After a successful climb of the famous Matterhorn the forecast promises several more bluebird climbing days, a rare blessing in the Alps. The highly coveted stable weather period that is rumored to often occur at the tail end of the season is upon on. We decide to spend the remainder of our time exploring the grand Monte Rosa Massif. Climbing to its highest summit and the highpoint of Switzerland, the Dufuorspitze, seems like a good place to start. Plus we're anxious to experience the new fangled Monte Rosa Hut which was being built when we enjoyed a beer there after the inspiring Liskamm traverse in 2009. It would not disappoint.

Getting to the Monte Rosa Hut

We depart the hostel, get a simple breakfast at a cafe, visit the grocery store to buy lunch, hiking food and water, revisit our locker at the bus station to prepare for several days of climbing, glacier travel and hut living, and catch the Gornergrat to Rotenboden shortly after noon. The 4,000 vertical foot round trip on the cog railway is a steal at just $80 per person. Hike from Zermatt? You can't be serious.

After we get off the train a lunch of schinken sandwhiches is enjoyed on a nearby grassy knoll before starting the hike to the Monte Rosa Hut. The familiar trail leads us toward the Gornergletscher, making a long and gentle descending traverse to intersect it 1000 feet below. As we near the glacier its mind blowing how much it has changed in four years. Some serious hardware has since been installed along the route near the glaicer/rock transition to compensate for the rapid reduction in ice depth in recent years. Travel to the Monte Rosa Hut has become more tedious and difficult and the hut is beginning to see decreased traffic because of it.

Dominic climbs down a new ladder toward the edge of the Gornergletcher.

A handline aids hikers down the final drop to the glacier and a bridge spans the bergschrund.

On the icy Gornergletcher.

Wooden tripods on the glacier, many currently toppled over, guide us through a maze of crevasses. Its not customary to rope up here as the glacier is complete ice and every crevasse is blatantly obvious. Still, care is required to not stumble into one. Slowly the hut gets closer. Finally we exit the ice and make our way up 1,000 feet of rocky, and often slabby, terrain to our home for the next two days.

The Monte Rosa Hut is spectacular and more wonderful than I could have imagined. Its nothing like any other hut I have seen and really more like a rustic hotel. When we check in I'm relieved to find friendly service after our recent stay at the Hörnli Hut left such a bad taste in my mouth. There's a whole different air here. A handful of teams are poised for the summit but at least an equal amount of other parites are simply here to enjoy a casual hut trip.

Top of Switzerland

Wake up time for climbers making a summit bid is 2am. Uggg. Not anxious to pioneer the way in the dark, we take our time eating breakfast. Nobody else seems to be in a huge hurry either so we start off into the night, following the ample cairns by headlamp. We hike bits of trail and scramble up easy, slabby rock into the unknown. After a modest effort the edge of the Monte Rosa Glacier rears up before us; its less than inviting. Where to go? We spend some time roping up glacier style.

Glacier travel is something I have not done a whole lot of and the sight of gaping, bottomless crevasses still makes me quite nervous. This climb will end up being much tougher mentally for me than the Matterhorn was. I'll take rock over snow any day and I don't know if that will ever change. Dominic bravely leads us through the horror show and we're well on our way. There are now two groups a bit ahead of us and two more behind, which is incredibly comforting. Traveling as a rope team of only two with such limited experience isn't something to be taken lightly.

All of a sudden I break through an innocent enough looking patch of snow and find my legs dangling in a crevasse. I've fallen in to my waist and can sense that I'm suspended in a tenuous conglomerate of snow. A shout to Dominic indicates my predicament. He takes another step and braces himself to hold me as I try to delicately beach whale my way out. Planting the pick of my axe, I grab the taught rope with the other hand and carefully drag myself back to terra firma. Whew! What the heck have we gotten ourselves into? Its the middle of the night, I'm already breaking through into crevasses, and we have miles more of glacier ahead of us.

Thankfully the crevasses become totally snow covered as we climb just a bit higher and the remainder of the plod is much less exciting. As the sun comes up we're already nearing the 14,300 foot saddle on the West Ridge. We've climbed nearly 5,000 feet by head lamp.

Approaching the 14,300 foot saddle on the West Ridge.

A tenuous snow bridge still allows fairly easy passage across the bergschrund guarding the ridge.

The sky over the Matterhorn begins to display an incredible pre-dawn glow. The beauty nearly brings tears to my eyes and serves as a powerful reminder of why I do things like getting up at 2am and falling into crevasses in the middle of the night. Exchanging unstoppable yet quiet smiles, I think everyone else feels the specialness of this moment too.

Stunning view toward the Matterhorn before sunrise.

