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Italy – Monte Cistella

Running up the Italian Monte Cistella is a tough climb. It leads you through a remote area where you hardly see anyone. But the reward is a worth while and spectacular  view on almost all 4.000 + peaks of the Alps. Tom took us up there to show his home mountain.

Tom van de Plassche (1999) is a born Dutchman, but his father’s career brought the family to Italy and later on to Finland. Now Tom lives in the northern part of Italy again and goes to university in Trento. He went back to Italy because of his great passion for the mountains. His parents have a mountain cottage at Foppiano where Tom often stays to do a good training. The area is quite remote and hardly known by tourists. Most of the people you see are locals or Italians who have their vacations over there. There are almost no ski slopes or lifts and the alpine landscape is far most untouched. Since he was a kid the family spent the weekends in the cottage. Therefore Tom has a strong connection with Foppiano and the surrounding mountains.

We start our run at Albergo Pizzo del Frate at 1200 meters altitude and ascent the trails through the pine forests. We pass some small farming communities where cows graze in summer. At the community of Alpe Gaiola we fill our waterflasks at a little fountain and we head up to the steep alpine trails. The route is poorly marked and only accessible for experienced mountain runners.

Tom never was a frequent runner but in 2016 he tried some mountain running. A climbing injury prevented him from mountaineering, his great passion. He thought running through the mountains would be second best and he found out that skyrunning was an official discipline within the running sports. Running soon became Tom’s way of being in the mountains, and that’s where he feels at home. For him it’s a better way of moving than hiking, where you need heavy shoes and a backpack. He likes to travel light and that gives him a sense of freedom. Some water, a few energy bars and an ultra light rain jacket is all he carries on his runs.

Behind the pass Bocchetta di Balmafredda we follow the ridge and the views on the surrounding mountains open. We reach the plateau of the Cistella and run from cairn to cairn to Bivacco Leoni, a small mountain hut. In case of emergency you can take shelter over there. The last climb to the top is quite steep and there are some chains to help you.

In Tom’s first race he didn’t come close to the winning stage, but after training some months he got better at it and became 6thin his next race in Helsinki. That taste of the real competition motivated him to train more and next summer he qualified for the European skyrunning championships. He was introduced into the Dutch skyrunning team and became part of this running community. Tom’s ambitions reach far. He would like to run the 100 miler at the UTMB, but he realises that he is a bit too young now for those ultra long distances. He also knows that he just started running a few years ago, so he wants to increase his distances for at least five years before competing at those ultra distances. This sustainable approach is typical for Tom because for him it’s more important to enjoy his mountain sport on a long term than having quick successes in racing. Therefore at the moment he prefers being in his beloved mountains for a good training than competing in many international races.

The view from Monte Cistella is spectacular. It gives you a view on almost all Swiss mountains higher than four thousand meters, like Monte Rosa, Weissmies, Täschhorn, and Weisshorn in the west and the Bernese Alps (Eiger, Jungfrau and Mönch) in the north. Also in the west you see the mountains of Alpe Devero Natural Park and when the air is clear you can see the Po Valley and the city of Milan in the south. After the astonishing views we descent the top of Monte Cistella and take a route that is quite technical. We follow a trace of cairns that directs us to passo Bocchetta di Solcio. We cross some snowfields and Tom skies down a bit on his shoes. When we reach the forest again we have a rest and some nice food at Mountain hut Pietro Crosta. Tom used to work here as a waiter and the owners of the hut welcome him like he is a member of the family. You can also spend the night in the mountain hut and it is a good starting place for exploring the area. After our lunch we climb the mountain ridge to cross it on Passo della Sciupa.

The last part of our run is a steep descent through the pine forest. I fall a couple of times because of the pine cones that role under my shoes. Just before we reach our starting point we see quite some young people walking around with mats. It seems that this part of the mountain is famous for bouldering because of the big rocks that are spread in the forest. A while later we reach Albergo Pizzo del Frate again, the place where we started our run. Before we say goodbye we have a good lunch at the cottage of Tom’s parents. Thank you Tom, for showing us your home mountain!

  • Monte Cistella is located in the north Piedmont region close to the Swiss border. Foppiano (municipality of Crodo) is an alpine village in the Antigorian valey.
  • This 15 kilometres mountain run is quite demanding and suited only for well experienced mountain runners and hikers. It has approximately 1.700 positive altitude meters and reaches the top of Monte Cistella at 2.880 meters.
  • The starting point is at Albergo Pizzo del Frate. It is an ideal place for alpine running en hiking, bouldering, climbing and wildlife watching: www.pizzodelfrate.it
  • Refugio Pietro Crosta: www.rifugiocrosta.it