Brione is a small village in Ticino, Switzerland, near the beautiful Lago Maggiore. From Locarno, the next biggest city, it takes half an hour to get to the village, which is situated in a quiet valley in the mountains. Also nearby are the Cresciano and Chironico areas, which are often visited in conjunction with Brione. Located close to the Italian border, the nearest airport is an hour and a half drive away in Milano.
The climbing area of Brione is relatively small, but has an incredible concentration of world class bouldering in the double digits (that means 8a and up - for the Europeans). For many years there was no guide book for Brione. Consequently the area is primarily attractive for experienced climbers, seeking out specific internationally renowned lines. It should therefore come as no surprise that Brione is actively developed by the “who is who” of climbing, and regularly receives new first ascents at the upper end, such as “Poison the Well” (8c +) by Giuliano Cameroni in 2019. That being said, there are many beautiful climbs in easier terrain and thanks to the release of a guidebook in late 2019, it will likely become an increasingly popular destination going forward.
Thanks to the new guide, bouldering in lighter terrain is already gaining traction, but the area continues to primarily be known for its harder classics. Visitors should therefore be able to project at least 8a (V11) in order to fully enjoy Brione.
After Brione had been high on my todo list for years, I finally managed to visit this bouldering mecca. Since the Swiss canton of Ticino, where Brione is located, is often too warm in summer, it is a popular winter destination and attracts many climbers over the New Year’s Eve holiday period. There is no campsite, but staying in the car in the parking lot is tolerated. Because of freezing temperatures at night most climbers, including us, stay in one of the many small towns around Locarno.
Brione lies at the heart of Verzasca, a long narrow valley, which is stretched out to the north west of Locarno. From the outskirts of Locarno, a narrow serpentine road leads up to the valley and eventually the village of Brione. Although the new climbing guide includes 19 sectors, the area can actually be divided into three parts: the first and most obvious sector (called “Ganne” in the guide) is accessed from a small parking lot, just after the last bridge before arriving at the village. If you continue to follow the road upstream, you will quickly reach the village of Brione, from where another parking space allows access to the middle sector. A few meters further, on the other side of the road, is a third parking lot, which is the entry point to the upper sector. There are other sectors too, but they are much further apart, have a more difficult approach and often only a few boulders. Since we only had a week, we focused on the most concentrated areas.
This time my crew consisted of Chris(-tian) from Munich and Chris(-toph) from Boston. Both had already been to Brione before and knew the area. To show me around, they first took me to the lower sector. After a short warm-up, we started with “Entwash” (8a). It immediately became clear to me that I had mildly underestimated the cold winter temperatures as I struggled to get any feeling in my fingers or toes. Although forecasts claim that it is relatively warm in the valley, it is significantly colder in the climbing area itself. Brione is located in a valley between two mountains and therefore only has a few hours of sunshine. We usually arrived at the parking lot around 10am, and although the sun didn't set until around 5pm, it was gone by noon, leaving the area in the shade for the rest of the day.
When, due to the increased humidity on the river, it got a little damp and the boulder was a bit greasy, we went a few meters further to “Wie im Urlaub” (7c +). Unlike “Entwash”, which is a very compact crimp line, “Wie im Urlaub” is a proper one move wonder - a jump from a sloper to a very good crimp. If one move boulders are too easy for you, you can alternatively try the 8b+ sit start variation that Giuliano Cameroni recently added. After Chris and Chris didn't want to jump and I was still struggling to actually get warm, we went back up the hill.
On the way up we briefly tried “Wanted” (7c +) a relatively new boulder, with 2 powerful dynamic moves. Unfortunately, I was still cold and a wet start hold further curbed my enthusiasm. Continuing up the hill, we ended up trying the classics “Marilyn Monroe” (8a) and “General Disarray” (8b). Also on the same block are “Manson” (8a) and the sloper traverse “Humphrey Bogart” (8a+). Since one Chris had already climbed “Marilyn Monroe” and the other Chris could not quite stick the crux move, we instead focused on “General Disarray”, an 8b with 3 very heavy moves. After making some progress on the moves in isolation, we decided to conserve our strength a bit and changed the area.
