The weather north of the alps made our original ambitions for the high mountains impossible. Snowstorms at high altitudes and torrential rain at lower elevations just weren't particularly inviting. So Vladimir and I drove all the way to Locarno at the Lago Maggiore in Ticino. You can always rely on the magic of the Gotthard tunnel to fix the weather. It's awesome to live within a few hours drive to the mediterranean!
We set out to hike most of the Via Alta long distance trail. This typically takes about a week if you take the cable car from Locarno and forego most of the summits. Of course this wasn't compatible with my ambitions, so we hiked up all the way from the town instead and scrambled up every summit we could find along the way. In the end we'd total 40 kilometers and 3800 meters ascent and descent in the space of two days.
Starting up from Locarno the trails were well frequented and the restaurants on the first summit were crowded. Once we past that we had the ridge to ourselves and the landscape became more and more wild. The comfortable white-red-white hiking trail turned white-blue-white (T5) and became rougher and rougher, requiring some scrambling and careful balance over rocky ridges.
Two hours before our estimated arrival at the Rifugio Alpe Masnee, where we intended to spend the night, we started to fantasize about a nice cold beer. We each tried to bribe the other to hike back down to the valley to get some. We even considered calling the rescue service Rega and declaring a dehydration emergency that requires the immediate airlift of a keg of beer. We knew the hut would be unmanned and thus no help to us. You can imagine our surprise and stupid grins when we finally arrived in the dark of night and discovered the hut offered a stash of beer for sale! Much appreciated!
The drinks were nice, but the entire refugio was a pleasant surprise - quite likely the most awesome hut I've ever stayed at in the mountains. A fully stocked kitchen, a shower (!) with a wood fired boiler (!!) and a flush toilet (!!!). And two groups of hikers who provided good company and were adequately impressed by where we had just arrived from ;-)
We took it easy the next morning and started late around 10. Except for a bit of a drizzle now and then the weather mostly held. It was quite cloudy though and most of the summits shrouded in fog. We were also a bit pressed for time, so we stuck to the normal route this time and arrived at the Capanna Alpe Spluga in just over 5 hours instead of the 7 the others had needed. From here we climbed a little bit higher still to follow the Costa dei Russi ridge down into the valley. This was beautiful and easy going at first, but culminated into a knee breaking 700 meters of slippery steep stairs made from rough rock. Urgh. A bus ride back to our car, a quick raid of a McDonald's and we were back home before midnight. Great trip!