway. Still good for the drive from Italy, but it is expensive (40 CHF)
  • Think about the direction of the canyon. South gets a lot of sun, West will warm into the afternoon, and North-east will stay relatively cold and dark all day long!
  • Take a picnic for the start of the canyon – bread, tomatoes and cheese are a great way to start the day full, and after an hour’s drive and an hour’s walk in it’s a long time since breakfast!

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