Friday, September 07, 2012

Seilschaft coaching Day 6: Piz Palu traversal

This was the last day of the course and our one fixed point was to end the day at Diavolezza, where we could catch a gondola down to the valley and then a bus/train back home. From the hut there are two practical ways to get down there: head down over the Fortezza, then across the glacier and to Diavolezza or, more interesting, traverse the Piz Palü ridge. We all wanted to cross the ridge, but there was some question about what the conditions would be like: based on the few people in the hut, we were pretty sure that no one had done the traversal since the snow.

Anyway... out we headed at around 6:15. The first bit is pretty straightforward since we're following the tracks of folks who have come up to the rifugio from below. The tracks make getting through the big ice break under/around the Bellavista nice and easy... Andrea's task of leading is not a difficult one.  The trickiest bit is not stopping all the time to take pictures of the increasingly amazing sunrise. Bonus!
Sunrise. :-)
When the tracks turn off to the left towards the Fortezza, we instead turn right to head up to the Fuorcla Bellavista. From here it's clear that no one has done the ridge since the snow fell. Ah well... we're all motivated to do it anyway, particularly since Bruno is going to lead. ;-)

We split into one rope of three and one with two and head up the ridge. There are times the snow is a help (good footing over some bits!) and times when it's a hindrance (can't find grips/ledges while scrambling); it's probably a slight net negative. Overall the going is pretty good. The drops to either side are definitely impressive and would be cause for thought/fear (for Greg at least), but there's so much else to think about that it never really even starts to get bad. The pictures are pretty funny though... Greg's expression is pretty concentrated/intense in all of them.
Looking back along the ridge at [M] and [B]
A bit of scrambling
Greg in his role as Mr. Serious
At the Piz Spinas (the westernmost peak of the Piz Palü ridge) we do a quick food break then head onwards along the ridge, with a bit more scrambling, until we reach the snow ridge leading up to the central peak of the Piz Palü. Here we're just behind a group of Italians who have opted to come up the steep southern firn face instead of doing the ridge. We don't stay long at the main peak since it's pretty windy, but head on towards the east peak. This bit of the traverse provides the option to do one of the classic following-a-trail-with-a-500m-sheer-drop-under-your-feet bits. Greg, who is leading at that point, opts not to do this and to stay on the softer, but considerably less "airy" South side of the ridge. Andrea, of course, is disappointed by this decision... ah well.
Greg was happier *not* following the path on this side of the ridge
On the first bit of the way down from the easternmost peak, the bit of snow we're following on the South side of the ridge ends in a sheer drop and we have to cross over to the North side. At this point Bruno takes over the lead, crosses over, sets a couple ice screws, and belays us as we climb backwards down the first (steepest) bit. By the time the rope has run out, things aren't so steep and we proceed normally the rest of the way down. Unfortunately through all of this there are other people descending the face. This leads to plenty of snow/ice falling down on us, but luckily nothing really solid. Grim joke from Bruno on the way down: "What's the worst thing that could happen right now?" "hmm, getting hit by a piece of ice kicked down by the Italians above us?" "No. Getting hit by an Italian"

We have a lunch break at the shoulder at around 3720m and then follow the tracks down the rest of the way. It's very nice to have something to follow through the ice break and the crevasses and we make pretty good time down to the flat bit of glacier, across that, and then to the rock ridge that leads us to Diavolezza.
It's good to have a trail to follow through the ice break

After a short break for refreshing beverages we take the gondola down and start the long, long trip back home.

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