The mountain of the British climbers. A Mountaineering History
23 April 2012
A mountaineering History of Monte Disgrazia 3678m - one of the most attractive peaks of the Central Alps. The year 2012 marks the 150th anniversary of first ascent by the British Edward Shirley Kennedy, and Leslie Stephen, with the Swiss Guide Melchior Anderegg and the adjutant Thomas Cox, on 23 August 1862.
By Mario Sertori
Monte Disgrazia’s (“Misfortune Mountain”) original name is said to have been Pizzo Bello (“Beautiful Peak”). But it is now called Monte Disgrazia. Scholars have pondered whether “Monte dei Quai” (Quai-ni from the name of a family from Traona which owned alpine meadows at Predarossa) became through a mapmaker’s error Monte dei Guai (troubles), then simply Disgrazia. Others say the name is a corruption of the word Desgiaccia in dialect which means “which breaks up” from the frequent landslips especially in Val Sissone. Whatever the origin, the mountain is now known as Monte Disgrazia. It has its own special character, and like the Monviso, Grand Combin and Matterhorn, the Disgrazia is an isolated peak. Among the summits of the Central Alps it is by a long way one of the most attractive and has a long, rich history. It lies completely in Italian territory, off the main Alpine chain and at the head of two valleys: Val Masino and Valmalenco. From all directions it’s an attractive mountain, whose vivid colours are due to the serpentine which forms most of the Valmalenco mountains, after the bright granites of the Màsino. On the north face you can see in fact the grey granite slabs of Monte Pioda, while just to the south the bright red serpentine starts.
Alpinists only turned their attention quite late on to the Disgrazia, even though it’s very visible from the middle Valtellina and dominates the western part of the Valmalenco. Only in 1862 did English climbers, at the time among the most active peak baggers in the Alps, reach its summit. They first tackled the mountain from the Val Sissone (Valmalenco), following the glacier tongues, snow and rock, to set foot beyond the Passo di Mello and continuing on the crest to Monte Pioda, naming it Punta della Speranza. Here they turned back, but this exploration gave them the knowledge to reach the summit a few days later, on 24 August. The British E.S. Kennedy and L. Stephen, with the guide M. Anderegg  and T. Cox chose a different route: by cart from Chiareggio to the Bagni di Masino, climbing directly from the valle di Mello, to the Sella di Pioda via Passo Cecilia and from there along the NW crest to the summit; this would become the most popular route to the summit. The ascent was documented in the The Alpine Journal of 1863, now (2007) translated into Italian Il Picco Glorioso and published by Tararà, Mountain books editor in Verbania.
First Italian repeat and new English route, the first from the Val Ventina
Only 12 years later did the first Italian party of Valtellina climbers reach the summit on 7 August 1874. Buzzi, Foianini, Orsatti, Rossi and Schenatti, set off on August 5 from Sondrio, slept at the Alpe Airale and the next day reached the Cassandra glacier for a reconnaissance of the route to the summit. The next day, on the advice of Flematti from Spriana, an expert chamois hunter named Il Gatt for his feline ability to overcome obstacles, the group followed the route of the first ascensionists. Il Gatt, the archetypical Alpine guide, accompanied them. On 29 August of the same year the English once again climbed a new route: F. T. Pratt Barlow, S. F. Still, P. Taugwald with J.Anderegg (Melchior’s cousin who in 1865 climbed the Brenva Spur and in 1876 the Cordier Couloir on the Aiguille Verte on Mont Blanc), climbed the north arete from the Ventina basin and then along the crest to the summit.
Antonio Baroni climbs the first Italian new route
In 1878 the strong guide Antonio Baroni climbed a new route on the large rock crest on the SW side which now bears his name, together with Francesco Lurani Cernuschi, a great explorer of this part of the Alps. Thanks to the latter, in 1881 a small hut was built next to the Predarossa glacier’s moraine, to help climbing the mountain from the Valle Airale. The new hut, named after Cernuschi’s wife Cecilia, led to an increase in the number of people climbing the Disgrazia. The military authorities constructed the Maria summit hut in 1883, for scientific observations, but by 1894 only its walls were left standing.
