The course starts with participants and guides meeting the Herbriggen Train Station nr the Zermatt Valley and Saas Valley at 9am Sunday morning. This is the chance for the guides to give you a thorough briefing of the details of the course, sort out any particular personal equipment requirements and for you to ask any questions that you may have.
We then takle a short drive up the Zermatt Valley, parking at the small village of Randa (c.1400m) a few kilometres before Zermatt. The trail starts just above the village and goes up through meadows and then more steeply through the larch forests. Above the tree line it continues on towards a steep rock barrier at about 2400m, which has some cables and fixed anchors to safeguard the way. Once over this this the path leads more easily up to the Dom hut at 2940m (4-5 hours from Randa). The Dom hut itself is a recently rebuilt traditional stone hut with a fantastic outlook over many of the surrounding peaks. After a break we'll have a teaching/revision session on the use of the rope, crampons and axes.
This is a big day, with 1600m of ascent from the hut to the summit of the Dom, and we make a proper 'Alpine start' by head torch light to begin our climb. The rough track continues above the hut to quickly gain the Festiglacier at about 3200m. We rope up here and ascend the often quite crevassed glacier to a point below the Festijoch. A short, steep ascent on rocks, with some fixed ropes, takes us to the Festijoch (3723m) and the Hohbarg glacier. We make an arcing ascent up the easiest part of this glacier, below the Lenzspitze, and then climb the steeper snow slopes on the North side of the Dom. A short snow ridge, often corniced, leads to the summit at 4545m. We will descend by the same route back to the hut. This route is the 'normal' and most straightforward route on the Dom. For climbers with more experience there is also the possibility of taking the more direct (and more difficult) route from the Festijoch, via the Festigrat, to the summit.
We will make a much more relaxed start after yesterday's exertions. After breakfast we descend the track back down into the valley, taking our time to enjoy the surroundings. Once back in the valley we check in to our hotel (either in Herbriggen, just below Randa, or up in Zermatt itself). The afternoon will be free to relax and to prepare for our ascent of the Dufourspitze.
We catch the famous Gornergrat cog railway up from Zermatt, stopping at Rotenboden (2815m).The route to the Monte Rosa hut starts with a long and gentle descent eastwards on a good track along the steep hillside above the Gorner glacier. The glacier has retreated enormously in recent years and there is now a steep ladder to make the final descend down onto it (c. 2600m). We cross the Gorner glacier and a medial moraine ridge to gain the Grentz glacier. This is normally a bare 'dry' glacier in summer and has a marked way across it, but crampons generally make the going easier across its many ridges and crevasses. We gain the track which climbs the final 300m up the steep rock slopes to the new hut, situated about 100m above the site of the old one at 2883m. (4 - 5 hours from Zermatt). The new hut is the showpiece of the Swiss Alpine Club and has solar panels and other new technologies to make it 90% self sufficient for energy. It is also very comfortable!
The Dufourspitze. Another big, glaciated ascent of over 1700m means another pre-dawn start with head torches. The route ascends initially via rock slabs and then some steeper, awkward rocky ground to gain the top of the Ober Plattje at 3360m. Here we get onto the Monte Rosa glacier, which we will follow all the way to the final climb to the summit. For the most part the glacier is not too steep and relatively straightforward - but it is a very long way! Also, the first section of the glacier above the Ober Plattje can be quite convoluted, which can make route finding difficult in the dark, especially when the glacier does not have good snow cover at this point.
There are two options for the final part of the climb to the summit; either via the west ridge from Sattel (4359m), or by continuing up the glacier to the Silbersattel at 4515m and climbing directly up a short, steep gully to gain the summit ridge just below the top. This way has been recently re-equipped with some fixed ropes and anchors, which makes using this route a much more reasonable prospect, either for ascent or descent. We will retrace our steps down the glacier back to the hut - and a well earned beer or two!
We descend from the hut, back across the Grentz and Gorner glaciers and then make the long ascent back up the hillside to Rotenboden. We then catch the train down to Zermatt and from here have a short break in Zermatt to say our goodbyes and do a short debrief and summary of the course before the guides head back to Leysin that afternoon.