In the last few days of my holidays I managed to organise an intense 3 days mountaineering tour with Andre Dotta, who will start school in September to become a mountain guide.
The first idea was to explore the mountains above Saas-Fee, more precisely the Mischabel Gruppe and do the traverse, unfortunately 80 cm of fresh snow just fell and so we decided to opt for the Monte Rosa.
We meet at 8.00am in Ambrì, where Andrea picks me up with his car and we drive 3 hours to Gressoney. By the time we get to Gressoney it’s lunch time, we decide to explore a bit to find a restaurant, but instead of restaurant we find a mountaineering shop (Sport Geschaft, Via Deffeyes, 10, 11025 Gressoney St. Jean, Direction). I highly recommend having a look, they are very helpful and knowledgable. The store is run by a couple and the husband, Renzo Squinobal is also a certified Mountain Guide. After a little bit of shopping we get a tip off about a restaurant nearby where we have pizza without cheese and with vegetables for me.
We jump back in the car and drive up to the cabin station where we park, get changed, and prepare our backpack. We then jump on the cabin that will take us up to about 3’300m. After that it’s just a quick glacier and rock walk up to Rifugio Gnifetti (3600m) where we planned to stay for the night. We get up to the hut pretty fast, we eat something, sign in and quickly explain to the chef what I can and can’t eat as a vegan.
At 19.00pm dinner is on the table, we sit next to a group of guides from England as well as a very nice French gentleman who is celebrating his 70th birthday up in the mountains. By 21.30pm we’re in bed.
The alarm goes off at 3.50am, the people we are sharing a room with have decided to wake up early, so we snooze a bit. 4.30am we have breakfast, lots of tea and bread with jam. Slowly we take our time to get ready and by 5.30am we’re out, last group to leave the hut. On the menu for the day there are 7 peaks all higher than 4000m. We start on the glacier, direction Pyramid Vincent (4215m), by the time we reached the start of the peak we are in front of everyone, light and fast! We quickly reach the top, then we climb down the SE ridge (cresta del Soldato, PD+ II) to Punta Giordani, very fast, we then re-climb the same back to Pyramid Vincent. From there the day gets a bit easier as the other peaks are mostly reachable by walking. Following Pyramid Vincent we climb Corno Nero (4321m), Ludwigshohe (4283), Parrot Spitze (4432m), Balmenhorn and Signalkuppe (4554m), from the start of the day it only took us 5.30h! By the time we reach Rifugio Margherita (highest in Europe, 4550m) it’s almost lunch time, quick plate of pasta with tomato and a lot of water to help the acclimatisation! And then straight into bed for a 2h nap. By the time we wake up the hut has become a bit busier.
At 19.00pm we have dinner – vegetable soup, fresh tomatoes, pasta with tomato sauce and zucchini and grilled vegetables with salad, not bad for a vegan eating in the highest hut in Europe!!! After dinner we have time to enjoy an amazing sunset and then straight into bed.
The alarm goes off at 4.00am, we grab a quick breakfast and we are ready to go, we look at each other and say “today let’s go slow as we already have 5 groups in front of us climbing Dufourspitze” on the menu for the day are Zumsteinspitze (4563), Dufourspitze (4634m) and Nordend (4609m). By the time we reach Zumsteinspitze we can already see the other groups starting the climb of Dufourspitze. This is the description of the climb “Go down to the Colle Gnifetti (4454 m) and climb the Zumsteinspitze (4563 m) all on easy snow. Now go down to the Grenzsattel 4452 m on rock and snow to the foot of the Dufourspitze. This part has a very narrow and horizontal, icy ridge, to the left the Grenzgletscher and to the right the green pastures of Macugnaga more that 2000 m down. There is practically no safety possible, if you fall on one side, your buddy has to jump on the other side. Very awkward early in the icy morning after a lousy breakfast at the Margherita! Afterwards it’s nice, first easy snow then solid rock to the top. On the way many small gendarmes have their own names (Grenzgipfel, Ostspitze), a real paradise for collectors of pseudo 4000m summits! 6 hours from the hut.” By the time we reach the top of Dufourspitze we can enjoy the sunrise, we did it! We look at our watches and we realise that we did it in 1.30h!!!
From the top we climb down a few meters and then down into an icy slope where luckily some fixed ropes have been placed, we go down very fast and without even realising we are at the col leading up to Nordendspitze, quick snack and water and then back climbing. The climb is pretty straight forward with mainly a snow ridge with a final rock section, in 20 min we reach the top, take some photos and head back down and up to Dufourspitze. From there we go the same way we had gone in the morning – down to Rifugio Gnifetti and then take the cabin down Gressoney.
Luckily we manage to jump on one of the last cabins and by 12.30 we’re back at the car. Amazing tour, climbed very fast, no acclimatisation problems and we climbed ten 4000m peaks in 2 days!
Boots: La Scarpa Mont Blanc Pro GTX: very comfortable and stable technical shoes (when you put them on they feel like a pair of socks!), a bit heavy (910g) but overall a very valuable shoe (more info).
Trousers: Salewa trouser: very light built in stretch fabric, I find them very good for fast mountaineering days, unfortunately they are not produced anymore
Base layer: Arcteryx Phase AR Crew: very light and soft on the skin never makes you feel wet, only con is that it gets smelly pretty fast! Weight (160g) material (70% polyester, 30% polypropylene, UPF 25) (more info)
Mid layer: Patagonia R1 Pullover (more info): one of the best mid layers that I’ve ever bought (337g)! Keeps you warm, drives the sweat on the outside and at the same time it is extremely light and compact, and more importantly ethically produced by Patagonia! At the moment I’m trying to buy only Patagonia due to their respect for nature, people and environment (more info on their environmental policies).
Vest: Patagonia Nano Air(252g): I really like wearing a vest as it keeps you warm, but at the same time gives you more freedom and leaves your arms uncovered which helps to keep the body temperature down. Every time I wear this vest I’m always impressed with the breathability and insulation of it (more info).
Backpack: Cilao iZi 33: an ultra-lightweight mountaineering backpack: 725 g for a volume of 33l. Very technical, robust and comfortable, it is designed for mountain routes of one or two days. I’m always impressed by its very light weight as well as its comfortability and fit, a definite must have! (more info)
Ice axe: Petzl Sumtec: an amazing mix between a classic ice axe and a technical one. Lightweight, comfortable and grippy when needed (495g) (more info)
Crampons: Petzl Lynx: the best crampons you could ever buy, you can be sure that walking will be very easy as well as being very precise on rocks. I never feel more safe and happy than with these crampons on (1080g) (more info)