Tour of Monte Rosa day 2

03/09/2015 
This is part of a series of blog posts live from the Tour of Monte Rosa, a 100-mile backpacking route in the Alps.

The Tour of Monte Rosa trail blog series
Day 1: Zermatt to Täschalp
Day 2: Europaweg stage 1
Day 3: Europaweg stage 2 and the Grächenwald
Day 4: the Balfrin Höhenweg
Day 5: the Monte Moro pass and the Vallee Quarazza
Day 6: Colle del Turlo and Alagna Valsesia
Day 7: the Alencoll and a night above 3,000m
Day 8: the ascent of Testa Grigia
Day 9: the Theodul Glacier and return to Zermatt

Location: 2,700m knoll on the west slope of Breithorn, a Mischabel satellite peak. Trail mile 16.

Mileage: 10

Yesterday the trail showed its sublime and picturesque side. Today it showed its teeth.

I’d been kept awake overnight by a pretty impressive thunderstorm. Lightning flickered and crashed all around the edge of the cirque, dancing over the Rimpfischhorn and Weisshorn, creating a strobe-like effect with only a few dark intervals in between. It was all very impressive but even ear plugs couldn’t stop the din from getting through, and I slept poorly.

Consequently I didn’t wake up as early as I’d planned, and it was nearly 10 a.m. by the time I started walking again. I knew I’d have to walk briskly to get to Grächen before dark. Unfortunately, the weather was damp, humid, and very foggy. I hoped it would eventually clear as it did yesterday, but it remained cloudy all day, with only brief breaks in the hill fog. As I type this it’s raining (it was hailing earlier, and there’s fresh snow visible above 3,000m on the other side of the Mattertal).

The trail looked innocent enough as it left Täschalp – just an easy path traversing up through the larches. But unfortunately one of the metal bridges, spanning a precarious stone chute, has been wiped out by landslide and the diversion involves 750m down brutal switchbacks, almost to Randa in the valley floor, then 750m straight back up again – and the ascent is even steeper. This diversion – equivalent by itself to a decent Lakeland hill day – took a lot out of me and I was already running behind schedule.


The trail passed through gnarled forests in the vicinity of the Europahütte, but as it steadily climbed the terrain became rockier and rockier, until I moved above the level of trees and shrubs and everything all around was splintered stone and gravel. Few places in the British mountains resemble the rawness of these eroding mountains. The rocks are not smoothed over by time, cemented together with soil and mosses; they are sharp, jagged, newly hewn, often smelling of sulphur from the explosive impacts that split them from the mountainside. And there are no mosses or plants, just grit.


I crossed numerous boulder fields, all precarious and difficult, and my pace slowed yet further. I had to cross a number of torrents – some provided with terrifying bridges, but others required rock-hopping.


It was about 4.00 p.m. when I realised I would not make it to Grächen before dark. Quite simply, I’d bitten off a little more than I could chew this early in the trail, and to be honest I’ve underestimated the Europaweg. It’s a lot more arduous than I had expected.

After 6.00 p.m. I started looking for somewhere to camp. This is a lot more difficult than it sounds on this mountainside, which is incredibly steep, loose, and has very little grass or soil. Eventually, I found a knoll extending out over the edge of an enormous precipice, and on the top there was just enough grass to pitch my tent.

I’ve slept in worse places, but I won’t deny that this isn’t a particularly comfortable pitch! The floor of the tent is sloping sharply downwards and there are several large, immovable rocks directly under my sleeping mat. I suspect I have another uncomfortable night ahead of me.

Today has taught me a valuable lesson – 16-mile days in the Alps can’t be taken for granted, and sometimes you have to make do with fewer miles than you’d hoped. This trail is magnificent and a little scary in equal measure.

The Tour of Monte Rosa trail blog series
Day 1: Zermatt to Täschalp
Day 2: Europaweg stage 1
Day 3: Europaweg stage 2 and the Grächenwald
Day 4: the Balfrin Höhenweg
Day 5: the Monte Moro pass and the Vallee Quarazza
Day 6: Colle del Turlo and Alagna Valsesia
Day 7: the Alencoll and a night above 3,000m
Day 8: the ascent of Testa Grigia
Day 9: the Theodul Glacier and return to Zermatt

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