Around the Bernina Range

September 2018  |  Switzerland/Italy

In early September we flew to Zurich, Switzerland, took a train to St. Moritz, then embarked on a 9-day trek around the Bernina Range in the Rhaetian Alps. Named after the tallest peak in the range, Piz Bernina, the Bernina Range is a rugged and heavily glaciated mountain range along the border of southeast Switzerland and Italy. Our clockwise route took us across into Italy then back to Switzerland again, staying in alpine huts every night along the way.

The Chamanna Coaz hut is perhed on a cliff above Lej de Vadret and Val Roseg.

The Chamanna Coaz hut is perhed on a cliff above Lej de Vadret and Val Roseg.

Despite recent snowfall, a terrible case of jetlag, and an unsettled weather forecast, we set off from St. Moritz for our first destination - the Coaz hut.

The Coaz hut with a backdrop of glaciers and rugged peaks.

The Coaz hut with a backdrop of glaciers and rugged peaks.

Like many huts in the Alps, the Coaz hut is situated in the most unlikely of spots, perched on a solid rock cliff right alongside a glacier.

Hiking away from the Coaz hut, which is situated at the head of the valley below the glaciers in the distance.

Hiking away from the Coaz hut, which is situated at the head of the valley below the glaciers in the distance.

Looking up towards the Morteratsch Glacier and the glacier-clad Piz Zupo above it.

Looking up towards the Morteratsch Glacier and the glacier-clad Piz Zupo above it.

After hiking out Val Roseg from the Coaz hut, we caught the train in Pontresina for a 5-minute ride to the next valley where we hiked up alongside the Morteratsch Glacier to the spectacularly-situated Boval Hut.

Piz Bernina (4049m /13,284 ft.) towers above the Boval hut and Morteratsch Glacier.

Piz Bernina (4049m /13,284 ft.) towers above the Boval hut and Morteratsch Glacier.

Piz Pal├╝ (3900m, left) and Piz Zupo (3996m, right) reflect in pond at dawn.

Piz Pal├╝ (3900m, left) and Piz Zupo (3996m, right) reflect in pond at dawn.

Hiking above the Morteratsch Glacier.

Hiking above the Morteratsch Glacier.

Though it's possible to cross two glaciers to reach our next destination of Diavolezza, we didn't have crampons or ice axes, so we had to go around the long way. We hiked back out the valley, caught another quick train ride to the bottom of the Diavolezza tram, then hiked up to Diavolezza.

Hiking up to Diavolezza, with Piz Alv in the background.

Hiking up to Diavolezza, with Piz Alv in the background.

Nice place for a beer!

Nice place for a beer!

Diavolezza is a restaurant building situated on top of a high ridge with a spectacular panoramic view overlooking Piz Palü, Piz Bernina, and the Morteratsch glaciers. So far on this trek every hut was more and more spectacular, and Diavolezza raised the bar even higher! The restaurant is popular with tourists during the day, who mostly ride the tram up and down; but they also have dorm rooms to spend the night, complete with an excellent dinner and breakfast buffet.

The Milky Way above the high peaks of the Bernina Range.

The Milky Way above the high peaks of the Bernina Range.

Sunrise over Piz Pal├╝, Piz Bernina, and Piz Morteratsch as seen from Diavolezza.

Sunrise over Piz Pal├╝, Piz Bernina, and Piz Morteratsch as seen from Diavolezza.

Sunrise light on Piz Bernina and Piz Morteratsch, as seen from Diavolezza.

Sunrise light on Piz Bernina and Piz Morteratsch, as seen from Diavolezza.

From Diavolezza we had a fairly easy day hiking down and around to a lodge at Sassal Mason, above Alp Grüm.

Sassal Mason, overlooking Val Poschiavo.

Sassal Mason, overlooking Val Poschiavo.

One advantage of hut trekking in September is that the huts aren't crowded at all; at Sassal Mason we were the only guests there, and enjoyed our own private wood fire that evening in their rustic sleeping quarters.

Reflection at Alpe Pal├╝.

