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.
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.
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 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).
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.
Quick Reference Guide
Location: Bondo, Switzerland
Best Time to Climb:
Late June to early September, basically when the North Ridge is clear of snow
- 60m rope (single or twins), or a single 70m (50m is ok if descending via the South Face of the Piz Badile)
- set of nuts 1-10
- Cams 0.5, 1,2,3 (Aliens: blue, green, yellow, grey)
- 10 alpine quick draws
- ice axe and crampons (check conditions with hut guardians, see accommodations section)
- approach shoes or light mountaineering boots (check conditions)
- comfy rock climbing shoes
- alpine climbing clothing
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).
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.
- ‘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