River Diving in Verzasca, St. Anna (Cannobio) & Maggia
Our dive buddies in Munich had on several occasions raved about the visibility and the experience of river diving in the Verzasca valley, and the great game fondue at one of the accomodation places along the route. So when the opportunity came to go there, we were obviously game (excuse the pun).
Verzasca is a beautiful valley in the italian speaking part of Switzerland, featuring the Verzasca river where rock formations were carved out of the river bed over thousands of years. The rocks may look smooth, but are more like Sharkskin - it can make your suits and especially gloves wear a bit much, but on the other hand they are rarely slippery and provide good grip for holding on underwater when watching a small waterfall enter the end of the dive site.
As a little side note, we had been warned strongly about the material destruction that awaited us, and "been told" not to use our drysuits (and to add more unjustified drama, expect all but immediate death if a tiny mistake would be made. Yes, the currents are strong, no doubt. But at the same time, it is not like you'd be catapulted into the abyss or over a 300 feet drop either - most "waterfalls" are less than a meter in height(!). As always, do take your time to scout the river/divesite properly. But for the records, a typical dive means you dive between two (smallish) waterfalls in the basin between them. The current is usually strong where the path of water is narrow or shallow. It all depends on the water level, and be aware it can change quickly if there has been rainfall somewhere further up in the mountains )like the day before), or the snow melts rapidly. Pay attention to the locals' advice and other more experienced divers, and use common sense. Then we would argue, this is no more dangerous than many other dives.
This image here shows what the Verzasca can also look like... yikes!
As for the material destruction part - yes, the rocks are rough. But we discovered no immediate wear, and we would happily(!) have used our drysuits, in fact two of our dive colleagues opted to do so anyways despite all the talk about how it would be silly to use drysuits in the river... mental note: Don't take drysuit advice from divers only ever diving in 7mm uncompressed neoprene Poseidon Unisuits - it's a world of difference using modern drysuits such as 3mm compressed/crushed neoprene, or a trilaminate suit by Waterproof, DUI, BARE or any other good brand.
And this is what the Verzasca looked like when we were there :-)
Anyway, back to the diving and the dive sites - a few of the dive sites are a little tricky to get down to the water. As the slopes can be slippery and somewhat steep, or involve a small steel ladder) about two meters, sloping) to reach the entry point, you might find it easier to carry your gear in more than one walk. No biggies, just be aware it's not exactly like Vobster Quay here.
The water was clear as gin, with lots of leaves in the water dancing in the sunlit waters and the air bubbles from the countless little waterfalls, this one of the most visually stunning underwater experiences imaginable.
Unfortunately, we did not get many good pictures underwater, as our GoPro Here fogged up something chronic, resulting in out of focus video. But you get an idea from it anyways:
Other interesting bits from Wikipedia:
The Valle Verzasca is a valley in the Locarno district of the Canton of Ticino, Switzerland. It comprises the municipalities of Mergoscia, Vogorno, Corippo, Lavertezzo, Brione, Gerra, Frasco and Sonogno with a total population of 3,200 (as of 2004). Mergoscia is at the geographical center of the Ticino, and none of the passes out of the valley cross cantonal or national borders. The valley is situated between the Leventina and the Maggia and culminates at Pizzo Barone. The Verzasca River forms the artificial Lago di Vogorno near the entrance of the valley, formed by the Verzasca Dam before joining the Ticino River in the Magadino plain. The Verzasca Dam is also well known for its 220 m height jump, which is one of the highest jumps in the world and also the most famous bungy jump, as it was used in the James Bond film GoldenEye.
The Contra Dam, commonly known as the Verzasca Dam and the Locarno Dam, is an arch dam on the Verzasca River in the Val Verzasca of Ticino, Switzerland. The dam creates Lago di Vogorno 2 km upstream of Lake Maggiore and supports a 105 MW hydroelectric power station. It was constructed between 1961 and 1965 and starting shortly after its reservoir was filled, a series of earthquakes related to its water load occurred until 1971. The dam is owned and operated by Verzasca SA and is the fourth tallest in Switzerland.
During what Dr. Giovanni Lombardi, the dam's designer, described as an "exceptionally rapid rise of water during the first filling" of the reservoir, beginning in August 1964, there were seismic shocks. The earthquakes began in May 1965 and the biggest shocks had occurred later in October and November after the reservoir was full. The epicenters were located at two faults near the dam. As many as 25 shocks occurred a day. The shocks stopped once the reservoir was emptied and no damage was found. After refilling, the shocks decreased and an "equilibrium" was believed to have been reached, one that did not respond to variations in water load. Another large shock occurred several years after filling. By 1971, there were no more seismic shocks around the dam or reservoir. No known detailed geological studies were conducted prior to construction of the dam and several faults are known to exist in the area.