Shattered Mountain - an ascent to Pizzo Emet (3,200m), video in 4k

Shattered Mountain

Okay, so, we’re in Italy for a few days. We have a week of vacation. What do you want to do? Climb a mountain, of course.

Basically what we sometimes miss in Lanzarote, where we live, is the Alps. So as we happen to be around, we can’t miss the opportunity for a couple quick tours.

We didn’t want to do anything too difficult or challenging, we wanted to take it easy and travel very light for a one-day thing. Also, we liked the idea of exploring a valley we didn’t know — far from the most famous and crowded mountains. So we did some research and found Pizzo Emet as a good candidate. An easy (on paper) ascent, but still mountaineering class, reasonable altitude gain (1,300 meters positive gain), which we could tackle in our “free trail” style and have a tough but relaxing day out. Things turned out a bit different.

Emet, also called Timun in Swiss, is the second summit of Val Spluga, Rhaetian Alps, on the Italy-Switzerland border, at 3,200 meters altitude. The route departs from the postcard-perfect Lake Montespluga and passes by Bertacchi Hut, which sits just upon serene Emet Lake — another place perfect to sate your alpine photo hunger. The trail up to Bertacchi hut goes up about 300 meters and offers pleasant vistas, revealing the huge mass of Emet halfway. There are a couple of tricky passages as the trail goes along a ledge. The excursion is for everyone — but be careful.

From this viewpoint, you can see the mountain well, as it looms over the lake. It seems a bit shattered. It also seems big because it is.

The trail goes up to Emet pass, a beautiful spot on the Italy-Switzerland border, with vistas on both sides and guarded by the rocky fortresses of Emet and Spadolazzo, embracing it. This is a perfectly cool destination for a two-hours hike, by the way — an idyll complete with flowery meadows, butterflies, mystical boulders, serene ponds full of friendly toads.

We take a steep trail on a grassy slope on the right — pointing straight at Pizzo Emet — after missing it and discovering that a twin Niemet Pass on the Swiss side exists, too. We look around and find the right trail, which is described as “steep” on the description we have printed, and lives up to the adjective. Oh. Yes. It is pretty steep.

Head down, we walk (memories of our trail races go by) and reach a grassy shoulder at the end of the steep trail — of course we keep and forever will keep referring at it as “the steep trail” — and have a bite. Oh, how good is whatever you eat on a high meadow after a steep trail! This is another fine destination for a hike, by the way, with the soothing sound of ice waters flowing by.

We tackle the talus, which departs from here. The mountain seemed a bit shattered because it is. You climb a enormous collapse. Which glitters with white quartz, giving the illusion of snow from a distance — funny thing, rock is hot, as this is a very, very hot August day, yet the quartz veins are freezing cold.

Red-white marks and cairns are many, but sometimes difficult to follow as rocks have slid over them. Many of these move. Too many. We feel like walking on glass — only the glass weighs tons and it lays on more tons of oversized stone surf boards. Let’s just hope the ridge is more stable and no big waves come…

We go almost straight up the crumbling face, looking around for cairns guiding the way — Look, cairn there! — and reach the ridge at a panoramic saddle close to some spikes. Lei Lake, long and thin, salutes us from the far bottom of the valley on the other side, one thousand two hundred meters below. Since the pass, we only met three people coming down (with exhausted and pale faces), and we see a girl who’s going up fast before us. No one else around. Apart from that eagle I spot. The route follows the ridge through tracks and easy rocks (grade II).

We are glad to find the first stretch of the ridge a little more solid, but we can’t lower our guard, as many stones still move. Yet, it is exhilarating to advance with the grandiose panorama on both sides with lakes and rock drawing strange symbols you can only see from up here, and the thin snaking line of the broken ridge growing longer and lower behind us. A sense of lightness and intoxication pervades me as I strive to be smooth and gentle in every step.

A problem we have to face is the lack of water: we brought water, of course, but we didn’t expect this heat and we didn’t expect the ascent to take this long. So we are parched. Valentina spots a hole full of snow, though, so we have a delicious popsicle and we refill our bottles.

We reach the summit after climbing a little wall, and we make retrofront right away — as I don’t like in the least those black clouds I see broiling from the west. I already had an encounter with them a few years ago. And I’m okay with that.

We go down carefully, but without losing any second — we don’t want to be here as the storm comes — looking for the saddle where we met the ridge. But that’s easier said than done. We miss it, and go farther down on the ridge. It seems different than when we came up — maybe the light has changed, maybe we’re a little tired, maybe everything is so shattered that points of reference are gone. It doesn’t help the storm coming, the first drops of rain, the huge pieces of rock we see and hear thundering down here and there. We meet a ermine who makes fun of us as we wander about the ridge looking for a track, a cairn, a mark — as it leaps from stone to stone like a spring. After trying to get our bearings looking at the angle we see the lakes at the bottom and the relative height of the other ridges and summits, Valentina convinces me that we have to retrace our steps uphill. She is right! We seem to find the saddle and begin our descent as rain begins to intensify.

The stones are slippery, the face is steep, and everything moves. No visible marks. No cairns. Not easy to tell a cairn from just another heap of broken rock… Going back up is out of the question, so we just go down, trying not to go down together with a slice of the mountain and hoping not to find any sudden drop. And yet, the scenario around us is fantastic, as the whole shattered mountainface begins to glitter.

We finally spot some marks and reach them. At least, water is no longer a problem as we refill our bottles thanks to the newborn streams coming down everywhere around us.

The rain is gone as we get to the grass at the bottom of the talus, and the (by now legendary) Steep Trail expects us, offering us a wonderful view of the valley and the shimmering lake below.

The rest is pleasant descent in the coming evening, with an apparent infinity of tadpoles accompanying us as we lose ourselves in the clouds, the flowers, the descending sun.

We get to our car at Montespluga right before a devastating hailstorm.

This used to be an easy mountaineering excursion, but it has become dangerous due to our glaciers melting. Which is disconcerting. So many ascents already lost… Today, the mountain is a gigantic heap of unstable slabs, and as I said we witnessed parts (big parts) of it coming down hard. Some marks and cairns, as well, have become difficult to identify and follow due to collapses.

The high part of the route (from the grassy shoulder where the talus begins) is not recommended. It’s just too dangerous. You can be as good as they come, but if a rock as big as a car decides to detach at the wrong time, well…

Great day, all considered. The scenario was surreal enough to make this experience intense and unforgettable. The panorama and the nature all around, in any case, are still breathtaking.

For feasting your eyes with some stunning photos about this day, check out Valentina’s shots on her website.