OverviewEnlarge picture for route schematic!
The Albigna Geist route on the Piz Balzet is probably the most popular route on the mountain after the south ridge. It doesn't attract the same number of crowds though and is a good option for climbers looking for a longer, technically more interesting route.
Technical rock difficulties generally do not exceed UIAA IV which I in practice found to be around 4c. However, if you choose to do a variation start (dotted line in the picture) the difficulty rises to approximately 5b slabs for the first two pitches or so. This variation start is well bolted. The technical difficulties in this route are concentrated in the first third. This section features equipped belays and bolts in the harder parts of the pitches. The upper two thirds are technically easier and consequently do not feature any equipped belays or bolts.
The English Alpine Club guidebook gives the route an alpine rating of 'D' but I have left this out because I feel it is not warranted as the most difficult pitches/moves are protected by a bolt, the rock is generally of good quality and the approach could hardly be easier. The Swiss SAC guidebook also makes no mention of an alpine grade for the route.
That havig been said, parties should be familiar with placing their own protection and well practiced in alpine ropework as the upper two thirds or so of the route feature no in-situ belays and require unroped/simul-climbing in order to make the top in good time. Guidebook time is approximately 4 hours to the summit.
Route finding in the lower half of the route can be a bit tricky, emphasized by the SAC guidebook's rather specific description on how to tackle the bottom third of the climb. Take some time to view the route from the cablecar station or from the top of the dam because up close the features will be much harder to make out.
Getting ThereWhether coming from the Albigna hut or from the cablecar station at the foot of the dam, make your way to the eastern (Balzet) side of the dam and just after stepping of the dam propper head into the scree and rubble slopes in the direction of the Balzet. There are some rather faint tracks but the buttress to the right of the actual 'Albigna Geist'-rock features where the climb starts is easily recognizable.
Once this buttress is reached, climb up along (grassy) ledges to an obvious belay spot and tie in.
Route DescriptionThe classic line strikes out to the right to where the buttress meets the rest of the mountain and the line then follows the obvious crack to the top of the buttress. Take note that this can be very damp and moss-covered so it is often better to take the variation which climbs the buttress directly by traversing onto it at halfheight and then climbing along it's ridge to it's top.
To climb the variation head upwards from the tie-in point, bearing slightly leftwards until you reach solid bolts. Belay, and following the obvious bolts climb across slabs to the top of the buttress (max 5b).
From here follow pegs and the occasional bolt along grassy ledges as you make your way directly above the 'face'. Traverse to the right underneath a roof (peg + good cam placement available) and upwards towards the ridge. Follow the sharp ridge for a ropelength and then make your way across to the WSW ridge proper and onto far broader and easier terrain.
From here the ridge is less well defined and the bolts/pegs dissapear. Follow the ridge upwards along grassy ledges alternated by some short but more difficult climbing. Enjoy a very exposed bit of ridge near the fore summit. After an easy slab pitch just underneath the fore summit it is an easy scramble to its top. Downclimbing is however very exposed and technically challenging; rope up in time if you are unsure.
The last challenge is reaching the notch between the fore and the actual summit. Downclimb to just underneath the ridge between the two summits and use the belay there or continue along the short ridge until you reach a rockfeature that is shaped like a rhino's horn and has a lot of abseil slings around it.
Abseil into the notch and scramble up to the summit without difficulty. From here downclimb several meters on the eastern side and located the abseilpoint (double bolts, chain).
Abseil and downclimb/traverse over exposed terrain until the terrain turns into a flatter and broader platform. Do NOT abseil down the south side into the gully as this is not the proper route and there is the danger of rockfall if there are numerous parties. Instead climb/walk just a few meters to the actual, north - facing abseil point. Abseil, follow a steep path for several meters, abseil in the broad, rubble-filled gully and walk down until you gain a footpath and make your way back towards the hut along this.
Essential GearApproximately 8 quickdraws.
Some medium sized friends & a small rack of nuts.
Plenty of slings (webbing).
Approach shoes / trainers for the approach and descent.
At least a 50m single rope.
Guidebooks and mapsSAC Fuhrer 'Sudlicher Bergell'.
British Alpine Club guidebook 'Bergell and Bernina'.
Map: Swisstopo 1:25000 #1276 'Val Bregaglia'.