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Photo by arch. Luca Maspes

Photo by arch. Luca Maspes
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Morteratsch East, Bernina first ascent by Maspes, Panizza and Turk


On 21 March Luca Maspes, Emanuel Panizza and Christian Turk carried out the first ascent of the ESE Face of Morteratsch (3751m) in the Bernina mountain range.

On the last day of winter, perhaps even the coldest this season, the Italian mountaineers Luca Maspes, Emanuel Panizza and Christian Turk climbed one of the last remaining virgin walls in the Bernina mountain range, the ESE Face of Morteratsch (3751m). The three needed 13 hours for the round trip to Rifugio Boval and endured temperatures down to -25°C. The aptly named "Il grande freddo", the great cold, climbs the 600m wall up ice and mixed terrain with some poor quality rock firmly frozen in place and protected only by 5 camming devices, some pegs and a set of nuts.

Morteratsch Est, the great cold
by Luca Maspes

The East Face of Morteratsch is one of those walls which has never been climbed on a mountain group such as the Bernina which is a bit "out of fashion". It's one of the many in a list of "first ascents" which get handed down from one year to the next and which interests only those who are mad about leaving their trace on untouched terrain When you like a new route, a completely virgin face is a "must", regardless of what it's made of.

The rock here is a granitoide which only the freezing cold has managed to keep together, perhaps this is why not even the "pioneers" in years gone past considered climbing here. I can't imagine how much rock must fall down this wall when it's a bit warmer, that's why we attempted it when the first day of spring coincided with the coldest day this winter :-)

We climbed 7 "long" pitches, alternated by some simul-climbing and soloing up the first 100m through the ice gully, for a total of circa 600m route length. We took with us little gear (5/6 camming devices, 6 nuts, 10 egs, 4 ice screws) and in the middle of the face we deviated beneath the great wall beacuse we would have needed more gear and, with this cold, it became hard work resisting for more than half an hour at the belay...

It was really very cold (they had predicted -10° at 2000m, ie 1500m lower than our climb), we were well equipped but never really felt our hands and feet. We climbed some sections without gloves on the rockiest pitch and on a small section up the first wall...

8 hours just for the wall, 3 hours walk in from Rifugio Boval via a ledge (1 equipped abseil at the end) which enabled us to coast the valley rightwards beneath the face (watched on the left by a large serac on Piz Prievlus).

Luca Maspes





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