Damn Good Piz Badile Lemonade

Damn Good Piz Badile Lemonade

Piz Badile via the North Ridge (Nordkante) Me: "Hey, how do you feel about climbing the Six Great North Faces of the Alps?" Climbing Partner: (negligible pause) "Hell yeah. Wait, what are they?" Naturally, with our objective to tackle the ultimate European ticklist we immediately started researching lines up these six classic North Faces (Piz [...]

Piz Badile via the North Ridge (Nordkante)

Me: “Hey, how do you feel about climbing the Six Great North Faces of the Alps?”

Climbing Partner: (negligible pause) “Hell yeah. Wait, what are they?”

Naturally, with our objective to tackle the ultimate European ticklist we immediately started researching lines up these six classic North Faces (Piz Badile, Cime Grande di Lavaredo, Petit Dru, Matterhorn, Grandes Jorasses and the Eiger).  We opted to first knock out Piz Badile via the Cassin, as it’s rumored to be the most forgiving of the big six. Our thought process being that it would give us an idea of what we were getting ourselves into.

View of Piz Badile (left most mountain) from trail leaving Sasc Fura Hütte.

View of Piz Badile (left most mountain) from trail leaving Sasc Fura Hütte.

Throughout the week we stalked the weather reports hoping for them to clear up from their consistent promises of weekend rain. On Friday morning, we convinced ourselves a few millimeters of expected rain was an appropriate response to our pleas and decided to go for it. We set off from Germany to Eastern Switzerland and after a grueling eight-hour drive, we arrived at the parking lot of Val Bondasca. Commence four hours of insufficient sleep, and we were headed up at 0500 with visions of the Cassin. The approach from the parking lot was relatively straightforward (and straight up quad burning), follow signs to the Sasc Fura hut and then a mixture of cairns and blue and white markings to the base of a snowfield where you ascend to a notch. It is at the notch that you head left, and through a series of down climbing and rappels, you reach the start of the Cassin route and other NE Face routes of the Piz Badile. It is also possible to approach via the glacier below but due to global warming this option has become increasingly less popular or viable.

Piz Badile's N ridge in profile. A combination of cairns and blue and white trail markings lead you to and from the Sasc Fura hütte. The final 45 degree snow slope before reaching the base of the N ridge or the start of the descent to the NE face routes (including the Cassin). The final leg of the tedious approach to the N ridge of the Piz Badile.  Go up and over the ridge for access to Cassin and other North East Face routes.

SCRREEEEECCCHHHH – a large section of unstable névé guarded access to the Cassin route. After much discussion of the risks involved in accessing the line, and the fact the face was gushing water from rain in the wee hours of the morning, we ultimately decided it would be stupid to take such a risk and agreed to ascend the famous North Ridge (Nordkante) with the justification that we were scouting our descent for the Cassin on our now pending return. Our lemonade from this lemon, The North Ridge of Piz Badile (V-, 900m), is one of the most famous moderate climbs in the Alps; following a line almost true to the ridge for over 20 pitches of climbing, the route stays at a modest grade III for almost its entire length on beautiful rock.

The traverse entrance pitch to the Cassin route of Piz Badile. The man eating glacier was not safe to pass this time of year, so off to the N ridge we went. Sometimes you can't get what you want, NOW. Opting to make lemonade out of lemons or N ridge in lieu of the Cassin route up the NE face due to conditions. Looks like we were a little too early in the season for this treasure.

The North Ridge of the Piz Badile starts by trending left for a few pitches before you gain the ridge proper. From this point on, the line stays true to the ridge until nearly halfway. You then briefly move right behind a block through a narrow chimney which delivers you to the crux pitch, an airy V-. You then move back left and head toward an obvious overhang, which you pass to the right. The North Ridge contains in-situ bolts, pitons and spacious belays, but requires a standard alpine rack to compliment the bolts and pitons. When you reach easier ground, the in-situ belays disappear, so we simul-climbed the ridge to gain the summit. Each pitch is between 30 and 40 meters. With our 60m rope we were able to link most of the non-wandering pitches with minimal simul-climbing. A competent climbing party should be able to climb this in 4-6 hours, but should be prepared for things to go wrong (i.e., weather, route finding, traffic congestion, etc).

Looking down the Nordkante, nearing halfway On a pitch somewhere beyond halfway. A three climber party makes their way up behind us. Topping out one of the final pitches of the N ridge of Piz Badile. Trying to escape ominous thunder clouds.

With the ominous thunder clouds waxing and waning for most of the early morning, they finally let loose as we came in sight of the summit, sending us to seek refuge in the Italian Alpine Club’s bivouac summit hut. There we spent the night with five of our closest strangers, before descending Piz Badile the same way we came up.. Unfortunate for us, we were unaware that Piz Badile could be descended via its South Face to the Gianetti hut where we could have spent the night (more importantly, had a beer) and hike back to the Sasc Fura hut the next day. More stressful and taking us longer to descend the North Face than it did to ascend, we will be opting to descend via the South Face when we return to do the Cassin route.

Oh hey, it's the summit of Piz Badile (3,308 m/10,853 ft). Just in time for some rain and summit bivouac hut locating... The view to the South East of Piz Badile.

Quick Reference Guide

Location: Bondo, Switzerland

 

Best Time to Climb:
Late June to early September, basically when the North Ridge is clear of snow

Gear:

Approach:
Out of Bondo (GPS 46.33389, 9.554243) there is a gravel road that goes 4.7km up the Val Bondasca, (Note: road restrictions and 7 CHF/10 EUR fee for use). From parking lot, where the gravel road terminates (GPS 46.322097, 9.584241), follow a path up towards Sasc Fura hut (1.5-2 hours). From the Sasc Fura hut, follow blue and white trail markings and cairns to the base of some slabs below the ridge (2-2.5 hours).

Descent:
The easiest descent, and apparently most popular, is to go down the South Face to the Gianetti hut from the summit. From the summit, you scramble down a series of ledges then rappel down a chimney, scramble down more then make another rappel onto a big ledge where you head right to a series of rappels which take you to easier ground. Follow a path to the Gianetti hut,where most spend the night. Continue homeward by hiking back to the Sasc Fura hut over the Porcellizzo and Trubinasca passes (approximately 5 hours of hiking). You can also descend the North Kante in about 6-8 hours with a lot of down climbing and 30m rappels (and a few 35m rappels as well). Be careful not to get your rope stuck.

Accommodations:

Guide Books:

  • ‘Schweiz Plaisir Sud’. The text is German/French/Italian, but the topos are great even if you don’t speak any of those 3 languages.
  • Solo Granito‘ by Mario Sertori and Guido Lisignoli
  • Bernina and Bregaglia selected Climbs’ by Lindsay Griffin, Alpine Club Guidebooks
  • Map: 1:25,000 Sciora map ref 3084

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Ilana is a native of Southern California. She is an accomplished rock and ice climber and is the brains behind Thrillseekers Anonymous. Currently residing in Colorado, she is a Registered Surgical/Trauma Nurse, who can be found leading her own adventures on days off. Ilana is a sponsored athlete with GoMacro, WoolX, and an Arcteryx Denver ambassador. She has been featured in various media outlets including the February 2015 issue of ‘Climbing’ magazine, December 2013 issue of ‘Rock and Ice’ magazine, December/January 2013 issue of ‘Gripped Climbing’ magazine, Canyoneering: A Guide to Techniques for Wet and Dry Canyons (How To Climb Series) by Dave Black and Pasadena Magazine as well as a Climbing Expert on MTV’s Parental Control (Season 7 – “Heather”).

Ilana has written 110 articles for Thrillseekers Anonymous.

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