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Ascent of Piz Kesch on 2008-08-31

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Petter Bjorstad
Andrew Tibbetts
Date:Sunday, August 31, 2008
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Piz Kesch
    Location:Switzerland
    Elevation:3418 m / 11214 ft

Ascent Trip Report

Piz Kesch, 3418m, P1504m

Map: swisstopo 1:25k map 1237 (20m contours)

Stats: 14km, 1200mH

Time: Sun 31 Aug 2008: 4h45 ascent, c.4h descent.

Hut: Es-cha hut (tel 08271 755). We day-hiked from the pass: didn't sleep at the hut.

Start: Punta Granda (Albulapass) 2251m: large layby E of pass.

Route: From Punta Granda, a clear path leads uphill, initially crossing a pasture (electric fence), ascending to the Fuorcla Gualdauna pass, with the small pronounced peak of Muntische (2605m, P111m) passed on the R. The trail bends L (NW) with Kesch visible straight ahead, then passes through a stony area with many tall slender cairns, crosses a stream then heads NW, finally climbing to the Es-cha hut (2594m).

From the hut, the path continues NW up a pronounced steep spur, then kinks L (W) to cross a bouldery area (watch carefully for cairns) before swinging R (NW) again and climbing past some small lakes, to cross a rocky ridge. Traverse a small couloir (we had an easy snow patch to cross) then ascend rock (YDS 3, cable protection) to the ridge notch Porta d'Es-cha (3008m). Descend an easy soft loose slope then climb steep snow slope onto glacier. Glacier is initially dry, then snow covered, with small crevasses (easy to step over but possible to fall into - we noticed someone's leg go down!) and a good trail leading up to the foot of the NE Ridge.

The NE Ridge starts with a steepish slope of loose rocks. Then ascend craggy ground, with a trail of sorts (variations). After this initial climb there is a route choice. Half-left is a broad gully (keep to LHS to avoid rockfall from other parties) and a Class 4 move partway up. Less obvious, to the R, a cairn can be seen: beyond it a ledge leads to a nice rocky scramble. Above, terraces lead up and generally left, with a fair bit of loose material, before cutting R on easier rocky ground to the summit.

For a more detailed description, see Petter Bjorstad's site: http://www.ii.uib.no/~petter/mountains/3000mtn/kesch.html

Difficulties: PD, YDS 3 (cables) on climb to Porta d'Es-cha; The NE ridge is generally fairly loose, with loose rock and grit-covered ledges demanding considerable care, particularly in descent. YDS 2+ with some 3 and a move (avoidable) at 4. The glacier is briefly steep at the start; fairly minor crevassing. NE Ridge is fairly loose - danger of rockfall. We saw one solo climber, but mostly parties.

Triangulation point: Bolt in rock at summit.

Summit: Fine compact rocky summit, a cross, steep drops on all sides. 20m to NW is another cairned summit, slightly lower, reached by an easy scramble. Visible to the SE is the very impressive sister summit, a little lower at 3405m, and the superb Aguoglia d'Es-cha, 3386m, both looking a fair bit more difficult than the higher 3418m summit. Views are limited as the summit is just in cloud, although we enjoyed a very fine view of the Piz Bernina group on our way up.

Notes: After our Saturday on Ortler we had driven across into Switzerland, had a meal in La Punt, then Petter found a hotel while Andrew and I drove up the pass and slept at the trailhead. Sunday morning we hear several parties arrive, park and head up the trail. Petter who obviously gets by on little sleep, also arrives while it's still dark, we get our gear organised and start hiking at 06:15, first light. The path climbs easily through pasture, rounds a corner, then suddenly we see our goal straight ahead, looking completely impregnable, glowing pink in the early morning sunshine. The path levels off and contours clockwise round the head of the Val d'Es-cha. We pass through a flat stony area on which have been built dozens of tall slender cairns - a fascinating spectacle; perhaps the product of a cairn-building course!?

The Escha-hut is reached at 07:30. There are quite a few overnighters still around. We rest and admire the view of Kesch - looking even less climbable from this angle. The dominant feature from here is the towering pointed Aguoglia d'Es-cha, only 20m lower than our summit and completely obscuring it. We have some work yet to get round Kesch's defences. The path heads straight up a steep spur, into the cloud. In the rocky area above we stray off the path briefly, apparently missing the point where it kinks L. Higher up, we rise above the cloud layer, enjoying a magnificent view across some small lakes to the sparkling white peaks of the Bernina group. Crossing a poorly defined rocky ridge and a small snow patch, we follow an easy traverse path to the base of the rocky scramble (YDS 3) which leads up to the Porta d'Es-cha. The cables here aren't particularly necessary but make life a little easier. Later, on the way down, we see a climber belaying a small boy up the nice clean rock.

At the Porta we have company - a large Swiss party (one of them doing a lot of yodelling!) are roping and gearing up. We do the same (without the yodelling) and climb down (carefully as we're in crampons) to the glacier. There's a short steep icy climb onto the glacier proper, then it's an easy plod, with the odd small crevasse to step across (although we notice one of the party ahead drop a foot into one of them). Ahead we can at last see the rather shapeless rocky mass of Kesch proper, rearing up above the head of the glacier. At the start of the rock we stow our axes and crampons and head up the initial loose slopes (but not nearly as loose as Thursday's Col Nudo climb!). We scramble upwards, finding our way into a gully which is picking up a lot of stonefall (cross quickly!), then climb up it, L of centre. There's an interesting move at one point, just about YDS 4. Above, the ground continues fairly loose, with terraces tending to be covered in small stones, calling for careful footwork.

The summit (11:00) is just in cloud, with intermittent views to the fine near-twin summits just to the SE. I take an easy scramble NW for a few metres to another summit, which we agree is slightly lower. Descending, Petter keeps a little way ahead and calls up to us that he's found a way around the steep gully, by keeping L and scrambling down near the W edge of the ridge. We're soon clattering down the final loose rocks onto the glacier. One of the Swiss parties is waiting at the top of the glacier: only the yodeller's party has summited. We recover our gear and head back down the glacier. It's a fairly grey afternoon, but the clouds remain above us - a nice hiking temperature. Back at the Porta we stow our gear, scramble back down to the couloir and return to the hut, where we stop for a drink before returning to the cars.

Back at the Albulapass we part from Petter, who heads back to work; Andrew and I have a longish drive (mostly on easy Autostrada) to get in position for tomorrow's Ultra - Cima Valdritta. It's been a brilliant weekend - two top quality mountains in the stimulating company of Mr Bjorstad!

For trip details and logistics, see the Säntis report
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:1266 m / 4157 ft
    Extra Gain:49 m / 164 ft
    Distance:13.8 km / 8.6 mi
    Route:North-east ridge
    Trailhead:Punta Granda (Albulapass)  2250 m / 7385 ft
    Grade/Class:PD, YDS 3(4)
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail, Exposed Scramble, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Time Up:4 Hours 45 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time Down:4 Hours 



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