Reflection at Alpe Pal├╝.

From Sassal Mason we had our longest day of the trek, a fairly grueling hike above Val Poschiavo then up and over Pass da Canfinal into Italy to Rifugio Bignami.

Traditional stone houses of sheep and goat herders at Alpe Gembr├ę in Italy.

Traditional stone houses of sheep and goat herders at Alpe Gembr├ę in Italy.

Rainbow near Rifugio Bignami. The Fellaria Glacier is visible above on the left. To the right is Passo Canfinal which we hiked...

Rainbow near Rifugio Bignami. The Fellaria Glacier is visible above on the left. To the right is Passo Canfinal which we hiked over to get to Rifugio Bignami.

After five solid days of trekking we were totally exhausted at Rifugio Bignami, and with another big day of hiking ahead of us, we decided to take an extra rest day there. During the rest day we did a side hike to check out the Fellaria Glacier, then our second night we had the whole hut to ourselves again!

An ice cave at the nose of the Fellaria Glacier.

An ice cave at the nose of the Fellaria Glacier.

Like most glaciers in the Alps, this one is receding very quickly; each year it's remarkably smaller as noted in dated photos at the hut.

Hiking below Piz Scerscen on the Italian side of the Bernina Range.

Hiking below Piz Scerscen on the Italian side of the Bernina Range.

Rested up after two nights at Rifugio Bignami, we crossed over the Forcella di Fellaria pass and continued to the Rifugio Marinelli Bombardieri, another hut perched on the edge of a massive cliff. 

Sunset along the Italian (south) side of the Bernina Range, with Piz Scerscen at the right side.

Sunset along the Italian (south) side of the Bernina Range, with Piz Scerscen at the right side.

Built in 1886, the Rifugio Marinelli Bombardieri is a historic hut and the traditional resting point for the standard route up Piz Bernina.

Panoramic sunset view of Rifugio Marinelli Bombardieri and Cime di Musella.

Panoramic sunset view of Rifugio Marinelli Bombardieri and Cime di Musella.

Autumn sunlight behind Monte Disgrazia (3678m / 12,067 ft.) as seen from near Rifugio Longoni.

Autumn sunlight behind Monte Disgrazia (3678m / 12,067 ft.) as seen from near Rifugio Longoni.

From Rifugio Marinelli Bombardieri we had another long hiking day over Forcella d'Entova to the Rifugio Longoni.

A beautiful sunrise over Rifugio Longoni.

A beautiful sunrise over Rifugio Longoni.

In the morning at Rifugio Longoni I witnessed the best sunrise of the trek so far, though I was unable to find any intriguing foreground compositions to photograph so I just took another hut photo! 

Monte Disgrazia (3678m / 12,067 ft.) at sunrise.

Monte Disgrazia (3678m / 12,067 ft.) at sunrise.

Sunrise over the Rhaetian Alps.

Sunrise over the Rhaetian Alps.

Monte Disgrazia autumn reflection.

Monte Disgrazia autumn reflection.

The village of Chiareggio, at the head of Val Malenco and foot of Monte Disgrazia.

The village of Chiareggio, at the head of Val Malenco and foot of Monte Disgrazia.

Two larch trees try to populate the glacier-scoured Forno valley.

Two larch trees try to populate the glacier-scoured Forno valley.

Hiking towards the Forno Glacier.

Hiking towards the Forno Glacier.

Our final hut in the Bernina Range was the amazing Forno Hut, a beautiful hut situated on a cliff (as usual) above the Forno glacier. 

The Forno Hut, perched on a cliff high above the Forno Glacier.

The Forno Hut, perched on a cliff high above the Forno Glacier.

Dawn reflection of Piz Casnil, Piz Bacun, and Cima dal Largh.

Dawn reflection of Piz Casnil, Piz Bacun, and Cima dal Largh.

I was happy to find this tiny pond to photograph reflections in the morning.

After breakfast we hiked back out the Forno valley to Maloja, where we caught a bus back to St. Moritz where we started from, completing another fantastic hut trek in the Alps!

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