Our best writer Justin has completed the English translation of Anne-Marie’s report on her climb from the lowest to the highest point of Switzerland.
Sit down and read it, it’ll be breathtaking, and if you want, you can dress it with some pictures.
Ascona – Dufourspitze in 5 stages
220 Kilometer und 9400 vertical meters of ascent. 36 hours running and speed hiking. 23 liter Water. 12000 kcal.
Day 1: 52km, 1873 vertical meters of ascent, 360 vertical meters of descent, ca. 8 hours.
I start in shorts and a T-shirt early in the morning on Lago Maggiore in Ascona at the lowest point in Switzerland. At this time, 220 kilometers of road and trail, and 9500 vertical meters of ascent lay ahead of me. The hot summer temperatures do not make my task any easier. I have to stop at every village fountain I pass to fill up my water bottle. I feel each drop of sweat on my skin. I can hardly wait to finally immerse myself in the glacier world of the Monte Rosa area near Zermatt.
My route takes me through Losone to Binasca and into the Valle Maggia. The lush green landscape reminds me of a jungle, a perception which the high level of humidity supports. I am in constant search of the paths which lead through shade or beneath the canopy of forest in order to find protection from the sun. My only navigational tool is a stack of hiking maps, and when I fail to read these precisely, I go astray, with the consequence that I end up making a few more kilometers and vertical meters of ascent more than necessary. But I take this with a grain of salt. The villages roll past and soon I have reached the fork in the valley which leads to San Carlo. On a paved road, I reel in the kilometers and vertical meters of climbing. Much to my joy, I soon reach the hiking path which will lead to the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC) hut, Basòdino. But my joy is short-lived, as I immediately have to take on a steep climb of 800 meters and begin to feel a bit of exhaustion in my legs. Through my strong sweating I have been losing more electrolytes than I can replace, and as a result I begin to feel a light cramping in my quadriceps. I continue to eat and drink regularly and turn on my mental training with thoughts like: ‘with each step, I come nearer to my goal’, or, ‘each step brings me further from the start’. These help me precisely at the right point. Incredulous, I look at my watch as I finally take on the last meters to the hut: the last 950 vertical meters only took me 60 minutes to ascend. Now I am eager to enjoy a hearty dinner. The hut warden, Ueli, grills a delicious dish of meat and I take a moment’s respite. The hut’s easy-going atmosphere is satisfying. Ueli is able to give me some valuable tips for the coming day and lends me an ice axe so I’ll be able to cross the remaining 45 degree snowfields which lay in the steep shady mountain ravines without incident.
Day 2: Basòdino Hut to Fiesch: 65km, 2400 vertical meters of ascent, 2900 vertical meters of descent, ca. 8 hours.
After a hearty breakfast, I am back on my feet and running towards the Cristallina pass before the first rays of sun hit the mountaintops. I feel confident with my ice axe in my pack – you never know what could happen. The view over the high mountain lakes of the pass is breathtaking. Ultimately I manage to cross the snow-filled ravines without aid of the axe but rather with good concentration and quick steps. Nevertheless, I require about 2 hours’ time for these first 12 kilometers of trail. In addition, I often go astray on the numerous mountain trails. This ultimately costs me about 2 kilometers of climbing on an ascending trail before I retrace my steps back to the previous fork. I am annoyed by this and this annoyance carries over into my feet, which get caught on the edge of a stone. I trip and fall. There she is again, the Flammersfeld roll. Fortunately, nothing happened. I laugh to myself and continue on toward Nufenen pass. There is still a lot of snow on the trail which makes progress tedious. Towards midday I finally reach Ulrichen on the other side of the pass, and know that I only have 20 kilometers left until today’s goal, along the ‘Rotten’ river to Fiesch. The sun is bearing down on me with all of its scalding 38 degrees, I fill up with as much water as I can at each fountain I pass and even run through passing sprinklers, which farmers have set up to keep their fields from drying out. The final kilometers before Fiesch feel endless and I occasionally have my doubts about whether the village actually even exists. After about 8 hours of running, I finally reach the Youth Hostel. My feet burn, my body temperature is surely feverish. All I want is to jump into a giant tub filled with ice cubes…