Once again a first ascent by the Brits, this time without a Guide
The first ascent entirely on the north side was made in the summer of 1882 by the brothers Charles and Lawrence Pilkington, English gentlemen who preferred to climb without a guide. With them was Eustace Hulton. After a new route on the Piz Roseg, the trio arrived at Alpe Ventina. They followed the 1874 route of the F.T. Pratt Barlow party to arrive at the upper basin of the Ventina Glacier. They wanted to climb the East/NorthEast crest, but the step cutting was too difficult, so they followed the rocks of the east flank.
The Schenatti couloir route
In August 1888, Enrico Schenatti with Gian Battista Vittadini climbed an obvious variant to the normal route up the snow sheet between the West/NW crest and the rock spur of the via Baroni, to finish just below the summit. The Schenatti couloir is a fast alternative to the Normal Route in good conditions, and would be often climbed in winter and spring.
Christian Klucker and Bortolo Sertori leave their mark
In June 1897 the Engadin guide Christian Klucker, one of the strongest alpinists of his generation, climbed an audacious line on the Disgrazia’s East face, with his inseparable (and grumpy) client Anton Von Rydzewsky, Angelo Dandrea and Mansueto Barbaria from Cortina. Klucker’s route was first repeated in 1902 by another famous guide of the time: Bortolo Sertori from Cataeggio (Valmasino), the first to climb the Punta of his same name on the East flank of the Badile. With him were Antonio Facetti and A. Villa from Sondrio. They climbed an important variant in the lower part of the route.
In 1899 Tinsenlhor with an Ticino guide, and in 1900 Enrico Schenatti with Carlo Gnecchi, discovered a new way to reach the summit from the Val Ventina from the glacial coomb to the base of the East/NE crest and then following the rock wall from the end of the crest.
Bortolo Sertori with G.Gugelloni came back to climb the first route on the long and not very inviting crest from the Passo di Corna Rossa to the summit, following in the final sections the crest from Passo Cassandra.
Until the start of the Twentieth Century, no-one had dared to set foot on the north face, a chaotic jumble of icy towers and dark holes overlooked by chasms of icy snow raked by stone fall. A hostile world, then, for the alpinists with their rudimentary ice climbing gear. The tiring and precarious technique of the day involved cutting an interminable series of small steps…Once again, it was the British climbers who made the first move.
First route on the N face for the Scots
In the summer of 1910, the Scots W.N. Ling and H. Raeburn chose the easiest line up this shadowy wall, an elegant snow slide which leads directly to the WNW crest. They plan to reach in a couple of days the Maloja pass and hired the Guide Casimiro Albareda. They climbed from Val Sissone and Albareda thought they wanted to cross the Passo di Mello, but when Albareda understood the true objective, he exclaimed “impossible!” and headed back down. After a bivvy, at 1 am by the light of the lantern they walked under the Pizzo Ventina and looked for a way through the tangle of huge seracs and riddle of crevasses. Raeburn even measured the slope’s gradient: 62° for a brief section and 52° on average! In just over 8 hours they reached the WNW crest and then the summit. The via degli inglesi or lo spigolo (arete) degli inglesi was the name the route would be known by. By now people were starting to explore this corner which dominates the meadows of the Pian del Lupo and the centuries-old road to the Passo del Muretto, before then regarded as inaccessible. Harold Raeburn made many expeditions to the Caucasus and the Himalayas, and in 1921 was Expedition Leader in George Mallory’s 1921 Everest bid. Five years after the first ascent (1915) two Italians repeated the route: Angelo Calegari and Gaetano Scotti, some of the periods most active alpinists. In 1911 the two Italians, with Romano Calegari (Angelo’s brother), were the first to climb the Badile’s north arete, though the ascent wasn’t recognised since it was made on two different sections, the first two-thirds bottom-up and the top-third after abbing down from the summit.
