On the trails of Alfredo Corti

After the first expedition stage conducted between the Mont Balnc and the Monte Rosa area, we move from Gressoney to Valtelline. In Morbegno, we reach Riccardo Scotti, glaciologist at the University of Bologna, and Marco Manni, who will help us logistically, both are part of the Lombard Glaciological Service and will join the team for the rest of the expedition. After having checked the logistic plan with Riccardo, and rearranged the entire photographic and video equipment and prepared all stuff, the following day we leave for the Malenco Valley, more precisely the beautiful Fellaria Valley, south of the Bernina massif. We are headed to the namesake glacier with the aim to repeat some of Alfredo Corti’s shootings.

Alfredo was one of the most active photographers and mountaineers between the end of the 19th century and the early 20th century.

We have to be self-sufficient for about three days and therefore we carry very heavy backpacks (of about 20/25 kg) full of tents, sleeping bags, mats, food, water, cameras, tripods and all the rest. After having passed the Alpe Gera dam lake, which alone supplies power to more than 7,500 families, we get up to an alpine pasture, from which I believed I would find the point, where Corti shot one of his photos in 1890. From my backpack I take the small print of the historical image that I bring with me in order to recognize the exact place, from which the historical photographer shot it and I suddenly realize that, in order to find the shooting point, we are forced to climb a steep slope to reach a small plateau. Once we found the exact framing of the historical shooting, Riccardo suggests to continue on some grassy balsas off the path in order to reach a ridge, where he positioned one of the time-lapse cameras to monitor the Fellaria glacier and from which he recently produced a spectacular time-lapse to observe the glacier movement. The view is breath-taking, the Glacier Lake before the front is green turquoise and from the rocky wall, which now breaks the glacier in two parts, comes down a huge vertical waterfall of more than 70 meters. After a fast check of the time-lapse camera and after having performed some panoramic shootings of the wonderful valley illuminated by a raking light at sunset, we refill our water bottles from a close spring and we climb down up to the shore of the lake, looking for flat areas to place our tends and spend the night. The light is more and more beautiful and while we are all busy shooting the landscape, Federico’s drone falls, maybe due to the strong magnetic fields of the many rocks rich in iron ores. We decide to postpone the search to the following day, because the way to reach the area, where it should have fallen, is too long.

The following day we spend more than half day looking for the drone, unfortunately with poor results, the drone is grey and the area is huge and full of rocks of similar colour, which make the search almost impossible. A real pity, not for the drone itself, but rather for the card it contained with the marvellous footage taken from the top of the glacier front.

Therefore, we decide to continue towards the Marinelli Refuge, from which an amphitheatre of breath-taking mountains in the southern area of the Bernina massif can be observed. From there, we will remake, during the entire following day, some framing of the Caspoggio and the Scerscen glaciers shot by Vittorio Sella yet in 1896 and some of Corti’s photos of the early 20th century.

We then move rapidly to the Carate refuge, where we have a connection to check the weather forecasts: unfortunately a worsening is expected. The choice of this refuge is particularly strategic, because just 300 meters away from the Forbici mount summit, I would like to remake a beautiful photo of the Lower and Upper Scerscen glacier shot by Alfredo Corti in 1910. In the morning, the weather is still fine, but we have to hurry before the heat of the sun makes cumulus clouds come up and cover the glaciers and the picks. It is a race against time, we climb almost running and we reach the summit in few dozens minutes. Luckily, the historical photo was shot precisely from the summit and this allows us to save precious minutes. I position the Gitzo tripod, I mount the Linhof camera and I prepare the 4×5 inch films, I choose the most appropriate lens and I wait until the sun projects the shadows in the same position, in which they are depicted on the historical photo. Few seconds before the clouds cover the framed landscape on my camera, I shoot the new photo, which will show, if compared with Corti’s one, a totally distorted landscape. The terminus of the Lower and Upper Scerscen glaciers and of the Caspoggio glacier, once joined in a unique mighty flow that occupied the savage Scerscen deep valley, in less than one century has become a deserted stony ground cut through just by big moraines. These testify the ancient existing glaciers and allow some bunch of grass to start colonize the recently deglaciated area. Further up, the glacier walls, once constantly covered by the snow throughout the summer, are now naked, black and give their scream of pain with continuous rumbles, rolling rocks. It is the deteriorating permafrost. The absence of snow and ice causes continuous landslides, thus making nowadays many alpine routes of the Bernina, as well as of many other mountain massifs, completely impassable at the end of the summer.

After having remade the historical shooting 109 years later, we decide to go down the valley in front of the refuge that, with a 1,100 meters negative difference in altitude, will lead us to the Alpe Gera dam, where we left our car few days before. The bad weather stops us just for one day and we are immediately ready to leave for a new mission, this time to the Ventina glacier, before continuing for the high Valtelline.

Once arrived in Chiareggio, we park the car before the stream coming from the Disgrazia and the Ventina glaciers and we go up the valley along the glacier path dedicated to Vittorio Sella, which, in about one hour, leads us to the Gerli-Porro refuge. The Ventina glacier is one of the most important in Italy, because Luigi Marson, yet in 1895, put the first signal of the front length of a glacier in our Alps. The valley is beautiful, full of a variety of flowers, I am sorry not to be able to go any higher to see the millenary larches. At 2,300 meters, indeed, there is the most ancient tree in Europe with a definite dating: Born in the year 1007, it is still alive and allowed the researchers of the University of Padua and Turin to make a local paleoclimatic retracing thanks to the study of its growth rings. Finding back the points, from which Alfredo Corti shot the Ventina glacier terminus in 1910 and in 1932 was not so hard, this time it was hard to try to persuade the many tourists not to spread out their picnic blankets in the very middle of the framing.

After having remade those two pictures, we go down to Chiareggio and try to find the old summer house of Alfredo Corti. A small lettering on the external gate ‘Prof. A. Corti’ is the confirmation that we found it. We knock and, in great astonishment, his two granddaughters Susanna and Valentina kindly welcome us. After having briefly presented to them the objectives of the project “On the Trail of the Glaciers”, we go inside their beautiful home to admire the various photographic prints on the wall. The atmosphere is marvellous; the house has been preserved in its ancient and minimal furniture, elegant and precious. The beautiful original prints, which we only partially knew, and the stories told by Valentina and Susanna, make us aware of anecdotes and stories about the intense Corti’s life. Jazz music comes from the kitchen and with great excitement makes me breathe a simple and ancient atmosphere, as if we had gone back to 100 years before, when slowness and simple things were values.




One thought on “On the trails of Alfredo Corti

  1. Sono venuto a conoscenza di questo bel progetto seguendo una serata a Milano tenuta da Alberto Bregani.

    Devo dire che le immagini ed i paragoni sono come un pugno allo stomaco non c’è molto da dire, complimenti!

    Dopo aver visto questo grande lavoro, mi è venuta voglia di fare dei raffronti anche con un ghiacciaio vicino a casa: il ghiacciaio dell’Adamello.

    Grazie per questo grande lavoro!

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