Article: Quality and quantity. The Cassin route on the Piz Badile
Blog post from summer 2015, originally written for Lowe Alpine . N.B Access to this area is currently closed due to rockfall
I was watching the light roll down the rough texture of the granite slabs above, the sun lighting up the huge swage of rock above us. It was this moment when I realised the enormity of the climb we were attempting. We were 4 pitches into a 24 pitch monster of a route. I was belaying Becky coming across the traverse of the first hard climbing. The route had so far been traversing up and left and now we had crossed a thin section cutting both above and under some overhangs, space sucking at your heels to the broken glacier far below. Despite the few wet holds, immaculate thin crimps and smears abound, the climbing was exposed and delicate and most importantly there was gear.
The Cassin route on the Piz Badile is legendary. One of the six classic North Faces of the Alps, it is 800 metres long and about 25 pitches of Tres Difficile grade rock climbing. A successful attempt is up there in any alpinist's climbing CV. The Piz Badile is above the quiet Bregalia valley, lying on the border between Switzerland and Italy and is surrounded by huge granite massives. It is an iconic summit and its name in Italian; Shovel peak is very apt for its shape. The route was first climbed in 1937 by Ricardo Cassin. Together with Vittorio Ratti and Luigi Esposito (and later teaming up with Mario Molteni and Giuseppe Valsecchi) they started out on the 14th July. The subsequent climb and epic descent over 3 days is infamous for the deaths of two of the party, Molteni of exposure while they were benighted in a storm on the summit and Valsecchi on the actual descent. In fact the region is renowned for its fierce fast changing weather.
I had first come to the Alps to climb in 2005 thanks to an enthusiastic university friend and had enlisted on a Jonathan Conville course (http://www.jcmt.org.uk ), the starting point for many a budding British alpinist. This has started a ten year love affair exploring further and further field and as with my UK climbing experiencing every season and different style. In fact after 3 or 4 ski seasons I was more likely to be exploring on skis than by foot so until this year big rock routes had been few and far between. I’d never climbed 20+ pitches in one go. Together with conditions in the Alps last summer (hot and dry) rock seemed to be the sensible option. The previous weekend we had climbed the 18 pitch Sudgrat on the Salbitschen, we were now ready for something even bigger...
The next few hours passed in a pleasant rhythm of leading, swapping gear, belaying and climbing. After the initial few pitches in the dark, and then the shade it was great to reach the sunlight and slowly begin to warm up. After 12 pitches you reach some less steep ground which is also quite loose (the only bit really, on the whole climb) and then you gain the crux pitches. These are really interesting and in fact are great climbing, 3 pitches up to 5a/5b British tech. I thought the hardest pitch was actually the first of the exit chimneys; which was a full body thrutchy experience!
We’d had some really good accurate beta. Firstly unlike on Chamonix granite, wires were almost unnecessary however a full range of cams are. I was surprised at the lack of fixed gear, about 80% of the belays had bolts or pegs but some had none and there were some pegs on the pitches. But one pitch might be very well pegged and another might have none and there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to which was which! We took 12 quick draws (I'm a big DMM fan) which made 50 metre pitches feel well protected. It’s a big day out so a few essentials like a headtorch, windproof and some food and water in a small rucksack (for example Lowe Alpine Spark 18) are paramount.
The crux of doing this route seemed to be which way you go up and especially which way you descend. Starting from Bondo in Switzerland you can pay 10 SFr to drive up to Laret which is really worth it (this route has been destroyed by landslide). From there you can walk up to the Sasc Fura hut or to bivi above it. The hut is at 1905m and you can bivi at 2400m so saves a bit for the morning. We’d made a very last minute decision to do this route and the hut was full, choosing the bivi option for us.
The top few pitches weren’t as obvious as the pitches below; I climbed around a bit following my nose and then on reaching the North Ridge, it happened so suddenly I was left gaping down the massive void below.
On completing the route you still have a few pitches of the North ridge to get to the summit. You could descend the North ridge by rappel but it is difficult to locate the ring anchors and some parties seem to have near epics doing this, taking longer to descend than ascend. It does have the advantage of getting you back to your bags but likely late at night! The other two options both involve descending the south side to Italy and the Giannetti Hut. This involves 8 well marked abseils and some walking, and got us down in 2 ½ hours in time for dinner at the hut. From there you can either walk the 3 hours down to Bagna del Masino and get a taxi or public transport back to the start. This is a physically easier but much more expensive option.
We’d randomly bumped into two friends, Lou and Jamie at the car park. They had a booking for the hut but the next morning they were the team directly behind us which meant a very social time at the belays. We had teamed up on the abseils and after a leisurely breakfast, (a wholly new experience in huts where usually we are up and out early) we all walked back together, over the Porcellizzo pass and then the Trubinasca.
The first is a gentle 500m ascent leading to a nasty scree descent (this had one easy snow patch to cross but apparently often has more), a gentle traverse into the second pass which is chained to give extra interest to a walk back to the Sasc Fura hut. This took us 5 plus hours and a couple of extras hours up and down to our stashed bivi kit before a final hour down to the car. This was a really nice journey back; it completed the circuit and was very satisfying.