Psycho Bianco Ridge: Dutch Expedition Academy in Bernina Psycho Bianco Ridge: Dutch Expedition Academy in Bernina

The Bianco Ridge on Piz Bernina (4.048m) is a dream route for many climbers. Just like the photogenic west-east traverse of Piz Palü (3.905m). Even better would be to link up both ridge routes and combine them into one long tour. In spite of a somewhat unstable weather forecast the young Dutch Expedition Academy team gave it a try. It all turned out a little different than expected, but was an unforgettable day.


Looking at it from the adjacent Piz Morteratsch, I clearly remember the moment I first saw the sharp, waving snow ridge of Piz Bernina a few years ago. It was an unbelievable sight. As I sat on the summit of my first ever self-climbed mountain, the Bianco Ridge quickly took on mythical proportions in my head – probably because of the awe-inspiring stories my climbing buddies told me about walking on knife-edge ridges and the many tragic accidents that happened there. I wondered if I would ever dare to climb it myself.

Psycho Bianco Ridge: Bernina and Palü-traverse in one day

With perhaps a little more experience, but just as much admiration and respect for the route, this summer I was back in the Bernina massif with our Dutch Expedition Academy team for a summer training week. In my preparations, I leafed through Alpenglow, a terrific book by photographer and mountain guide Ben Tibbetts, listing some of the best routes on the 4000m peaks of the Alps. In it, I spotted a route that immediately attracted my attention: a link-up of the Bianco Ridge and the traverse of Piz Palü, a route that Tibbetts described as ‘Psycho Bianco Ridge’.

Starting at the Tschierva hut and ending at the Diavolezza lift station, you cover a distance of about 15 kilometres, with rock passages up to the 3rd grade on Bernina, easy scrambling on the way to Piz Spinas and narrow snowy ridges on both mountains, beautiful views, long stretches of glacier underneath Bellavista and in the descent. A complete tour and a great long day out.

The route: from the Capanna da Tschierva (upper left) to Piz Bernina, along Bellavista to Piz Palü, traversing its summits and then descending the normal route towards the Diavolezza lift station.

Planning and preparing

In spite of a somewhat unstable weather forecast, my team mates Sjoerd and Bas and I decide to give it a go. Five other members of our team are also going for the Bianco Ridge, but were planning to stay the night in Rifugio Marco e Rosa. This would be a good exit for us as well, if the weather doesn’t cooperate with us.

That night in the Tschierva hut we prepare our route and mix up the rope parties to make sure that we all get to know each other a little bit better. I’ll be climbing up to the Marco e Rose hut with Court and Michiel, and then continue onwards with Sjoerd and Bas towards Diavolezza.

A hopeful start

After a short night our alarm goes off at 3AM. The mist of the previous day disappeared, which raises our hopes for a sunny day. At 4AM we leave the hut and after a few hours approaching in the dark, we stand on Fuorcla Prievlusa, the col from which the ridge climbing starts. Grey clouds pull across quickly and sometimes reveal small stretches of blue sky, but it is cold and the rock ridge turns out to be quite snowed-in and icy. We decide to keep our crampons on and start climbing. We need to keep moving to stay warm.

Climbing in a white world

Little by little wind and fog build up and after a while it also starts snowing, slowing us down. The rock disappears under a thick layer of powder, making it ever harder place gear and find the abseils. When we reach the famous Bianco Ridge, the sharp white ridge this route is named after, the mist is so thick that we can hardly distinguish it. Above us, under our feet and to our left and right everything is white.

The sharp wind blows icy snowflakes in our faces whilst we work ourselves up feet by feet, short rope lengths between us. In this white world I lose all sense of time and space and before I know it we reach Pizzo Bianco, the white sub-summit of Piz Bernina, with frozen hair and eye lashes.

It’s a special experience, climbing the Bianco Ridge in such wintery conditions during summer. The weather obviously is not optimal and we can barely enjoy the famous views, but I’m genuinely enjoying every step of the way. Although there are some guided rope parties on the ridge, the thick fog makes for a desolate and lonely atmosphere.

That feeling disappears later when climbing traffic jams at the abseils just before the true summit. Pushy mountain guides quickly go first, as we aren’t assertive enough to let them wait for their turn. It slows us down even more, and it is late when the wooden summit cross of Piz Bernina finally emerges from the mist.

On the way to Palü: passing Bellavista. (Photo: Bas Visscher)

Making choices

The descent to Rifugio Marco e Rosa feels long in that strange white world where we cannot see beyond our feet. With help of the navigation tools on our watches we find the way, but it is only until we are a few metres away from it that we can see the hut.

It’s past 3PM when we finally reach the cabin. For all of us it’s clear: in this weather and on this time of day continuing to Piz Palü is out of the question. The spirited warden was a little indignant about us sleeping in his hut without a reservation, but brings us beers and fruit pie anyway. After some board games and a good goulash soup we head off to bed.

Contrasts

When we arrived at the Marco e Rosa hut it looked like a small cabin in the middle of nowhere, but when I step outside the next day I’m amazed by the sight. The air is clear blue and the rising sun makes the glacier surrounding the hut shine and twinkle. An enormous contrast with the day before.

Michiel on the west ridge to Piz Spinas, de western summit of Piz Palü. (Photo: Bas Visscher)

We continue our journey in two rope groups. The views are astonishing and the sun is pleasant, making for an amazing approach to the foot of the ridge. The rocky ridge we climb up to the western summit of Piz Palü is dry and warm, and it doesn’t take long to traverse to the main summit.

Such a fine day probably has nothing to do with ‘psycho’, but at this point I’m no longer bothered by that anymore. It would have been a good challenge to try it in one, but also in two days our Bernina-Palü crossing was a great tour with part of our team. I learned that climbing in ‘bad’ conditions can be good too, and will definitely come back again to enjoy the view.

Our favourite products on this trip

Rain, cold, hail, snow or blazing sun: when you’re out climbing in the alpine you want your clothes to protect you against the elements. Your outfit needs to be reliable, practical and sustainable, but of course you also want it to look good on photos. And there’s always one piece of clothing that is your absolute favourite, which you take everywhere. These were our favourite items on this trip:

Rab Muztag Jacket: The tough fabric and Gore-Tex kept us 100% dry, but the best feature of it was the large hoodie that we could snuggle into in times of hard wind and icy hail storms. 

Rab Pivot GTX Gloves: These thin but warm gloves are great for days like these, when you need to keep your hands warm and dry, but also need the freedom to climb and feel the rock features

Rab Winter Torque Pants: Yes, technically it was summer. But it was also really cold. We always take our Rab winter climbing pants along to the Alps, and this time, we’re glad we did. These stretch pants allow you to freely move, but keep moist and wind out. Happy legs!

  1. Celestial/Polar Blue
  2. Black
  3. Black
  4. Atlantis
  5. Black

Words by | Noor van der Veen

Images by | Bas Visscher; Robert Löwensteyn


Noor van der Veen (26) is part of the NKBV’s Expedition Academy that is supported by Rab and has been an active mountaineer and climber since 2015. The Expedition Academy trains 9 young Dutch mountain athletes to become skilled all-round alpinists, prepared for an expedition in the Greater Ranges of the world.