Pizzo Badile 3305m - NE Face - Via Cassin (6a)

Pictures taken by Marcel and Kathrin from August 4 to August 9, 2008

Click here to download the ultimate ;-), self-drawn  topo of Via Cassin


That's where it all starts: the Capanna Sasc Furä. From the end of the road above Bondo, it is quickly reached in about one hour of hiking over a steep, but very well maintained trail. The hut itself is nice and the wardens were very friendly, just the dorm beds were quite narrow. Behind you already see our goal: Pizzo Badile. The north ridge separates the sunny NW-face from the shady NE-face. The Cassin route leads through the latter.



And that's when it all starts. We set the alarm clock to 4am and left the hut by around 4.40am. We did the first 700m of elevation gain to P.2590 still in the dark. The terrain is mostly easy up to that point, just at the end some scrambling is required. There is no well established trail, but it's not too difficult to find your way: just head straight up all the time.

From P.2590, which we reached around 6am, you have to traverse some ledges towards the center of the NE face. This involves some sketchy downclimbing and a first rappel. Then, you have to traverse over smooth and wet slabs under a big neve. That's quite delicate, so that we belayed a pitch there (the day after our climb, a Russian climber fell about 60m there and suffered from life threatening injuries).

After the neve, some more traversing/scrambling is required, but the terrain gets a little easier and less exposed again. However, there was a quite competitive atmosphere, since everybody wanted to get on the route first... That's also the reason why I don't have any pictures of the traverse. Finally, at  around 7.15am we started with the first pitch. This is the perspective from the start of the route.


There were around five parties in front of us and around seven or eight more following. The crowds all seemed to do the Rebuffat diedre, a (nowadays common) variation to the original start of Ricardo Cassin. So we did the latter, which is a bit harder. The first couple of moves into the crack are in the 5c range. They are protected by 2 old pegs.
Here Kathrin is following our second pitch. Still off of the original route, I took a direct up some slabs. They were smoother than I first thought (maybe 5a/5b) and protection was marginal. But it paid off in the sense that at belay 2 of the original route, we were in position 4.


We then simu-climbed until the first 5c+ pitch, which follows a steep dihedral. Not really hard, but not overly simple either. Some old pegs are in-situ there, but a few pieces have to be placed. Moreover, there was a little bit a mess with 3 leaders simultaneously climbing the pitch! But fortunately, everybody was in a good humor.


The last 2 parties that were in front of us then took a wrong turn. After the first 5c+ pitch, they first climbed too high towards Cassin's first bivy site. Then, they overcompensated their mistake with a long traverse to the left a definitely got off route. So after only 4 pitches of climbing, we had taken the lead and from now on could enjoy the route in solitude, without ever sharing a belay station with another party again!

However, be aware of the fact that routefinding in the NE face of Pizzo Badile is far from easy. The terrain looks (and actually is) climbable just about everywhere. There is hardly any in-situ gear that guides you. And the bolted belays, they don't help with routefinding at all. They are each at least 50m apart and often hidden, too.


One of the two Polish climbers who used to be in front of us and then traversed off route took a bad fall and had to be rescued by helicopter. It wasn't half an hour earlier that I had still small talked to him on the belay in a good mood. To be quick, he lead in a rather bold style, almost without placing pro at all. I even had made a remark about it, but he smashed it. He then either slipped or broke a hold, so that he fell for about 20m. I watched it and it looked truly horrible, because he flipped and hit the rock sideways, totally out of control. Fortunately, he soon gave his ok, and indeed he had minor injuries (bruises, rash, broken ribs) only.


We continued, and this is Kathrin following in pitch 8, graded 5a. The climbing in the Cassin route is not overly hard on "our" sport climbing scale. It's more an alpinistic challenge: routefinding, bad protection, the length of the route. The rock is of good, sometimes even excellent quality. But nevertheless, there is one or the other loose flake and each ledge holds some "missiles". It wasn't an issue for us, but I guess with careless climbers above, rockfall could be problematic.


