2016-07-24

Poncione di Cassina Baggio (2860m) via Piccadilly Bedretto (6a+, 10 pitches, 420m)

There's a chance for thunderstorms for most of Switzerland all weekend. Lightning in the mountains is no joke when you are attached to metal pieces and sticking out as the highest point on the ridge. Thus Florian, Alex, Mark and I decide to cross the main ridge of the alps to sunny Ticino on the Italian side. We are met with perfect weather at the Nufenen pass and hike for about 1.5 hours to reach the start of our objective for the day: the route Piccadilly Bedretto, 420 meters of climbing over 10 pitches of beautiful granite. Mark and I make up one rope team while Florian and Alex constitute the second.

The topo...
...the wall.
Approach.

There's another group of climbers at the base, three Italian speaking folks who take an eternity to get started and shout a lot. We are slightly worried this might slow us down and get everyone in danger because of rockfall from the leading party. However, it works itself out perfectly. The trio starts up the Grüen Nils route, Mark and I get the Piccadilly Bedretto as planned and Alex and Florian spontaneously decide to climb the Herbstwind in between the two other routes.

Mark
The slabby beginning.
Alex working his way up.

The wall is separated into two very distinct sections: The lower half is slabby, low angle terrain, while the upper half rises up until it is vertical. I enjoyed the steep pitches much more. They were more sustained and more interesting climbing. The crux however, was in the lower half: a very blank slab that could only be climbed with very precise footwork and still felt extremely slippery. The guidebook marks this as an A0 section, implying many people aid through it by pulling on gear. I tried to avoid that, but still needed to rest on the rope to get my psyche up. Oh well.

I used every opportunity to give my tortured left toe some rest.
Mark in one of the steeper final pitches.

The routes are perfectly bolted in the sense that whenever it is not possible to place gear, you'll find a bolt in just the right spot. Conversely, whenever there is a nice crack you are expected to use your own friends and nuts. Unfortunately Alex and Florian didn't bring any trad gear, so Alex performs some daring leads with long runouts of 10, 15 meters and more. Scary to watch even at a distance.

Florian
Yay! Made it!
On the ridge.

We don't linger around the "summit" (really just the ridge) for long, but start rappelling right away. The rappels are set up for 50 meter ropes while we are using 60 meter ropes. That, and the fact that I didn't study the topo very thoroughly, makes me go down the wrong side of a big buttress and miss the next rappel anchor. I try to improvise something, but the nice flake I eyed from above as a good opportunity turns out to be a man sized loose block that moves as soon as I pull on it. So I climb back up a bit and wait for Mark to rescue me by rappelling to the right side of the buttress and finding the correct anchor. Wasted quite some time on this mistake...

Alex having some fun on the rappel.

We make it back to the car just in time with the goats going home too ;-) The Gotthard tunnel is blocked by the customary traffic jam. We think we are very clever because the Nufenen pass comes in from the side, skipping the entire queue. Unfortunately the onramp is blocked by the police who only let a handful of people in every half hour or so. Still a much shorter wait than the full jam, where people are having picnics on the highway next to their cars. The tunnel delivers its usual magic: nice and warm on one side, torrential rain on the other. It's so bad that even with wipers at full speed visibility is still shit and traffic slows down to 70km/h.

Anyway, fantastic day with great climbing in great company. We can do that again!