An Alpine Story – Monte Rosa & Mont Blanc

Posted: September 15, 2011 in The Alps

After years of dreaming, finally it became a reality. This end of summer I’ve hiked/climbed in the Alps. It was a beautiful experience from which I’ve learned a lot.  But before going into details first a small introduction.

In 2009 Rose and I went with the car through the Alps. We were really fascinated with the view and the mountains. The Stelvio Pass really took our breath away and we were determined to come back and feel these beautiful mountains in our feet :). Of course, being a mounatin/nature lover, I’ve read a lot about the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc and so on, but when you are there everything changes. Although in 2009 we saw only Ortler which is almost a 4 – thousander, the feeling of being in the Alps meant a lot for us and we were decided to come back and hike there. So, this year along with Christoph, we’ve planed a nice trek in Monte Rosa area and than we wanted to go up on Mont Blanc.  Basically we wanted to acclimatize in Monte Rosa and do a few 4-thousanders and than go up on the (west) Europe’s roof.  This was pretty much the plan…

Getting there:

For getting there we chose the car. 3 persons (me, Rose and Tudor), a small car, 4000 km. Its not the best solution but it was OK because we’ve changed turns as drivers. However its a bit painful to sleep in the car :). Anyway we left early in the morning and we’ve reached the second day Switzerland. First stop Zermatt. One think you have to keep in mind. Although most of the civilised Europe has highways you have to consider that Switzerland has a lot of mountain roads. So plan a few hours delay if you want to reach a certain remote place like Zermatt for instance. I didn’t do that and we reached Tasch 2 hours later than we’ve initially planned.  Also Zermatt is car-free so you have to take the train from Tasch which costs 15.6 Fr. Also the parking in Tasch is expensive. We’ve payed 43.75 Fr. for 3 days.

Some pics…

Day 1:

We arrived in Tasch at 12.00, two hours later than initially planned. Christoph was waiting for us and for the first day we wanted to go to Schonbiel Hut. The backpacks were not prepared in advance so we had to do it very fast in the parking. Never, but never prepare you backpacks in a rush. We’ve learned this in the hard way. Being in a hurry we’ve kinda stuck everything in the backpack thinking that for 4 days we will need a lot of stuff. I had a 40 L backpack which was full and the winter shoes and a bunch of (useless) stuff was hanging outside. Finally we arrived in Zermatt at 1.30 PM and was quite late. The route takes around 4 hours with more than 1000m in height difference.

We all ended up with really heavy backpacks. Mine was certainly over 20 kilos. The route from Zermatt to Schonbiel goes through Zmutt village (very nice) and goes around the Matterhorn. The route to Hornli its pretty much the same until you reach higher ground. You will find a pole with directions. Hornli to the left, Schonbiel to the right.

Zmutt

Metterhorn behind 😀

The route was veeery long. It took us around 5 h to get to Schonbiel. For the first time I begun to realize that I kinda underestimated the trek. I thought just by looking on some pictures, maps and Google Earth that is gonna be an easy and relaxing walk. It wasn’t difficult that’s for sure, but with a 20 kilos backpack hanging on my shoulders it wasn’t as fun as I was expecting. The view from Schonbiel is nice, but the Matterhorn didn’t wanted to show from behind the clouds.

A superb sunset…

To be honest Schonbiel was a disappointment for me. Of course its better equipped than most of the Romanian huts, but the price was a lot more than what I was expecting. So, for dinner, breakfast, 2 (shity bears) and sleeping I paid for 2 persons 168 Fr. They accept Euros also but the exchange rate was… lets say not very accurate. Basically I ended up paying 166 Euros for the whole fun. Pretty damn expensive. I wasn’t aware of these prices for eating there. Over the night a storm shook the hut like an earthquake. I woke up several times because of the vibrations and also because of the wind that was blowing on my head through the roof.  We woke up at 7.00 am, had breakfast and at 8.30 left (on rainy conditions) towards Monte Rosa hut.

Day 2:

The second day was … painful. We underestimated the route big time. We had to come back to Furi (very close to Zermatt), from Furi up to Rottenboden and from Rottenboden to Monte Rosa hut. We knew that is going to be long, but not as long as it turned up to be.

After 30 minutes of walking the rain stopped and on Furi the sun showed up. We were glad and optimistic that we will shortly relax on Monte Rosa admiring the mountains. Just 30 minutes up to Furi there is a nice bridge ~ 100 m high passing over a gorge carved by the glacier and the water.

After we’ve passed the bridge we had some cereal bars and … lost the track :). Its very easy to get lost in Zermatt area. Most of the people coming here hire a guide and the routes are not properly marked. After a couple of hours we finally found the right path and got up towards Riffelalp. This route killed us because it was steep and the backpacks were killing our backs. At Riffelalp we were wasted and decided to take the tramway up to Rottenboden – 20 Fr.