One then reaches the big ledge (called "Cengia Mediana"). Don't fool yourself that this is the halfway mark, it's at most at one third from the start to the summit and the climbing above is harder. Some advice for routefinding: you have to traverse the ledge almost to its left end, i.e. straight under the big roof, which is about 50m above. The belay is then about 10m higher at the beginning of the obvious dihedral that leads to the prominent roof.

The following pitch is the crux (6a). First, some old pitons can be clipped, then some cams are required. Finally, the dihedral has to be left early enough (after about 25m of climbing) towards the right. Don't go too high towards the big roof, even though there is more in-situ gear!

Still in the same pitch, you then have to follow a faint ramp that traverses up and right. Climb over a tiny dihedral system and towards the obvious, big and steep corner. The bolted belay station is at its beginning and is not visible before you are there. Note that this pitch is close to 50m long.


The second pitch after "Cengia Mediana" follows the steep and impressive corner that nevertheless passes quite easily (several old pitons, 5b). After it ends, you again follow some sort of ramp (see Kathrin doing it) to the right and up. The belay bolts again are not visible from below, and the pitch is again 50m.


The slabs here on Pizzo Badile must be awesome to climb! However, the Cassin route mostly follows a classical line with dihedrals, cracks and chimneys. But I bet that "Another Day in Paradise" in the same face must be stellar...


This is Kathrin following the 4th pitch after "Cengia Mediana". It first takes a horizontal crack to the left. Then you have to head up, more or less taking the way of least resistance (no in-situ gear). The tower to the left and below Kathrin is the second bivy site of Cassin, marked in most topos.

Note that the bolted belay isn't there at the bivy site (where you would probably expect it), but about 15m higher, pretty much straight above. I found it to be a little "off route", i.e. to the right of the easiest line of climbing. The length of this pitch is again almost exactly 50m.


From the belay in the picture above, the route is obvious. Just head up and right towards the infamous chimney system. It starts with a benign crack (visible below to the left of Kathrin's legs). Although there were some intermediate belay possibilities on pitons (really old and crappy ones, though), we decided to simu-climb for about 20-30m, such that I could make it to the next bolted belay. It's on the right of the crack and just before the start of the V-shaped section, about 70-80m from the last one...

The first pitch in the chimney that Kathrin is climbing here is really, really awkward. It's the V-shaped part and if you stay in its ground, you will inevitably get jammed, stick the rope and struggle. On the other hand, staying on the outside might be easier, but then you cannot place any protection at all... really I wish I had a movie of myself doing it, though it could well have a parental advisory warning, if you know what I mean... ;-)


After the first belay in the chimney (btw, a good bivy site), it gets wider. The climbing is steep with bulges to pass, but surprisingly easy (a few pitons, around 5a/b), and it's again almost 50m to the next bolts. Note that this was the only pitch that we were in the shade. Here, it was quite chilly, but for the entire rest of the route, we were in the sun and (certainly for a north face), it was agreeably warm, such that we could climb in T-shirts.


After the belay I'm at in the picture above, there is another half of a pitch in the chimney (pitons, 5b). After about 20m you reach a narrow ledge, from where you can find pitons in really every direction. However, the correct route goes straight up: it's wall climbing. Just about when you run out of rope (50m), you'll see the next bolted belay horizontally on your right.

The next and second last pitch, that Kathrin is following isn't very obvious either. From the belay mentioned above, head up and veer slightly left, using some flakes that don't seem to be bomber solid. Following the easiest line then brings you back to the dihedral on the left, which is in fact the continuation of the chimney system below. The bolted belay station is found after exactly 50m of climbing on the left hand side of this dihedral.


By about 2.15pm, after 7 hours and 18 pitches of climbing we reached the north ridge. The position there is just awesome and I guess the picture captures at least part of it. It's then still quite a bit to the summit from the exit of the Cassin route: I'd say rather 8 pitches than the 5-6 that most topos suggest. We simu-climbed most of it (make sure to shorten the rope to about 30m, way too much drag else). 

