Monthly Archives: July 2015

Monte Leone

July 21st

Start:  Simplon Hospice, 07.55;  finish: Monte Leone Hut, 18.15

Distance: 22,4 km
Time:10 hours 20 minutes (plus 50 minutes for the stops)
Vertical distance: 2340 m uphill;  1490 m downhill

Summit: Monte Leone, 3553 m

Following the frontier from just below Gondo to the summit of Monte Leone would have involved a climb of 2750 m, and even more if all cols and pinnacles before and after Punta Valgrande were counted as well.  Besides, the first section is very steep scree and rubble, normally only done in descent by abseiling.  Dave and I decided this was too much, especially with heavy rucksacks!  So we opted to start at the Simplon Hospice, which saved 1200 m ascent.  But because we could only get breakfast at 7 a.m. in the hotel in Simplon Dorf this made for a late start.  We made good progress but suffered from heat and soft snow later on.  The easy scramble up large slabs and boulders on the final ridge seemed endless before we finally reached the summit at about 2 p.m.  Reasonable weather but quite a few clouds.  On the way down, Dave suggested crossing to the Monte Leone Hut directly, without losing height, but we were blocked by gullies and small cliffs so had to go down in any case – the result was a loss of time of at least 30 minutes.  Beware of short cuts in mountainous terrain!

To Gondo

July 20th

Start: Bivacco Camposecco; finish: Gondo
Distance: 24,5 km
Time: 8 hours and 30 minutes (plus 1 hour for the stops)
Vertical distance: 820 m uphill, 2300 m downhill

Off at 5.20 a.m., aiming for Rifugio Andolla that we should have reached the evening before.  It took us nearly 4 hours and allowed us to bypass the Portjengrat, necessary because all the guides advised against the long descent from the Portjengrat to the Andolla pass.  Breakfast at the hut, then up the 400 m to the Passo d’Andolla, followed by the long descent to Gondo, which we were committed to reaching today (meeting with Sally who came by train and reservation in Simplon Dorf).

Night: Hotel Fletschhorn, Simplon-Dorf


Boundary “stone” at Passo d’Andolla


Boulder fields – slow progress

July 19th

Start:  Rifugio Oberto; finish:   Bivacco  Camposecco (CAI)
Distance: 19,9 km
Time: 12 hours (plus 1 hour for the stops)
Vertical distance: 1700 m uphill, 2140 m downhill

Good breakfast at the hut at 4.30 a.m., set off at 5.20.  Climbed Joderhorn (3036 m), then Spechhorn (3189 m) and Ofentalhorn (3059 m) further along the frontier ridge.  No paths at all, mostly loose scree and tiresome, unstable boulder fields and we realised that we were not moving as fast as expected on this sort of terrain.  The next summit, Jazzihorn (3227 m) and subsequent descent to the Altronapass were particularly time-consuming.  Clouds were building up and we decided to aim for the Italian  bivouac hut Camposecco over a small pass of the same name.  Here we went too far and reached the Vorder Latelhorn by mistake, in spite of GPS.  The descent back to the pass was graded “facile” in our guide book but we didn’t find the right route.  We had to put on the rope and do some delicate climbing just as it started drizzling and a thunderstorm raged the other side of the valley.  We hurried to get down to the bivouac hut and found we had been on the go for 13 hours.  I had to borrow  matches off an employee of the nearby hydro-electric facility (and also scrounged some beer off him) and we brewed some tea and ate what little food we had.  Comfortable night (mattresses and blankets in the hut).


Dave on the Ofentalhorn, Monte Rosa behind


Arriving drenched at a mountain hut

July 18th

Start: Mattmark dam wall; end:  Rifugio Gaspare Oberto (CAI)
Distance: 7,9 km
Time: 2 hours 55 minutes
Vertical distance: 680 m uphill; 70 m downhill

Euan had to go back to Scotland.  This afternoon met with my fifth British guide, Dave Kenyon.  We drove to the Mattmark dam wall, above Saas-Almagell, and from here went up to the Monte Moro pass and a little way down the Italian side to Rifugio Oberto.  We started in cloudy weather at 4.20 p.m. but by 6 p.m. it had started raining, not very hard but continuously and there was thunder in the air.  By 7 p.m. we had reached the col and 15 minutes later we were taking off our wet clothes in the hut.  Friendly reception and we got a good supper.  The “lobby” of the sleeping quarters had a large pellet stove blazing away all night.  Initially it showed 19°C but by the morning it was a stifling 28°C; good for drying out boots and clothes but otherwise unbearable.

Soft snow on the glacier = danger!

July 16th

Start: Monte Rosa Hut; summit: Cima di Jazzi, 3803 m; finish: Gornergrat

Distance: 18,2 km
Time taken:  11 hours 45 minutes, of which 1 hour 15 for the stops
Vertical distance:  1220 m uphill, 1010 m downhill

Left the hut at 5 a.m.  We crossed moraines, polished rocks and streams under the Monte Rosa Glacier to reach the naked ice of the upper part of the Gorner Glacier.  Going up it, we reach snow fields, but the surface is hard, there are few crevasses and we progress rapidly to the summit.  We had planned to reach a bivouac hut only 2-3 km away but the snow was very soft on that side, exposed to the sun.  What a contrast!  Moreover, gaping crevasses crossed the whole the glacier.  Even if we found snow bridges to cross them, one could hardly have confidence in them: the risk of collapse was already too great (at noon!)  Hence the wise and disappointing decision to turn back and aim for the Stockhorn and the Gornergrat in order to go down to Zermatt.

