The Road to Pollux 11/8/09Steve Kedward and I set off from the Testa Grigia cable car, across the Plateau Rosa and followed the ski pistes up the steep slope to The Breithorn Pass. As it was still early in the week, and we were still acclimatising, the steep slope seemed harder than it should in the thin air. Not so for the skiers who flashed past on the fast and steep icy slopes!
From The Breithorn Pass we roped up moved together over the path as it wound it’s way below the southern faces of The Breithorn Peaks. The views were great with clear sunny skies, and although there were people about, most of them headed up to the west Breithorn peak and we were soon out on the open clear plain.
The path was very distinct and easy to follow, occasionally diverting around deep crevaces on the Grande Verra Glacier. We passed under the rocky outcrop on which the Rossi e Volante Bivi hut sits and then began the plod up the slopes to the foot of the sw ridge of Pollux.
The ridge takes the right to left skyline of the mountain from our angle of approach and we could see people ahead of us already on the route. The normal ascent is along the rocky ridge and through some fixed ropes at it’s headwall, then follow the final snow ridge to the summit. West of that, you can ascend by a steep snowy face rather than rock, but this is often very icy in summer conditions. Beneath the ridge was a pile of trekking poles left by parties who were ahead of us on the route.
South West Ridge
We stopped there and scoped the way ahead. We were watching a party of three who appeared as if they were going to join the ridge fairly high and close to the headwall. As they traversed into a gully, a muffled shout came from the ridge high above them and some fairly large stones came clattering down the gully toward them. They quickly moved out of the way and a volley of shouts came from them! I couldn’t hear what they were shouting, but they didn’t seem pleased!
One of the rocks was about the size of a large, squared off dinner plate and about 5cm thick. It was falling so that it rolled on it’s edge like a wheel. Steve and I watched it fascinated as it rolled down the gully in our general direction. About 8 metres to our left another pair were sorting out their gear and they also watched it with mounting interests as it appeared to gather speed and head straight for them. Like a bowling ball, it started to turn in a lazy arc and we realised it was us that were in danger, not the others! By now, it had our full attention, it was at least a leg breaker if it hit you! Without panic and fairly much at the last moment, Steve adroitly stepped to one side and the boulder rolled harmlessly past him, with centimetres to spare, finally stopping several metres below us. If you had deliberately aimed it at us I bet you wouldn’t have got it as close!
The party in the gully had obviously had enough as they crossed back toward the ridge and then began to descend. They crossed the slope above us and I called out to them, “Great dancing up there! Well done!” One of them curtly replied in a heavy Germanic accent, “So, that was funny for you, Yes?” I had meant it as a well done to them, but he obviously didn’t see it that way and either thought I was ribbing him or he was still angry about what had happened. I have to admit, my own thoughts were, “Shit happens.” I don’t think for one minute whoever knocked the blocks down was doing so deliberately, it’s just one of those things you have to accept on a big mountain. Anyway, they stomped off down the mountain and to my knowledge, we never saw them again!
We took a much lower line joining the ridge fairly near it’s end. We moved together up the rock just running the rope through natural running belays. Although there were many patches of snow, it was mostly scrambling on easy rock, with the occasional steeper step to climb.
The route crossed the ridge and followed the east side until just below the headwall where it regained the crest. A section of thick fixed ropes lead up through a narrow and steep chimney, before climbing a wall and popping out at a broad plateau. A party were just ahead of us, that seemed to be father and son with a local guide. Coming down, but still well above us were a few groups. We would meet somewhere along the fixed ropes, but if we waited too long, we could be there for ages.
We tucked in behind the guided party and pulled up the heavy ropes. Just where the gully finishes and you need to move onto the steeper wall, we met the first party descending. They politely waited just a few seconds for us that we needed to get onto the flat rock in the cramped area so that they didn’t knock us off as they abseiled. The guided party were already on the wall out of the way and a party of three were just a metre or so above us on another rock. They were roped together and had a number of slings attached to bolts. Steve and I on the other hand were roped together, but not at that time attached to anything else.
As the first party started to move out of the way, we moved across to clip in and allow the second party to descend past us. They seemed very nervous and in a rush to get down. One of them insisted in broken English that we get out of her way, but I wasn’t quite sure where she expected me to go! I patiently explained that she needed to wait just moment for us to clip in, but I couldn’t be sure she understood me. I was in no rush and happy to let her through, but I was keen to get clipped in so she didn’t inadvertently push me off!
Literally 30 seconds to a minute and both Steve and I were safe and completely out of her way. Her cute face was still puckered in a scowl though!
The climb up the wall would be really nice in rock boots, and the rock was warm and sunny. We topped out onto the plateau at a statue of The Virgin and then began the easy ascent up the snow ridge to the summit.
Summit and descent
We arrived shortly after the guided party and exchanged some easy pleasantries with them, swapping cameras so we could all get summit group shots. The views back across The Breithorn, and over to Castor and Liskamm were great. Well below us in a line with the ridge, was The Val d’Ayas Guides Hut, where we were going to spend the night.
We dropped back down the way we came and just above the fixed ropes met a Welshman and his mate. We had even lived in the same small town, but not at the same time. Small world!
An easy down climb on the fixed ropes and then a scramble down the ridge saw us back onto the snow. A path zig zagged up to meet us and take us back to the poles Steve had left vat the bottom. As we descended, I cut the corner on part of the path and found my right leg suddenly sunk up to the hip in the snow. I tried to step out of the post hole but found myself sinking further. I sort of half rolled half stepped out and carried on down, but as I looked back could see I had just found the end of a crevace that the afternoon sun was liberating!
A long and hot slog down to the hut took a few hours in the soft snow, until we reached the very pleasant hut for our overnight stay.
Val d'Ayas hut
Pollux seems dwarfed by it’s near neighbours, but we had really enjoyed our day out and the views were fantastic. As an acclimatisation trip for bigger peaks it was an excellent choice!