The Corda Molla and the big crests
Aldo Bonacossa and P.I. Torti in July 1911 were the first to follow the SE crest starting from the Passo di Cassandra. This good climb was completed with the traverse to the Passo di Mello in 1930 by Alfredo Corti and Antonio Lucchetti Albertini. Another attractive crest forms the south side of the Val Sissone basin, separating it from the Val Ventina: the East/NorthEast crest, starting between the Pizzo Ventina and the Punta Kennedy which the Pilkington brothers had briefly tried during their 1882 ascent, only to judge it too difficult. The crest continues level on fire-red rocks before the narrow final snow crescent which gives the route its name Corda Molla, “Slack Rope” dreamt up by Alfredo Corti. From the end of the “corda” at the rocks below the summit, a cunning route discovered one again by the audacious Valmalenco guide Ignazio Dell’Andrino with B. De Ferrari lets you reach the summit without problems. This 1914 route would become one of the most popular on the mountain. Alfredo Corti with his brother Plinio and Augusto Bonola made the first repeat in 1928 and published a detailed description. Corti in fact had studied the line in detailed and described it to Ignazio Dell’Andrino who always felt he couldn’t take all the credit for the first ascent.
Giacomo Schenatti’s masterpiece
Almost 20 years would pass before a team of famous climbers and guides would try to resolve the problem of the North Face. The “Spigolo degli inglesi” is well to the side and doesn’t overlook the heart of the face. The morning of 5th August 1933 Luigi Bombardieri, a leader of Valtellina alpinism and his trusted guide Cesare Folatti from the Valmalenco, together with Alfredo Corti and Peppino Mitta set off to tackle the North face. They had to detour as far as the Spigolo degli Inglesi to pass the bergschrund then climbed diagonally towards the North face’s big slide. First they climbed fast, but at the narrowing where the face steepens dramatically, they deviated to the right on an easier rocky wall and gain the WNW crest just above Ling and Raeburn’s route. This was no doubt a step forward but it wasn’t the perfect direct line.
It fell to another Valmalenco guide, Giacomo Schenatti, and Antonio Lucchetti Albertini a year later to finish things off. Schenatti chose July, maybe to beat others to the prize or maybe to have better snow, but had to deal with more snow on the rocks below the summit. The guide from Chiesa Valmalenco patiently continued the direct line, creating a ladder in the ice, in a titanic struggle that didn’t allow mistakes or wavering. From the Prati di Pian del Lupo, Professor Corti watched progress with a telescope, step after step as if he was a third climber. This impressive feat took 13 and a half hours, and you have to marvel that not a single peg was used. The alpine literature for years erroneously reported that Schenatti and Albertini finished not by the col on the right, but straight up the rocky bastion below the summit. Jacopo Merizzi and Bianco Lenatti say that this would not have been possible with the climbing of the day, especially after 8 hours of fighting with the ice, and years later Schenatti himself had told Bianco: "If you ski exactly where I climbed, you can ski down the face." That obviously excludes vertical rock sections!
This was Giacomo Schenatti (Chiesa Valmalenco 1903 - 1989)’s finest moment for which he will be remembered. His client paid him 300 lire with which he bought a good milking cow and had enough left over to live for a whole winter.
First repeats, variants and macabre descents
In 1941 Carlo Negri and Fausto Rovelli made the first repeat of the N face, but only followed Schenatti’s route in the upper part, above the serac. They crossed the bergschrund directly below the icy apex, then climbed the rocky rib that delimits it on the right, placing some pegs and overcoming very hard sections. For the descent they had dense cloud and icy winds. They thought they were on the via Baroni, but the ground was more difficult and they had to make an abseil, ending up at a cave where they found the macabre remains of two climbers who’d disappeared 7 years before. Carlo Negri described their experiences in the Italian Alpin Club newsletter n°78 of 1946. Several variants were climbed in the following years, the most significant of which was in August 1960 by Carlo Mauri and Dino Piazza with R. Aldè and B. Ferrario who turned the large serac to the left. Still in 1960, the face was climbed for the first time in winter by the strong Lombardy climbers Vasco Taldo (some months before with Nusdeo he’d made the FA of the legendary route on the Picco Luigi Amedeo in Valmasino) and Romano Merendi with E. Lazzarini and E.Colonaci. In 1940 Alfredo Corti again, this time with his son Nello and Peppo Perego, found a new possibility on the north face of the central peak. The trio slept at the Taveggia bivvy, built by the CAAI in 1929 at 2845 m, just below the little col at the start of the E crest of the Punta Kennedy. They found a line on solid rock and overcame the wall which towers above the upper Ventina basin, then a final section on the SE crest took them to the summit. Four years later (July 1944) another fan of the Disgrazia, the Milan alpinist Nando Grandori with B. Perotti climbed another rock route on the NE bastion, but this time to the E summit.
