This piece is unashamedly about climbing. This route is probably the best climbing route I have ever done so deserves a post of its own. It looks stunning and has some amazing stats: almost 3, feet of pitched climbing on 26 or so pitches with some incredible exposure and regularly described as the best route of its grade anywhere in the Alps. The start is from the Sasc Fura refuge near Bondo.
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Hiking into the beautiful Sciora range. Photo: Dan Patitucci In the very next valley to the east, a two-hour walk from the base of the Piz Badile, sits the Sciora Group, a set of toothy granite peaks with an embarrassing amount of fun climbs: a pitch bolted 5.
All of this within a minute approach of a hut perched right in the middle, with a stunning view, hot food, and cold beer.
Plenty of reasons in both valleys, collectively known as the Bregaglia, to fly across the Atlantic. But that one, the North Ridge of the Badile—holy shit, that was what sold me. I looked at photos of the ridge, not to study it, but to get excited by imagining myself romping up it with a rack of draws and a few nuts and cams clipped to my harness. It will be fun. I bought the expensive plane tickets without a second thought. Can you really put a price on a memory like that?
Sport climbing on a large boulder at sunset in the Sciora Group. Photo: Dan Patitucci We hiked up the Val Bondasca to the Sciora hut in the humid air, under clouds obscuring the peaks above, grinding up a steep trail that gains 2, feet in less than two miles. The clouds dissipated enough to reveal the mountains just as I saw the hut for the first time. It was a building big enough to house 42 people, and it looked like a dollhouse beneath the Sciora peaks looming 3, feet above its roof.
It begins at the little village of Bondo on the left-hand slope, then rises, fantastic as a fairytale, to the foot of some of the greatest granite colossi in the Alps. What mountaineer has not at least dreamt of knowing the clear faces of the Badile, the Cengalo, Gemelli, Sciora, Trubinasca, and many other peaks? I stood behind the hut wondering for just a second what the odds were of a house-sized boulder toppling off the 10,foot Sciora Dafora and rolling down 3, feet of talus and smashing the hut like a giant foot stomping on a Cocoa Puff.
Then I blinked it out of my brain, glanced up at the huge peaks and thought, This is going to be fun. I have almost no suspicion thus far that I am about to be taught a life lesson about expectations as a climber.
The pitch slab route Punta Pioda 5. Photo: Dan Patitucci Our entire time in Switzerland, all the locals talked about was the weather. So much rain, they said. People would greet each other on the street and you could count down the seconds until someone mentioned the rain.
No one had a good summer—mountain guides, paraglider pilots, photographers. When we arrived in August, no one had summited the Eiger via the Mittellegi Ridge, the trade route to the top, all year. Our loose plan: Hike into the Sciora hut, climb a couple routes, move our stuff to the Sasc Fura hut, climb the Badile, and walk out to the car the same day. By the time we got to the Sciora hut, the staff there said that only a couple climbs were dry.
We headed for the Bugeleisen, a 1,foot pitch bolted route up Pizzi Gemelli that was about as pleasant an intro to the area as you could ask for: incredible views to either side, slabby 5. Simon Duverney on the West Ridge of the Innominata in bad weather. Photo: Dan Patitucci Dan had said that in the Sciora hut, you can hear the low rumbles of rockfall throughout the night—and I did. And then during most of the days, too. Not that the climbing routes are dangerous—most of the classic routes are on solid granite.
The rockfall comes from the other faces. Dan and I chatted at the top of our last pitch on the Bugeleisen, waiting for Simon and Hilary to finish the pitch.
The North Ridge of the Piz Badile stands out in the background. Photo: Dan Patitucci Checking out an old guidebook in the comfy Sciora hut. Photo: Dan Patitucci A group of friends shares a hot meal after a long day of fun climbing.