At around 3.15pm, 8 hours after the start of the Cassin route and 10.5 hours after we left the hut, we reached the summit. It was a truly awesome experience! It was nice and warm, the view was awesome and some benign, flat cumulus clouds were just 100-200m above us. We felt a lot closer to the sky than to earth :-)


We took an extended break (the first one since we had left the hut!) and left the summit by about 4pm. The way towards Rifugio Gianetti involves some downclimbing and about 7-8 rappels. We dit it carefully and slowly, and that with a reason: two young Italian guys wanted to show off, did without rappeling and passed us. But then, all of a sudden, one of the two was a bit too careless and fell right in front of us... nearly to his death. He flipped over and had the unbelievable luck that he landed on his feet on a small ledge just before the abyss and got hold. He would have been killed else. They took it cool, but we were shocked and shivered for quite a while afterwards.

We reached Rifugio Gianetti at 6.30pm and thus took 2.5 hours for the descent from Pizzo Badile. We still were the first party coming from the Cassin route, by a margin of about 1 hour. But it was really cool to see everybody again! However, some did not arrive: two of the faster parties apparently descended via the north ridge, but several had to bivuoac, most of them on the summit, some even on the route. So don't underestimate Via Cassin, it can bite you!

The picture, by the way, shows Kathrin on the south side of Pizzo Badile, about 20 minutes above Rifugio Gianetti.


We had dinner and a good nights rest. Already before we had decided to stay at Rifugio Gianetti for two nights, since there is a lot of excellent climbing there. So the next day, after sleeping in and a leisurely breakfast, we made plans for scaling the Dente della Vecchia (pictured here) over a sports climb named Polident (6a+).


The approach just takes around 30 minutes from the hut. We were rewarded with excellent, featured granite. Lots of crimps, knobs and even pockets - I rarely climbed on granite of such beauty. Kathrin following the first pitch (5b).


The middle section of the route holds two slabbier pitches. They are easy but still very nice. The knobs are even visible on the picture, and the quartz vein almost looks like a lightning :-)


The last 3 pitches are steeper again and offer fabulous climbing. The summit is really cool: it's a flat plateau where we took a long break with sunbathing, eating, enjoying the view and savoring yesterdays Badile ascent again.


Just a couple of minutes above Rifugio Gianetti, there is some excellent bouldering. I played around for a couple of hours and if not a thunderstorm had swept in and brought rain, I might even have missed dinner (already arrived a couple of minutes late, the pasta was already served ;-)).

The one here on the picture, with proper sit start and then up the prow was absolutely fantastic: clean holds though it probably was a first ascent and with around 6B bloc just the right grade to still offer some challenge for me. And I have another stellar one just around the corner - maybe 6C+ bloc. Done all the moves, but unfortunately, I couldn't link it...


On the 4th day of our trip, we had planned more climbing around Rifugio Gianetti and the hike back to Switzerland. But when browsing through the book of new routes at the hut, I detected the topo of Castelli Romani (6b). That's a brand new (summer 2008) 5 pitch route on Pizzo Porcellizo Nord. It leads through the face in the middle of the picture, the start is right where the shadow of the Dente della Vecchia is pointing to.


The route allowed us to optimally combine climbing and the journey back to Switzerland. Instead of hiking to Passo Porcellizo, we climbed it! From the top of the route, the pass and the trail are quickly reached in 5 minutes of easy downclimbing.

So we geared up and attacked the first pitch (6b, see Kathrin doing the upper part). It was well protected with bolts, but still quite demanding, I really had to pay attention to do it onsight. It was steep wall climbing on superbe, featured granite.


Castelli Romani offers very varied climbing. The second pitch (6a+) leads through a groove with some finger pockets, very interesting. The third pitch is a little easier (5c+) and passes some bulges on good holds. The fourth pitch (6a), where Kathrin is engaged here, offers undercling flakes with an interesting slab exit.


Then, the last pitch (6a+) offers an excellent finale. Some tricky slab moves at the start lead to a steep crack. The bolts there are a bit further apart, so two mid-sized cams can help. I really enjoyed this access to Pizzo Porcellizo very much!


