Biancograt (Piz Bernina) - Piz Palu Traverse

Published by Lone Ranger , 1 September 2011, 11h29.

Region: World » Switzerland » Grisons » Berninagebiet
Date of the hike:30 August 2011
Mountaineering grading: AD
Climbing grading: III (UIAA Grading System)
Geo-Tags: CH-GR   Piz Bernina   Bernina-Gruppe   Palü-Gruppe   I 
Time: 10:30
Height gain: 1470 m 4822 ft.
Height loss: 500 m 1640 ft.
Route:Tscheirva hut- Piz Bernina N ridge- Marco e Rosa Hut
Access to start point:Tscheirva hut
Access to end point:Marco e Rosa hut
Accommodation:Marco e Rosa hut

Biancograt is considered to be the most beautiful route in the AD grade in the whole Alps! 
I undertook it within a 3-day climbing trip, of which the first day is described here: Day 1: Boval hut - Piz Morteratsch- Tschierva Hut with Roger

Day 2: Tscheirva hut- Piz Bernina/Biancograt - Marco e Rosa hut (This trip report; the trip stats refer to Day 2 only)

Day 3: Marco e Rosa Hut- Traverse of Piz Palu - Diavolezza train station (described at the end of this page)

Biancograt was the main objective of this tour. Darren, an Australian doctor, was my climbing partner for Day 2 and 3. Much more experienced than me and nice to climb with: he lets me lead (I had been climbing a couple of alpine routes with him before) with the reassurance that if I felt scared I could pass the lead to him.

I have a lot to say about this route. It is one route I had dreamed of doing for long, and was really excited as well as nervous about. It is a serious route, with guidebook time of 6.5 to 8 hours ascent time! I was confident it was within my technical skills, but still lots of doubts remained because of its length. My guidebook describes it at "A sublime snow route unsurpassed by any of its standard in the Alps. Whilst the snow ridge can seem straightforward when tracked and firm, it gives sustained exposure and tiring crampon work when icy and there is some awkward rock climbing on the final section. The approach is long and tricky and the route is of major length".

Tsheirva hut is one of the most comfortable alpine huts I have stayed in and I have stayed in quite a lot of them! Low enough to get good sleep, and well-appointed. After a hot shower (yeah, they have this too! the only SAC hut I know with a shower. CHF 5 for 2 mins) and a good dinner, all my aches from climbing Morteratsch the previous day went off; I went to bed at 9:00 pm and slept well to wake up for the 3:30 am breakfast.

We set off from the hut at 4:15am in the darkness.

The route starts with a difficult hike, well-marked with bergweg signs and reflectors. After about 2 hours, you enter the moraine. There we lost our way slightly, and ended up doing some Grade III climbs still uproped, this was a needless annoyance. Actually the route is indeed tricky, so I won't bother to accurately describe it here. Instead I will let this excellent page do the talking.

The route can be broken into three blocks for understanding: a technical hike (T4 with sections of T5) up to around 3100m; then via ferrata to 3430 m Fourcla, then rock climb for 150m before hitting the actual Bianco snow crest (from 3574m to 3995m Piz Bianco), then the last bits of abseils and rock climbs up to III/III+ to reach  Piz Bernina summit (4049m).

Nothing in the whole route proved particularly challenging, I led the whole ascent and only 1-2 places in the rock did I pause to think and climb, otherwise I was climbing smoothly; the whole climb we did on short-rope; the route is bolted on all rock sections, so it was fine.

However I had difficulty moving from the first rock section to the Bianco snow ridge: The SP page says "From the top of the rocky section carefully make your way past the left - hand side of the last rocks. This was trickiest part, hard ice, often i was wedging my axe between the ice and the rock on my right side, and frontpointing...awful, I kept cursing and even placed an ice-screw....a drop from here will take you all the way down to Morteratch glacier 1000m below! Fortunately it was a short bit, soon we were on the actual Bianco snow ridge and enjoyed the rest of the climb.

The Bianco ridge was not in ideal condition (a bit too icy), nevertheless it was well-tracked, with no fresh snow during the previous days, which made things easy. Soon we were on Piz Bianco, and ready for the last bit of rock climbing to the Piz Bernina summit. Unfortunately at this point weather changed, we were caught in a whiteout. I was too busy and focused on leading the rock that the implications of a white-out didn't fully sink in my head. But I could hear that Darren's voice showed some stress; after all, as the more competent climber he would be the one saving the situation should we get into problems...Anyway visibility came back to 50m, enough to complete the ascent safely. Now at the top of Piz Bernina at 12:30 pm, took some photos and started descent soon after. 

The descent took veeery long. We met parties coming in the opposite direction (they were doing Spallgrat from Marco e Rosa hut). Soon we caught up with two parties who were ahead of us, doing the same route as us; we helped each other (e.g. sharing one party's abseil rope etc.), sometimes also downclimbed to save time needed for abseils/rope management.

Reached Marco e Rosa hut (3610m) hut at 1500 hrs, 11 hours after starting. Wheph! I must say, Darren helped me a lot during the descent, like belaying me while I downclimbed, and then he climbing down on his own. I felt very tired, yet very happy; perhaps the happiest I have felt after a climb. Felt better after resting and eating.

Could not sleep despite the fatigue, due to altitude.

Day 3: Piz Palu Traverse (the trip statistics listed at the beginning of this report are only for the Biancograt, Day 2)

We started at 7:00 am for the Piz Palu traverse (from Marco Rosa, under the Bellevista, over the three summits of Piz Paul, down to Diavolezza restaurant) . This is also a fairly long route, guidebook time of 7 hours. After yesterday's adventure, this seemed a beautiful, straightforward route which we finished in just over 5 hours. Darren took the cable car down (24 CHF, no discount for halftax/GA) because he wanted to meet his family. I was feeling good, feeling stronger as I lost altitude, so I had lunch and proceeded to hike down to the train station (another 2 hours hike, 900m elevation loss).

In all, it was a perfect action-packed 3 day trip :-)

Hike partners: Lone Ranger

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Comments (5)

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Sputnik Pro says:
Sent 3 September 2011, 20h37
Hej TT !!!

Well done, congratulations :-)

CU, Andrej

Lone Ranger says: RE:
Sent 4 September 2011, 10h26
Danke :)

roger_h says:
Sent 5 September 2011, 13h06
Hi Lone Ranger

Impressing! Congratulations!


Lone Ranger says: RE:
Sent 5 September 2011, 15h13
Thanks :)

Ovidam says: "Meeting" on Piz Palü
Sent 12 September 2011, 10h34
Hi, thanks for visiting my pages and congratulations to your great tour! I was happy to reach Bernina on the Spalla route the same day with my son and a mountain guide, this was enough for me. It was also very nice to meet you on Piz Palü. Maybe again on other summits :-)!

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