Adventures in TMR

Chapter 1 - The Italian Side of TMR.

Wednesday, 4/7/01. Today is the first day of our trip. In the morning, before the flight, we still have time to celebrate my mothers' birthday at her work in Tel Aviv university. Then we go to the airport. We are very excited about our forthcoming trip. For us, who have traveled already quite a few times to third-world countries, a trip to Europe becomes a sort of "exotic. If the trip is successful we will surely go for some more in the future. After all, taking a vacation of 8 working day in order to have 12 days trek (including 2 weekends) is quite easy to obtain (in comparison with few weeks vacations we take every year). At 3:15 PM we take off and land after a short 3.5 hours flight in Malpensa airport, Milan. We still in time for the last shuttle bus to Gallarate, 7 KM away, where we take the one before the last "Monte Rosa" train to Domodossola. The train is delayed for 15 minutes on the way, but we are lucky enough to get the last room in the quite substantial Domos "hotel". Unfortunately, we're too late for the last pizzeria open here tonight, and eat Panini (kind of sandwiches) in a bar.

On our way to the bus station, on the following day, we buy some basic products for our trek such as a Swiss army knife, bread and a bottle of wine. The bus ride to Staffa (Macugnaga), the starting point of the trek, reminds us our bus ride from Delhi to Manali, in India, 7 years ago. Or, if you prefer, the "death road" from Coroico to La-Paz, Bolivia. The road is extremely narrow, and the abyss down-to the river below is several hundreds meters high. The scary (but beautiful) bus drive has ended and we enjoy buying some more food (cheese, mortadella, bread, chocolate and cherries) in the pretty village of Staffa. After eating from our food in the central piazza, we start to walk.

In the beginning the way is level, and passes through fields of wild flowers where we peak some wild berries. Later on the way starts to climb and we walk inside a forest where we see many ferns. We meet a couple of travelers coming down from the Col del Turlo, 2,738m' pass. They walk the Italian part of the TMR (Tour de Monte Rosa) in the opposite direction than us. They tell us that the pass we're going to climb is covered by a 3 meters thick layer of snow. They thought of giving up and go back when a group of Swiss mountain climbers arrived and showed them the way. We are puzzled. We knew that this year it snowed a lot in Europe, especially in the end of the winter, but we hoped that till now, the beginning of July, it melted. Now we get a bit worried. Still we decide to try and cross the pass at any rate.

We peak some wild berries.

Above the tree line we meet a heard of sheep. Quite strange sheep they have in here - the sheep have quite long tail, unlike the Israeli sheep who have עליה instead. It's interesting to look at the sheep, especially when they try to cross the streams with their thin legs. As we're in a "civilized" place, all the sheep are numbered. Number 3469 is exceptionally friendly with us. The dogs help the shepherds very much. I practice my almost forgotten Italian with the shepherds. They tell us that the weather won't be good tomorrow. The shepherds, dogs and sheep stop at Bivacco Lanti at 2,150m' and we continue further up half an hour more. Then the paved way becomes covered with last winters' snow. As around us there is quite a good campground Tali proposes that we stop and pitch our tent. Shortly later fog comes and covers the view, and we're happy that we stopped. We are so tired that we fall asleep without eating supper...

We meet a heard of sheep.

In the morning we cook some mashed potatoes (from dried flakes) and start walking at 8 AM. We see Alpine ibex around us. Not 1 nor 2 but tens of them. They are not shy and we can get as close as 5 meters from them. As we continue climbing up the paved road becomes more and more difficult to find. We're practically walking in a snow field. As the way now completely disappeared, and the snow is too deep, we start walking on the rocks above us which are too high and steep to be covered by the snow. Tali seriously thinks that we will be lost. The thick fog doesn't really help. We more or less navigate blindly. In other words we walk in the direction where the pass should be. I say to myself that if we reach the top of the cliff and see no sign of the way we will go back. We reach the top of the cliff. We don't see anything. For a moment the fog clears up and we see the way only 30 meters from us. We are relieved. We join the way and don't lose it anymore, even though in many places it's covered with the snow. We see the pass now. It's only 200 meters away. The 200 meters that separate between the pass and us is a glacier, beneath which there is a crevasse. We walk cautiously, holding hands in the more difficult places. Finaley we reach the pass. We have a "chocolate break" in order to ease our breath and increase our strength. We've made it !

