3-day Piz Bernina & Piz Palu


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See also:
5-day Piz Bernina and others

This area in the southeastern, part of Switzerland, while not exactly solitary, seems far from the crowds of the more busy alpine tourism centers of Zermatt and Grindelwald. The Val Bregaglia, just to the west of the Piz Bernina massif is a warm, colorful valley full of flowers and sunshine. The high and beautiful valley of the Engadine to the north of the Bernina is the home of St. Moritz. Piz Bernina and its surrounding summits stands away from the main chain of 4000ers to the west. The peaks here have a unique rugged beauty. The Engadine has a very different character and feel than the peaks west. The valleys are wide and gentle, glacially carved and often filled with lakes. The broad valleys allow more sun to enter (also more commonly seen in this drier part of Switzerland) and it is this unique light that makes the Engadine so special.

There are several 4000 meter peaks which stand somewhat apart from the main ranges of the Alps, forming independent sub-ranges of their own. Piz Bernina at 4049 meters (13,280 feet) is one of these, rising high above the Engadine Valley in the southeast corner of Switzerland near St. Moritz.

This compact area, straddling the Swiss / Italian boarder, is remarkably complex with many sharp summits, large glacier filled valleys and a range of very worthwhile climbing objectives of all difficulties.


Though there are several approaches to the upper mountain most climbers consider the climb from Diavolezza to the Marco e Rosa hut to be the "normal route". This climb includes extensive glacier travel, first to reach the Bellavista Terraces and then more easily to the hut, and then snow and a final a rock ridge to the summit. The last section up steep snow and rock to the summit is very exposed, but not difficult. On descent it is occasionally necessary to rappel the steeper rock sections, or these can be bypassed on short but quite steep snow slopes.

This route combines well with the Piz Palu Traverse to make a great 3 day outing.

Piz Palu is a long east-west trending ridge with three principle summits, the central, being the highest. The peak is set in a sea of complex and crevassed glaciers, and all approaches involve significant glacier travel. A traverse of the Piz Palu ridge is quintessential Alpine mountaineering. The climbing is often on steep snow ridges – sometimes on one side, sometimes another and occasionally on the very airy crest – and also on the rocky backbone which makes up the western end of the Traverse.

This classic route can be done in either direction. Because of its location it makes a very worthwhile addition to an approach to, or descent from, the Marco e Rosa Hut and the Piz Bernina.

Piz Bernina's normal route
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The combination of Piz Bernina and Piz Palu present few great technical difficulties, but much exposed moderate terrain and at high altitude. Both climbs have some steep rock as well as several sections of steep snow and ice. While we do belay the more difficult passages, climbers still need have skill on this ground, and to climb efficiently. In addition, because of the great elevation and the length of the climbs, a good level of fitness is required.


Participants for this 3-day program must have previous rock and steep snow climbing experience and be in good condition. You should be able to climb low fifth class rock quickly and with little difficulty. You should have extensive experience scrambling on steep rock, such as climbing in the Sierra, Cascades or Tetons. You need to be comfortable cramponing on steep 40 degree frozen snow, both in ascent and descent.

Piz Bernina and Piz Palu

Day 0

Evening meeting in Pontresina, to go over equipment and logistics.

Day 1

On day 1 we start by riding the Diavolezza lift to almost 3000 meters. From here we descend to the Pers Glacier, cross this and ascend the Fortezza to the Bellavista Terraces. These are followed to the Marco e Rosa hut, 3597 meters, where we spend the night.

Day 2
Because the hut is so high and the summit of the Piz Bernina not far, we don't need a particularly early start. From the hut we climb up first glacier, then steeper snow, and finally rock to gain the east ridge of the Spedela, a 4020 meter sub-peak of the Bernina. From here a narrow ridge crest sometime rock, sometimes snow, leads to the airy summit. We follow the same route back to the hut where we spend a second night.
Day 3

On our last day, we traverse back across the Bellavista Terraces to the pass at the west end of the three summits of Piz Palu. The first summit is mostly rock. the second and third are snow, with some steep and narrow snow ridges to add spice to the adventure. After descending the large glacier called the Vedret Pers, we climb back to the Diavolezza lift, which we take back to the valley.

Crossing the Bellavista Terraces
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Kathy Cosley & Mark Houston
UIAGM Internationally Licensed Mountain Guides

AMGA Certified • SNGM members
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