No, we haven’t packed big boots and crampons for this trip. The Aosta guide is a huge tome, organised into sections according to area, and the valleys leading up to these two iconic summits both contain a fair share of climbing; an opportunity to get away from the bustle of the main valley, with its never-far-out-of-sight motorway, and escape up into the hills to less travelled crags and perhaps snatch a glimpse of glistening summits.
Singlin and Les Giuffres are two sectors up the Cervino valley (the Italian name for the Matterhorn, but of course you knew that).
At around 1,800m we were wrapped up warm and braced for a token route in the freezing cold (the forecast said 8C max at this altitude) but in bright sunshine it felt pretty toasty. Les Gouffres is a small but impressive wall of very smooth, water-worn rock, split by occasional thin horizontal cracks offering incut holds with very little in between.
The easiest route, Curula, 6a, was fun but really tough, and it’s neighbor Sballomix, 6a+, had a stopper move with a long reach from a lock-off.
With the next easiest option being 6b+ we weren’t too disappointed to lose the sun (at around 2pm) forcing us down the hill a few hundred metres to explore Singlin.
This is a multi-faceted cliff with a big multi-pitch wall and a bunch of shorter routes mostly on slabs. It wasn’t the temperature for a long route, though they look worth coming back for, so we did the only starred route on sector Placche Alte: Terry’s Diedre, 6a. Thin smeary climbing isn’t really our forte these days, but it was enjoyable nonetheless and we got the bonus of a brand new quick draw, abandoned by a previous party.
Back near the road, Quando il Gioco takes a more featured slab.
The guide suggests the sector faces south east, but we were still in full sun by the mid afternoon, but we tore ourselves away to head up to the top of the valley to see if we would catch a sight of the summits. Inevitably, the actual resort of Cervina is a bit of an eyesore; robbed of its winter coat, is there anything so ugly and miserable as an out-of-season ski-resort? However, raise your eyes and you are met by the stunning vista of the Matterhorn and Dent D’Hernes.
Really interesting to see these well-known peaks from a different perspective (literally) from the south. For future reference, these shots are taken from an official free van overnight parking spot – talk about a room with a view (unfortunately our “house” had been offloaded at the campsite at the bottom of the valley, or otherwise we’d have settled in to catch sunset).
The Monte Rosa valley is also chock full of rock, but unfortunately much of the more amenable climbing is on east facing crags, and you really do need those rays at this time of year to offset the chill at over 1,000m. We had a short stop and a couple of chilly routes at Falesia Beuchod, a very well equipped crag, if a little bitty.
This is Diedro Rosso, a tough 6a.
Abandoning climbing with cold fingers, we zigzagged up the valley in the hope of a glimpse of the big hills marking the Swiss-Italian frontier. Our journey was a little delayed by a diversion through narrow ancient side-streets around a damaged bridge (more Storm Alex fall out) in the town of Gaby, but we soon arrived at Staffal (another out of season ski resort) for a cloud-interupted view of the Monte Rosa massif and Liskam.
Heading down the valley in search of either a hot chocolate or maybe a sunny fix at one of the low lying crags near the campsite, plans were interrupted by the road closure at Gaby. The somewhat grumpy policeman who’d waved us through the diversion on the way up had failed to mention that the road was completely closed between 2pm and 6pm. Hrmmm…
With 3 hours to kill in effective captivity we tootled back up the hill to Tschachtelaz which is an impressive tower overlooking the town of Gressoney-st-Jean.
At the top of this is an obviously striking crag, but at 1,760m on a claggy day we’d written it off. We decided to take a look, for the walk if nothing else, and inevitably packed the gear just in case.
It’s a really impressive piece of rock with stunning views
Too chilly to contemplate the harder routes but we did manage a couple of 5s on the left end which nicely took us up to the reopening of the road. We were rewarded for our hardiness (5C in the shade with a breeze!) with glorious views of Liskam and the Monte Rosa ridge