Taking a break a mini break at the saddle.

At the saddle we reduce the length of the rope between us to adjust for the change in terrain and begin up the West Ridge which is a mix of moderate snow and easy 5th class rock. Short roping and natural anchors suffice and even though there are several other parties on the narrow ridge, everyone is friendly, relaxed, and more or less moving in unison. Its an enjoyable journey.

Starting up the West Ridge.

Nordend, also on the official 4,000 meter peak list, is on the left.

Stunning Nordend and a sea of clouds over Italy.

Summit in sight.

A fancy metal cross marks the summit and a fried cable nearby tells of heavy electrical activity. Along with several other friendly parties, some guided and some not, we settle in to enjoy a perfect, windless morning at the top of Switzerland and the highest point in Europe aside from Mount Blanc. We watch several climbers making their way along the more difficult but easier accessed Southwest Ridge.

Climbers near the gendarme known as Grenzgipfel on the Southwest Ridge. They are coming from Signalkuppe (right).

While on the summit a loud thundering draws our attention to a large serac collapse beneath Lisjoch.

The Italian Margherita Hut sits at the tippy top of Signalkuppe (14,941 ft) and is the highest hut in the Alps.

I'd had high hopes of nabbing Nordend, another offical 4,000 meter peak next door, but those hopes died when I fell into that crevasse I think. If not then, then surely by the time the sun rose and I saw the gnarly glacier we'd have to descend under Nordend if we took that route. And that corniced ridge? Looks sketchy. Nope, certainly not a good idea. I'm shocked when I look to Dominic for reassurance that we're not still thinking of going over there and get just the opposite. Surely we are, why wouldn't we? Thank god Dominic is feeling like a peakbagger today because the excursion will end up being marvelous.

But first, we have to deal with getting of the Dufuorspitze and to the connecting saddle. Dominic professes that our up to date (German) guidebook indicates that a short, icy couloir with recently installed fixed lines on the North Face is currently the preferred method of descent. The lines have been put in place to speed the process and ease problematic traffic jams that occured when numerous parties were all trying to rappel the line. I'm skeptical and not thrilled about this prospect but several groups of other climbers on the summit seem to have the same plan. Honestly, descending the ridge we came up and skipping Nordend sounds infinitely more appealing to me at the moment but off we go to the icy gully. There are occasional wimpers, and in the worst spot Dominic takes pity on me, tying a prussik around the line to act as an anchor in case one of us slips.

Beginning the descent down a couloir on the North Face with the aid of fixed lines.

Looking down the somewhat icy descent couloir. Silbersattel in view down below.

Looking back from Silbersattel at climbers descending the couloir on Dufuorspitze.

Nordend as seen from Silbersattel.

The ridge to Nordend is sharp and corniced but fortunately well tracked. Still, sometimes its hard to be positive that we are not actually on the cornice and I know that, to some extent, we probably are in places out of necessity. I confront my fear with every step. An ice axe hole yielding views down into the Italian valley 7,000 feet below is not at all confidence inspiring. Dominic drops several coils of rope he's been carrying in hand to be prepared for the possibilty of one of us taking a fall... in which case the other will be jumping off the opposite side.

Nordend's narrow South Ridge.

Mmmmm.... cornices, my favorite.

Luckily it never comes to that and soon we arrive at the rock difficulties that guard the summit. A short stint of steep and well featured 5.3ish climbing brings us to the top. The views are inspiring.

Starting up the short section of technical rock guarding the summit of Nordend.

The east side of the Monte Rosa Massif drops a steep 7,000 feet or so into Italy.

Signalkuppe, Zumsteinspitze and Dufuorspitze as seen from Nordend.

A guided group makes their way up the ridge toward the summit of Nordend.

We're not interested in a summit break; the fact that the glacier below is heating up with each passing moment is motivation enough to turn right back around and reverse our steps. The serac littered slope below Silbersattel does not look like it will grant easy passage but a strong track heads that way and another team below seems to be managing just fine so down we go. We've never hiked through such serious glacial terrain and its a new and exciting experience. Had this area not been tracked I don't think we would have asssumed it was a reasonable thing to be doing.

Nordend as seen on the descent of the Monta Rosa Gletscher.

"Climb down here, it looks easy."

We eventually connect with our ascent route and the return trip is uneventful. Much to my relief we manage to avoid any more crevasse falls. The Monte Rosa Hut comes into view as we near the 11 hour mark and I am feeling surprisingly trashed. Cold beers at the hut promise to fix my screaming feet and knees while at the same time helping us to celebrate what has been a much more rewarding and incredible climb than anticipated.

The new high tech Monte Rosa Hut. Best. Hut. Ever.

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