Our dream of climbing Piz Palü has come true! And it really was a dream climb. We did the traverse from the east to the west, which is relatively easy (UIAA II-III), but exposed. See also a great trip report of two guys who did a variant involving rock climbing the buttress below the East Summit.
When Christian and I reached the upper Engadin valley on Saturday noon, the weather had just cleared up. Since we were waiting for Gabor to join one day later, we made very good use of the time and weather doing a training and acclimatization climb on Piz Languard (3261 m). On the way up we spontaneously made a detour via the Segantini hut with "the most beautiful view over the whole Upper Engadine". From Piz Languard we enjoyed a wonderful sunset and sunrise with even better panoramic views of the Bernina range in the south, the Ortler group in the northeast, and many other Swiss, Italian and Austrian ranges around. We stayed at the Georgy hut just 100 m below the summit, which offered rather primitive service for the high price (77 SFR per night including dinner and breakfast seems to be Swiss standard these days), but on the other hand the location is just great, the owners/managers were very friendly. Here is a further, nice report (in German) by Simu, whom we met there with his girl-friend. On Sunday around noon we briefly visited the beautifully located St. Moritz and Silvaplana lakes and after meeting with Gabor did a stroll towards the tongue of the Morteratsch Glacier.
In order to save time and our knees, we decided to do the return trip to the
Diavolezza mountain hotel
(2973 m) by cable car. We did some glacier rescue training before sunset and then went to bed early.
The next morning we got up at 3:45 and finally started walking at 4:50 - an hour earlier would have been
much better. We went the usual way bearing first to the east and then crossing and zig-zagging up the Pers Glacier.
Without any difficulties we reached the East Summit by 9 AM.
The main (more mental than physical) challenge was the (for about 20 meters) very exposed snow ridge to the (main) Central Summit.
What helped me was to concentrate to do very careful steps and not to look far down to the right.
BTW, on the Piz Palü, being a famous mountain, one meets nice fellow mountaineers who greet,
chat and thank were appropriate, but one also meets professional mountain guides.
When we left the Central Summit (3905 m) at 10 AM, clouds started to intermittently cloaking the summits.
To our slight surprise, the rim around the East Summit, in particular extending to the west, required some
(only partially exposed) UIAA II scrambling. Doing so, my ice-axe went loose and fell some 25 m, but Gabor
kindly secured me climbing down and picking it up again. After a quick descent on a snowy ridge,
the climb down the Fortezza ridge offered four abseiling possibilities, of which we used only the
two lower ones (which would otherwise require some - to our judgment - UIAA III climbing).
Two more snowy/icy fields and two rocky sections followed alternately - which was a bit of a hassle
because of fastening/unfastening our crampons - before we hit the Pers Glacier at 3:30 PM.
From there we had two hour to get back to the Diavolezza and take the last cable car down.
We tried to rush over the glacier on a more or less direct route, but mid-size crevasses
(into one of which I dipped in after breaking through a snow bridge)
forced us to take a considerable detour to the right. It would have been best, though, to bear much more
to the left (north) and cross the glacier where it is less wide and more smooth.
Finally reaching the other side of the glacier, we had to ascend again 250 m to the Diavolezza hut.
We were fighting ourselves up in a rush to reach the cable car in time, but failed by 5 minutes :-(
So we stayed one more night at the Diavolezza and enjoyed the excellent dinner there. We can really
recommend this Alpine hotel - it is not more expensive than other Swiss huts and offers great value,
both concerning the food and the rooms, showers, etc.
Altogether, the traverse took us 13 hours round trip. In retrospect there are of course 1001 reasons why we missed the cable car (e.g. starting rather late, slight knee problems, waiting for oncoming traffic on the snow ridge, me loosing my ice-axe, loosing time with securing ourselves several times on the rock ridges, etc.), the ultimate culprit is the global warming ;-) Without it, the Pers Glacier would have been much thicker, relieving us from descending into its bed and ascending again on the other side towards the hut.
See also the slide show [9:39 min, MP4 48 MB] by Gabor Szarvak.
|Cable car to Diavolezza|
|Evening at Diavolezza|
Bernina group, here dominated by Piz Palü
Piz Languard to the left
Piz Languard close-up
|Climbing Pers Glacier|
Piz Bernina, Piz Morteratsch
Diavolezza left of the center
Piz Bernina, Piz Morteratsch
|Final ascent to the East Summit|
well, slightly steep
|Traverse to the Central Summit|
sharp ridge to the Central Summit
Piz Bernina, Bianco Ridge
|Descent to the West Summit|
West Summit, Piz Bernina
after rescuing my ice-axe
it was just 25 m below
|Fortezza Ridge, Pers Glacier|
easy climbing down
|Pers Glacier, Diavolezza|
now 250 m up again :-(