When we got of the tram we were almost blown away by the wind :). It was incredible. We took shelter in the toilette and changed. On one hand I was really glad because I was loosing some weight from the backpack. From Rottenboden, Monte Rosa hut is hardly visible. It was around 2-3 PM and I was beginning to worry that we don’t have enough time to get there. Anyway we’ve started towards Monte Rosa… From time to time we had to stop because of the wind. I’ve never experienced this kind of wind before. Several times we had to anchor ourselves on the rocks to not be blown away from the route. It was really incredible… Because of the wind and because we were late I didn’t took to many pictures on that day.

After 1-2 hours we’ve reached the glacier. A spectacular ladder helped us to reach the ice. On the glacier we’ve tied ourselves in the rope, put on the crampons and follow the route marked with some poles. The poles were pretty much blown away by that incredible wind and it was pretty hard to get directions. But the biggest problem was Roses’ crampons. After 1-200 m they fell of the boot. The crampons had fast catchment, but they haven’t been tested previously on real conditions with Rose’s boot. Big mistake… We tested previously and got the right length, but Rose couldn’t try them on real ice.  So they fell off a couple of times. We had to stop and put them back on, make some steps and redo everything back. It was painful (specially for Rose) and it costs us a lot of time. On the glacier there were some big crevasses but you can go without a rope in this time of the year because everything is visible. Anyway we didn’t want to take any chances and it was also the first glacier experience. Eventually after ~ 2 h we’ve reached the rock and we had to climb 3-400 m to reach Monte Rosa. The route was a bit difficult especially because we were tired and because the wind was blowing veeery hard from time to time. Also I’ve begun to feel the height. Because I was tired, as we were climbing, I felt the need to breath more air than usual. The final part of this route was … funny/sad/dangerous. I cannot find the proper word. After the climbing is done you reach a pretty narrow ridge which passes in front of Monte Rosa hut. We were exhausted and hungry and we could see the hut but the wind was keeping us in place. We couldn’t move basically … it was blowing so hard that rocks were flying towards us. We anchored on some big boulders, and pointed our heads (with helmets on – very good choice 🙂 ) towards the winds direction. We were literally feeling as the rocks were hitting our helmets. After the wind was stopping we were moving ahead a couple of meters and than the same story again. I think that it took us around 1 h to get to Monte Rosa. As we were approaching the hut a lady came  out and said that they saw us coming and the food was waiting for us … that was a biig relief :D. In my opinion Monte Rosa hut is really a jewel among alpine huts. It was finished last year and was looking like it was from another story. The inside was also incredible.  As we were eating the hut was shaking because of the wind and it started to snow. We were looking outside and thinking that we were reeaaly lucky to get there in time. It was a close call.  Because of the backpack my shoulders were killing me. I couldn’t move my arms properly and I could barely eat. Because we were exhausted and because Roses’s crampons were failing big time we’ve decided to get back in Zermatt the second day.  On the map the route from Schonbiel to Monte Rosa is around 15 km on a straight line, but with all the height difference I believe it was around 40 km. As fot the costs:

  • dinner – 23 Fr.
  • breakfast – 15 Fr.
  • sleeping/room – 45 Fr.
  • shower – 5 Fr. 3 minutes

Bottom line … is less expensive than Schonbiel 🙂 and its another level.

Day 3:

In the morning we had breakfast and admire the view outside, the Matterhorn was fascinating me. The view was awesome.

Outside was quite cold but we’ve stopped to take some shots 🙂

Monte Rosa hut…

On the glacier

This is how the route is marked on the glacier

And me 🙂

The weather was extraordinary. The temperature dropped a bit but the conditions were incredible. We were sorry that we couldn’t continue, but safety comes first. And also with those crazy backpacks the chances to reach Margherita Hut (our final destination) were quite low. We’ve enjoyed the view anyway…

This is the ladder that I couldn’t photograph the day before. Its vertical although it doesn’t look from this angle.

Monte Rosa

Monte Rosa and Lyskamm

From Rottenboden I think its the best view over Matterhorn and also this is the place from where you can take the most popular photo of Matterhorn 🙂 – with the lake.

Or maybe this is the most popular 😀

From Rottenboden we took the train down to Zermatt – 30 Fr. Now some pics with the town/village.

In Zermatt everything is expensive. Two medium menus at McDonald’s 25 Fr. One double room at the cheapest hotel (2 stars) 110 Fr.

