Updated: May 24
This post recounts my experiences in August / September 2017 during a visit to Switzerland and Northern Italy in which I undertook a memorable hike above Saas Fee, joined the KE trek Tour de Monte Rosa and concluded with my ascent of the Breithorn, my one and only 4000M summit.
As I alighted from the bus, even before I’d retrieved my luggage from the vehicle’s hold, I marvelled at the vast rock faces towering over the head of the valley. I will always remember the magnificent sight that greeted me on arrival at the bus terminal in Saas Fee. Satisfied that my decision to spend a couple of days in Saas Fee prior to joining the Tour de Monte Rosa trek at Saas Grund had been the right one I set about trying to find my hotel. Hotel Popcorn was close by and so having checked in I began to familiarise myself with the town.
Michabel Peaks towering above Saas Fee
My decision to base myself initially is Saas Fee was based on the research I had done before leaving the UK. This comprised principally of reviewing local maps and consulting the writing of Cicerone author Kev Reynolds, universally regarded as the guru of hiking in the Swiss Alps. I cannot recommend Kev Reynolds' books too highly. I particularly like his large volume entitled simply "The Swiss Alps" and also always consult his edition dealing with the particular trek itinerary I am about to embark upon.
It was a combination of reviewing the local hiking maps and reading Kev's descriptions of hikes that resulted in my choice of hike for the following day when I planned to take a cable car above Saas Fee and to hike to the Brittaniahutte which offers a spectacular view to the west. While enjoying a beer in the town I was able to clarify with the waitress that the best approach would be to take the Felskinn cable car and to hike to Brittaniahutte from there. Then retracing my steps back to the main trail I could follow the balcony trail around to the Platjen cable car and either take the cable car to Saas Fee or alternatively hike back. With my plans set for the next day I enjoyed a meal before returning to the hotel.
Dawn Arrives on Michabel Peaks
The photo above is of the fabulous view I enjoyed at dawn from my hotel window with the early morning sun illuminating the Michabel peaks. Having packed my rucksack the night before I took a quick breakfast and headed directly to the Felskinn cable car. Within no time I arrived outside the cable car station at 2988M adjacent to the Chessjen glacier. I may have missed a sign post and surprisingly didn't initially find the correct path which began virtually at the cable car exit! After a short stretch along some natural fibre matting the path traversed an easy stretch of the glacier on level ground heading east towards Egginerjoch, the low pass between Felskinn and Brittaniahutte. I was now hiking on terra firma and the path continued without any major change in direction until it reached a clearly signposted junction marking the point at which the Brittaniahutte trail forked to the right.
The route from here is unremarkable with an obvious trail traversing easy ground. After a while the path skirts to the right of slightly higher ground as it approaches what is effectively the east end of the Chessjen glacier. The hut was now clearly visible in a small gap beyond the glacier between the Klein Allalin mini peak and the edge of the Hinter Allalin crags.
Saas Fee Hike Route
The route is viewable on the map in Outdooractive here - https://www.outdooractive.com/en/r/232806579?share=%7Ezrxlj4hx%244ossjwp9&utm_source=unknown&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=user-shared-social-content
I skirted around the meltwater and gained a little height so that I could cross the ice at a point where there was little gradient and this worked a treat. The route across the ice was clearly marked and in no time I was enjoying a cold beer on the warm terrace behind the hut facing south bathed in sunshine.
After an excellent rosti lunch and another beer I ventured to the top of Klein Allalin to admire the view. From the small peak there was a great view down to the hut with the crag of Hinter Allalin and the Michabel peaks behind.
Brittaniahutte & Hinter Allalin from Klein Allalin
I could easily have spent the afternoon admiring the views from Brittaniahutte. Lingering over a coffee I made the most of the fabulous view to the south west of the Allalinhorn and its neighbouring peaks. There was also a good view of Stausee Mattmark, the start point for the first stage of the Tour de Monte Rosa I would join a few days later (see left).
Strahlhorn (l), Rimpfischorn (c) and Allalinhorn (r) seen from Brittaniahutte
Retracing my steps from Britanniahutte I reached the trail junction encountered earlier and took the path to the right leading to Platjen. The photo below shows the trail to Platjen as it appeared on my approach to the trail junction and reveals how closely it hugs the mountain as it traverses the steep ground. For much of the route to Platjen it feels like an airy balcony affording striking views of the valley far below.
The trail to Platjen with Weissmies (4017M) in the background (r)
With the exception of one short stretch of chain assisted scrambling early on the trail to Platjen was well marked and relatively straightforward and afforded fine views to the valley . There were a few boulders to navigate for a short stretch before arriving at Platjen.
Short exposed section (chain assisted) Weissmies towers over Saas Almagell
As it was still quite early when I arrived at the Platjen lift and the weather was fine I decided to walk down the trail to Saas Fee, Stopping at my favourite bar for a beer I thanked the waitress for the helpful advice she had given me the day before.
