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Climbing along the Scerscen - Bernina traverse
Photo by Michele Comi
Encountering cornices along the Scerscen - Bernina traverse
Photo by Michele Comi
The Scerscen breche
Photo by Michele Comi
From left to right: Roseg, Scerscen and Bernina
Photo by Michele Comi

Scerscen - Bernina traverse

30.07.2012 by Michele Comi

Michele Comi reports about a great alpine traverse, the one which crosses the summit of Monte Scerscen and traverses to the summit of Piz Bernina (Western Rhaetian Alps).

In summer alpinists are constantly in search of a aim, an idea. They have thousands of things to do, long lists of routes to climb, opportunities to be seized. And hearing about a climb, the name of a route or a a hint from a friend suffice to spark something new. Once upon a time this used to happen simply by word of mouth. Now though, in this age dominated by the internet and "electric" communication "power" all that is needed is a mention on Twitter, an email or a photo on Facebook... Just like this report and photos we received by email from Michele Comi, a mountain guide from Valmalenco, Italy. The report focuses on on one of the wildest and most beautiful ascents in the Central Alps: the traverse which starts at Rifugio Marinelli, ascends Mount Scerscen (3971m) and then continues on to Piz Bernina (4050m). This route was first trod in 1886 by E. Y. Garwood, B. Wainewright with Martin Schocher and Christian Schnitzler, but wait before skipping the rest because, who knows, perhaps this recent diary entry, the photos and the thoughts of the undisputed "Sir" of mountaineering might enlighten you.


GREAT TREAVERSES: SCERSCEN - BERNINA - notes and ideas for a great ascent
by Michele Comi

It's still dark when I set foot on the glacier and tie in with tireless Alberto Magliano. It seems impossible that in a few hours time we'll be on the summit of that great face, apparently unreachable and whose dark shape you can only just make out in the distance.

We cross the vast Scerscen glacier plateau in complete solitude. Apart from the drastic glacier withdrawal, the Bernina-south glacier is identical to how it was in the days of the early explorers: a true border land made of ice, canyons, ridges and faces. Apart from the 3-4 normal routes which in truth have never been too popular, the massive routes up the southern massif remain a true undertaking, far removed from the pilgrimages which take place on the more famous fourthousanders.

Monte Rosso di Scerscen 3971m (now more commonly referred to as Mount Scerscen) rises proudly with its triangular, 700m face intersected by three diagonal rising ramps. The highest one hides a steep gully, first climbed in 1879 by Paul Güssfeld together with Hans Grass during the mountain's first ascent from the south. The gully, despite being in very different condition to that at the end of the 19th century, is still climbable and allows for rapid elevation gain to reach the summit ridge, close to the photogenic and unique highpoint at 3875m and better known as Schneehaube (snow cap), to then lead quickly on to the main summit. The ensuing traverse on towards Bernina, treacherous and complicated, is a concentration of alpinism with a capital A: thin ridges, jutting snow cornices, pinnacles and towers of broken rocks that plunge vertically down both sides.

It comes as no surprise that an expert such as Chris Bonington had the following to say about the Scerscen - Bernina traverse: "Our route was climbed in 1886 and did not hold any technical difficulties, but a uniform 55° slope to Piz Scerscen, a knife-edge rocky ridge, full of gendarmes, from which an escape route would be problematic. In short the ascent required a degree of commitment lacking on many modern routes in the Mont Blanc range".

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