At least the view was nice 🙂

After a good sleep we took the train back to Tasch and headed to Chamonix. Switzerland its a very nice place but be prepare to spend a lot of money. We were over the budget and a bit disappointed.  Any beginning is hard and what I’ve leaned from this first alpine experience is the following:

  • don’t underestimate the routes. Just by looking to some pictures/maps will not be enough.
  • The Alps are not the Carpathians. Its at least one level up. Be prepared for long routes and mixed terrain.
  • NEVER prepare the backpack in a hurry.
  • NEVER take unnecessary stuff with you. Prepare the backpack with the following motto-> “is this stuff mandatory or I can live without it ?
  • NEVER go with untested equipment.
  • 2-3 kilos extra in your backpack can make the difference between doing/not doing a route(peak).
  • go with Swiss Francs instead of Euros in Swiss huts.

With these lessons leaned we started optimistically towards Chamonix and Mont Blanc 🙂

Day 4:

In about 2 h we’ve reached Chamonix. In the city there was a lot of rumble because of the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc. Just when we were arriving, the first competitors were crossing the finish line :). What is striking in Chamonix when you arrive for the first time is the height of the mountains. Chamonix has around 1035 m in altitude and up to Aiguille du Midi (which is clearly visible from the town center) its more than 2800 m. So we were fascinated by the view and our first worry was to get to the hotel where we had reservation.  The price was 135 Euro for a quad room with breakfast. If you wanted only the room than the price would be 90Euro which means 22,5 Euros/person. Its a loooot better than in Zermatt. In fact all prices in Chamonix are half than the ones from Zermatt.

Some pics…

After we left the luggage in the hotel we’ve rushed to the La Maison de la Montagne where you can get all the info you need. I was warned by Christoph that not all of the persons working there are nice :), but I had a good experience. The weather was looking good till Wednesday so we’ve decided to make a reservation at Cosmique hut and from there to try Mont Blanc. Our initil plan was to go through Gouter hut, but the Tramway Of Mont Blanc was not going up to Nid d’Aigle, but only up to Mont Lachat. Form Mont Lachat was quite a long route till Nid d’Aigle were basically the Mont Blanc route starts. Also the guy from there told us that recently there was some rock fall on Grand Couloir and he was not recommending the classic route. I knew about the 3 Monts route (Mont Blanc du Tacul, Mont Maudit and Mont Blanc) that is a bit long, but anyway we decided to get up to Aiguille du Midi and see how we are feeling. Prices:

  • medical insurance (includes helicopter rescue) 5.5 Euro/day (bought from La Maison de la Montagne)
  • Cosmique hut – 52 Euro (bed, breakfast and dinner)
  • cable car Aiguille du Midi – 42.5 Euro (2 way ticket)
  • crampons rental (for Rose) – 6 Euro/day

We had a good night sleep and at 7.00 AM we had breakfast and rushed to the cable car station.

Day 5:

At the Aiguille du Midi cable car station a lot of people was waiting in line. It took us more than an hour to buy the tickets and get in the cable car. You have to change the cable car at around 2400 m and from there up to Aiguille du Midi there is no pole, just a looong cable. The view is spectacular and once we’ve reached Aiguille du Midi we’ve put on the gear and struggle to get outside.  In order to get out from the station you need crampons, rope and an ice axe. The reason is that in order to get to the plateau (Valle Blanche) you need to go on a narrow snowy ridge. If you fall on the left side and you are not insured in a rope you cannot stop till you reach Chamonix :). Its really scary if you are afraid of heights. When you go with a rope the most experienced climber has to stay behind and he needs to have a few meters of rope in his hands. Why? Because if someone falls he has to have time to jump in the other direction to stop the fall. The problem on this small ridge its not the difficulty or the spectacular view on the left side, but the other climbers which are trying to reach the cable car station. So when you pass another group you need to be extra careful.

After we’ve passed the ridge, we’ve slowly entered Valle Blanche (~3500m) which is a big snow plateau behind Aiguille du Midi. On this plateau a lot of climbers come with their tent and stay over night. The weather was excellent and we slowly arrived at the base of the climb on Mont Blanc du Tacul (4248). In the mean time we’ve decided to get up to Mont Blanc du Tacul to see how are we feeling. The route is spectacular as you pass very close to some big seracs and crevasses.

It took us 2 h to get up to Col du Mont Blanc du Tacul (~ 4100 m) from Valle Blanche and around 3 h from Aiguille du Midi. It was a good time and we were trying to establish some kind of benchmarking for the route to Mont Blanc. As I was approaching higher ground I’ve started to feel also the altitude. I was feeling really great, but from time to time we were stopping just for a small break (20-30 seconds). After we’ve reached Col du Mont Blanc du Tacul we could clearly see the route to Mont Maudit. The last part is the hardest. The slop is around 60 degrees and you need to climb ~ 50m on ice. That was the part that we didn’t felt to confident to do it.  For getting to Mont Blanc du Tacul you need to go for another 30 minutes from Col du Mont Blanc du Tacul on the left. In order to get on the top you need to have some climbing experience because you need to climb on rock & ice ~ 10m. The view from the top is breathtaking.