The roof of Switzerland

July 15th

Start: Capanna Regina Margherita; finish: Refuge Monte Rosa (CAS)

Distance: 10,4 km
Time taken: 7 hours 10 minutes (plus 40 minutes for the stops)
Vertical distance: 400 m uphill, 2070 m downhill

Main summits:

Zumsteinspitze, 4452 m
Dufourspitze, 4634 m
Nordend, 4609 m

Euan and I left the hut at 5.20 a.m., heading for the Zumsteinspitze. Clear sky, cold wind.  Beautiful sunrise seen from this summit 20 minutes later.  The snow ridge connecting it with the Dufourspitze was a real knife-edge, the narrowest we had ever seen, some 200 metres requiring genuine tightrope walker skills.  I just looked at the next step without looking down into the abyss on either side!

Very pleasant climbing on good rock followed, with some snow fields. Half way up we witnessed a rescue operation first hand. About 7 a.m. a red Air Zermatt helicopter came and hovered over us, disappeared and came back moments later with a doctor/mountaineer dangling on a long rope. He was deposited next to a group of 3 climbers less than 20 metres from us.  Next, two of the climbers were attached to the large hook at the end of the rope and lifted off and away.  A few minutes later the helicopter came back and lifted off the doctor and an injured girl in a sort of stretcher. Amazing precision! We later learned that the climbers had spent all night waiting for their rescue.

More enjoyable climbing and scrambling took us to the top of the Dufourspitze, the highest mountain in Switzerland, about 300 m inside the frontier, at 8.20 a.m.  Later we climbed down some fixed ropes to the “Silbersattel” and did our third 4000-metre summit of the day, Nordend, which is the last of the big mountains of the Monte Rosa group.

Finally, a long plod down past interesting seracs and crevasses to the new Monte Rosa Hut with its striking shape and modern facilities.


1. Sunrise seen from the Zumsteinspitze
2. One hour later

IMG_7124 DSCF2962C

Three more 4000-metre peaks

July 14th

Quintino Sella Hut to Margherita Hut
Distance: 10,6 km
Time taken: 7 hours 20 minutes.
Vertical distance: 1440 m uphill; 470 m downhill

Main summits:

Ludwigshōhe, 4341 m
Parrotspitze, 4432 m
Signalkuppe/Punta Gnifetti, 4554 m

We left the hut just before 5 a.m.  The next summit should have been the Lyskamm but other guides and the hut warden all said that nobody had done the traverse of the critical knife-edge ridge this year; also there was still a strong north wind over the ridges. So we had to bypass this summit.  This involves crossing Il Naso, a snow-covered spur going south from the Lyskamm.  Steep icy slope to get over it. Euan did well here, leading three 60-metre pitches with ice-screw belays.

The rest of the day was just plodding up snow fields. Beautiful snow ridges at the top of the first two of today’s summits. Clear weather, very windy on all the ridges, good hard snow mainly. Crampons worn all day, from hut to hut, same as yesterday.  The Italian-run Margherita Hut on the top of Signalkuppe is the highest mountain hut in the Alps.


1. On Ludwigshöhe, Monte Rosa behind
2. Rifugio Margherita (CAI)


Terrible twins

July 13th

Distance: 9,9 km
Time: 7 hours
Vertical distance:  1180 m uphill. 1420 m downhill

They did not want us to come so threw some bad weather at us, in the form of a very strong, cold north wind that nearly blew us off their summit ridges. First Pollux, then Castor, most impolite!
We left Klein Matterhorn at 4 a.m. Good hard snow, gusts of wind, but we were often sheltered on the Italian side. Reached the top of Pollux, 4092 m, by 7.15, then the top of Castor, 4223 m, by 9.45 and the Quintino Sella Hut by 11. Too cold to stop. Geo-Tracking did not work on Castor.


Fixed rope on Pollux


A new guide

July 12th

Total walking time:  4 hours 10 minutes.

Breakfast at 6.30 a.m.  Dave and I left the friendly Abruzzi hut just after 7, to reach Plan Maison in just under an hour. Here I left Dave and my rucksack and took the cable car down to Cervinia (Breuil), where I found the Guides’ Office, paid for Giorgio and thanked the lady for her efforts to get me an excellent guide.  Then back up to Plan Maison to continue to Testa Grigia with Dave and my rucksack.  From here we had to trudge up the ski pistes to Klein Matterhorn in hot sun and on soft snow, 1 hour 10 minutes.

At midday Euan arrived to take the place of Dave who left for Zermatt and beyond to have his foot examined properly.  With Euan we slowly went up the Breithorn, following a clear trail made by dozens of other climbers, mainly Italians.  It is Sunday and there must have been at least 200 people on the summit that day!  2 hours there and back, 410 m up.

We spent the night at the “refuge” at Klein Matterhorn: no warden, costly but well organised, with all facilities.


On the summit of Breithorn