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Ascension Chronicles

The Spaghetti Tour Ascent of Monte Rosa through Italy

Written by Thomas Crauwels
mont rose massif photo with climbers - Margherita hut - parrotspitze

June 2023. I'm ready to set off and meet Mount Rose. From the valley of Zermatt, the high summits of this massif catch my eye. Now it's time for me to climb them. At the start of this summer, I've decided to do part of the Spaghetti Tour, the famous Italian side of the Monte Rosa giants. On the program: the ascent of Punta Giordani, Pyramide Vincent, Corno Nero and Ludwigshöhe.

Thanks to the sound advice of my guide, Johann Filliez, my expedition will then take me to the summits of the Parrotspitze, the Zumsteinspitze and the Signalkuppe or Pointe Gnifetti. 7 summits over 4000 metres in just two days: a goal worthy of my admiration for the mountain! They are all among the summits alpine peaks over 4000 metres above sea level that are the easiest to reach. The major projects I'm planning for this summer require me to re-acclimatize to high altitude, after several months spent in the valley. Discovering these peaks is a great opportunity to re-acclimatize my body to the sensations of mountaineering.

The Spaghetti Tour | From Punta Giordani to the Vincent Pyramid

Day 1: Johann and I head into the Gressoney valley to reach Stafal. Equipped with our gear, we take the lifts up to Endrespetz, 3275 meters above sea level. The weather is bad. Shrouded in mist, we can feel the snow approaching. Even before we begin our ascent, the mountain reminds us that we are just passing through. It alone decides who can tread its rock and who will be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of its beauty.

From Punta Indren, we head for the Gnifetti hut, built at an altitude of 3,625 metres on the southern slopes of Monte Rosa. Dominated by the Vincent Pyramid and the Liskamm, the hut offers us a foretaste of the spectacle that awaits us. Of the breathtaking splendor of an ice kingdom you'd never suspect existed if you lived in the valley. For me, as someone who suffers from altitude sickness, this first stage is an ideal preparation for the next day's ascent. It's still dark when we get up. We leave the hut at 5.30 a.m. for the Pointe Giordani. The adventure begins! Walking along the Indren glacier, I'm moved by the sheer brilliance of it all. The sky is pure and the snow immaculate. The mountain welcomes us, regal and bewitching. We can barely feel the refreeze, and the snow gives way under our weight. We're digging in deep, and each step requires a little more effort. Fortunately, Johann, my guide, is there to help me. He leads the way to summit. He also accompanies me as we traverse the glacier, whose crevasses, sometimes hidden from view, represent a constant danger to the climber.

Advancing relentlessly, the importance of the roped party never leaves my mind. Together, whatever happens. Together until summit. What better way than mountaineering to regain awareness of our place in the world? Staying humble in the face of the mountain is essential for survival. I'm deep in thought, concentrating on my steps, when all of a sudden I see it. The spectre of Brocken. Caught in the fog, our shadow is reflected in front of us, encircled by light. An optical illusion of which the mountain has the secret.

Spectre de Brocken appears through mountain fog
The spectre of Brocken pierces the mountain fog

Once we'd got over the surprise, we climbed the last few metres to summit on Punta Giordani, 4046 metres above sea level. At the top, as if at the top of the world, I breathe. The scene is magnificent. Overlooking the clouds, I contemplate the landscape. A breathtaking panorama of the Monte Rosa massif. Words escape me as the spectacle is so marvellous. Pure and grandiose. What an incredible experience for me, a mountain photographer, to be able to survey the Alpine terrain that inspires my art! It's like a vertiginous plunge into the heart of my work. The mountains and my imagination become one. And their encounter overwhelms me.

Mount Rosa from Italy | Climbing the Vincent Pyramid

summit of the Vincent Pyramid with a few clouds in the background
View of the Vincent Pyramid from Punta Giordani

From Punta Giordani, you can see the ridge leading to summit de la Pyramide Vincent. Made of rock and snow, it's a welcoming route. Ideal for reacquainting myself with the sensations of climbing at the start of the season, it is for me the most beautiful route to reach the Pyramide Vincent, at an altitude of 4215 metres. The ridge seems to float between earth and sky, a fabulous vessel of rock guiding us to the heights. Concentrating on the essentials, we survey the paths of a kingdom where snow is eternal. Focusing on my every move, I can't help but admire the beauty of the mountain, its luminous contrasts, its absolute purity. I couldn't imagine from down below how aesthetically pleasing this ridge was. Remarkably graphic.

