Hiking the Alpi Pontine - Pizzo Diei and Mount Cistella

Rate this Adventure 1500 Butterfield Road

If you´re in shape, you can spend the whole day hiking these very beautiful mountains of North Italy and finish wandering through the most pristine forests in this beautiful country.

Drive to the San Domenico ski resort, a lovely small Italian alpine town where you will start. There you can opt to ride the cable car and save yourself about 450 meters of hiking up through ski tracks that are beautiful but will not add much to the adventure and which will already be very energy consuming without that part. It will cost you 7 euros and you can take 2 chairs and spare that initial effort. From the top of the 2nd chair it´s just large grassy meadows but gets increasingly steeper, with marvelous views all around. Looking back down the mountain you can see the magnificent Mt Leone, a 3513m asl peak that lies on the border between Italy and Switzerland (photo).

Be aware: walking sticks are a must have, especially on the way down. There are signs pointing in the general direction of the different goals (photo). When  you get to the rocky section, as you go higher, you will find some patches of eternal snow. The snow is really no problem, just tread lightly not to stick your feet deep in the snow, or slip. Then the rocky section will get even steeper and the rocks start getting quite loose, so you must watch where you step! These mountains are like a slow moving cascade of sliding rock, I guess they shed rock all year round, and most slabs are big enough to be firm, but there´s a lot of poorly balanced slabs. Really, pay a lot of attention, because slipping on a rock may have painful consequences, and as you get to steepest points, it could be downright dangerous. When you get to the steepest parts, you may opt to put away your walking sticks or hold them with one hand while you use the other hand to hold the rocks above for better support. It´s nothing critical, but just pay a lot of  attention.

We opted to start the hike going to the Pizzo Diei, a 2906m asl mountain with a moonlike rocky peak (photo) that´s large and flat with beautiful views. There you can make a light meal. Then we climbed down a bit and followed East towards Mount Cistella, a 2880m asl peak. As you get back down some 150 meters, it´s an almost level trail among the same layer of loose rocks, East, in Mount Cistella direction. There is a trail that´s quite visible in between the rocks, with some parts that are not so explicit, but there are red and white marks that frequently assure you´re on the right trail. Bear in mind that the weather changes quite quickly in that altitude and if you may find yourself in a whiteout it may become disorientating and if it rains the rocks will be a lot more slippery, that´s when the white and red striped rocks will help you find your way to safety. Even in high summer temperatures can drop to anywhere between 5 and 10 degrees (C), but if it´s sunny you won´t even need a coat because your body will be warm with all the effort. 

Following East to Mt Cistella you will finally hit a large flat expanse with magnificent views. It´s still all covered in loose flat rock slab and mountain flowers grow in the cracks. When you get to the bottom of the Mt Cistella final climb, there´s a bivaquo (bivouac), like a small stony house where you can find shelter from rain if needed. The final attack to Mt. Cistella, if you can call it so, is another 150 meter rocky ascent, with a chain bolted in the rocks to help suport on the steepest parts. You can opt to leave your backpacks at the bivaquo while you do a quick climb to the top, where you will find a large metal cross (photo) and a magnificent 360 degrees view of the Val d´Ossola and the mountains of Switzerland. To get down you can go back the way you came, or in our case we opted to complete a loop by descending from Mt. Cistella on a Southeast direction. There´s a trail all the way down and it is the toughest part of the hike because you will descend almost 1800 meters of steep loose rock terrain and this takes an ununbelievable toll on your legs and knees (photo). That´s when the walking sticks do their part, you can almost use them as skying sticks while you find support between each step. 

Eventually when you can take no more, you will get to the flat portion of the trail where after maybe another 40 minutes you will get to the Rifugio Crosta, a rustic albergo and restaurant where you can freshen up, eat a pie and have a beer. Now, in order to get back to San Domenico it will be another almost 3 hour hike through dense pine forests in a well marked trail that goes up and down meandering through the vegetation while you glimpse majestic views of the mountains looming vertically nearby (photo). The whole hike took 9 hours, discountig 3 hours for resting, eating, taking pictures and the beer and pie at the Rifugio Crosta(photo). It´s a whole day ordeal and you should be very tired when you get back to the start. The last photo shows a Google Earth caption of the whole track, notice the Rifugio Crosta as a small bed icon on the lower right. (obs: the names "Pizzo Diei e Mt. Cistella" on the bottom left are just the name of the gps track file, the peaks themselves naturally are on the mountain tops on the middle of the picture.)

Pack List

  • Walking stick
  • Hat
  • Backpack
  • Light food
  • A lot of water (2 liters)
  • Fresh change of clothes
  • Parka
  • Extra fleece garment
  • Sunscreen
Show More
RT Distance 12 Miles
Elevation Gain 4517.7 Feet
Activities Hiking
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Loop
Features
Easy Parking
Forest
Picnic Area
Scenic

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

Nearby Adventures

More Nearby Adventures

Hike to Gattascosa hut and Camoscellahorn

3 Saves

Hike in the Laggintal

18 Saves

Hiking Along The Great Aletsch Glacier

82 Saves