... and now for the mighty Piz Badile???
As we walked out from the Marco e Rosa hut on tired legs in rapidly deteriorating weather we were happy with the fact that we were ahead of our original planned itinerary and were ready for a rest day. When that rain didn't stop, and in fact became more intense, then turned to snow, I began to wonder whether our second week of Alpine Rock Climbing might come to nothing. It's one of the hardest things to do in the mountains, to be patient and watch and wait whilst you see what the weather brings. The whole group was keen to get their teeth stuck into some of the amazing granite rock climbs that surround the Bergell valley. However a quick parting of the clouds showed considerable new snow down to 2000m, which made some of the north facing slab routes I'd planned in the itinerary from the Sciora hut look pretty unlikely options. (Above Debbie and Dave graple with the Grignetta)
(Right Debbie and Dave descend in into a gap between towers) We were forced to cancell our reservation there and think again. We bought some time with a days cragging at the delightfull and easily accessible Sasso del Drago just up from our new base the the very hospitable campsite at Acquafraggia.
Plaisir Sud came up trumps in the end, and with thick cloud slowing any clearance of the snow we opted for a day trip further south to Lecco and the serated limestone mountains called the Grignetta. Just over an hours drive south is a beautifull limestone mountain which has been used as a forging ground for climbers for many years. There is a ridge there called the Cresta Segantini, which although nowehere very hard would get the group into the mood for scrambling and easy rock climbing over some distance and doing it efficiently and fast. Skills that would be essential for our group if they were to climb the Piz Badile north ridge by the end of the week. This had been set as the main aim of the expedition by the student leader of the trip James Smith.
The journey down to the Grignetta proved an ideal choice. The walk in provided some lovely views and a real change in the sceanery from the towering granite spires and snow peaks further north. (Left, Kate and James on the Grignetta summit) The terrain was reminiscent of the Dolomites and demanded a little more care and attention in terms of its solidity as well. The route itself follows a skyline ridge and is very well marked with red paint splashes throughout, so route finding is nowhere very difficult. There is fixed gear protecting all the difficult sections so a few quickdraws and slings are the only essential gear. We were fortunate enough to nip ahead of our other teams and find some space to ourselves for a change and enjoyed the route in relative solitude. The route finishes on the summit of the Grignetta and from there it is an easy if bouldery descent path back to the trailhead. By the time we reached the summit the sky was clearing a little and here were more and more breaks in the cloud. You could feel the heat in the sun and it lifted our spirits thinking that at least some of the snow up in the Bergell would be melting... and the north ridge might clear by the end of the week... (Right, Dave and Joe cragging in the Val di Mello) (Below Dave and Joe after retreating from the Gervasutti route on Punta Alleivi)
The following day with a changeable forecast on the cards I rang several of the huts on the south side of the Bergell valley to get a feel for where the snow was. To my surprise the Allievi Bonacossa Guardian informed us that the snow was mostly gone already and he felt that the Gervasutti route on the Punta Allievi would be clear. I decided to take a chance with the group and hope for slightly better weather on Tuesday... on a forecast that could go either way. We did a little cragging in the Mello valley and then started the long stepper machine walk in to the Allievi hut. I know that the whole group felt the fatigue in their legs on this approach and everyone was glad of the warm and hospitable welcome we recived at the Allievi hut. Now we just had to keep out fingers crossed for good weather the next day... and for the slight drizzle which maintained through the afternoon to go away.... (Below, superb swimming pool in Val di Mello) Tuesday dawned dry but grey with clouds hanging a little menacingly to the south. I decided to go and have a look... the route is escapable at several points, and the ridge drys quickly after rain. In the end we were two pitches up when the odd drop here and there began to steadily intensify. Sadly it was time to admit defeat and to save this fine looking route for another day. A couple of quick abseils saw us back at the base and hurrying to the hut for a warming coffee and quick replan. Nothing for it but to head back to the valley (much quicker than the ascent!) and resfresh our spirits with a swim in the river before driving back to basecamp in Acquafraggia.
With three days left to the expedition it was time to decide whether we wanted to take another chance and perhaps leave the valley empty handed, or admit defeat and go cragging somewhere drier and warmer. Looking at the weather forecast, and certain logistical constraints of airport timings for some members of the group I felt we had one chance at the Badile north ridge and that would be Thursday. (Left, Debbie chilling out at the Sasc Fura hut contemplating the stunning line of the North Ridge of the Piz Badile) This fitted with the original itinerary and the huts were already reserved. The only doubt were the showers forcast for sunday evening and into the night... how much rain would fall... and would this effect our plans? We sat down with the group and asked everyones thoughts... how much did they want to do the Badile. Opinion was split, and some members of the group were keen to get some climbing in and didn't want to risk heading up to another hut just to be rained off... and end the trip with very little climbing achieved. Other members felt that this classic and inspriing line was worth the risk we would have to take with the weather. In the end my gut feeling was telling me we stood a good chance and so I encouraged the group to decide to take this risk.
