Ski Touring in the Bernina area • May 10 - 15, 2009

Emma Read called us up with a wild scheme; to try and close down this fat-snow season with a slightly-after-"hours" trip in the Piz Bernina group. Though late, since this region is at high elevation and in the eastern part of the Alps where the snowpack was especially big this year, we thought it was worth a try.

Other Recent Trips

Emma was joined by her buddies Keith Fletcher, currently of Bangalore, India, and James Manning of Wimbledon, UK. This photo was taken just outside of the Diavolezza hut, where we began our tour on a hot, sunny mid-morning.


Our first peak, the nearby Munt Pers. Enjoying the views from the top, Mark makes a rare in-photo appearance.


The day was quite warm and the previous night had been stormy and cloudy, so the snow was very thick and heavy on the descent, with little evidence of having frozen at all during the night. We picked our aspects carefully to find a delicate crust that would hold body weight with very careful turning!


We continued down the Morteratsch glacier, to make a loop tour of it, ending at the train stop at the tiny hamlet of Morteratsch, thence back up to the cable car and the Diavolezza hut.


The next day we had an early start to climb Piz Palu (in the background), hopefully in time for good snow conditions down the back side, and to avoid afternoon cumulus build-up, which seemed to be very much on the program for the week. Wouldn't you know it, one of our rare frozen-snow mornings had us traversing avalanche debris! Ooff.


The afternoon clouds held off unexpectedly well. Kathy and Emma climb the last few meters to the summit of Piz Palu.


The dramatic summit ridge of Piz Palu is always exciting; with skis on we were grateful for the lack of wind.


We descended into Italy, the weather still holding fair and the crust much firmer than the day before.


Fantastic corn, in fact! This was more like it!


One of the complications of such a late trip, is that many of the huts were closed for their pause between the ski touring season and the summer trekking and climbing season. Such was the case with the Marinelli hut, shown here. However, the Winter Room was open and equiped with a stove, wood, dishes and pots as well as blankets on the beds, so we had gone ahead with our plan to stay here. We brought our own provisions for meals at this hut.


The hut has a fantastic location with panoramic views to the south. After a late afternoon squall, the skies cleared again for a lovely sunset.


A bit primitive, but the kitchen had all that we needed to prepare our pasta carbonara and soup (chocolate "bikkies" for dessert! Yum!).


More sunset views from the terrace.


The next morning we had quite a good freeze, and good skinning conditions for our jaunt up over the Fuorcla da la Sella


Approaching the Fuorcla, the usual clouds building up already but not looking too serious.


A beautiful morning.


Our descent down the north side of the Fuorcla was blessed with the corn snow we had been waiting for! This was a great run, though east facing slopes lower down where the freezing had not been so good, were getting pretty heavy by the time we reached the hut.


Sorting ourselves out at the extremely well-appointed and welcoming Coaz hut. Highly recommended for its friendly, efficient and helpful hut-keeper Alois Kunferman and his dog Yup. Not even to mention the excellent meals!


The next day we skinned and climbed to the top of the nearby peak of Il Capütschin. After yet another exceedingly warm night, we had no freeze at all, promising less-than-ideal downhill skiing prospects. But the rock scrambling was "tip top"!


On top of Il Capütschin.


Descending back toward our ski cache.


We continued our traverse along the ridge-crest toward La Muongia. We eventually found access back to the glacier via a very steep, fun couloir. However, the state of the snow was not confidence-inspiring and we worried about crevasse crossings and stability, so by the end of the morning we were back in the hut.


The next morning saw us again crossing the col beside Il Capütschin, this time on our way out to town. The forecast was very bad for the next day, so we wanted to take advantage of visibility for our exit to town. Slightly better freeze this night, but still quite delicate.


The descent was steep, and challenging in breakable crust and heavy snow, but our skills saw us through! Our route took us into and along the Plain da las Furtschellas, and over the Furtschellas pass into the ski areas of Sils and Silvaplana. Here we hit the cat track and descend the deserted (closed) slopes. Bus and train took us back to Pontresina and thence back once more to the Diavolezza hut.


For our last day, we had hoped to do another day tour out of the Diavolezza hut. However, the forecast actually was accurate and we had very poor visibility and conditions as we awoke. We decided to spend the morning practicing white-out navigation skills including skiing roped on a glacier! Mark and Emma here compare notes on the GPS track.


As we descended below the cloud ceiling, we gratefully made ready to put the rope away at last, but appreciated the chance to work on our systems, with plenty of time and no serious hazards. In the end, the trip was a great way to get to know this area on skis!