Lanzo Valleys the cradle of Turin mountaineering

The Lanzo Valleys are known as the cradle of Turin mountaineering.  On these mountain climbers from Turin carried out the first climbs and, in so doing, they gave birth to the Club Alpino Italiano.  Since the beginning of 1800, the valleys were holiday resorts for the rich Turin bourgeoisie.  With the arrival of the railroad reaching Lanzo in 1876 and Ceres in 1916, the tourism increased.

The first adventurers on these mountain were local villagers as hunters, shepherds, miners (many are the iron mines even at high altitude) and “smugglers”.  At the time, smuggling developed a commercial net with the Haute Maurienne villages and friendship bonds between the communities have survived until today.  The same local villagers knew how to exploit their experiences on the mountain; they proposed themselves as escorts to foreigners and in so doing they invented the alpine guide character and, of course, new income for the summer months.  For this reason, Balme is nowadays known as the alpine guide’s village.

In the summer of 1857, for working reasons, Tonini, pioneer of modern climbing, climbed the main Val d’Ala summits (Ciamarella, Bessanese, Croce Rossa, and Uja di Mondrone).  Tonini was in fact an engineer of the Savoy states land registry and was accompanied by Ambrosini, helping him with trigonometric survey operations.  Forerunners of modern times and bivouacking in altitude, the two partners climbed Ciamarella, Collerin and Bessanese up to the mark bearing Tonini’s name.

After the two above surveyors, the English mountaineering explorers arrived: Cowell (1860), Ball, Taylor and Bonney (1864) and Nichols (1866).  In the same year Bartolomeo Gastaldi, geologist, and Paolo Ballada count of Saint-Robert who acted as alpine guides for the first time.  Count of Saint-Robert was the second man to climb the Ciamarella on August 17, 1867 accompanied by G. B. Abbà, D. Aimo and novice Antonio Castagneri, known as Toni dei Tuni. The latter very soon became a famous and perfect guide, strong on ice and very strong on rock, as to be requested and looked for even for climbs outside the Lanzo Valleys.  He died in 1890 on Mount Blanc, at the highest point of his career, having accomplished 43 first ascents.

To this end, the famous English climber W.A.B. Coolidge, in 1890 wrote on “The Alpine Journal”: “Few English mountaineers are familiar with the Lanzo Valleys which run to the North-West of Turin up to the chain of Alps dividing Italy from France.  But the few who have visited them have been for sure stunned by the position of Balme village, in Val d’Ala, surrounded on all sides by steep walls and dominated by the gigantic Bessanese rock wall (11.917 ft), which fills entirely the valley deep end.  Here lived the great Italian guide Antonio Castagneri….”

Finally, the Italian winter mountaineering was actually born on December 24 1874, when E. Martelli and L. Vaccarone climbed the Uja di Mondrone summit via the south crest.

Ironically, through the years the Lanzo Valleys have undergone a tourist involution.  The advent of cars made distances shorter and faraway “inconvenient” mountains were now easily accessible.  Nevertheless, every cloud has a silver lining and nature has almost remained uncontaminated.  Exception made for the mountain huts, which have been modernized, the mountain is still virgin.  These mountains offer, beside the regular itineraries, some of the old routes, which marked the climbing history.  Even today, they require expertise and know-how in climbing as the ascent routes may be misleading (for this reason, mountain chains have been mounted on the Bessanese Spigolo Murari).  Above all it is still necessary to resort to the classical technique in order to bolt and secure the routes (hammer, pitons and webbing are more useful than “friends”, climbing shoes are useful but not essential while climbing boots are necessary).  You will not find spits and, in order to respect the timetable given by the guides, you must have the right security and self-confidence to proceed rope in the hand not to risk bivvi in the open or nocturnal returns.  At last, these mountains morphology is the cause for rock not always being solid and compact: the climber needs, therefore, a certain “sensitivity”.

You will find a high mountain environment that, if visited at the proper time, will offer you views and emotions as good as those of the best known four thousands m summits.  It rather is a very good naturalization and practice ground at the beginning of the season, just for the four thousands as all summits are between 3300 and 3676 m of Ciamarella.

Other that the “regular” routes on snowfields and glaciers (Punta Maria, Monte Collerini, Albaron di Savoia, Punta Chalanson, Piccola Ciamarella, and Ciamarella), you will find other two itineraries with rock exposed moves (Bessanese and Uja di Mondrone).

Between the end of May and the beginning of June, both Punta Chalanson and Piccola Ciamarella offer interesting ramps to people wanting to approach the ice world.  The north face of Ciamarella, at one time one of the classic ascents, due to the extended and constant temperature increase, is, nowadays, very seldom in the proper conditions to be climbed.

Whoever wants to tackle rock walls, could retrace the routes that made the history of these mountains, among which:

  • Spigolo Murari (III – IV) and Cresta Rey on Bessanese (III – IV)
  • Cresta dell’Ometto (II – III) and Via Rosenkrantz (III – IV+) on Uja di Mondrone

At last, there are two easy crest routes with some exposed move, in a striking environment that allow a diversified ascent to the summits and then a descent by the regular routes:

  • P.ta Maria via the North-West ridge from Col d’Arnas
  • Ciamarella from the Chalanson Passo Superiore, linking together Punta Chalanson and Piccola Ciamarella through the frontier crest.


  • “Guida dei Monti d’Italia – Alpi Graie” di G. Berruto e L. Fornelli, Ed. C.AI. – T.C.I.
  • “IN CIMA nelle Valli di Lanzo” di Marco Blatto, Ed. Blu Edizioni


  • 13, Mont-Cenis Ciamarella „Alpi Senza Frontiere
    Carte dei sentieri e rifugi a colori con reticolato UTM per utilizzo GPS,
    Scala 1:25.000
    Institut Geographique National
  • 2, Valle di Lanzo carta dei sentieri – Val di Viù e Val d’Ala
    Carte dei sentieri e rifugi a colori con reticolato UTM per utilizzo GPS,
    Scala 1:25.000
  • 3, Valle di Lanzo carta dei sentieri – Val d’Ala e Val Grande
    Carte dei sentieri e rifugi a colori con reticolato UTM per utilizzo GPS,
    Scala 1:25.000
  • 103, Rocciamelone, Uja di Ciamarella, Le Levanne, Alte Valli di Lanzo
    Carte dei sentieri e rifugi a colori, Scala 1:25.000
    Istituto Geografico Centrale
  • 2, Valli di Lanzo e Moncenisio
    Carte dei sentieri e rifugi a colori, Scala 1:50.000
    Istituto Geografico Centrale