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Ascension Chronicles

The Spaghetti Tour on the Italian side of Monte Rosa

Written by Thomas Crauwels

June 2023. A new day dawns at summit . At the start of the new season, I've decided to climb the massif via Italy. Surveying the mountains I've admired for so many years is an opportunity to reacclimatize my body to alpine sensations. I have many plans for the coming months. Accompanied by my guide, Johann Filliez, I'm setting out to conquer 7 giants over 4000 metres in altitude in just two days. In doing so, I'm taking up the challenge of covering part of the famous Spaghetti Tour, which crosses the most beautiful summits on the Italian side of Monte Rosa.

The day before, we climbed Punta Giordani, Pyramide Vincent, Corno Nero and Ludwigshöhe. On today's agenda: summit the Parrotspitze, the Zumsteinspitze and the Signalkuppe or Pointe Gnifetti. It promises to be a magnificent and emotionally-charged day. 

The Spaghetti Tour | From the Gnifetti Refuge to the Parrotspitze

Day 2. It was a short night at the Gnifetti hut. When the alarm went off at 4 a.m., Johann and I were fast asleep. With our dreams still alive, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast before setting off up the mountain. The refuge is quiet at this early hour. But in a few minutes, it will be swarming with people. Slaloming, queuing and making your way through the ranks of mountaineers preparing for adventure is never a pleasant experience. I prefer the tranquility of the peaks to the hustle and bustle of mankind.

We leave the refuge at 5 a.m. to be the first to set foot on summits. Our ascent begins on the Lys glacier. Gradually, dawn appears on the horizon. When we reach the Col de Lys, Johann explains that the verticality of its seracs towards Switzerland has made it impassable. We cross the plateau that leads from the Lisjoch to the Lodwigshöhe, below the Vincent Pyramid. Day breaks on the border between Italy and Switzerland. Mont Blanc can be seen in the distance, exposing its snow-covered faces to the morning light. The sky is sumptuous. Deep blue, welcoming the sun and giving life to a new day. A carpet of clouds opens the door to the celestial kingdom. And under its protective shadow, the Alps stretch as far as the eye can see. Moved by so much beauty, my gaze wanders from summits to the Grand Paradis.

Sunrise over the Mont-Blanc Massif from the Lys glacier
Sunrise over the Mont-Blanc Massif from the Lys glacier

Suddenly, the cold catches up with me. Insidious and brutal. On this spring morning, violent winds sweep through summits. At high altitude, it feels like -13°C. We couldn't stop for long without losing all feeling in our hands and feet. It promises to be an exhausting day. Fighting the wind wears out our bodies and tires our minds. We're in a constant battle. In my head, thoughts overlap. Will I freeze to death? Will the wind strengthen, preventing us from continuing our adventure? Will the mountain finally accept us at summit ?

On the Italian side of Monte Rosa | Climbing the Parrotspitze

Focused on our objective, we keep moving forward. We climb with crampons, as the frost is severe. After passing the Ludwigshöhe pass, we begin our ascent of the Parrotspitze. A magnificent snow ridge on the edge of heaven and earth. Pure and fascinating, like a royal road to the sun. I wasn't expecting such splendor. That morning, we were the first to climb it. Johann leads the way in the fresh snow, and I follow in his footsteps. We open the way for the next group of climbers. The ridge offers a marvellous view of Lyskamm. With its breathtaking scale, it towers above the benevolent gaze of Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn, whose regal silhouette stands out on the horizon.

With every step I take, my heart fills with new emotions. I have tears in my eyes, so overwhelmed by this climb. What an incredible experience! The mountains give us so much in comparison with the sanitized world of our daily lives. Up there, we experience that moment of truth that brings us face to face with ourselves. Life in its raw state. It doesn't take much for everything to change. Although I feel I've reached summit, it's never the end. Each step marks a new beginning towards the next summit. The mountain always takes us further, beyond ourselves and beyond the world. 

view from summit of the Parrotspitze
View from summit of the Parrotspitze

We're already at summit on the Parrotspitze, suddenly changing from darkness to light. What a joy to be able to warm up a bit at last! We've made it while other roped parties have already turned back, no doubt impressed by the verticality of the place. The panorama is grandiose. At the summit of the Alps and in search of the essential, I catch my breath. Admiring nature's sublime landscape. The mountains go on and on, giving relief to our lives. This climb will remain engraved in my memory forever. I feel at home in the high mountains. Soothed and happy despite the fatigue. On these rocks that you can't reach alone, team spirit takes on its full meaning. The effort too, because the mountains are demanding. The only downside is that I can feel an icicle on my right big toe. I'd never felt that before. Worried, I can already imagine my foot freezing. Fortunately, I discover later that this is not the case.