We see Alpine ibex around us.

The way down is much easier. Because the slope is towards the south, it is almost snow free. We walk some vertical 1,000 meters down and reach a "T" junction in the path. The path to the right is indicated "7e". The path to the left, which is the main path, goes down to the village of Alagna. Unfortunately we have a Swiss map, in which the numbers of the paths are not written. Since we don't want to lose height we decide to take the "7e" to the right. The path is narrow and disappearing at times. Slowly and gradually it starts to climb and go up the valley. We arrive to several ruined huts. By looking well in the map we identify our position. We arrived at Alpe Fonkegno, at around 2,100m', some 300 meters higher than Alpe Safeja, our destination. This place is remote and awesome. We are close to south east glacier of Monte Rosa (Ghiacciaio della Sesia), and see many waterfalls. We see no way going down. Nevertheless, we decide to go strait down, "cross country". At times the way is so steep that we sit on our backs and slide down. We slide slowly, and thus see in time that we reach a cliff edge. We go down carefully and hear noises of an electric saw. Soon after we see Flavio, an Italian shepherd, who is making a way for his cows. He tells us that the bridge below is broken and that we must go down until rifugio Pastore before crossing to the other bank of the river. As the path is overgrown and practically blocked, he opens it for us, with his electric saw, for the next 100 meters, until it joins the main path. We thank him a lot, and promise to say greetings in his name to Giuliano, the warden at rifugio Pastore.

6 hours after the T junction we arrive to rifugio Pastore. If we have turned right in the T junction we would have reached here in only half an hour instead of 6 ! In rifugio Pastore Giuliano tells us that the Swiss map we have (published by the well know Kummerly+Frey) worth nothing (actually he says some dirty words about it which I won't write here...). He says that it was made by the Swiss "inside the office", and not by a ground survey. We copy from his Italian map the path numbers, for future use. He tells us that last Sunday an Israeli couple passed by, and wonders whether there are advertisements about Monte Rosa in Israel... We buy from him some chocolates and bread, and he charges us less than half price. We ask him why, and he replies "because you arrived to Monte Rosa from as far as Israel". Before we leave Giuliano verifies that we have a good tent with us, since a "big storm" is coming.

We continue 45 minutes further us the valley and reach Alpe Bors, at 1,829m'. We start pitching the tent just before an half-flooded bridge, after which the path continues. Thinking about the forthcoming storm, I tell Tali that it's better to cross the river now, on the half-flooded bridge, than risk it being completely flooded after the storm. And so we move the tent to the opposite bank of the river. We had a very difficult day today. We walk almost non-stop from 8AM till now, at around 19PM. Again we fall asleep without eating supper...

Alpe Bors (1,829m').

At 4 O'clock in the morning we wake up to the sounds of thunders and heavy rain. The storm has arrived. It rains all the time, more or less non-stop, until 4PM. We pass the time sleeping, eating and plying cards. Only at 4PM, when it's clearing up we ply out tent and start to walk. Since the ground is soaked with water and as we need to cross many streams, we walk with our sandals (and not our boots). Only after an hour, when high enough above the valley, we put our boots on our feet. We have (again) some difficulties finding the way... At 8PM we find ourselves at the frozen Lago Miniere, at 2,481m', where we pass the night.

The frozen Lago Miniere (2,481m').

In the morning we are relieved to see blue sky. We look at the path going to Rifugio Vincent, at 3,112m'. It's too steep and too much covered with snow. We decide not to take any more risks and join the main road. This means a detour of at least 5 hours because we will need first to go down 500 meters to 2,000m', and then climb all the way up to Col d'Olen at 2,880m'. Needless to say that the path is not clear all the way until we join the main path, at Passo del Diavolo. Unfortunately clouds are accumulating as we climb the pass. It's like a competition between the clouds and us of who will arrive the pass first...Quite exhausted we arrive to the top. We won the clouds! We leave our backpacks in Rifugio Guglielmina in which we will eat lunch soon. It's Tali's idea not to eat now, but to take advantage of the relatively good weather and explore the pass, which is 200 meters away from the refuge.. The pass is both beautiful and covered with snow...

Col d'Olen 2,881m'.

