Compass

Sept. 13, 1950: First ascent of Piz Bernina

Compass

(Photo: Iter1 via Wikimedia Commons)

Set among other pointy granite crags near the resort area of St. Moritz, near the border between Switzerland and Italy, Piz Bernina is the highest mountain in the Eastern Alps and one of the tallest of all the Alps, at 13,284 feet.

Johann Coaz named the mountain (after the Bernina Pass — and "piz" is a Romansch word indicating a mountain) when he made the first ascent in 1850. The 28-year-old topographer, along with brothers Jon and Lorenz Ragut Tscharner, climbed for about 12 hours straight to reach the summit.

Coaz wrote: "Thousands and thousands of mountain peaks surrounded us, rising as rocks from the glittering sea of ice. We stared amazed and awe-struck across this magnificent mountain world."

Despite its height, the mountain is easy to see these days, since it's so near popular resort towns. Conveniently, you can also catch nice views of it as a passenger the Bernina Railway, which travels from St. Moritz through the Bernina Pass.

Sturdy souls follow in Coaz's footsteps, as well as those of subsequent explorers, although the trek is easier. Not only are the routes fairly well marked, hikers can start from huts on various routes, stationed at between about 8,000 and 12,000 feet.

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