At summit in the Italian Alps | Zumsteinspitze and Gnifetti Peak

Now it's time to conquer the Zumsteinspitze. The fifth-highest summit in the Alps, it culminates at 4563 meters. We then descend to Col Sesia, opposite Grenzgletscher, to climb the combe to Col Gnifetti. We then begin our ascent of the Zumsteinspitze. Its snowy ridge rises at the end, like a springboard to infinity. My heartbeat quickens with every step. Until we finally reach the summit of this fabulous peak. The mountain offers a magnificent view of the entire Alps. The purity of the sky and the immaculate snow sublimate the beauty of the spectacle. Opposite us rise the Nordend and Dufourspitze, two of the highest summits in the Alps. My gaze wanders among so much beauty. Plunging into the heart of dazzling shapes and sumptuous textures. What an incredible sensation to tread the rocks of the mountains I love to photograph! To feel their roughness, to be in contact with their walls. As if my art had come to life. As if the dream had become reality.

Mountaineer arriving at summit on the Zumsteinspitze with Pointe Gnifetti in the background
Arrival at summit on the Zumsteinspitze with Pointe Gnifetti in the background

I follow with my eyes the traverse that leads to Dufourspitze. My passion for the mountains knows no bounds. As I climb the summits on the Spaghetti Tour, a new dream takes shape. One day soon, my steps will guide me all the way up there. On the highest mountain in the Swiss Alps. As time goes by, my skills improve and feats that once seemed impossible become achievable. The mountains invite us to surpass ourselves, to tackle ever more technical routes, to explore ever more remote paths. I love taking up the challenges it throws at me.

From the Zumsteinspitze, we descend over the Col Gnifetti to the Signalkuppe, also known as Pointe Gnifetti. The last few meters of our ascent are difficult, as the slope steepens. But we're lucky to have good conditions. If this passage had been frozen over, it would have been more complicated. By the time we reach summit on Pointe Gnifetti, our stomachs are suddenly screaming for food. We're looking forward to the delicious pizza for which the Margherita hut is famous. With an alert step, we head for Europe's highest mountain hut at an altitude of 4554 meters. But our hopes are soon dashed when we arrive at the closed door. Goodbye pizza and other Italian delicacies! We'll have to wait until we're back in the valley to enjoy some delicious pasta.

Two climbers from summit on Pointe Gnifetti, with Lyskamm in the background.
Emotions from summit on Pointe Gnifetti, with Lyskamm in the background

All that remains is to retrace our steps to the Gnifetti hut. I'd been feeling fine all day, but suddenly I get altitude sickness. With every step, my head threatens to explode. My body needs time to acclimatize to altitude, and the Spaghetti Tour is ideal for acclimatizing to the high mountains at the start of the season. A few years ago, I would have scheduled this climb for late summer. But with global warming and melting glaciers, waiting increases the risk of encountering open crevasses, making the traverse more complex.

Back in the valley, I'm delighted to have discovered summits on the famous Spaghetti Tour. Having surveyed the Italian side of the Monte Rosa massif. I have now climbed 34 of the 82 summits alpine peaks over 4,000 metres in altitude. I'm both moved and proud. My crazy dream of climbing them all is gradually taking shape. Having grown up on the plains of Belgium, how could I ever have imagined finding happiness beyond the clouds? And if I had to pick out just one image from this journey among all these marvellous landscapes, it would be the view from the north face of Lyskamm. A gigantic mountain sparkling in the sun like a rough diamond illuminating the sky. For I'm planning to climb it over the coming months. To traverse its tapering ridge. A magnificent run on one of the most beautiful summits in the Swiss Alps. 

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