Mountaineer climbing up a snow slope towards the Pyramide Vincent
Ascent of the Vincent Pyramid

The higher we climb, the smaller Punta Giordani becomes. We're balancing on a tightrope between Piedmont and Valle d'Aosta. On our right, the vertigo is total as we head towards the Piedmont valley. At that moment, we have to keep our eyes on the target, not thinking about falling, because the slightest weakness could be fatal. I'm not afraid of heights, yet when confronted with some impressive passages, my body gives way. Preventing me from standing. Forcing me to shrink so as not to wobble. A primitive reflex, a survival instinct, as if programmed into us from the start.

After hours of walking, we finally see summit approaching the Vincent Pyramid. With heavy feet, but happy souls. Through snow and rock, we reach it shortly after 10 am. What an incredible adventure! What a magnificent race! I'm so happy to start the season this way. From the top of the Pyramid, we gaze up at Liskamm, whose sharp peak seems to pierce the sky. Catching my breath, I admire the summits that punctuate the Italian side of Monte Rosa. And now the next stage awaits us. The Corno Nero, 4321 metres above sea level, and the Ludwigshöhe, 4343 metres high on the Swiss-Italian border.

Discovering the Italian Alps | Corno Nero and Ludwigshöhe

From the Vincent Pyramid, there's just 150 metres of ascent to Corno Nero. But at an altitude of over 4000 metres, the effort required is not the same as in the valley. Whereas on the plains we would have enjoyed running to the next summit, here every movement counts. Johann and I measure the speed of our steps to better manage the energy we have left. We control our breathing because, with the lack of oxygen, breathlessness threatens. For this first high-mountain crossing of the season, my body has to find its bearings. My heartbeat quickens as we climb the slope to summit. Between two strides, I watch Corno Nero rise out of the mist. As we approach the summit, the wall steepens, forcing us to scramble between the rocks. Fortunately, the snow makes our task easier, because if it had been ice, the route would have required more technique. A final effort and we reach summit , a rock that seems lost in the immensity of the heavens. On this enchanting promontory, a statue of a virgin has been erected, watching over the human world from above. 

Mountaineer next to the Corno Nero Madonna
The Corno Nero and the statue of the Virgin Mary

Barely recovered from our emotions, we had to set off again in the direction of the Ludwigshöhe. Only 20 metres of ascent separate this little bump of snow from the Corno Nero. With a final push, we reach it at 12:30. The traverse is coming to an end. We can finally sit down and regain our strength. Exhausted but serene, I enjoy the beauty of the Corno Nero that faces us. 8 hours in the high mountains, traversing the summits, climbing and walking, over rocks and through snow. And despite our fatigue, nature doesn't wait. The sun warms the atmosphere and we have to get back down. If the snow gets too soft, we risk encountering crevasses on the way back. Because, in the high mountains, we're only guests for a few moments. On every summit, we only stay a few minutes to eat before setting off again.

Roped mountaineer walking on the glacier towards Ludwigshöhe
Ascent to Ludwigshöhe

We make our way back down to the refuge, enriched by this incredible experience. We take the opportunity to stop off at the Felice Giordano bivouac, at an altitude of 4167 metres. The magnificent statue of Cristo delle Vette is enthroned here. The Christ of the summits protects the Gressoney valley. I'm delighted to have been able to see so many 4,000-metre-high mountains in a single day. Even if it was more of a glacier hike than a technical climb. Here, the complexity comes from the altitude. Our success lies in the strength of our spirit. In our ability to stay focused, to hold on despite fatigue. Each step proves our determination, and we draw our energy from the splendour of the surrounding mountains. When I'm in doubt, I look around me and all I want to do is push forward to reach my goal. Whatever it takes to reach the highest peaks and touch the sky. And, alone above the world, touch the very essence of life.

Arriving at the refuge, we can finally relax and enjoy a good meal. And the Italians sure know how to cook! Their plates of spaghetti are as filling as a main course, even though they only open the festivities. The bruschettas are divine. In three days of travel, I've put on 2 kg! Despite the effort of the climbs and the accumulated fatigue. Then it's time for a few hours' sleep before setting off on new adventures. Discovering the Parrotspitze, Zumsteinspitze and Signalkuppe. 

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