Ah, summer in the Alps. Top of the last pitch of Punta d’Albigna. I have now done all three major routes on the Punta and can safely say it that Mueli is the best, followed by Modern Times and finally Steiger and that all three should be topped off with the NW Ridge. Moreover it is a great first mountain as the routes are well protected and easy, the descent is not hard, and there is a midway bail between below the NW ridge if the weather is souring.
This is part of the promised climbing series. I will try, if possible, to always put beta links at the end.
The Spazzacalderia from the hut, Mosiaco runs straight up the trianglular face in the middle, culminating in a point
In fairness, I may have misled Peter a bit. I told him it would be no problem to get from Canazei to Bregaglia in a day. Theoretically it was not a problem, but hey, theoretically it was not a problem to get from Bolzano to Canazei in an afternoon, and theoretically one could do the Dolomites sans automobile, and no trad gear. We traveled by bus to Trento, from there via rail to Milan, and sprinted to the furthest possible platform to catch a train to Colico. We caught the last train, and pulled into sleepy Chiavenna just in time to see the last bus up Val Bregagalia to St. Moritz pull away, on time. Damn Swiss. My plan counted on Italian bus drivers. No matter, our campsite, the ‘climbers’ campsite was only 3km up the valley. Fourty-five sweaty minutes later we rolled into Camping Acquafraggia completely beat. Undeterred by the ‘full’ sign we saddled up to office to beg for a site. We explained that we didn’t need a car site, as we didn’t have a car, to which our host replied: ‘I can tell.’ The plan for the next week-ten days was simple. Go up to the more friendly crags above Lake Albigna to warm up to granite, then snatch a few rest days in valley before heading up to the Bondasca valley to attempt the big ones: the Badile, Cengalo, and others.
The sun woke me first the next morning, after a morning bread run and recon mission, I caught a weather report: two OK days followed by quite dire predictions. Rousing Peter I somehow convinced him that a) we were heading to Albigna now and b) we were staying in the hut incase the rain came early. Leaving in a huff we decided not to visit the ATM or purchase petrol for the stove before leaving Chiavenna. Bad call. We reached the Albigna cable car, our ‘approach’ to the valley, right as it closed for lunch, and realized that there was neither a cash point nor a petrol station anywhere near. Thankfully Peter’s mish mash of German, French, and Italian landed him a seat in a car pointed towards the valley. Making full use of his public school boy charm, he returned an hour later with petrol and cash. Shortly thereafter we caught the first cable car up the valley, just as the clouds began to swirl.
Conditions at the start
The large group of Italian climbers laughed as I stumbled over a large block lying in the path from the cablecar to the Spazzacadera. When we finally arrived we were anxious to get on the rock and spotting the classic of the crag, Mosiaco 6b, open we rushed over and while scoping the first pitch I failed to notice the large block in the path, much to the locals amusement. The amusement turned to surprise as we set up Via Felici, the 4 pitch first half of Mosiaco, undeterred by the fog. Despite the initially unfamiliar movement demanded by the granite slabs I quickly warmed to the impressive friction and bolted but still bold style I cut my teeth on in North Carolina. Pete made quick work of the second arrived at the belay ledge grinning and lead straight through onto the 6a crux pitch. Lost in the fog, I could tell he was making rapid progress by the speed he needed rope. At this point the bemusement of our continental counterparts had turned to surprise as it was apparent we were set to lap the first 100m of their classic in under a half hour. All those misty Lakeland and Welsh pitches paid dividends there on the Swiss border.
Following Pete through the mist was truly the treat. The angle steepened as the route transitioned from exquisitely balancy moves to delectable flakes. Each move appeared out of the swirling mist as I moved upwards forcing me to enjoy each little move for itself rather than trying to run to the belay as fast as possible. Pete wanted the next pitch as it continued the flakes he was already engaged with, and as pitch 4 was reputed to be a positively classic jamming crack I gladly obliged. Forty-five delightful meters later I joined him at the third belay and caught a glimpse of the laser cut crack I was to enjoy.
