Bös (Bad) Fess as seen from Chli (Little) Fess
While looking for a summit not too far away from home that I hadn’t activated yet and that would be suitable to visit with my partner and perhaps some friends, I stumbled upon Piz Fess HB/GR-117. A nice official red (= medium difficulty) hiking trail, 1200 meters of ascent from the parking, 8 prior activations, 10 points – what could go wrong?
Except something on the map was strange. The hiking trail stops short of the SOTA summit, which appears to be in steep (> 45°) terrain according to the slope color coding of swisstopo.
Searching the web for “Piz Fess” brought up pictures like the one at the beginning of this post. I was immediately hooked. It turns out that “fess” means “split” in the local Romansh language. Piz Fess is split into “Chli Fess” (Little Fess), where the hiking trail ends, and “Bös Fess” (Bad Fess), which is 7 meters higher and thus the main summit. In between the two, there is a gap about 40 meters deep (according to a guide book of the Swiss Alpine Club).
So it was clear that Piz Fess is not the casual hiking-with-friends activation that I was searching for. But I still wanted to activate it, properly. Equipped with a rope and some gear and accompanied by my partner, I hiked up from the quiet village of Tenna, passing wonderful alpine meadows mostly devoid of livestock.
The trail was easy and well-trodden, and after about 2.5 hours, we reached the Chli Fess summit. My partner decided to stay there, while I contemplated whether to use the rope that I had brought to rappel straight down into the gap, or to climb down along the old fixed rope that had been installed there. I decided for the rappel, which turned out to be a good choice, as there were vertical and even slightly overhanging parts as well as loose rock. My 30 m rope was just long enough to get into easier terrain leading down into the gap.
I also measured the depth of the gap with the barometric sensor in my iPhone, and found 40 meters (measured from Chli Fess) to be correct. Between the gap and Bös Fess, the barometric measurement was 48 meters, also confirming that Bös Fess is indeed higher.
Looking back from the gap to Chli Fess, my rope and fixed rope visible
From the gap, I traversed the north face of Bös Fess on brittle ledges with moist gravel on them, ascended a little couloir on its western side and finally reached the summit via the south-west ridge.
There is an activator in this photo (look for my blue backpack)
Older photos of Bös Fess on the web show a large summit cross. This has reportedly broken off (along with a part of the summit ridge) and crashed down the mountain in 2020. A new, smaller cross has since been placed on the summit, but is no longer visible from Chli Fess.
I proceeded with the activation, with my KX2 and unfortunately only an AX1 antenna – I hadn’t brought a mast as it was quite clear that there would be pretty little space on the summit. The total was 29 QSOs, and the bands didn’t seem to be in good shape.
There was also a summit book from 2006 in very good condition. I could not find any entries from prior SOTA activators in it. It seems that this summit is mostly visited by a small group of locals.
Soon enough it was time to rejoin my partner. I retraced my steps from Bös Fess to the gap, being very careful on the slippery and brittle ledges. To climb back to Chli Fess, I belayed myself on the fixed rope (which took a less direct route than my rappel) for some peace of mind. The short climb was relatively easy (~UIAA III), but with the loose rock, it seemed wise to have some sort of belay.
And that’s it for this little adventure in the transition zone between hiking and climbing. Now I’m looking forward to a nice and long SOTA autumn!
73, Manuel HB9DQM