Θ Out & Back
The Piz Tschierva combines a fast trail running approach with a slow talus ascent all set in an alpine arena.
The run starts at the Pontresina train station with a long warm-up through the Val Roseg. By about kilometer 8, you'll probably start wondering when you are going to gain some elevation. I did, and discovered I had only gained 300 meters. Basic math revealed that we had another 1500m to go, in just the next six kilometers. Clearly, things were about to steepen and we would have some work to do.
If ever there was a run to start well before sunrise, this is it. I prefer to not see how far my destination lies in the distance. I also enjoy moving on silent, cool trails with no people. We started at 3 am sharp. And like most alpine starts, we'll never forget the beauty of moving through the night towards towering white forms in the star dotted sky.
As we approached the Chamanna da Tschierva, lines of headlamps bound for the Piz Morteratsch and Piz Bernina's Biancograt flicker just ahead of us. We made a quick stop at the hut to put on more clothes to fend off cold winds coming off the glaciers. As we bundled up, we popped CLIF Shot Blocks and peered into the hut's warmly lit dining room windows at the remaining sleepy-eyed climbers finishing up their own breakfasts. While their day was just beginning, at 5am, our's was well under way.
Behind the hut, the trail rises steeply with an easy cabled climb to access the rubble-strewn glacier polished landscape. Here, in contrast to the fast run to the hut, progress slows. A well marked and traveled trail leads about 500 meters above the hut to the snout of the Tschierva Glacier. Stay far left to gain the glacier and pay attention getting onto it. When we did it (July 2020), there was a thinly covered crevasse right at the edge, but plenty of room to avoid it.
From the glacier, there are two options to climb the Piz Tschierva:
- The normal route continues up the low angled glacier, staying far left (north) until the glacier starts to steepen at about 3200 meters. Look for the low angled talus slanting up and left to the low point on the east ridge of the Piz Tschierva. We saw no markings other than some cairns. Climb through the talus for about 150 meters to gain the ridge. Once on the ridge (easier!), stay on the crest and follow it to the summit.
- From the toe of the glacier, we headed hard left and more or less straight up to the summit following as many of the clean granite slabs as we could connect. This route is a bit more interesting in ascent, and the rock mostly solid. However, it is not recommended for the descent.
Both options follow the normal route (1) for the descent back to the glacier.
Once you've soaked up all the alpine views, you have a hut to look forward to. Best of all, if you had an early start, you'll probably time your arrival at the hut for second breakfast, which you'll need for that 12 kilometers of running you still have to do.
Start: 46.490409, 9.896826
- The glacier is just steep enough to warrant microspikes if the surface is frozen. While we did not need them, you may!
- Be comfortable in talus and always cautious of loose rock.
- Don't carry too much weight in the form of food and water. Take advantage of the hut treats since you'll pass through twice.
Low gear and high beams required on the section of trail above the hut. Thankfully, it was dark...
Our route followed ridges and gullies of slabs and talus to the summit.
The Piz Tschierva summit is seen in the distance with the snow line beneath the rounded top. While shown in descent, this is where the normal route leads off the glacier and up the talus. The line climbs directly right of the runner (as seen in the photo) and accesses the east ridge. Our line of ascent took the left side, merging the ridge leading to the summit.
Dropping down the glacier in firm morning snow.
Steep, loose rock and scree starting to give way to trail and grass.
Just below the hut, and back in the green, the trail offers a speedy, although long, drop back to Pontresina.
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