Piz Palü 3900 m Panorama

REACHING NEW HEIGHTS WITH THE MAMMUT ALPINE SCHOOL

Interview with Markus Wey, a mountain guide with 40 years of experience and Technical Director of the Mammut Alpine School

Engadin - a high valley in the Swiss canton of Graubünden - is characterized by contrasts. The unique juxtaposition of imposing glaciers, narrow ridges, sharp peaks and blue mountain lakes is a mountaineer's dream. We asked Markus Wey, Technical Director of the Mammut Alpine School, which mountain tour he would particularly recommend and the ideal preparation and equipment for this.

Markus, what makes Engadin so special?
I always really enjoy visiting Engadin. The combination of forests, lakes and lofty mountain peaks makes it a very impressive area. The Piz Bernina, with its fantastic panoramic view from the Ortler to the Monte Rosa, is a real highlight for me every time.

The Mammut Alpine School runs a wide selection of mountain tours all over the Alps. Which tour in Engadin would you recommend?
The tour on the 3,901-meter Piz Palü is one of the absolute highlights in our program. You are treated to beautiful panoramic views of the Bernina Range as you make your way, step by step, upwards to the ultimate goal, the summit of the Piz Palü. Three truly amazing days.

What training do you need to take part in a tour like this?
We spend three to six hours each day climbing and cover around 1,200 meters. Another important consideration is the altitude, at over 3,000 meters the physical strain is far greater in comparison with activities in level terrain. We take the ascent slowly and give our bodies time to adjust to the altitude, but to prepare for the climb to the summit, you should do mountain and hiking tours lasting several hours in advance. For even better acclimatization, I would recommend staying an extra night in Engadin at 1,800 meters before the tour.

What would the ideal fitness training consist of? 
In terms of fitness, you should choose activities that raise your heart rate, for example, running with interval training. This means increasing your pace for short periods of time to elevate your pulse rate (over 120) and then giving your body a chance to actively recover with a slower jog. Your pulse rate automatically rises in higher altitudes, so physical fitness is essential and it would definitely not be ideal if you were pushing your limit at a pulse rate of 130.

What other requirements do participants need to meet?
A sure step on pathless mountain terrain is very important. This requires preparatory work over boulders to train balance and develop a sense of trust in the soles of your shoes. This preparation is absolutely essential to ensure safety during both the ascent and descent. We provide a lot of training over the first two days of the tours. The guides give tips and teach participants the correct procedures for high altitude terrain. However, this tour is not suitable for novices. I would recommend one of our introductory tours in this case.

Which introductory mountain tour do you recommend?
I would recommend the tour on the Sustenhorn.  Over a period of three days, you learn the most important principles, such as basic knots, using crampons, an ice axe and rope. All accompanied by a fantastic view.

In terms of equipment, what points are particularly important to note?
The most important thing is the right footwear. It should provide great stability for the soles of the feet and ankles and don't forget the need to ‘break it in’ before the tour- this is essential. I recommend seeking individual advice from experts in specialist stores. In terms of clothing, protection from wind and rain is vital. I can recommend, for example, the Nordwand Advanced Jacket together with the Nordwand Pro Pants.

What would you recommend for anyone who prefers to explore Engadin without a rope and crampons?
You can find countless mountain hikes in Engadin at all levels of difficulty. The beautiful lakes and villages in the high valley are also well worth a visit. For instance, you can take a pleasant stroll or hike from Pontresina train station through the Val Roseg to the Roseggletscher hotel. If you are too tired to walk back, you can take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage.

author Markus Wey

Markus Wey is Technical Director of the Mammut Alpine School and has been Mountain Guide for more than 40 years.

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