A few minutes later we arrived at the parking lot of the middle area, at the heart of the actual village. Here we split up: Chris and Chris headed to “Real Pamplemousse” and I to “Fake Pamplemousse” - both 8a. Legend has it that some climbers in the past attempted to find the “Pamplemousse” boulder, got lost and ended up at a different boulder. Now there were two “Pamplemousse” boulders. This apparently happened multiple times, which is not surprising given the remote location of one boulder, and the obvious location right by the river of the other one. After the confusion was eventually cleared up, the two boulders were renamed - the original line became the “real” version and the addition the “fake” one.
As I continued to battle the cold and struggled to warm up I decided to stop with the one move wonder boulders and moved over from “Fake Pamplemousse” to “Frogger” (8a), which is on the same block. Unfortunately, after putting the lower crux section together, I had to stop - the end was completely wet. Chris and Chris meanwhile were more successful and breezed through “Real Pamplemousse”.
The next day we set out to explore the somewhat extensive upper sector. Recently installed signposts help to find the most famous classics here. After leaving “Brionesque” (8a) behind us, we went straight to “Amber” (8b). Amber is one of the most famous boulders in Brione. Due to the low height of the boulder, it’s possible to try all individual moves in isolation, allowing those who don’t give up immediately to make noticeable progress in different sections relatively quickly. In short: it’s the perfect project. Over several sessions, all three of us managed to work out the boulder piece by piece. Nobody sent, but with several overlapping sections done, it is only a matter of time before Amber falls.
If you’re not up for projecting 8b, give “Atlantis” (7c) and the classic “Molonk” (7c) a try. Both are in the upper sector near “Amber”. Yet as the explicit goal of our trip was to work on difficult projects, we left these two classics behind and went on to “Vecchio Leone” (8b). If Vecchio is too easy for you, you can alternatively try “Kingdom” (8b + / 8c) just to the left of it.
In general, the approach to individual areas and boulders is very easy. The forest paths are well maintained and even equipped with signposts - I can’t think of many areas that have this type of luxury. When we went to “Salamandre” (8a +) in the upper area, it became even more luxurious. Even though it’s well known that the Swiss take great pride in their orderliness and precision, we were quite surprised to find a forest worker with a leaf blower walking past us to clear the path from leaves. As far as we could tell, we were the only ones that day to walk that path...
Those who need a day off will also get their money's worth in Locarno; known for the eponymous international film festival, the city is worth a visit all year round. Even in winter, it is worth trying out the local cuisine here, or at the very least exploring the downtown area. And if you’re tired of Switzerland, Italy is a mere 20 minute drive away and has even better food. The first place, Cannobio, offers some excellent trattorias, as well as a wonderful view over Lake Maggiore. We liked the place so much that we decided to spend New Year’s Eve there and, despite the ban on fireworks, had an excellent time.
Exhausted by a week of projecting hard boulders, we headed back to the lower area on the last day. Christian made quick work of “Carciofo” (8a), a new line by Jimmy Webb next to the well known “Beach Bloc” (7b+). Then we followed the river downstream to "There is no Spoon" (7a +). Despite the comparatively low grade, this classic slab cost us quite a few tries. The boulder is conveniently located next to “Wie im Urlaub” (7c+), which I tried on the first day. This time I was a little warmer and was able to hold the Crux jump after a few tries. With crimps, slabs and jumps, the day marked a good end to our trip.
If you are planning a trip to Ticino you should definitely stop by in Brione. Although the area is best known for its hard boulders, the new guide book means that it’s only a matter of time until more and more climbers who are not (yet) climbing 8a will visit and have a good time. And, since we have some new projects now, we will definitely be back soon.
So if you've never been to Brione, what should you do?
- If you really want to make full use of Brione, you should train hard beforehand. The majority of the classics are 8a or harder. That doesn’t mean that the area is not worth a visit if that’s not quite within reach yet, but be prepared to search for your boulders more than usual.
- Definitely visit Italy. A quick drive over the border to enjoy “La Dolce Vita” is the perfect rest day activity.
- Bring warm clothes. Surprisingly, it gets quite cold in the mountains during winter. Gloves and down slippers to keep your feet warm between attempts are highly recommended