Enjoying our quick pace I dove into the crack relishing each jam and the perfect edges for the feet just when I needed a rest. Pulling a small overhang a double bolt belay surprised me 5m earlier than the large ledge I expected to belay on. But, as he insisted on Stabler tower four days earlier, we climb to the top. After bring Pete up, all smiles after 160m of near perfect climbing, we eyed up the weather and the next section of the route, 2nd Pillar 6a/b. Deciding that A) the mist was a ‘white’ mist with sun on its back rather than a rain bearing dark mist as our Welsh and Lakeland training had turned us into true mist conissours and B) the next two pitches looked as good as the last four and boyed with the confidence of walking Via Felici in 1 ¼ hours Pete lead through up a amazing diagonal crack splitting a head wall to a trick pull up through a bulge gaining a lovely slab to the belay. I finished up the route with 30m of pleasant easy angled crack climbing. One absail into a gully and a bit of scrambling down we arrived back at the base not much more than 2 ½ hours after setting out. As we pulled into the Albigna Hut that night, grinning with joy and brimming with confidence in ourselves, if not our somewhat dubious internet beta. When we told the hut gaurdian we would be cooking for ourselves, he kindly put us next to the winter room and gave us free use of it. This was perfect, we had warm beds and a private kitchen. After a nice meal, a bottle of wine, and a pint, we turned in, eager to try a long link up on Punta a’Albigna the next day.
Summitpost beta for Via Felici (first half of Mosaico)
The Badile (by zach.stone)
Climbing this was the coolest thing I did in 2011. For sure. Even though I got real cold. Read about it here (hint, it’s only 5.7)
The last ridge (by zach.stone)
I know I have posted this before, but it is one my all-time favs, at least of photos I have taken. It’s from the halfway ridge on Punta d’Albigna, about 1000m above the lake and fully 500m of climbing above the ground. And 300m of climbing left…guess was thinking about the alps. Since I got to play Alps yesterday.
As promised, my impression of climbing the Nordkante. Details may be fuzzy given the fact that my brain got so cold I can’t remember the middle 1000 feet of climbing.
Four days, 1600m of vertical rock climbing, and over twenty miles of walking later it was all over. My climbing partner and I had bagged a life long goal: the North Ridge of Piz Badile. In terms of technical difficulty it is not that hard but it is a full 1100m long. Its length, exposure, lack of escape option, and complex decent make the Nordkante a ridge to be reckoned with. We had tried to climb it the year before but weather kept us grounded for the duration of our week in Bregaglia, a rugged valley linking St. Moritz and the north end of Lake Como. Knowing I was moving back to America this fall lent extra urgency to this summer’s trip, generously supported by a Wadham Society travel grant and an A.C. Irvine Fund grant.
Climbing the Nordkante involves far more than just climbing it. After three days of torrential rain Rob and I walked up to the Sciora hut one afternoon, praying the rain would stop and the rock would dry, and spent an uneasy night in the Sciora hut wondering about the weather. Thankfully a 3am trip to the outhouse revealed skies hard, cold, and clear, as well as a brisk wind sure to dry the face. The next morning we packed and set off to Torre Innominata, our ‘warm up.’ The West Ridge of Torre Innominata is a 500m ridge of a slightly harder standard than the Nordkante. We figured that if it went well, and the weather held, all would be good for a summit bid on the Badile the next day.
I am from Kentucky and unused to biting cold. Whereas my English climbing partners loath climbing in the boiling heat of summer, I love it. I though, become almost non-functional when the mercury dips below 5 C. Though sunny and dry it was well cold and the wind was whipping. Climbing gets hard when you cannot feel your hands, I discovered, but all was well, we got on with it, got up, and concluded the next day would be fine as the Nordkante comes in the sun a good 6-7 hours before Torre Innominata. Thus we reasoned the sun would warm up the rock by the time we hit it. After a rather brief but strenuous walk to the other side of the valley we settled into the Sasc Fura Hut for a brief nap before our 4am breakfast.
We were out the door by 4:15, scrambling up the wildly exposed approach slabs by 5, and gearing up at the starting notch- with about 40 other people- at 6am. And it was cold. Very cold. So cold we almost bailed. I wanted to, but could not lower my self to break the news to Rob, my climbing partner. He is from Scotland. He feels no cold. No sympathy there. So we set up, wearing all the clothes we had, pounding frozen snickers bars just to keep the metabolism going, and generally wishing we were still taking rest days on the shores of San Siro.
Usually, when climbing in the Lakes or the Peak or Snowdonia, I can keep track of how many pitches my party has climbed. I will know we are on, say, the fifth of seven. By pitch seventeen I’d lost count. We were just leap-frogging up the ridge. I would lead until I ran out of rope, I would then build an anchor and Rob would climb up to me, pause for some water or to get some gear off me, and then be off into the clouds on his lead. Rinse, and repeat. Thirty-odd times. Somewhere around mid day and mid height, I started to loose functionality. I replaced verbal commands with grunts and nods, and finally had to skip a pitch I was to lead because I was just too cold. Finally, though, the sun began to beat back the cold, progress increased, and we gained the summit at 330pm that afternoon. Then we had to get down.
