Wendy, Peter, and I, traversed across the Monte Rosa group between Switzerland and Italy over six days. We started and finished in Zermatt, with six 4,000 meter mountains in between us – one for each day. Our trip spanned 51.04 kilometers with 3,850 meters in elevation gain.
Wendy and Peter’s donation for the trip raised $3700 for my cat rescue charity, which was spent on the vet bills of three kittens with near-blinded eyes due to conjunctivitis and respiratory infections – Sox, Meatball, and Rusty.
Our six 4000’ers were the following:
- Breithorn West (4,164 meters)
- Castor (4,228 meters)
- Punta Felik (4,174 meters)
- Felikhorn (4,087 meters)
- Nasso del Liskamm (4,272 meters)
- Punta Gnifetti (4,554 meters)
We spent each night at a fully-serviced alpine hut, with warm bedding, food, and drinks provided. We took 50L bags and didn’t have to carry anything besides our clothing, daily water, snacks, headtorches, rope, rack, and cameras. Our bags didn’t weigh more than 10 kilograms per person.
Our huts were the following:
- Rifugio Guide d’Ayas (3,425 meters)
- Rifugio Quintino Sella al Felik (3,585 meters)
- Rifugio Capanna Giovanni Gnifetti (3,647 meters)
- The Margherita Hut (4,554 meters)
It was an incredible trip; full of knife blade ridgelines, heavily crevassed glaciers, brilliant ice climbs, and technical rock scrambles all above 3000 meters. The weather was perfect during the trip, with only one snowstorm during the first afternoon and clear weather besides. We even saved someone’s life from a crevasse who had fallen in and was dangling in free space by his partner holding his hand before we could reach him.
Peter and Wendy both wrote wonderful testimonials following their trip, which I’d like to include here:
Wendy Bruere: “I can’t recommend Will highly enough. We did a six-day mountaineering traverse in the Monte Rosa area, and although conditions were far from ideal Will led us through everything expertly—including steep icy sections, narrow ridge lines and a maze of crevasses. He is an incredibly skilled and safe climber and alpinist, with a genuine passion for mentoring others to help them achieve their goals.”
Peter Rhode: “I had what seemed like a lifetime‘s worth of mountain experience in two weeks with Will‘s guiding and mentorship. I learned new skills and developed a level of confidence in the mountains that I would never have dreamed of. Climbing a total of seven 4000m peaks in the Swiss Alps was a mind blowing experience. I‘ll be coming back for seven more for sure.”
Day 1: Zermatt to the Summit of Breithorn West (4,164 meters), to Rifugio Guide d’Ayas (3,425 meters)
Day 1 was action packed. From our start at the Fury Gondola in Zermatt, we ascended 2,200 meters to the Klein Matterhorn at 3,800 meters.
We roped-up for glacier travel with 12 meters between us and then crossed the Breithorn Plateau. From the end of the Breithorn Plateau, we ascended the South West Face of the Breithorn.
For the first third of the Breithorn and while there were crevasses around us, we climbed in glacier mode with about 12 meters of rope between us on a 10 degree slope. The weather also closed in around us and it started snowing about 10 cm per hour. I didn’t take any photos on the summit to keep my camera dry.
On the second third of the face, when it steepened to about 20 degrees, we switched to short roping.
This didn’t last for long, however, and on the final third of the face, the slope steepened to about 30 degrees. I couldn’t justify being able to brace for a fall if anyone slipped, so, although much slower, pitched climbing was our only option. We built an anchor, then, 50 meters at a time, pitched about 200 meters of 30 degree ice..
When we reached the ridgeline, we were able to switch back to short roping and quickly climb across it and to the summit at 4,164 meters. We descended our same route from the summit to the Breithorn Pass.
From the Breithorn Pass, we crossed the heavily crevassed Grand Glacier de Verraz (Grande Ghiacciaio di Verra).
It was on this glacier that we rescued an Italian climber who was 15 minutes ahead of us and had fallen into a crevasse. The crevasse was about 10 meters deep, but, thanks to his large expedition backpack, he was wedged only about one meters inside it. His bag was precariously holding him in place, while his partner was reaching down from the edge of the crevasse and holding his arm in a monkey grip..
When we got to them, we responded as we had practiced at the campground. First, I hammered in a snow picket five meters from the edge of the crevasse while Wendy and Peter went into self-arrest. When I finished the snow anchor, Wendy and Peter also hammered in their own anchor. I switched to a prussic attachment to the rope and then lowered myself down to the fallen climber. I connected him to our rope using an overhand on a bight, then, grabbing his backpack straps, pulled him out of the crevasse. He was then on the wrong side of the crevasse, so Peter and Wendy belayed him and stepped over the crevasse to the far side of it. I crossed it on my own belay, then belayed Wendy and Peter across.