Day 3: Fiesch – Zermatt: 68km, 1300 vertical meters of ascent, 760 vertical meters of descent, 7 hours 52 minutes
I have awaited this day with much positive anticipation. I am very pleased that I now have the opportunity to run to Zermatt, and cast my gaze on the Matterhorn, but first I will need to overcome the 68 kilometers between here and there. The run to Visp goes well. I am in the flow and the kilometers simply seem to roll by. However, before Visp a fork appears and I suddenly need to decide between two trails: right or left along the river. Unfortunately, I decide promptly for the wrong one. The trail quickly begins to narrow as the underbrush grows taller. I ask myself when was the last time anyone took this trail, as I continually strike thorny branches from my path. To my shock, I eventually emerge on a large factory areal with smokestacks and blaring machines. I have to climb over fences and creep under bridges in order to reach a path which leads to a road. This little detour costs me nerves and kilometers, and as I arrive in the loud and overfilled city of Visp any joy or fun I might have been experiencing before has vanished. I shut my eyes and carry on, running past shopping centers and stinking cars. When I finally feel the trail again beneath my feet, I can breath easy again. Once again the way leads through numerous villages, forests and hamlets until I finally reach Täsch. From there I need 40 minutes to get to Zermatt. In Zermatt I am greeted by a horde of tourists from the whole world, and weave my way through them to my lodging, the Hotel Backstage Vernissage. With my last strength I lower myself into the bathtub which stands in the middle of my room, and take in the view of the Matterhorn. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Yet, this moment of respite only last a moment and soon I am jolted upright by the arrival of an SMS from the mountain guide. The weather prognosis for the 5th day of my tour is more than bad and will under no circumstances allow an attempt on the summit of the Dufourspitze! Suddenly, I am filled with panic and negative feelings. I begin to doubt whether the project will be able to be completed. Am I to give up here, so close to my goal? After a brief phone call and check-up on the weather forecast the following is clear: storm warning and wind gusts of up to 130 km/h will certainly not allow a summit attempt. But then comes some good news: weather improvement and 10 hours of sunshine for the 6th day! I arrange to stay another day at the Monte Rosa hut and plan to make my summit attack one day later.
Day 4: Zermatt – Monte Rosa Hütte: 15 km,. 1900 vertical meters of ascent, 711 vertical meters of descent, ca. 4 hours 30 minutes
I wake in my most comfortable bed at the Hotel Backstage filled with positive feelings. However, the bad weather front is approaching and it is just 6 o’clock in the morning. The wind rattles at the window shutters making me nervous. Is it really advisable to ascend to the Monte Rosa hut when a storm warning has been posted, and there is a real risk of thunder showers? Unfortunately, I have no other alternative. With a heavy mountain backpack, I head out onto the trail in the direction of Riffelberg. Gusts of wind bat around my ears and I am battling with my fears – one is powerless against the forces of nature. I can only hope that I will arrive soundly. The wind gets increasingly stronger and I am forced to seek protection by simply throwing myself down on the ground. Despite the heavy pack on my back, I feel too light for this heavy storm. It begins to rain and I retreat as well as I can into the shell of my rain jacket. The hut is still very far away and I am nowhere near even the glacier which one must cross in order to reach the hut. Every few minutes I look up to the black gathering clouds which hang ominously over the daunting mountains. I reach the glacier at length and strap my crampons on. The combination of rain on ice is simply too slippery and I don’t want to risk a fall. I jump over the crevasses I can and make big arcs around the ones I can’t. All this costs time, which is running against me to the weather’s advantage. Once I have reached the far side of the glacier, I’ve only to scratch my way up the steep glacier polished granit and tallus of the other side to the safety of the hut. Hardly have I arrived than the weather deteriorates as curtains of rain pour down. I am happy to finally have a sturdy roof over my head. The amiable hut crew takes good care of those mountaineers present, and soon enough I can close my eyes and fall asleep.
