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Ascension Chronicles

Crossing Lyskamm On the edge of the Valais Alps

Written by Thomas Crauwels
Zermatt - beautiful mountains - Zermatt Valley - Lyskamm

July 2023. It's already been six years since I met him. Six years that his regal beauty has fascinated me and that, with a vibrant heart, I've photographed him. After so many years, I'm finally going to realize one of my greatest dreams. To cross Lyskamm and its magnificent ridge. Suspended between heaven and earth, on the borders of the Valais Alps and the Aosta Valley. To complete this new ascent, I'm lucky enough to be accompanied by my guide, Johann Filliez, as well as my friend Alexis and his guide Antoine. Our steps will take us from Lyskamm occidental, which rises to 4479 meters, to Lyskamm oriental, which peaks at 4532 meters. These two summits on the Spaghetti Tour, close to Monte Rosa, are on the UIAA's (Union Internationale des Associations d'Alpinisme) official list of mountains over 4,000 metres in the Alps. Ready to take on this new challenge, I set off, enthusiastic and determined, towards the Gressoney valley.

Crossing Lyskamm | Starting point in the Italian Alps

Ten days ago, I climbed four summits on the Spaghetti Tour, and now I'm back in the Italian Alps. Arriving in Stafal, in the upper Lys valley, we take the lifts, loaded down with our gear, to the Bettaforca pass. We need to reach the Quintino Sella hut before dark. With my body now acclimatized to the high altitude, we're making good speed. Leaving the green valleys and fir forests behind, we enter a mineral world where the rock is austere and the sky grey. A few patches of snow covering the trail give us a foretaste of the whiteness that awaits us higher up.

Barely two hours after setting off, we reach the hut at 3585 meters altitude. Drenched in mist, we can't make out the route that awaits us the next day until nightfall. The surprise remains! As we enter the hut, we are amazed to see so many people. We settle down for dinner in the lively dining room, where, in a warm atmosphere, everyone shares their plans. Most of the climbers present will be going to summit on Castor. But I'm surprised to see that so many of us want to climb Lyskamm. Its ascent is more complex than that of Castor, and the mountain is more confidential. Less well known than Mont Blanc or the Matterhorn, it attracts fewer climbers. But everyone has their own reasons for wanting to climb one summit rather than another. Treading the eternal snows of Lyskamm is a dream that has haunted me for a long time, such is its splendour. And it's with the promise of this happy tomorrow in mind that I fall into a deep sleep.

The Quintino Sella refuge | View of the Spaghetti Tour 

3 h 58. The alarm goes off. 2 minutes to get dressed before meeting up with Johann, Alexis and Antoine. Through the window, we contemplate the view towards the Gnifetti refuge. The Vincent Pyramid, the Corno Nero, the Ludwishöhe and the Parrotspitze pass before our barely awake eyes. All these summits of the Spaghetti Tour remind me of my last ascents and invite me to new adventures. The full moon illuminates the mountains as if it were already daylight. And under the blue sky, the contours of the snow meet those of the clouds.

Breakfast is always a difficult moment for me, as I'm used to not having my first meal until lunchtime. But in the mountains, eating is a matter of survival. My body needs reserves to get through the hours of climbing. So I swallow a few slices of buttered toast, a bowl of cereal and I'm ready to go. I carry energy bars and other sweet treats in my bag. They'll be my fuel throughout the day. But just as we're about to leave the refuge, a threatening sky full of lightning brings us back to our senses. Could the bad weather, which was due to arrive in the afternoon, be ahead of schedule? If we leave for Lyskamm this morning, won't we find ourselves caught in the storm? Our climb seems to be in jeopardy, and my dream suddenly seems to be nothing more than utopia. Faced with so much uncertainty, Johann checks the weather data and reassures us. The forecast is for fine weather. So we put aside our fears and, at 4.58 a.m., set off on our expedition to Lyskamm. The moment I'd been waiting for had finally arrived.

Approaching Lyskamm | From Felikgletscher to Felijoch

We make rapid progress up the Felikgletscher. The glacier's royal road leads us to Lyskamm . As we walk, dawn turns the sky pink. When we reach the foot of Felijoch, we pause for a moment, transfixed by the beauty of the sunrise. The horizon is adorned in marvellous hues. From blue to orange, the colors of life and hope illuminate the landscape as much as our hearts. What a magnificent gift from nature! Suddenly, while the valley is still asleep, the grandiose mountains spread their luminous peaks beyond the mist. And I recognize the distinctive profile of Mont Blanc and the Combins, which resembles in every way the view from the Klein Matterhorn. The mountains never cease to amaze me!

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We're now covering the last few metres to the pass. The slope suddenly becomes so steep that I can hardly stand upright. Relieved to have reached Felijoch, we catch our breath as we gaze at the bewitching, sublime sea of clouds that covers the Zermatt valley. Only the high summits of the Imperial Crown of Zinal emerge from the misty waves. I can't resist taking out my camera to photograph them. TheObergabelhorn, the Zinalrothorn, the Weisshorn and the Matterhorn seem to dominate the world with serenity.

