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Mon Aug 04, 2003

Cresta Segantini

I was keen to have a quiet weekend sorting things out at home, so it came as a bit of a shock when the hot line sounded at 8 in the morning. It was the Pash they were already sat in a cafe in Lecco with a plan. They described to me the amazing ridge that climbed to the summit of Grigna. Even though it is really close to Milan I had never been up it, but knowing the scenery was fantastic I agreed to change my meager plans.

We parked at the piano Resinelli, where I was permitted breakfast and the Pash felt oblliged to have their second. The path to the ridge is itself somewhat of an undertaking involving easy scrambing in impressive surroundings. The rock is limestone and has formed all sorts of amaziing pillars with precipitous drops and with descriptive names such as 'the cigar' and 'the mushroom'.

We reached the ridge after 2 hours of steady walking. For the climb we had elected to move roped together as the climbing was never above the 4th grade. We quickly passed two other parties and we were thoroughly enjoying the experience. Since it was a clear day we had fine views, we could even see the snowy peaks of Aosta shimmering through the heat haze. Tell-tail scratches on the rock indicated that the ridge must be also a fine undertaking in the winter.

Wed Aug 20, 2003


Entering deepest August and the Milanese were deserting their sticky city for summer shores. I myself had already deserted for my new life in Lecco; the move by now being complete. For my holidays I wouldn't be travelling far, Nick was joining me for 10 days climbing in the Bregaglia region. Our plan was to climb the Piz Badile via the Spigolo Nord with a group of friends led by noneother than the Pash. Unfortunately due to the Swiss Sasc Fura hut being full our plans had to be changed last minute. We were now a day behind the others which infact turned out to be a blessing as we could split the walk from Val Masino, up to the Gianetti hut and on to Sasc Fura over two days.

The walk up to Gianetti turned out to be a 4 hour climb under a harsh sun. Nick was rediscovering the lost muscles of his youth and acclimitizing well. The Gianetti hut reveiled itself regally seated in a circque of barren, steep sided mountains. It was here we found Serge who was on his way down, he had crossed paths with the Pash the evening before and I took the opportunity to grill him on our route. We were especially interested in the descent; which was the main reason for starting from the Italian side. Serge reassured us that it should pose no problems as long as we payed attention to the abseil points. The hut itself was comfortable, inviting and well run by friendly staff. It was also the night of St Lorenzo and a meteor shower was forecast, but due to a full moon, tiredness and a Bergamasco poet we went to sleep early.

The walk into Switzerland was not the pleasant stroll over grassy meadows we were expecting. The top of the Porcellizzo Pass was reached quick enough and we lokked down over steep descent. This year had been unusually hot and the snow that normally held the mountain together had melted leaving loose rocks and mud; very unpleasant to walk down. The path then contoured around the hillside for some time, before again climbing steeply through a gully with the aid of fixed chains to the col that brought us overlooking the Swiss hut still at least another 2 hours distant. The descent was steep, again using fixed chains, before thankfully easing and revealing the profile of the north wall of the Badile. It was the first time either of us had seen it, appearing bigger than we immagined, we could just pick out people on its shoulder. The North face remained hidden until the last, but the ridge was inspiration enough. The sun was still hot, we took every opportunity to shade ourselves until we finally collapsed into the hut slightly hot, and thirsty.

The Sasc Fura hut was nice but lacked the atmosphere of the Gianetti. It was smaller, well furnished, but most of the people were here for one of two purposes: the Cassin route or the North Ridge. The hut also lacks any trace of shade, so we were not able to escape the sun, except by sitting inside. We rested sometime before sleeping.

I awoke early at three and nudged Nick to see if he was awake. I was impatient, lying opened eyed and waiting for my alarm to sound. I suggested we went, after a couple of minutes Nick agreed. We were climbing the path for the Badile at 3.30 in the morning, our first true alpine start. The air was fresh, the sky clear. The path was easy to follow, well indicated with blue and white markers, we passed some parties bivied at the base of the route and at last came across the start of the climbing.

The first part, although easy scrambing was somewhat intimidating. We searched over the vast slab with a small beams of light for a sign of weakness where the route would surely go. We had seen a couple of parties ascend from a distance but now we were not sure of the line they had taken. We took our best shot only to pause a few minutes later unsure we had chosen well. Turning around we saw the bizzare scene of at least 20 torchlights marching towards us from the valley bellow. It wasn't long before they had passed us, at least we now knew where the route was.

Reaching the shoulder we prepared ourselves for the climb. We had already decided to move roped together trying to get ahead of other parties. We started climbing fast it was feeling like a race, every stop, hesitation and error of route finding was penalised as other parties stole position. We would become enveloped in a crowd of people, and still with 6 hours of climbing in front of us.

We reached half way in good time, but without food we were tiring. Our water was full of gritty particles. Having spent most of our time on smaller and more accessible crags it was hard going, we were by no means alpinists. The climbing had also started to become slightly more difficult, and as other parties had slowed we decided to go back to traditional roped climbing to avoid the mess of ropes, and to take advantaged of the belays to rest. On a climb like this you have to show a degree of consideration for others on the route, a code of etiquette if you like. It was at this point that a party of three scottish climbers moving roped together overtook us. Obviously their leader was moving well, but the others in his group were having problems on what turned out to be the crux. This caused a terrific jam of traffic, with 5 parties converging on the same belay.

Although they moved off ahead after this, unfortunately the damage was done, and we climbed the rest of the route in a tense but good humoured manner in the company of the other groups. Apart from passing the scottish again, this time in descent, the rest of the climb went with out problems except.. it was long. We reached the top just after midday. At last we had a chance to eat, drink and look at the view.

The advantage of doing the route as we had done meant that we could descend the Italian side, a much more comfortable prospect than the 6 hour abseil down the 18 pitches we had just climbed.

We descended with a group of Italians we had been climbing with, they moved swiftly and confidently, reaching the bottom much earlier than us. We took the option of another night in the Gianetti hut. We met some 2 or 3 hours after our arrival an english couple whom we had passed early on the route. They arrived still wearing rock boots, strange since the descent was 3 hours, and then a 40 - 50 minute walk over loose and bouldery terrain. We were to find out a little later that they had bivied under the route, and had planned to walk back (in rock boots) to the swiss hut the same day! Needless to say this was not an option. In fact they had very few options, they had to descend the 3 hours into Val Masino, take a taxi back into Switzerland, and still in rock boots walk up to the base of the route to collect their equipment before redescending and driving back to Bergamo to catch a 11 o'clock flight back to England the following day.

It surely must be one of the mountaineering feats of endurance I know of.

Sun Aug 31, 2003

Wanderers return

Sunday, feeling a bit blue so decided to stay at home. August has come to a close, and with it the Italians have returned. Quiet impressively they were well up for a climb on the grand wall of Medale overlooking Lecco. Not so impressive however was their time of ascent, 7 hours for 6 pitches!! Come on guys, I think you need to get back in training.