Solos and insubordinate climbers
1977: Giovanni Pirana was a young Sondrio climber who wanted to show that his group wasn’t just made of sassista or boulderers, as the Sondrio CAI disparagingly referred to the first Val di Mello climbers. Giovanni in a short period made a series of difficult solos in the Central Alps, routes which were no push-over even for the best climbers of the day when roped together. When he was 17 Pirana climbed the N face of the Disgrazia in only 6 hours 30 minutes from the Oggioni bivvy with only one axe. In winter 1992 Fabio Salini, alpine guide from Morbegno, would solo the same route. In September 1979 Val Malenco hosted the Ice and Mixed part of the guides’ training course. The Disgrazia was obviously a good place to test the students, who tackled the hardest routes. A new line, in fact very obvious, was climbed on the NE face between the east and central summits by Luigi “Gigi” Mario, a top Rome climber of the Sixties and course director. Among the young climbers trhere was Renato Casarotto who would go on to make his mark in climbing with very hard climbs in Italy and overseas. The anarchic behaviour of the Vicenza climber gave the route its name Couloir dell’insubordinato: Renato had set off unroped on the steep gully and Gigi Mario had to go and get him back. Famous Alessandro Gogna and the less well-known but very good Abruzzo climber Giampiero Di Federico were also in the group.
Fast ascents for the Ragni di Lecco
In January 1983 the Ragni di Lecco Norverto Riva and Marco Della Santa made an audacious ascent. After two days stuck at the Oggioni bivvy due to bad weather, the two were impatient to try the new technique of front-pointing on their “home” walls and they headed for a very steep runnel with some almost vertical frozen waterfalls, to the right of the Via degli Inglesi. In just a few hours they climb 600 metres to invent the Supercouloir, after the route of the same name on Mont Blanc du Tacul, a milestone in the new ice climbing techniques which the pair have already repeated. They returned to the bivvy via the via degli Inglesi and the next day, as “active recovery” they tackle the enormous serac which looms over the north face; they climbed it directly with some very sustained pitches, in a great demonstration of both ability and audacity, suspended like ants on the prow of a huge ship. Super-confident, they descended from the Corda Molla, completing an extraordinary two days’ climbing on the Disgrazia. In 1990 a new mixed route on the Predarossa side up a series of small waterfalls was climbed by three members of the Valtellina CAI: Luigi Pasini, Angelo Libera and Celio Giatti.
In 1988 on the Disgrazia, or more precisely, on the west face of the east summit, Lorenzo Meciani and Dario Bambusi climbed the pure rock route Sulla strada della follia. Five years later a Sondrio team Celio Giatti, Mario Vannuccini and Dante Barlascini climbed on another sector of this complex cliff Californian climber up one of the upper pillars. In August 2012 Michele Comi, Luca Maspes, Giuseppe Miotti and Stefano Mogavero managed the first ascent of the Via del 149° on the south face of Anticima Orientale.
Melchior Anderegg born in Meiringen - Bern Canton (1828 – 1914) one of the greatest guides ever: first ascensionist of the Brenva Spur and of the Walker Spur of the Grandes Jorasses.
 1880 – 1973 Alfredo Corti, member of the Club Alpino Accademico Italiano, University professor and naturalist, was one of the most important figures in Valtellina climbing in the twentieth century. A tireless explorer of the Bernina and Disgrazia massifs. Wrote the Guide to the Bernina, and many articles.
 Renato Casarotto (1948 1986) famous for his solos, among which the N face of Huascaràn, North Pillar of Fitz Roy, McKinley by the SE crest; first winter solo of the Gervasutti route on the E face of the Grand Jorasses. But the most impressive was the winter Triology on the Freney.: unsupported he climbed W face Aiguille Noire (Ratti-Vitali), Pic Gugliermina (Gervasutti-Boccalatte) and the Central Pillar (Whillans-Bonington) for 2 weeks alone in one of the Alps’ most inhospitable places.