The Tour of Monte Rosa is a staff favorite. Rugged and remote, it crosses a number of steep valleys around the mighty Monte Rosa – Switzerland’s highest peak, and one of the most massive mountains in the Alps. We’ve offered it as a Guided tour. That itinerary starts in Saas Fee, hikes through Italy for 5 days to Cervinia, and then crosses the Teodule glacier to finish in Zermatt. It’s pretty fantastic and worth the extra effort of hiring a mountain guide to cross the glacier safely.
We’d love to offer a Self-Guided Tour of Monte Rosa. But you can’t just send people off to hike across a glacier by themselves, even one as relatively easy and well-traveled as the Teodule. The new Alpine X gondola in the works would connect Testa Grigia above Cervinia with Klein Matterhorn above Zermatt, skipping right over that tricky glacier crossing. This new technical wonder of Alpine accessibility is expected to open late in 2022. But will it be enough to make this a viable Self-Guided tour?
So I’ve been hiking the TMR, as it’s called, for the past few days evaluating it as a Self-Guided itinerary. It is not an easy circuit. Actually, the word that comes to mind is epic. These mountains are huge, the passes are high, steep and very rugged. And it’s not practical to send luggage, so my pack is heavier than an Alpine trek usually requires. But there is so much to like about this route… I’ve had plenty of time to debate with myself while I hike.
The Quarazza valley is just a quiet little side valley outside Macugnaga, but it feels vast and wild. I suppose the fact that I only saw 8 other hikers the whole day adds to that, but the scale is undeniably impressive. The Pastore hut is a charming and comfortable refuge after this long day, with hot showers and worthy views from their large windows.
Then from Pastore, I took a route through Alpe Otro – a trail which, to be honest, doesn’t thrill me – on the way up to the Alpe. It’s relentlessly steep and wooded the whole way. But then: the Alpe itself is absolutely gorgeous. Otro’s small settlements of handsome Walser farmhouses – still working farms – are splashed around a huge meadow and surrounded by jagged mountains. It’s like Heidi come to life. It’s ridiculously idyllic.
But, did I mention these hikes are strenuous? It’s like taking the Haute Route (our most physically challenging tour), dropping most of the signage, and adding 1000 ft to each day. Some people actually like that sort of thing, but it’s really tough, and requires everything to line up just right. The hike via Otro was over 5700′ uphill, 5000′ down. It’s not well signposted and featured some sketchy bits higher up where the trail kind of slid away. I was lucky enough to enjoy cool, dry weather the whole time, but I was still beat by the end of the day. And pretty much every day is like that. You can’t help but wonder what folks might do if they are less fortunate with the weather. Or take a wrong turn. Or get blisters. Or aren’t quite up for 5000′ day after 5000′ day. It’s pretty unforgiving.
In the end, as much as I enjoyed hiking the TMR, I don’t think it works as a Self-Guided tour – fancy new gondola or not. Too much could go wrong, and we don’t like to make a habit of getting people into trouble if we can avoid it. Hey, not every great idea turns into a great new itinerary and that’s ok. There is still plenty to do in the Alps – and lots of new itineraries to explore so we can get them just right for you to enjoy!