No funky gear or no gear at all sometimes , minimal route-finding issues, and maybe a whole day on a 1,foot climb with hardly any worries besides whether or not I can pull the moves. Since we have so relatively few long bolted routes in the U. The Bregaglia, however, is far from a carefree playground. Marcello Negrini, 64, and Vittorio Scartazinni, 27, are the local crew of Rega, the nationwide Swiss air rescue service, and they perform about 15 helicopter rescues per summer in the Bregaglia.
Both men have been climbing in the Bregaglia since they were 8 years old, a total of more than seven decades of experience between them.
The other Bregaglia guidebooks are either in German or Italian, and often have rather large discrepancies in ratings and number of pitches.
Our second day had a rather spotty weather forecast, so we picked another easy climb, the West Ridge of Torre Innominata, which one guidebook said was a pitch 5a 5. We spent the day climbing into and through a cloud, a light mist covering the rock. We found 14 bolted belays, and a stout 5.
Barbara Elia climbs the North Ridge of the Piz Badile, which some might say is the most classic rock route in Switzerland. Photo: Dan Patatucci The history of climbing in the Bregaglia dates back to the s. The high passes, such as the Cacciabella Pass 9, feet were used by Italian smugglers bringing tobacco into Switzerland far in advance of the first for-pleasure climbing in the area. In , American W. Klucker wanted the first ascent of the North Ridge of the Badile just as bad as anyone at the time, and one day, while waiting for a client to show up, he soloed the lower pitches of it.
Unable to get footing in his stiff boots, he climbed in socks. He never wrote how high he got, but the rumor is it was almost halfway up. In July , Riccardo Cassin led the first ascent of the northeast face of the Badile, on a route that would eventually bear his name, and a climb that would become mountaineering legend. Cassin, with partners Gino Esposito and Vittorio Ratti, started up the then-unclimbed face, to find Mario Molteni and Giusseppe Valsecchi on the same face attempting its first ascent.
They summited in a thunderstorm, but Molteni and Valsecchi died of exposure and exhaustion on the descent. Saturday, then biked miles to Promontongno and hiked into the Sciora hut, where he spent the night, hoping to get up at 2 a. He overslept, woke at 4 a. After 90 miles of riding including a 3,foot climb up the Maloja Pass , he fell asleep on his bike and crashed into the River Inn.
He walked the rest of the way to a bus stop and took a bus into Landeck at a. Monday morning. We walked to the Sasc Fura hut in pouring rain. Two Polish climbers organized their gear outside, on their way down from the Gaiser-Lehman route on Piz Cengalo. They said they had one day without rain and that the rainy summer had not just been Switzerland, but all of Europe. Inside, hut guardian Heidi Altweger told us the top third of the Nordkante was covered in ice, and no one had topped out in a week.
Altweger left a full-time career in social work at age 50 when she answered a newspaper ad about the Sasc Fura hut guardian job, and she has worked here since She first climbed the Nordkante in , and every summer at the hut, she tries to arrange for at least one day off so she can climb it one more time. The Badile North Ridge, when the weather and everything is OK, is one of those routes you really can enjoy.
The other half is in a cloud. My chances of climbing this thing, the El Cap of 5. Up until this trip, I had always believed that destination climbing stories have to have the author in them. This thought was a source of stress as I ate dinner at the Sasc Fura hut and tried to admit to myself that this route, the 3, feet I have traveled 5, miles to climb, is probably not going to happen.
Back in my bunk, I tossed and turned for an hour or so, wondering if we made the right call. There is ice up top. No one has summited in the past week. Zero other people have come to the Sasc Fura hut to try this route, one of the most famous and accessible climbs in the Alps. Simon climbs 5. He is always stoked. Why was I not as stoked? Should we climb the first half? The Sciora Hut sits directly beneath many popular climbing routes.
The sun popped out, it rained again briefly, and I finally admitted to myself that the story of a place does not have to have me in it. Regardless of whether or not one more American verifies it, the Nordkante of the Piz Badile is still one of the greatest rock climbs in the world.
Bregaglia Climbing 2014: Albigna PDF
Mountaineering and climbing