Go ski touring in the Alps with a Cicerone guidebook
Alpine Ski Mountaineering Vol 2 – Central and Eastern Alps
This handy pocket-sized guidebook contains detailed route descriptions for Alpine skii touring in the central and eastern Alps. This guidebook includes hut-to-hut trails in the Bernese, Urner, Albula Alps as well as classic tours through the Silvretta, Otztal, Stubai and Ortler. Skiing, mountaineering and navigational skills are all necessary. More...
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ALBULA ALPS TRAVERSE
When most ski mountaineers talk of the Engadine, it is usually to eulogise the high peaks of the Bernina and the most easternly 4000er. A few skiers opt to venture from the Engadine into the Silvretta via the Tuoi Hut from the delightfully ancient hamlet of Guardia. Hardly any think of a high-level, hut-to-hut tour across the complex terrain of the Albula Alps. Those that know the area at all have usually made day tours from huts such as the Jenatsch, or from a valley base such as Bivio, rather than a linear traverse. A few well-informed specialists have enjoyed the Albula Alps for years, but not many have travelled this delightful ‘Albula Haute Route’.
Few valleys in the Alps can compare with the Engadine. Almost 100km long, the magnificent over-deepened glacial trench of the River Inn cuts through the mountains of south-east Switzerland like a monstrous half-pipe. Not only does the Engadine have an enviable snow record, it also lays claim to having sunshine on at least 300 days in the year! Culturally this is a rich region and the centre of the Romanche language and architecture. Certainly, the local patois as it appears on the map is something to grapple with.
For a fit party finding good conditions the day stages described may well prove too short, but a party finding itself in this situation could easily increase its output by taking in an extra peak or two en route. This is certainly a quiet, wild and little-known corner of the Alps worthy of further exploration. In particular, the area around Bivio offers a plethora of peaks and passes that remain in condition from to January to May. Bivio also provides the ideal venue for a pre-tour warm-up. There are numerous first-class day-tours accessible from the village, which over the years has proven a friendly base from which to operate.
Although this is a quiet corner of the Alps, several of the huts mentioned, especially the Jenatsch, Kesch and Grialetsch, are popular as bases for day tours, especially at the weekends. The Jenatsch is fully open from February to May. You would be advised to book them well in advance. The likelihood of finding yourself alone on untracked snow is high on this tour, making avalanche awareness especially important. The hut wardens, in my experience, are well informed and many are guides, so it’s worth asking their advice about snow conditions.
Surprisingly the ‘Albula Route’ stays quite high throughout the tour, consistently over 2000m, although it does descend to civilisation at Bergün. Because this corner of the Alps has a good snow record and seems to retain snow late into the season, the route could be skied anytime from February into May, although the March–May period is optimum. As well as providing delightful touring, it offers a magnificent balcony from which to view the panorama of peaks which range through the Bernina to Bergell and beyond.
The Engadine is famous, of course, for the luxury and affluence of its major ski resort, St Moritz, but don’t despair – this tour keeps far away from well-groomed corduroy pistes and one-piece ski suits. Other advantages of the area are the excellent local transport – the Rätische Bahn and Postbus make life easy – and the amount of accommodation away from the fashionable and very expensive hotels. I prefer to make Bivio my base. It can be reached by car or bus and the local hotels normally run a taxi service to the start of the route on the Julierpass.
Start: On the Julierpass road below the La Verduta guesthouse at the entrance of the Agnel Valley
Finish: Chrastatscha Suot, in the Lower Engadine between Zernez and Susch
Duration: 6 days
Location: Albula Alps bordering the N side of the Engadine valley in the Swiss canton of Graübunden. A linear tour that runs from the Julierpass overlooking the Upper Engadine in the W and traversing NE across the Albula Alps as far as the Val Sarsura and Zernez, bordering the Silvretta in the Lower Engadine.
Difficulty: SAM. PD.
Best Time: March–May
Facilities: Bivio has a wide range of hotels, a store and at least two equipment shops. Silvaplana and St Moritz can provide most things. Bergün, a couple of days into the tour, is also a resort town with a full range of facilities. All other accommodation is in Alpine huts.
Access: Trains of the Swiss Federal Railway (Schweizerische Bundesbahn, SBB) depart from all major Swiss airports with connections to Chur, where it’s possible to continue to St Moritz on the Rhätische Bahn (RhB). The train journey through the Grisons to the Engadine, with its tunnel turns and viaducts spanning breathtaking heights, is one of the most interesting and picturesque in Europe. Since November 1999, the Vereina tunnel has shortened the trip from Zürich to St Moritz to less than 4 hours. There is a bus service to the Julierpass. Bivio can be reached by taking a train to Chur, then the RhB to Tiefencastel and finally the Postbus to Bivio. From Zurich, the journey takes less than three and half hours.