As I reached the top of Mont Banc du Tacul my heart was really pumping the blood… YUHUUUUUUU my first 4-thousander. To be honest is hard to describe the feeling. Its more than a feeling … I’ve been to many beautiful places up to now but nothing compares with THAT feeling. And the view…. hard to describe and hard to imagine from a picture. Its more like you are flying through the mountains. I was above the clouds and only Mont Maudit and Mont Blanc was higher than where I was standing.

We’ve had a light lunch up there 🙂 and slowly started the descent.

As we were going down my head started to hurt :(. Until I reached Cosmique I thought I was suffering from the altitude. But although I was in pain 🙂 we stopped from time to time to take some shots. On Mont Blanc du Tacul there are some parts which require concentration, especially when you are near a crevasse.

After you reach Valle Blanche there is still a 200 m height difference to get to Cosmique :). That part was not very nice… however we reached Cosmique safely, changed in some comfortable clothes/shoes and enjoyed the view from the balcony. It was unbelievable… the clouds were bellow us and the view hard to describe. I’ve talked with a young guy who was working at Cosmique for 2 months and he was telling me that today was the most beautiful sunset he saw in this season. We were happy to be there that day 😀 … you can see why


Inside Cosmique I bought a bottle of water and after finishing 1,5 l my head didn’t hurt no more. So, another lesson leaned :)… on high altitude drink plenty of water. You mainly breath with your mouth and a lot of moisture comes out without you realizing it. Also being cold you don’t sweat and in the end you end up  with a head ache :). In this picture my head was still hurting 😦

The food at Cosmique was really great and also the desert. The sleeping conditions are very good and after a good night sleep we woke up in the morning at 7 AM. We decided to abandon the plan of going the second day on Mont Blanc. Why? Because we spoke with a lot of persons which told us that on Mont Maudit you need at least one ice screw. We were not prepared for this. Some guys told us that you can do it without because there are some fixed ropes, others told us that they are not on the full length of the passage. After the Monte Rosa experience we’ve decided to give up and postpone Mont Blanc for the next year when we will come prepared.

Day 6:

After the decision of not continuing the route to Mont Blanc the second day my body became a bit lazy :)… and I think was not only mine. We took some relaxing walk in the Valle Blanche and fooled around with the photo camera

We slowly reached Aiguille du Midi and after passing the tricky ridge we visited the balconies and took more pictures…

You have only one guess for answering this question: “What is the nationality of the guy taking pictures?” Before answering note the outfit: training Lacoste, brown elegant leather shoes and Lamonza backpack 😀 … at 3800 m

We took the cable car down to Chamonix and relaxed in the afternoon in the town … with some beers. Also I want to outline that during this period I wasn’t aware of the time :). I didn’t know what day of the week it is and what date. Its really the first time when I experienced this. I was literally completely unplugged from my daily and sometime stressful  life.

Another shot from Chamonix…

Day 9:

On the seventh day we’ve visited Gorges de la Diosaz and rock climbed in Servoz but I will skip this part. On the eighth day we relaxed a bit and did some rock climbing in Gaillands, but on the nineth day we decided to get up on Brevent which is nice mountain on the other side of the valley. The height is 2525m, so its 1500m in altitude. You can go up with a cable car also but it ruins all the fun. The route is very nice and its mainly through woods till you reach ~ 2000m. After that the landscape resembles very much with Retezat Mountains in Romania. Some pics…

The view from Brevent over the Mont Blanc is very nice and I would recommned to anyone to take this trek if its looking for some easy and relaxing walk. After we’ve climbed down to Chamonix I’ve begun to realize that the vacation is about to end, I realized that it was Friday and that on Moday we will be in Romania 😦. Its not that I don’t like Romania, but I was beginning to realize that this DREAM is about to end. I was a bit sorry but I’m still young 🙂 and next year … we already did some plans.

As a final word I would recommned to anyone who likes the mountains to give it a try … specially in Chamonix. Just go with the cable car and smell the 3800+m air. Put on your crampons and try the Aiguille du Midi ridge, try a 4-thousander, walk near a crevasse, feel the need to breath more air… its something unique which worth’s big time to give it a try. Also be CAREFUL … this is a virus and there is no cure for it yet :).

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Comments
  1. tzutzu says:

    coolll La Mer de glace .

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