Tour de Monte Rosa
Having taken the short bus ride from Saas Fee to Saas Grund I met up with my fellow trekkers at the appointed hotel the night before the start of the trek. The short briefing followed by dinner was a great opportunity to get to know everyone. As this was a 9 day trek with no transfer of luggage at any point it was going to be important to manage the inherent conflict between taking enough stuff and restricting the weight of the rucksack to the irreducible minimum. After dinner I took some time to check over the contents of my backpack to see if there were any improvements I could make. Another consideration for me was the fact that I was still carrying a plantar fasciitis injury that I had picked up wearing sandals over the summer and I did not want to exacerbate this.
Day 1 - Stausee Mattmark to Macugnaga, 14.8KM
Ascent 930M, Descent 1524, Max Elevation 2881
Today's hike was going to take us over the Monte Moro Pass into Italy. It began with a short bus ride from Saas Grund to the Stausee Mattmark reservoir from where we
hiked up to the pass. The air was incredibly still as we left the bus and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. The water on the reservoir was like glass.
Reservoir Stausee Mattmark
The hike up to the pass began easily heading south on a gently rising gradient for just over a kilometre until a height of around 2300M when the gradient steepened considerably. From this point the ascent to the Monte Moropass (2853M) was arduous and a bit of a trudge, Views from the pass were limited by low cloud. At this point my plantar fasciitis began to play up and I took the opportunity of the short break to do some stretches to stretch the membrane running along the base of the foot. Although the stretches helped a little I had not long had my orthotics refurbished and so had not reaped the full benefit from this. A couple of trekking pals in the group expressed concern that I was limping in one foot so early on the trek. As it transpired the problem persisted for the entire trek and affected me most often by causing me to limp on descents. I found that the stretching of the membrane under the foot that naturally occurs with the effort required on steep ascents was quite helpful and less uncomfortable. I am pleased to report however, that although the condition caused some discomfort for me it never came close to threatening my continuation on the trek. In fact the pain disappeared not very long after I returned home from the trek. I would therefore encourage anyone afflicted with this problem with moderate pain who is considering doing a demanding trek to not be put off by it. They should of course consult their GP before joining the trek.
A little further along the ridge from the pass we crossed into Italy and encountered the impressive golden statue of Madonne della Neve (Madonna of the Snow), the work of sculptor Guiseppe Banda that was installed at a prominent point on the ridge in August 1966.
From the statue the path descends a little and soon arrives at Rifugio Oberto-Maroli which is shown in the photo below.
The view of Monte Rosa to the south west from the Rifugio is truly spectacular. Fortunately, the mist that had bedevilled views from the pass above had disappeared as the cloud over Monte Rossa was clearing providing a wonderful view of the second highest peak in the Alps.
Monte Rosa (4638M) seen on descent from Rifugio Oberto-Marolo
The descent to Valle Anzesca was initially very steep and it was difficult to keep eyes on the trail with such an amazing panorama in front of you. It was also challenging to get the best shot of the mountain with so much mist and cloud swirling round. After an hour or so the gradient of the descent eased into pleasant grassy slopes. This part of the hike was most enjoyable and it was a treat to forage for and enjoy bilberries in the warm sunshine.
We were soon looking down on the town of Macugnaga not far from our accommodation for the night. Within an hour we were down in the valley passing the picturesque churches in the town and heading for our small hotel and a well deserved beer!
Day 2 - Macugnaga to Rifugio Pastore, 21.9KM
Ascent 1179M, Descent 1146M, Max Elevation 2752M
The day began quite gently with a stroll along the road beside the Anza Torrent towards the lake at Quarazza. I was already feeling slight discomfort in my foot. After about a kilometre we left the road to join the trail heading south east toward the lake (Lago delle Fate) at Quarazza. The trail then ascended gently through woods along the Valle Quarazza towards La Piana where it swings east to ascend steeply above the woods.
Alpe Piana below Colle del Turlo
In less than a kilometre from La Piana we had gained 400M of ascent before the trail once again headed south at a more benign gradient without crossing too many contours. Just before the Bivouac Lanti the trail began to climb steeply and twist once again into the arduous final ascent to Colle del Turlo (2738M).
Swirling cloud on Col delle Turlo
The descent from the col was typically steep at first then easing a little but remaining quite steep all the way to Rifugio Pastore. About half way down it began to rain, light at first then becoming heavier. The last kilometre or so of the trail was through woodland which provided a little shelter from the increasing rain. It was a heavy downpour by the time we reached the large mountain hut. A crowd was milling around the entrance as a result of several parties arriving at once in an effort to beat the heavy rain and everyone was eager to get inside and dry off.
To be continued.....