Day 5: Monte Rosa Hut
The storm’s gusts have been shaking the hut since 2 AM, which I find very unnerving. By the time the sky begins to lighten, the situation hasn’t improved. My thoughts are with my mountain guide, Cristian Balducci, who still has the passage to the hut before him. As he is arriving from Italy and all the lifts are closed due to the storm, he has to make a detour through Zermatt in order to reach the hut. Toward the evening, he finally arrives at the hut and brings the sun with him. With him is Basti Haag, who has come all the way from Munich to accompany me on the last stage. Also in accompaniment are my ‘Beachboys’, or camera team, who have been filming me since the beginning of this adventure. I’ve named them thus as both come from the beaches of South Africa and hence have limited experience of mountains and snow. To mention how they feel during the whole trip will take too much time now… maybe I will write a “B-side” of our experiences in my book about my adventure which is released one day…
I am now happy and look forward to tomorrow’s summit attempt with pleasant anticipation.
Day 6: Dufourspitze (4634 meters of elevation)
It is 2 AM and I am wide awake, and the long day begins. It’s a good thing that I packed my gear the evening before so all I have to do to get ready is eat breakfast. There is muesli and bread with jam with a coffee. By the light of headlamps we head out at 2:45 and search for the way – which is not an easy task. The new snow of the past days makes it very difficult to find the correct path and avoid falling in the numerous glacier crevasses. As soon as the sun comes up, our progress improves, as the white of the glacier shimmers with the most beautiful orange and violet hues.
With us there are perhaps another 20 mountaineers who are moving towards the series of peaks. Each of us feels the strain that results from hiking at 4000 meters of elevation. However, the last stretch of the route before the peak becomes an exercise in patience. The fixed ropes are coated in ice and it is very difficult to get a good grip on them. Another group which entered the route just before us is also releasing a fair bit of ice and snow which hails down upon us. I have to be careful not to be hit by it. After this icy couloir, the route leads for a few minutes over a very exposed and narrow ridge. Here I must be extremely careful to step carefully, but Cristian has me tied into his rope, just to be sure.
And then, suddenly, I have arrived: I am standing on the highest point in Switzerland. The sun is shining down on my face, the view is fantastic … but I am simply freezing. After a whole 5 minutes of the summit experience, I am already eager to begin the descent as my whole body is already trembling from cold and exhaustion.
When we arrive once again at the Monte Rosa hut, another 2 hours have passed. Cristian simply looks at me in disbelief: 1734 vertical meters of descent with Abseils and glacier crossings. Well, when the motor is running…
It takes another 3.5 hours to return to Zermatt, and even here I can still feel the adrenalin pumping hard in my veins, and I am so wound up, that I have no idea what I should do. I feel no muscle pain, my feet are free of blisters (what a wonder). I drink a liter of water in a single swig and then another half-liter of cola; annihilate a giant Country burger in the Snowboat restaurant and treat myself to a beer. I feel euphoric.
This project would not have been possible without the generous support of a number of sponsors and supporters.
I thank you all whole-heartedly:
Xaver Walser and Andrew King (film team and Beachboys)
Petra Hammelmann and Bertold Zink
Evelyne and Heinz Julen (Hotel Backstage Zermatt)
Curdin Conrad (Skiservice Corvatsch) and Driver Gregorio
Familie Ris (Romantic Hotel Castello Seeschloss Ascona)
Cristian Balducci (Mountain Guide)
Ueli Nyffenegger (CAS Basòdino)
Matthias Wolk (Real TV)
Jens Lange (PR)
Family and friends
And: Giuseppe Milanesi for the idea of Bottom Up Climbs!
Xaver Walser will now create a sensational film of my great adventure. I will gladly receive any inquiries regarding support and/or sponsorship.