On Tuesday, I’m heading off to the Alps to hike the Tour of Monte Rosa, a 100-mile thru-hike beginning and ending in Zermatt. The goal is to circumnavigate the Monte Rosa massif. Preparations are now complete, so here’s where I am in terms of readiness.
In my original blog post on the subject, I outlined the rationale behind the trail, the route I’d be taking, and detailed some notes on equipment. However, things have changed a little since then.
Changes to the route plan
My original route went over Valdonierforko Pass on day 6, but this actually involves a fairly lengthy detour to low altitude with little payoff in terms of views or worthwhile places visited. I decided to modify the route to go over the Pentecoll / Colle Pinter instead. This location is of particular interest because it’ll bring me within easy reach of Testa Grigia, a 3,315m summit renowned for its spectacular views of Monte Rosa. This peak is not to be confused with the glaciated summit of the same name just south of the Theodulpass.
This modification reduced the overall route length to something like 85 miles, but I wanted to keep it in the 100-mile ballpark, so I decided to extend it from Schwartzsee. Instead of walking straight down the hill to Zermatt, I’ll head west towards the Zmuttgletscher and walk the Höhbalmenweg, which apparently offers excellent views of the Gorner Gletschergarten and Riffelhorn.
Finally, since I’ll be replenishing provisions at the villages and towns along the way, it makes sense to pass through centres of population during daylight hours rather than beginning early and ending late in these places (when the shops will be shut!) So I’m planning more high wild camps and fewer valley camps.
Expected conditions and the gear to cope with them
Early September is within the usual range of the alpine summer season, but it’s been a changeable year – heat and drought one week, storms the next. While current conditions are settled and dry in the Valais, the long-range forecast indicates cold, wet and cloudy weather coming in next week.
Normally this would not be a problem – I coped with conditions like that for virtually the entire CWT – but the TMR regularly climbs above 2,500m, and exceeds 3,000m twice. With the cold forecast temperatures, that makes fresh snow on the trail a real possibility. I’m now looking at shoulder-season conditions rather than guaranteed summer conditions.
With that in mind, I’m planning a couple of additions to my kit.
Although I’ve been assured that crampons won’t be necessary, fresh snow is a problem because it can result in cold and uncomfortable feet when wearing mesh trail shoes. My solution, if the forecast is still bad on Monday, will be to pack my Sealskinz ‘waterproof’ socks. These socks are not particularly waterproof but they will be just the ticket for prolonged slushy, cold conditions.
Secondly, with forecasted daytime highs of around 12 Celsius in Zermatt early next week, it has the potential to get very cold overnight at high altitude. I have a 0C-rated down bag and a synthetic insulated layer, but I’m also going to be packing a fleece balaclava if the forecast does not improve. It only weighs 70g and could make a big difference if it gets cold.
The stoveless menu
You read that right – stoveless. The only kitchen equipment I’m carrying with me is a spork and a plastic tub for rehydrating food.
On the CWT most of the food that I consumed was cold anyway, and I used such a minuscule amount of fuel that I started to wonder if carrying a stove was a waste of effort. So on this trip I’m making a clean break from hot food and, in the process, have saved 464g + fuel weight (potentially almost a kilo in total, based on the gas system I took on the CWT – less if I was using my Caldera Cone).
I’m taking provisions for four days with me, as I know from experience that some foods can be difficult to find in Switzerland – particularly the instant junk food that backpackers mainly eat! Cold couscous is something I’ve been experimenting with, but I doubt I’ll be able to find the packets of flavoured couscous I’ve been eating recently.
Other food I’m taking with me:
- Beef jerky
- Breakfast/trail mix, composed of peanut M&Ms, cashew nuts, peanuts, and raisins
- Jar of peanut butter (which I’ll probably be eating with anything and everything)
- Assorted ready-to-eat packets of mixed grains, expensive but tasty and high in calories
- Cereal bars
- Olives in foil packets (like gold dust when you are on the trail – I became addicted to them on the CWT!)
Other food I’ll be sourcing when I get to the Alps:
- Fresh bread
- Tortilla wraps
- Cheese (mainly Gruyère and Tomme Fleurette, which I will happily eat by the bucketload when in Switzerland)
- Salami of various kinds
- Tuna or smoked mackeral
- Fresh fruit (but not for actually carrying on the trail due to weight)
As you can see, this is a reasonably varied diet and I really can’t see myself being inconvenienced by the lack of hot food. Lack of coffee is something else, though, and I suspect I’ll be making use of cafes along the way whenever possible!
Although this isn’t as major an undertaking as the Cape Wrath Trail, there are just as many uncertainties. What if early winter storms close down the high passes? What if I come across steep slopes of hard snow requiring winter gear I don’t have? These are not likely scenarios, but they are possible.
Before hiking the CWT, I was similarly anxious about the river crossings I might face. Now, having overcome them, it’s easy to forget that this was a major factor influencing my decision-making during the planning stage. Every trail has its own unique hazards and pitfalls.
But I’m very optimistic. I could not have hiked the Tour of Monte Rosa this time a year ago – I wouldn’t have believed I could do it. The CWT taught me that I am capable of hiking anything I want to. It’s just a case of putting in the preparation and approaching it with the right attitude.
Don’t forget, I aim to post updates to this blog directly from the trail, when I can. Stay tuned!