Tuesday 13 September 2011

Tour of the Monte Rosa

Four fantastic days of yomping around the Monte Rosa massif with mad Tom, at speed. It was all his idea - so far he's tackled the tour of Mont Blanc, Corsica's GR20 and Chamonix-Zermatt by the summer haute route, all in a fraction of the normal time, not to mention the Everest marathon, and climbing Mont Blanc with his number 5 ice axe and teeing golf balls off the top.

The tour follows some of the ancient Walser trading routes. We took a handful of pictures with a phone (we travelled very light weight). The normal length of the trip is nine days, and to judge by the straight lines on the GPS routes recorded on the internet, everybody seems to use ski lifts where available, which is an odd way of going for a walk. We didn't.


  • 4 days
  • over 9200 meters of ascent and descent
  • over 130 km's
  • 1 blister
  • highest point 3302m
  • favourite part (day 2) Colle selle Cime Bianche to Fiery

Day 1 Grachen to Zermatt: along the Europaweg as far as the Europahutte, then on to Zermatt. A beautiful walk with Matterhorn and Weisshorn views, across suspension bridges and rocky slopes. The hut was great for lunch but after that we were forced down to the valley as the high path was closed.

Day 2 Zermatt to Staffal (Italy): up through the not very lovely-to-walk-through Zermatt ski area and over the glacier to the Theodule pass. We pulled on Kahtoola MiroSpikes to give us grip on the ice - these worked impeccably even on the steepest section. Once into Italy and the Cervina side we crossed the rocky moonscape terrain and dropped into the most beautiful valley that followed the Torrent de Courthoud down to Resy -  then up and over the Bettaforca pass to Staffal.

Penny crossing the glacier with Kahtoola MicroSpikes on Scott eRide running shoes
Day 3 Staffal to Macugnaga: up to rifugio Guglielmina then across the Passo del Diavolo and down a rather sketchy footpath, in places very exposed, and into another stunning valley for lunch at Rifugio Crespi Calderini. We were soon climbing again, up and over the most amazing paved footpath: in the 1920's the Alpini (the alpine division of the Italian army) manhandled massive rock slabs to produce a series of switchbacks leading several kilometres over the Colle del Turlo and down the other side. It's an extraordinary piece of engineering which is even marked as a cycle route on our map.

Tom running down from Col del Turlo 
Day 4 Macugnaga to Grachen: Our longest day 13 hours (including a few breaks). Leaving Macugnaga and climbing up to the golden Madonna on the Monte Moro pass you had to remember to cast the occasional glance backwards to the Monte Rosa and it's glaciers. Dawn light spreading over the massive east face was an amazing sight. You must be seeing about 2600 vertical metres of ice and rock wall, and can even make out the crazy Margheria hut lashed to the Gniffeti peak, with steel hawsers, at 4559m.

View back across Macugnaga to Monte Rosa
Leaving Italy is always hard but we pushed on and down the slabs to the Mattmark reservoir, then an easy yomp down to Saas Almagell and a much needed lunch. We headed on to Saas Fee and the start of one of the most challenging parts of the trip: the high footpath back to Grachen is not to be taken lightly. Traversing at about 2300m it is extremely narrow and exposed with massive drops straight down to the valley below. The occasional memorial cross focusses the mind as do the chamois on the path which bound down the slopes at high speed when you appear. It was a relief to turn the corner into the dying rays of the sun and finally descend to where we had started just 4 days and 134 rocky kilometres ago. Not only were my feet and thighs starting to properly ache for the first time during the trip but the route as a whole, and this final leg in particular, was a big enough challenge that we couldn't be sure of making it at the outset. So it was quite chuffing when we did.

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