There are two options: abseil the way you came up, i.e. 30 abseils down a broken ridge, the last few in the dark. I hate abseiling and to be honest, 30 abseils seemed like more work than the climb. We opted for eight abseils down the SE face and down to the Gianetti hut in Italy. The only problem with this was that we were now in Italy and not Switzerland. We were now separated from our campsite by a wall of granite whose primary weakness had already required our full energy to surmount. After falling asleep in my risotto at the dinner that night I rolled into bed and slept for 14 hours. The next morning we surveyed our options: take the quick walk to Val di Mello, pay 50 euros each for a taxi to San Martino, then take the long bus/train back to our camp in Chiavenna or take the epic long walk around the Bregaglia Massif to the shores of Lake Como and then catch a train back to camp. Given that we had 27 euros between the two of us- minor point: no matter how expensive beer is in a hut, it is impossible to resist after a major climb- the decision was simple: go the long way. So we descended, by foot, close to 3000m in a single day. By the time we got back to camp and, I had dislodged my entire foot from the front third of my shoe, I was done. The trip was over. I was sitting by the lake and eating Gelato until Sunday.
Vial (by zach.stone)
Anyone who has dossed about the Bondasca knows the Vial. When you are standing at the Sciora hut, eating dinner, post warm-up route, and looking west towards the Badile, west towards the Sasc Fura Hut, seeing your self on the N. Ridge or NE face the next day, looking across the Bondasca glacier, the first obstacle is the Vial. The trail from Sciora to Sasc Fura winds down from Sciora to the Bondasca glacier which one must cross with no small amount of trepidation. You can’t tell from the picture, but just to the right of the rock Rob is on is a blast zone. The gray scree field above the green moraine wall is daily bombarded the east face of Cengalo, which is actually falling down. House size blocks of rock and ice come off it hourly, especially in the morning and evening during freeze/thaw cycles. After the glacier is crossed, and the moraine wall safely gained, one confronts the Vial, which looks to have no weakness conquerable sans rope. But if one keeps the faith, as one must do on these cunning Swiss trails, the path pops round a curve to reveal a chimney replete with cables which allows one to gain access to the Vial. Once at the Vial one is confronted with the true enormity of the N Face of the Badile and the realization that by 5am the next morning you will have passed the Vial on the way up, up, up, up.
fyi the peaks from R-L are Sciore Dente, Ago di Sciora, Pioda di Sciora, then across the scree field Torre Innominata.
Towards the Badile (by zach.stone)
We climbed that, the one Rob is pointing to, via the right hand skyline of the right hand peak. The N. Ridge of the Piz Badile. It was wonderful, crowded, and cold.
Top of the Punta (by zach.stone)
The third time is a charm. This summer I completed the rather unimpressive ‘Tour de Punta Albigna.’ There are three main routes on the Punta all leading to the base of the final summit ridge. The three lower routes are 350-500m long and the summit ridge adds another 200. Last year Peter and I climbed Via Steiger (5c+) to the summit. This year I climbed Modern Times (5a) with Caspar but we called it a day at the shoulder. Later on the same trip Rob and I climbed Meuli (4c) and the summit ridge. Three climbs, three partners, three experiances. Peter and I hit the Punta flush with confidence and in iffy weather. We pushed passed most of the parties ahead of us and summited in white out fog laughing all the way. When I climbed Modern Times with Caspar I needed a boost of confidence and got what I was looking for, and more. Pitch 7 of Modern Times, a hand traverse out a massive corner is about as spectacular as it comes for 5.5 climbing. After our descent, Caspar and I amused our selves by watching a German team manage to get rescued with out getting hurt or facing bad weather. Punters. Rob and I made good time on Meuli, the best- if easiest- of the routes but then got clogged in a massive alpine traffic jam on the ridge. A group of 16+2 guides! Oh well, turned out to be good practice for the Badile. But that is another story.
Anonymous asked: You are the reason people have fantasies about librarians while spending inordinate amounts of time in the stacks.
If a person is stuck in the stacks fantasizing about librarians, I’m assuming it’s because they can’t find their book and need help real...
It takes an ocean not to break.
“Poetry must resemble prose, and both must accept the vocabulary of their time.”— William Butler Yeats on modern poetry in a rare 1936 BBC recording.