We go back to the refuge and eat late lunch. We have 2 cups of hot milk, I take a Lasagna and Tali - a sandwich. For desert we take a panacota. What a luxury ! The nice waiter talks to us in French. He explains that every summer he practices a different language with the tourists. Next year he plans to practice English. The nearby Dutch tourists suggest that the year after he will talk Flemish... We leave on the table a nice "pour-boir" (tip) for the waiter and start to go out of the hut thinking to ourselves that the Italians are so nice and friendly here.. The waiter runs after us - saying that we forgot money on the table...

The weather deteriorates - it's all foggy around us and we can't see much. We are happy that before lunch we went to the pass. First because we saw already the view and second - that we know the way to the pass. We use this knowledge going in the fog to the pass. After reaching the pass (we see nothing...) we go half the way down and then take the cable car down to Gressoney, a small ski village situated 1,000m' below the pass. Imagine - a cable car ! Here in Europe, we have the opportunity to spare our knees and go down with cable cars ! What a luxury ! We call home and buy eagerly in the nearby grocery shop, Parmesan cheese, mortadella, bread, chocolate, and even antipasti like gamba and egg-plant. Tali feels like in heaven with the fresh fig and peach that we bought. We climb 350m' up, above the tree line, to Sant'Anna, where there is a small shepherd settlement and a chapel. In the last light the clouds vanish and Monte Rosa is clearly seen, only 9 KM away...


We call home.

We pitch our tent and for the first time in this trip don't fall asleep exhausted. Instead, we spoil ourselves with a very good Italian dinner, made from the product we bought 2 hours ago. I even drink the Italian red wine the we carry from the beginning of the trip and didn't have the occasion to drink till now. We fall asleep happy, thinking of how we enjoyed the luxuries Europe offered us today - a cable car, an opportunity to call home, and good fresh food...

We wake up full of energy and find ourselves at around 8:30 on Colle di Bettaforca pass , at 2,672m'. We have breakfast and enjoy the clear blue sky. Not only us enjoy the caressing sun - but also the many marmots at which we like to look. Unfortunately, the cable car is not operating, so we go down on foot.

Col di Bettaforca 2,672m'.

We have a break in Resy 2,072m', where we drink hot milk and eat Magnum ice cream (the Italians pronounce it "manyum"...). In Resy, the hut owners explain to us the way maybe 8 times. They are quite impressed that we intend to cross tomorrow to Switzerland without a rope nor crampons. They tell us that a storm is expected this evening. We decide to walk towards the next pass, Colle delle Cime Bianche at 2,982m' (which translates to "The superiore pass of the white mountain tops"), 3.5 hours of a non-stop climb, until the rain will stop us...

In Resy (2,072m') we drink hot milk and eat Magnum ice cream.

The weather holds and at 6 p.m. we arrive to this exhilarating pass without a single drop of rain. On one side we see patches of snow and a beautiful glacier lake. The other side is the Rosa plateau - an eternal glacier and an all year ski station. 7KM away we see amongst the clouds, for the first time in this trip, the mighty Matterhorn. We feel very happy. It's an amazing place here, and the weather is not bad.

Colle Sup. delle Cime Bianche 2,982m'.

There is only one problem - there is so much snow here that all the markings of the way are buried below it. Without much choice, we start walking cross-country on the few traces of foot steps on the snow, hopping it will lead us down. At 8 p.m., well after sunset, we arrive to what seems to be an intermediate terminal of the huge cable car going from Plan Maison, at 2,548m', to Testa Grigia, at 3,479m'. Of course the cable car is not operating so late. The entrance doors are locked and the place looks deserted. Sleeping outside, on the snow, so high, when a storm is predicted doesn't feel a good (nor warm...) alternative. Lucky us, Tali finds a way to sneak into the station and we pitch our tent inside it, on the platform where the people wait for the cable car going up. We are so relieved... We cook for ourselves diner, and go to sleep protected from the outside. We had a long day today, walking from 7 a.m. till 9 p.m. almost non-stop. During the night I wonder how will be the traverse into Switzerland. Are crampons a must ? Are there any crevasses on the way ? How will be the weather ? And in short, will we make it ???

We start walking cross-country on the snow.

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Last modified: Tue Apr 30th 10:05:00 IST 2002