Most of the attached pictures were made by Max Fyodorov and are used by his permission.
Monte Rosa tour is a non-autonomous multiday mountain hike; the route is a loop around the Monte Rosa Alps and Mischabel group, which form together the highest mountain range of Pennine Alps. The loop is divided almost equally between Switzerland and Italy.
Season: July to first half of September is the best. Earlier it can be too much snow, and later a bad weather is rather likely.
Views: superb. If the weather permits, you will see all top peaks of the Alps: Mont Blanc and Grand Combin are distant, but Monte Rosa, Dom, Lyskamm, Weisshorn, and, of course, Matterhorn are just at hand, as well as a couple of dozens of other four-thousanders.
Duration: normally 9 days. The Monte Rosa ultra-marathon on the same trails consists of four stages.
Length / Elevation change: 160-170 km / 9500-11000 m depending on variations.
Maximum height: 3296/3317 Theodul pass / rifugio Theodulo
Technical difficulty: most of the route is not above T2 by Swiss grade. Some T3 sections are unavoidable and more T3 sections depend on the chosen variation of the route. There is one section that is formally T4 (Theodul glacier), but in fact is easy since it can be walked by ratrac piste.
Protection: clear and well-marked trails, with few exceptions. Fixed ropes at some exposed passages.
Variability: on Italian side, there is a multiple choice of trails and overnight stays. The Swiss part is more or less fixed. Still, there are numerous possibilities to ease the way (many cheats, like the use of buses and cable cars, are available) or to harden it by including more challenging sections.
Starting point: any town/village on the loop. Swiss Zermatt, Grächen, Saas-Fee, as well as Italian Macugnaga, Alagna-Valsesia, Gressoney-La-Trinite would do.
Direction: counterclockwise is more popular.
Requirements: fitness, stamina, basic depth tolerance.
Depends on the starting point. For Swiss side, use train/bus/car via Visp. For Italian side, consult www.rome2rio.com for the routes from Milan and Turin.
Since this tour is named after Monte Rosa, let Macugnaga, which provides the canonical view of the Monte Rosa massif, be the initial point on the loop.
The version described below is the “maximum hiking version”, assuming that
- the whole tour is on foot, no cheating (buses, cable cars, etc)
- no roads are used whenever trails are available
- no mountaineering gear (crampons, ropes, etc) is necessary
- among several reasonable alternatives (say, passes), the highest or the most difficult one is chosen.
Day 1. Macugnaga (Staffa, 1310) – Monte Moro Pass (2852) – Saas-Almagell (1670); 20.3 km, +1600m/-1240m
A 7 km ascent to the Monte Moro Pass (more precisely, to the statue of Madonna above the pass) and the subsequent 13 km descent to Saas-Almagell. Clear trail, almost no exposure, no surprises. The first part of descent is along a rocky slope and requires some care, especially if the rock is wet.
Options: continue another 3 km by trail/road to Saas-Fee.
Day 2. Saas-Almagell (1670) – Saas-Fee (1780) – traverse towards Hannigalp (max 2380) – Grächen (1650); 24.2 km, +1050m/-1070m
A long traverse of the left slope of Saas valley to the north end of the loop, many ups and downs. Demanding. Clear trail with several exposed sections and one marked 300m-long scree section, no surprises.
Options: start from Saas-Fee if it was reached on Day 1.
Attention: the upper section of Europaweg was closed in 2019 due to extensive rockfalls which severely damaged the trail. Currently it is unclear whether the section will be reopened in the future. A substitute route from Grächen to Europahütte can be found here.
A traverse up the Matter valley. Some orientation is needed in the beginning, to choose between many ways. The original (closed) trail is currently of at least T4 level and dangerous. The substitute route runs through the woods at the elevations between 1300 and 1700, and then climbs to 2600 to join Europaweg after the closed section. Contains one protected exposed section and a 80m-long suspension bridge.
Options: follow the substitute route to Herbriggen, then continue to Randa and climb directly to Europahütte from there. It is also possible to skip Europaweg at all and go directly to Zermatt by the valley.
Day 4. Europahütte (2265) – traverse by Europaweg (max 2350) to Tuftra (2210) – Zermatt (1680); 19 km, +850m/-1430m
Another day of traverse, relatively easy. Clear trail with little exposure. A gigantic suspension bridge (484 m long, 85 m high) is worth a walk.
Options: a choice of ways to descend to Zermatt.
Day 5. Zermatt (1660) – Schwarzsee (2550) – Trockener Steg (2930) – Gandegghütte (3030) – Theodul pass (3296)/Rifugio Theodulo (3317); 16.5 km, +1900m/-250m
The day of ascent to the highest point of the tour. The whole day under Matterhorn (between Schwarzsee and Trockener Steg, the route follows Matterhorn Glacier Trail). Almost no exposure. The only glacier of the tour (Theodul glacier) is walked by ratrac piste. A rather short offtrail section between Gandegghütte and ratrac piste.
Options: there is a shorter but less spectacular direct way from Zermatt to Trockener Steg. From Trockener Steg, it may be possible to join ratrac traces immediately.
Day 6. Rifugio Theodulo (3317) – Cime Bianche Nord Pass (2981) – Rifugio Ferraro (2072); 18 km, +300m/-1550m
An easy day of walking downhill by gentle slopes. No exposure. Many trails, so pay some attention to navigation.
Options: it is possible to descent to Saint-Jackues-des-Allemands (1700) or Frachey (1600).
Day 7. Rifugio Ferraro (2072) – Testa Grigia North Pass (3000) – Gressoney-La-Trinite (Tache, 1630); 15.4 km, +1150/-1600m
Last three days, as well as Day 1, follow the pattern ‘up to a col, then down to a valley’. Testa Grigia North Pass is nice but rarely used. From the elevation of about 2500, the ascent to the col is without a distinct path, by grassy and then boulder slopes. On descent, first it is possible to go almost everywhere, but it is essential to turn left and reach a trail before the first significant elevation drop. The trail is partially exposed and has some protection. Below 2600, everything is straightforward.
Options: one can use Bettaforca pass or Rothorn pass to reach the upper part of Gressoney-La-Trinite (Stafal/Tschaval); from there, it is possible to proceed further and ascent to rifugio Gabiet near lake Gabiet.
Day 8. Gressoney-La-Trinite (Tache, 1630) – Lake Gabiet (2370) – d’Olen Pass (2881) – Rifugio Pastore (1575); 17.9 km, +1300m/-1350m
A demanding day. The ascent is technically easy, the descent is trickier. Some orientation skills are necessary to reach an indistinct col (Valico di Cimalegna, 2830) on the edge of the rocky plateau extending north and east of d’Olen Pass. From this col, an exposed narrow winding path leads down a rocky wall. The path is marked but not equipped. In bad weather, the descent here can be a problem. Below the wall (2500) there are no complications.
Options: from d’Olen Pass, follow an easier trail, going south-east to Alagna-Valsesia.
Day 9. Rifugio Pastore (1575) – Turlo Pass (2738) – Macugnaga (Staffa, 1310); 23.2 km, +1300m/-1570m
In spite of the distance to be travelled, this is a light version of two previous days. Well-maintained trail (actually, a Roman road), minimum exposure, no surprises apart from an unexpected location of the col. In the first part of the ascent, there are some shortcut trails.
Options: no (except from choosing another part of Macugnaga for overnight stay).
Good hiking boots and poles are mandatory. A GPS navigator (at least one for a group) is recommended.