The walk into the Sasc Fura hut isn't very hard or very long but it is worth staying at the hut simply for the amazing position at the base of the Badile and for the warm welcome by the hut Guardian Heidi. She remembered me from the previous year where my friend Cath H-W and I had been the first group to climb the Cassin route on the north face that season. She said that she had been very proud that a team of girls had been the first to open it that year. It brought back excellent memories. (Right, James Smith approaches the base of the Piz Badile) The skies were clear and the sun was bright and strong and when we reccied the base of the route we could see it was clear of snow and the rock was pretty dry... maybe only a few wet patches in places. The north face would need a few more days to dry.
So we headed down to the hut to brief the group feeling fairly confident and optimistic that the route would be ours the next day. Then the cloud began to gather.... and deepen... and darken... and we could hear the first roll of thunder off in the distance. No reason for concern... perhaps the storms would miss us, they were a long way off. (Left, Kate Wray relishes the exposure on the North Ridge of the Piz Badile) Alas this was not to be and within half an hour the heavens opened and it rained... and rained and kept raining all afternoon. I spent the afternoon trying to hold the faith the ridge would dry quickly and hide from the other instructors who were both exuding severe pessimism. (Below, Kate and Debbie on the North Ridge- girls team forever!)
I reluctantly changed the breakfast time from 430 to 7... feeling in my guts that this was too late and 6 would be a better time to let the rock dry but still be at the Gianetti in good time. I went to bed with the weight of the groups expectation on my shoulders. No surprise then that sleep was shallow and fitfull, but at least when I got up to check the skied through the night the terrace outside was progressively drier. My light of hope began to shine again.... I think it's going to be ok. I wake my team at 6.30 feeling again that 7 is too late and we are breafasted and away from the hut at 7. The rocks are dry and it is light... I know it will go and I'm keen to keep away from the pessimism of the the other groups and just enjoy this mountain with the two students I have today, Kate Wray who I have known fro several years and Debbie Morgan who I have got to know on this trip. For both of them the longest rock climb that they have ever done before is three pitches at most and the progressive itinerary of this rock week has been thrown to the wind by the inclement weather.
(Below, Debbie and Kate getting high on the Piz Badile)
I set the pace at guidebook time and the girl rise to the challenge, we are at the start of the difficulties at 9 and launch skyward on this amazing route. The rock climbing is nowhere very difficult... at most 5a in one pitch and mostly 4c, but the line is superb... compelling as the guidebook describes it. We work more and more efficiently as a team as the girls settle into a routine and understand better what need to be done at each stance. We have time and space to enjoy the route and solitude even through one of our parties is ahead and one behind. We hardly see them all day which adds to the feeling that this route is ours alone today. An amazingly, fortunately the rock is dry... and a gentle breeze reassures me that it will only become more so the higher we get. The climbing sticks to the ridge for most of the line and I tried to encourage the girls to enjoy the situation looking left and ridge down into the valley far below... it was almost over too soon... and we were on the summit 6 1/2hrs later... shrouded in cloud unfortunately so without the views we might otherwise have enjoyed. (Right, Girls on top! Left to Right- Tania, Kate and Debbie on summit of Piz Badile.)
A quick pitstop and then we were off on the descent, a little scrambling, downclimbing, abseiling and extreme walking and 3 hrs later we were on the scree below the south ridge and heading fast to the safety of the Gianetti hut. We were welcomed to the Gianetti hut by one of our other parties with warm smiles and beer in hand who had got down shortly before us. The girls were over the moon that we had successfully climbed the Badile and had thoroughly enjoyed the route... and to be honest I was really proud and pleased with how well they done. (Left Kate makes one of several lowers on the south ridge of the Piz Badile on the way to the Gianetti hut) It was a fantastic day and a fitting end to a well planned and organised expedition. Thank you very much James for such a sterling job! I would work for you again in the future without question. (Below, Kate and Debbie further down on the descent.) A little while later the third of our rope teams arrived at the hut, tired, but very happy and satisfied with the day. Ade Mellor, Dave Allen and Joe Fischer, beaming smiles as they received their beer and headed straight into the hut for some very welcome dinner!
The final day and all that was left was the short walk out to Bagni di Masino where the trekking group had very kindly delivered our minibus the day before and a return drive to Acquafraggia. I am so very proud of the the climbing team for the spirit and energy and positivity they all showed throughout the trip. We have had considerable success, but we've had to dodge the weather to do it... and it was all done with great team spirit. Well done everyone! I hope to get the opportunity to climb again with you in future. Now I head home to chamonix and turn my attention to the next challenge.... my Alpine Guides test which starts tonight! :) (Below, Girls team celebrate a fantastic day on the mighty Piz Badile!) well