Climb Lyskamm West | Magnificent panorama of the Alps

In front of us is the ridge of Lyskamm occidental. Whitened by the snow, it reminds me of the Bosses ridge on Mont Blanc. If you listen carefully, it invites you to reach for the sky. But a closer look reveals an extremely steep slope at the end of the ascent. The pass is 400 metres from summit. Despite the difficulties ahead, we begin our ascent. My heartbeat quickens and I watch my every step, because at such altitudes, mistakes are out of the question. Johann and I gradually find our rhythm to complete this stage. And when my feet finally touch the summit, my breath is short but I feel fulfilled. Lyskamm has accepted me at its summit.

From up here, I discover a fantastic panorama. The Monte Rosa massif shines, from the Parrotspitze to the Zumsteinspitze, via the Margherita hut. It's hard to believe that nature is so beautiful from above. Just a few days ago, I was admiring Lyskamm as I hiked the peaks of the Spaghetti Tour. Today, I find myself on the other side of the mirror. The wind shifts, energy circulates, the end of one epic leads to another discovery. And the mountains echo my greatest adventures.

Seeing the number of climbers preparing to ascend Lyskamm at the refuge, I wanted to immortalize their journey. I secretly hoped that at summit, the weather would be kind. As we climbed in the wind and cold, I was filled with doubts. But when we got up there, nature granted my wish and I was lucky enough to be able to photograph a roped party walking along the ridge leading to Lyskamm in the heart of an extraordinary landscape. When I put on my photographer's clothes, I become one with the mountain. And I nourish my art with the treasures it conceals. The voluptuousness of its relief, its divine whiteness, its sumptuous colors. Bathed in light, it exposes its impetuous soul to the wind. Even the shadows sparkle, so beautiful is the mountain.

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Crossing a fabulous ridge | On the edge of the Valais Alps

After this photographic break, it's time to catch up with Alexis and Antoine, who are ahead of us. We start crossing the ridge that links the two summits Lyskamm . Without doubt one of the most beautiful in the Alps. Its tapering silhouette seems to trace the humped back of a thousand-year-old giant. Its crests follow one another Next the flow of my imagination. With its celestial purity, it soars into the void between light and shadow. 

We have 2 km and 100 metres of ascent to cover along this mythical route. In these conditions, concentration is paramount. Above all, you have to make sure you don't stumble, because the slightest mistake can lead to a fatal fall. Perched at an altitude of 4,450 metres, I feel like a tightrope walker on a tightrope between Switzerland and Italy. We also have to watch out for the snow cornices shaped by the winds. There are a lot of them on this ridge, which is subject to the fury of storms. And if you have the misfortune to find yourself on one when it breaks, it's impossible to escape. So you have to find the right place to make your mark. Where the mountain accepts man's presence.

I lead the way. I measure my efforts. Each advance is a new feat. Behind me, Johann anticipates my every move, ready to hold me back in case of a misstep. But, fortunately, the experience I've accumulated over so many years makes my gait more confident and my mental strength stronger. All I can see is the mountain. A magical tête-à-tête at the top of the world. All around us, the atmosphere is so pure that we can make out the Alps from ridge to valley. Sky, snow, rock and wind - all the elements are here, and I'm at the center of it all. It's a fabulous experience, like going back to basics.

From Lyskamm to the Gnifetti hut | Last stage of an unforgettable ascent

Then comes the final step to summit Lyskamm . The last stage of an unforgettable journey. We're delighted to be reunited with Alexis and Antoine. Then I discover the descent to Lisjoch. Once again, it's a magnificent sight. The snow melts into the cotton of the clouds. A perfect harmony of colors and materials. Time to catch our breath and we're off again. All the way to the Lisjoch, we have to stay focused, because sometimes the descents are more complex than they appear. But today's conditions are ideal, and if I were to climb Lyskamm again, this is exactly where I'd like to return. For it is here that the ridge seems to me the most graceful and tapering.

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Once on the Lysgletscher, at the foot of the Ludwigshöhe and Corno Nero, we breathe easier. It's an easy walk to the Gnifetti hut. I'm amazed at how much the snow has melted in just ten days. Ice appears on Punta Giordani and crevasses overlook the refuge. Choosing the right moment to go to summits is crucial, as conditions change from one day to the next at altitude. And when it sharpens its weapons, the mountain becomes dangerous. Our expedition ends on the benches of the Gnifetti hut, where we feast on a delicious pasta dish. Tomato Conchiglie with melting mozzarella. The perfect reward to celebrate the realization of one of my greatest mountaineering dreams. And there's no denying that Italian cuisine is truly succulent!

The adventure is coming to an end, but it will take me several weeks to recover from so many emotions. I have now climbed 40 summits over 4000 metres out of the 82 listed in the Alps. There's no hurry for the rest. I enjoy each project, and I like to soak it in before I carry it out. In the mountains, there's no point in trying to force fate. Nature decides and dictates its conditions. It's up to us to know how to listen attentively, so as to be able to savor the magical moments she offers us. But one day soon, I'm sure, I'll be surveying her peaks once again, in search of new summits as superb as Lyskamm.

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