The rescued climbers were pretty shook from the event and saw the value of a rope on a glacier. They roped up from there and stayed close to us. Peter, Wendy, and I, stopped for a break to debrief about what happened and then continued on. I thought our rescue went well considering it took less than 2 minutes to perform.
The storm increased in from there. Because the glacier was surging, the normal route to Rifugio Guide d’Ayas was closed. Instead, everyone had to traverse a further two hours to the base of Pollux and then descend from there.
Being as exhausted as we were, we decided to take a shortcut to avoid the 2-hours to ascend Pollux and then descend from the other side of Pollux to reach the descending trail. Instead, instead we traversed only halfway along the glacier and then took a direct route towards the hut. This worked well until the slope steepened and we were met with about 200 meters of 70-degrees ice. Since Wendy and Peter hadn’t rappelled on V-Threads before, I decided we should rappel the slope so I can show them how to build V-Threads back them up with an ice screw. We built four V-Thread anchors with my 22 cm ice screw and rappelled down them one after another, until we reached the decent trail. From there, it was about 20 minutes of hiking downhill to reach the Rifugio Guide d’Ayas at 3,425 meters.
I snapped this photo before entering the hut. When we got inside, the first thing we purchased was blueberry pie. We filled our bellies with hot food and warm drinks for the remainder of the night.
Later that afternoon, another party travelling unroped had fallen into a crevasse on the Grand Glacier de Verraz. The victim wasn’t so lucky and broke both her legs. She was evacuated via helicopter to Chamonix.
Day 2: Crevasse Rescue Training at Rifugio Guide d’Ayas (3,425 meters)
Having done a crevasse rescue the day prior, it seemed a good idea to revise everything and practice rescuing each other. I took Wendy and Peter through snow and ice anchors first, then the crevasse rescue where we practiced on each other.
Day 3: Rifugio Guide d’Ayas (3,425 meters) to Castor (4,228 meters),
Punta Felik (4,174 meters), then Rifugio Quintino Sella al Felik (3,585 meters)
After waking up at 3:30 am, we stuffed ourselves with a cheese and salami breakfast that was prepared for everyone by the hut. We were out the door by 4:15 am.
We hiked up a maze of a crevasses and 700 meters in ascent for the first 2 hours to approach Castor. From the Zwillingsjoch Passo Di Verra a 3,300 meters, we then simulclimbed about four pitches of 30 degree ice to bergschrund below the ridgeline of Castor. There was a guided group of 9 in the middle of gaining the ridgeline to Castor, so we opted to climb a 30 meter pitch of WI3 ice besides them. This was Wendy’s and Peter’s first WI3 ice climb and it went to a hyper exposed knifeblade ridgeline at about 60 degrees on both sides. They did an incredible job of it.
From the ridgeline of Castor, we traversed for about two hours along a trail no wider than our hips to the summit of Castor at 4,228 meters and then Punta Felik at 4,174 meters. We then descended 800 meters to the Rifugio Quintino Sella al Felik at 3,585 meters. We were off the glacier at 11:00am, which was a good thing as the day went up to 15 degrees in the afternoon and we must have crossed at least a hundred snow bridges over crevasses. There was a party who finished at 6 pm and had several crevasse falls on collapsed snow bridges that day.
Day 4: Rifugio Quintino Sella al Felik (3,585 meters) to Naso (4272 meters) to Rifugio Capanna Giovanni Gnifetti (3,647 meters)
The previous day’s exposure was incredible for Wendy, so she opted to hike down the valley and catch the gondola up to our next hut: Rifugio Capanna Giovanni Gnifetti. Peter and I set off at 4:30 am for Naso, which would be the most technical climb on the trip with a mix of rock simulclimbing and several pitches of WI2 ice. We also had two enormous and highly crevassed glaciers to pass, both before and after Naso. We were in a rush to beat the heat so I didn’t capture many photos this day to save time.
Day 5: Rifugio Capanna Giovanni Gnifetti (3,647 meters) to Margherita Hut (4,554 meters)
Peter and I reunited with Wendy and resumed our trip up the Monte Rosa glacier to the highest hut in Europe. The views were simply incredible.
Day 6: Margherita Hut (4,554 meters) to Riffelberg Train (3,133 meters)
An awesome and long day descending 1,500 meters back to Zermatt. The Grenzgletscher Glacier was incredibly crevassed so it took some serious concentration to navigate a route through it.