However, the regular descent route on the north side of Pizzo Porcellizo was absolutely awful. It leads through the gully in the middle of the picture, where still some snow is remaining. First of all: at this time of the year, you don't really touch the snow anymore. Thus we had hauled two ice axes over Pizzo Badile in vain, but we had only followed the advice received in the Sasc Furä hut... so ask more clearly than we did! Second, this descent is in very loose scree and big instable blocks, time consuming and dangerous.


Fortunately, afterwards, the hike is a bit more pleasant. There is a faint trail (well marked though) that leads to Passo Trubinasca. Doesn't look easy, does it? Trubinasca is a bit right of the middle, to the right of the prominent V-shaped gap in the ridge.


The last part on the south side, and also the first part on the north side are very steep and quite exposed. However, there are a lot of chains and cables, so it passes quite well. But as long as there is some snow remaining on the north side, it could be quite delicate.

In general, I don't think that the Cassin route should be done too early in the year: the acess via the ledges will be delicate because of the neves, the route could still be wet (especially the chimneys, which still were a bit) and the north sides of Porcellizo and Trubinasca may require more effort and ice gear. I'd say, don't go before the second half of July.


The area around Pizzo Badile, as well as the entire Val Bregaglia is quite wild. The trail from Passo Trubinasca back to the Sasc Furä hut passes below Badile's NW-face, pictured here. It's quite impressive and I'm sure that a route like the infamous Ringo Star would provide a formidable challenge. However, it doesn't draw the crowds at all... why???


From the top of Castelli Romani, i.e. Passo Porcellizo, it took us 3.5 hours to the Sasc Furä hut, where we had an excellent supper with Rösti, fried eggs and chestnut cake for dessert - to be recommended to the fullest! Then, the hike down to the car takes another 45 minutes.

Finally, we decided to stay in the very nice Hotel La Soglina in Soglio. We had an excellent five course dinner on the patio, with gorgeous views of the Sciora group (not visible), Pizzi Gemelli (left), Pizzo Cengalo (middle) and Pizzo Badile (right). By the way, the picture on Soglina's website is even better than mine!


We had a leisurely and extended breakfast the next morning and then did some shopping at Chiavenna, Italy. But no worries, the mountains called us again! In the evening, we hiked to the beautiful Sciora hut, figured here. Accueil sympa, good food, wide dorm beds and interesting company let us enjoy evening and night there.


Our plan for the next day was to climb Cuore di Ferro (topo) in the north face of the Flatiron (Bügeleisen in German, Ferro da Stirro in Italian). In fact, this is only the first tower of Pizzi Gemelli's north ridge, but the climb is still 530m and 14 pitches long. We didn't know much except that the rock was supposed to be "the best" and the bolts scarce...


...but we were not disappointed at all. The granite was awesome with knobs, dents and slopers. There were bomber solid inox bolts, but indeed: only about 2-4 per 50m pitch. The climbing was very homogeneous in the 5c/6a range, with a few cruxes mixed in (max. 6c). Placing additional gear wasn't too often possible. See my report for further information.

Here, Kathrin is following pitch 7, graded 6b. It has just 4 bolts in 35m of climbing. The hardest move follows after the first bolt and is well protected, but higher up, sustained 6a/6a+ climbing where you really have to run it out awaits you.


Here, Kathrin negotiates a small roof in pitch 10. It's only graded 6a, but not to underestimate... At least I was glad to have that tiny cam ready for a placement in the slab following above. Please note that the last 2 pitches are a lot more alpine than the ones below. The terrain is somewhat easier, but there are even less bolts than before.

We made it to the top - another dream came true! For leaders with experience in this type of terrain, I can warmly recommend the route. Rappelling over the route goes very quickly: you follow Cuore di Ferro (two stations can be omitted) to the top of the 6c pitch, from where you can do a 50m rappel straight down to a new, neighboring route. Then, it's only two more 50m rappels and some downclimbing and you are back at the base (40 minutes from the top).


Any additional words necessary? Don't think so... :-)


Picture Galleries/Home Marcel Dettling, 19.8.2008