“The mountain of the Walser” in a refuge over Gressoney.
Monte Rosa can be considered “the mountain of the Walser”: in fact some populations of Alemannian extraction became mountaineers and farmers of the high lands in the Alps, coming from Vallese and migrating to high altitude from west to east, beginning from the XIII century. They created new mountain passes, from one valley to another, establishing permanent settlements where only some seasonal mountain alps where settled. They colonized the lands at high altitude, sometimes grasslands, but often dry and stony, from time to time tilling them industriously and patiently. So the Walser transformed the alpine world making it inhabited even in its high lands and created there a laboratory of a new culture centred on the styles of life typical of a population living in the mountain and of the mountain. The Walser’s adventure became just around Monte Rosa – so that Horace Bénédict de Saussure defined them concisely “The German sentinel of Monte Rosa” – : Gressoney and Issime were among the most important settlements of this admirable civilization of the Alps. Since then Monte Rosa seems to smile brightly, from its high rocky summits and its white glaciers, at the meeting with this adventure.
Walser tradition in the most up-to-date hospitality.
As the ancient Walser fathers colonized the Alps, so their descendents, Oreste and Arturo Squinobal, wanted to build a refuge, perfectly complying with the principles of art typical of the traditions of Walser architecture, to give hospitality to the alpinists and to help them during their excursions of middle and high altitude, between the last turfs and the first rocky cliffs towards the glaciers and the summits of Monte Rosa, of the Piramide Vincent, of the Lyskamm. The choice of the site, the definition of the profiles of the construction, the structural layout, the choice of the materials used for the construction, the principle of the most complete respect for nature (even by means of the energetic self-sufficiency obtained by the installation of solar panels and of an independent hydroelectric power plant), all these aspects incorporate the most classic Walser tradition. A further avant-garde technological characteristic, which has always distinguished the Walser culture in the effort of adjusting to the natural surroundings of the high mountain, is found in the project idea of combining all the requirements of the most comfortable hospitality of the tradition with the most up-to-date service structures of all kinds (from lighting to heating, to sanitary fittings, etc.). The construction itself was made directly, little by little and from hand to hand by the Squinobal family, who worked three years (and it had already been prepared by Oreste’s work).
The wood, wisdom of nature.
If only you see it, the refuge tells you how it was built: it was conceived to incorporate the wisdom, ancient and natural, of the wood (the larch of the forests of Monte Rosa, with its scents, its knags, and veins fitting to the “block-bau” hollow supporting the corners of the refuge). So, in man’s work, nature found the formation of a place where reigns the living heritage of its essential wisdom.
The ascent to the refuge winds among itineraries enchanting for the alpine flora and for the variety of the wonderful landscapes before the overhanging Piramide Vincent and some rocky horns, as the red or the one of the chamois, charming black rocky outlines standing out against the Indren glacier. You walk up along tracks partly following the ancient mountain pasture itineraries (marvellous traces of ancient constructions are left as the stone bridge on the 6a track and the large millstones where the gold pyrites coming from Stolemberg were worked). From the first sighting positions you can guess that there, set in the rock folds of the first slopes towards the Piramide Vincent, there is a home, perfectly following the Walser tradition, where you will be welcome and will live in another world and another time, a world where the mountain spirit is sovereign.
The snaplink of memory.
The refuge – Oreste Hütte – is devoted to the memory of Oreste Squinobal. After coming back from a climb the axe and the snaplinks are hung to the peg in the refuge; as well, enjoying an entertainment before or after the excursion, the conversation seizes at the “snaplink” of memory for an excursion into memory. Oreste Squinobal (1942-2004), with Arturo Squinobal, formed a group of roped climbers who, in 1970-1980 stood out among the most strong and well prepared of Europe: they also realized some winter first excursions, extremely valuable, among which the most direct route to the south face of Cervino-Matterhorn, in 1971, the integral crest of Peutérey at Monte Bianco, in 1972, the most direct route to the peak Signal-Nifetti of Monte Rosa, in 1978, the west face of Cervino-Matterhorn, in 1978. Together with his brother Renzo he won the Mezzalama trophy in 1975. In 1982 Oreste reached the top of Kanchenjunga (m. 8596) without oxygen, in alpine style. These men were Walser, men with a strong personality, of whom Oreste was an admirable example: mountain dweller, he was brought up and educated since his childhood, at Cialvrina Alp, to the hard works of the mountain rurality, then art joiner, expert carpenter, reliable builder, and at the same time alpine guide (as his ancestors Johan, Niklaus, Peter-Joseph Knubel and Antonio Curta) and, last but not least, great alpinist. Entangled in the “snaplink” of memory, like the stalk of a rock flower, there is his smile, his piercing glance, quivering with enthusiasm like the solo of a trumpet blast (performed, as He used to do, at altitude, in the wind of 4000 m.).
Professor Luigi Zanzi