Tour of Monte Rosa day 3

04/09/2015  

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: a divine little wooded knoll at 2,230m on the Balfrin Höhenweg. Trail mile 25.

Mileage: 9

I woke up this morning to more hill fog, and my first thought was, ‘Time to get the hell out of dodge.’

I’d pitched my tent in semi-darkness and hadn’t realised what an awful place it was to camp. My tent was less than a metre away from a godawful drop into an evil-looking stone chute. Rock avalanches had thundered down this couloir at regular intervals all night; now I had to cross it.

I started walking in all my warm clothes. It dipped below freezing overnight and hadn’t significantly warmed up yet. As I began the precarious crossing of the couloir, I noted with dismay that the avalanches had severed the rope handrail in four places and wiped out the actual path. I slithered across as quickly as I could.

The last section of the Europaweg, taking a high traversing line around the splintered summit of the Breithorn, is unpleasant and borderline murderous. Couloir after couloir, all filled with a jumble of boulders and loose scree lying at a 40-degree angle, must be negotiated in between signs warning the traveller to cross the danger zones with haste. Rocks spin out of the mist and disappear with echoing crashes far below; sometimes they fall on the path, burying it in a mound of rubble or making the narrow gangway subside and collapse into the abyss. I’ll be honest – I’ve done a lot of mountaineering in Britain, and a fair bit in the Alps, but this was the least safe I’ve felt on a mountain.

I was very glad when the Weg took me away from those awful, troll-haunted slopes and down into the beautiful forests again. I entered the Grächenwald and hiked through these woods in sunshine for the rest of my day.


So, why the low mileage? The thing is, there are only so many places where it’s actually possible to camp on this part of the trail, due to the extremely steep and rocky terrain. My original plan had been to hike the Europaweg in one push before camping at Grächen, then to do the Balfrin Höhenweg in one push. Camping partway along the Europaweg has put my schedule out of joint. I reached Grächen at about mid-day – far too early to camp, but if I pushed on and did a significant portion of the Höhenweg, it’s very likely I would have been unable to find somewhere decent to camp again. The Höhenweg traverses mountainsides just as steep as the Europaweg. Getting benighted up there would not be a sensible idea.

So, as a compromise, I walked the first mile or two of the Höhenweg before camping at a beautiful little wooded knoll. I have a flat pitch for my tent, views of the mountains all around, and I can sit and watch the wildlife before it gets dark. There are marmots, ibex and red squirrels in these woods – and a hiker I met earlier claimed he had seen a lynx.


I’m aiming for Saas Grund tomorrow, or possibly a little further if I can manage it.

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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