7th September

2016

At 4554m, perched on the top of the peak ‘Signalkuppe’, this is the highest building in Europe, the Margherita Hut. It serves both as an alpine refuge for climbers and as a research laboratory for scientists studying altitude medicine among other things. We came up from the valley of Gressoney on the last lift and had planned to stay at the ‘Balmenhorn’ bivouac hut. However on arriving at sundown (via a short rocky ridge on ‘Vincent Pyramid’) there were already 25 people crammed in for 8 sleeping places despite it being midweek at the very end of the season. The wind was building but Phil (another British Mountain Guide) and I decided to press on to the Margherita hut to get a better night’s sleep. Phil had just guided the Matterhorn and Eiger back to back so was well acclimatised.

I on the other hand had just spent 10 days cycling so started feeling pretty ropey on the last stretch to the hut! As we approached the easterly wind caught us on the Col and at 60+ kmph had me dancing about to stay upright. Phil is a bit of a unit so didn’t even notice… We arrived at 10pm to warm Italian hospitality, a late dinner and a good dose of dizzy hypoxia. As we left the refuge at dawn the next morning I took this shot as the colours were changing quickly over the eastern horizon. The wind was still blowing strongly but eased off through the day. As we walked down to the base of the route the sun began to descend on the Matterhorn 20km to the west. Given the unusually clear air that day the colours were spectacular. We had a great time climbing the excellent ‘Cresta Rey’ route on the Dufourspitze (Monte Rosa), the second highest mountain in Western Europe and got back to Chamonix the same day.

The Cresta Rey on the south face of the Dufourspitze is an excellent route up a spur of good quality gneiss that finishes right at the summit cross. To the right the South-East ridge via the Zumsteinspitze is a little easier but much more varied, with snow ridges, slabs and mixed terrain hanging onto the edge of the precipitous east face. Combining these two whilst traversing the second highest mountain in Western Europe makes for one of the best outings in the region.

Conditions

The majority of the route is on rock, and the Cresta Rey is best enjoyed when warm and dry or else will be much harder than indicated. Despite the altitude the southerly aspect helps the routes clear quite quickly after a storm.

Gear

40m rope, 1 axe, crampons, 3 cams, ½ rack nuts, several slings, glacier travel equipment.

Approach

From the Punta Indren lift station head NW across the Endre Glacier to a path leading up through a rock band SW and then up past the Mantova hut to the Gnifetti hut. Strong parties should start from here as the overall height gain is less, however the summit day will be significantly longer. For a longer approach but shorter summit day head to the magnificent Margherita hut via the east Lisjoch.

From either the Margherita or Gnifetti hut head down to about 4000m on the upper Grenz Glacier before heading NNE through a crevassed area to the bowl below the Grenzsattel. Head NW across the rimaye to a suitable spot near the base of the Cresta Rey.

Route

Follow the broken rocks for a short way until the ridge gains shape. Follow the crest of the ridge by good sustained scrambling, with a few short passages on either side, all the way to the Dufourspitze summit cross.

Head ESE for 130m along the crest of the ridge over several gendarmes (III) to Grenzgipfel (4618m) where the ridge forks. Continue down the SE ridge at first by blocks on the S flank that lead to the top of an obvious slab. Head down the ridge at the right side of the slab until it steepens and a weakness leads back left. Follow the cracks and grooves down, probably over a section of snow, to a steeper nose at the right side of the lower slabs. Down climb this on good holds (III, rappel possible) and the blocky ridge below. Continue along the exposed mixed ridge below passing two tops on the right (SW) side to reach the Grenzsattel. Climb the N ridge of the Zumsteinspitze, taking care with the initial cornice, via a steep rock step and further snow to the summit at 4563m.

Descent

From the Zumsteinspitze follow the rock then snow ridge ESE to Col Gnifetti. Traverse to E Lisjoch and thus back to the Gnifetti hut and Punta Indren lift station.