Maps: LDS 1:25,000 Sheets: 1256 Bivio, 1236 Savognin, 1237 Albulapass, 1217 Scalettapass, 1218 Zernez. LDS 1:50,000 ski maps Sheets: 268S Julierpass, 258S Bergün/Bravuogn, 259S Offenpass.
Stage 1: Julierpass – Fuorcla d’Agnel – Piz Agnel – Tschima da Flix – Jenatsch Hut
Stage 2: Jenatsch Hut – Val Laviner – Fuorcla Laviner – Piz Laviner – Val Mulix – Nax – Preda – Rätische Bahn to Bergün
Stage 3: Bergün – Tschimas da Tisch – Murtel da Lai – Fuorcla Pischa – d’Es-cha Hut
Stage 4: d’Es-cha Hut – Porta d’Es-cha – Piz Kesch–Kesch Hut
Stage 5: Kesch Hut – Alp Funtauna – Scalettahorn – Piz Grialetsch – Grialetsch Hut
Stage 6: Grialetsch Hut – Fuorcla Sarsura – Piz Sarsura – Val Sarsura – Zernez
Stage 1: Julierpass – Fuorcla d’Agnel 2984m – Piz Agnel 3205m – Tschima da Flix 3333m – Jenatsch Hut 2652m
Difficulty: SAM. PD.
Principal Aspect: S, E in ascent; N and E in descent
Time: 3h 30mins direct to hut; 6 hours with ascents
The opening day of this tour provides plenty of options. You can cross the Fuorcla d’Agnel and descend directly to the Jenatsch Hut 3-4 hours. Alternatively, you have the option of the Piz Agnel and Tschima da Flix with the Piz Calderas thrown in for those with the lungs and legs for a final 300m climb.
The tour begins at a lay-by, circa 2200m, on the Julia Pass road between Bivio and the La Veduta guesthouse. It is easily reached by bus, car or taxi from either Bivio or Silvaplana. The lay-bye is at the first hairpin bend, 300m below La Veduta on the way to Bivio. It looks directly into the Val d’Agnel. The skinning begins at the roadside where it's time to put on your skis and climb, more or less due north, into the Val d’Agnel.
After two steep sections, you reach the wide glacial hollow that leads up to the broad Fuorcla d’Agnel. Only if time is short or if the visibility is deteriorating, should you go down directly to the Jenatsch hut via the broad Vadret d’Agnel (Vadret is local patois for glacier). The crossing under the rocks of Piz Picuogl is avalanche prone and best avoided after new snow. In these conditions, you should descend right, following a small valley to pt.2496m, below the hut before turning NW and making a short ascent to the hut.
The fun starts at the col. Descend a little on the far side and turn rocks on the left and gain the 3065m high Fuorcla da Flix. Once at this well marked col turn N and ascend, on skis, the S Ridge of the Tschima da Flix to pt 3300m. The main summit is further on and best reached on foot. Follow the sharp ridge NW to point 3316m (skis can be left here) and continue along the ridge to the main summit 3333m. Return to your skis and savour the descent. From the summit of the Tschima da Flix, one gets a splendid view of the whole of the Bernina Range – a panorama that will become familiar throughout this tour.
The descent via the snaking Vadret Calderas is down a series of north-facing pitches that offer tremendous skiing. I’ve always found good conditions on this slope, which often hold powder snow until well into the spring. Initially stay on the true R bank for the first few hundred metres, keeping the main area of crevasses to the left aiming in the direction of pt.2963m. At this point, begin making a diagonal traverse to the true L bank of the Vadret Calderas staying close under the slopes of the Piz Calderas.
Once off the Vadret Calderas the valley twists SE and the way now continues in a narrow valley, which leads in turn to the Jenatsch Hut, 2652m. This hut has a friendly and helpful guardian and is also fairly popular, so you would be advised to book your bed space well in advance.
Piz Calderas, 3397m
Piz Calderas, 3397m, is the highest summit of the Piz-d’Err group and can be climbed via its south-east face. The route presents few difficulties and is best climbed by descending N from the ski depot on the Tschima da Flix across the Vadret Calderas to pt.3166 on the south ridge of Piz Calderas. The route then climbs directly up the south-east face. In descent return to pt.3166 and cross the Vadret Calderas to its true R bank and descend as for the Tschima da Flix.