For most of us, linking together classic traverses in the Alps is a life-list experience. But for First Ascent and Sawtooth Mountain Guide Erik Leidecker covering vertical ground between the Breithorn, the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa on the Swiss-Italian border then refueling with heaping bowls of pasta is just part of the summer program. Departing from the birthplace of alpinism in Chamonix and dealing with challenging conditions that resulted in the tragic death of nine climbers on July 12th in the surrounding peaks, the group was reminded of the serious and real risks of climbing these stunning peaks. In his factual, to-the-point style Leidecker checks in with his guide’s report from a trip to the other side of the pond. -EB Editor
Words and Images by Erik Leidecker
The Spaghetti Traverse
During early July my client Ellen Singer and I did a high level traverse in the vicinity of Monte Rosa, which is located along the Swiss-Italian border above the Aosta Valley in Italy and in the canton of Valais in Switzerland. Known as the Pennine Alps, this mountainous zone contains some of the most iconic peaks in the Alps including the Matterhorn, Lyskamm, and the Monte Rosa.
Swiss guides affectionately call this the “Spaghetti Traverse” as it links up several mountain huts on the Italian side of the border, all of which serve heaping bowls of pasta much needed after a big day in the hills! The traverse is typically done as a loop starting and finishing in Zermatt, but we mixed it up by starting in the village of Breuil-Cervinia, which is on the Italian side of the Matterhorn, known in Italy as Monte Cervino.
The route covers ground between the Breithorn and Monte Rosa, both of which are much sought after 4000-meter peaks. The Breithorn is a casual half-day outing from the ski lifts of Zermatt, while the Monte Rosa is a massive plateau of peaks and highpoints, the tallest of which is the Dufoursptize at 4633 meters. The frontier ridge between these two mountains also takes in Castor, Pollux, and Lyskamm, which are all worthy objectives during the course of the traverse.
While we were in the mountains about 30cm of new snow fell throughout the week, which made for several periods of white out conditions. We made the best of this by taking advantage of 4 to 5-hour weather windows when we could move on to the next hut. On our fourth day we managed the summit of Castor, though the view from the top was like the inside of a Ping-Pong ball! Two days later it was too grim to move in the high mountains at all, so we took lifts down to the village of Stafal in the Val d’Gressoney in Italy. We wrote postcards, drank hot chocolate, and went for a nice hike in fair weather below the clouds.
Our intent was to cap the traverse by climbing the SE Ridge of the Dufoursptize, an AD route consisting of steep snow, rock climbing up to 5.6, and lots of exposed ridge scrambling. Due to high winds and new snow, however, the route was out of condition and we finished instead by climbing the Signalkuppe (4,554m), which is one of the many summits in the Monte Rosa group. Believe it or not there is a fully stocked mountain hut on top of the Signalkuppe so we stopped in for a hot drink and took shelter from the strong winds and cold temperatures before descending the Grenz glacier toward the Monte Rosa Hut above Zermatt.
We started and finished our trip in Chamonix, the world capital of alpinism. On the first and last days of our trip we rock climbed in the Aiguille Rouge, a long escarpment of jagged metamorphic rock on the opposite side of the Chamonix valley from the Mt. Blanc massif.The new snow we experienced along our traverse in Italy and Switzerland also fell in the Mt. Blanc massif in France. On July 12 nine climbers were killed in an avalanche on Mt. Maudit, a subsidiary summit of Mt. Blanc. This was a grim reminder of risks associated with climbing in the mountains. We were happy to have completed our trip safely and will savor another round of memories from climbing in the Alps.
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