On the far south of Switzerland, bordering with Italy, we can find the Monte Rosa-group or range. It is often referred to as being just one mountain. However, it is a mountain-massif with multiple summits of equal height.
The tallest is the Dufourspitze, surrounded by Nordend, Zumsteinspitze, Lyskamm and Punta Gnifetti (or Signalkuppe in German). The Dufourspitze is also the highest mountain of Switzerland, and the second highest of the Alps (only Mont Blanc is higher).
The Monte Rosa massif is very recognizable from the south (Italy) and visible from far into the Po Valley. The Monte Rosa massif is characterized on the south side by an almost 2500 meters high rock wall of “Himalayan proportions”. This is by far the largest rock wall in Europe.
On top of this rock wall are a series of peaks such as the forementioned Dufourspitze, Signalkuppe/Punta Gnifetti, Nordend and Zumsteinspitze, all higher than 4500 meters. On the Signalkuppe is the highest mountain hut in Europe, the Cabane Margherita (4559m).
In general, the mountains in the Monte Rosa-area are more difficult than the well-known Mont Blanc. The Monte Rosa massif is more exposed to the elements thanks to its steep walls and slopes – mainly towards the east, but here you are less affected by the western jet stream. Many of the negative effects of this are absorbed by the first ‘line of defence’, Mont Blanc and the second, the Matterhorn & Grand Combin range.
However, the southern side is exposed to thunderstorms originating on the Po-plains.
Monte Rosa: hiking & getting there
The Monte Rosa massif is accessible on the north side by the Matterdal (Zermatt) and the Saasdal (Saas Fee). From the south it is accessible from Domodossola and Aosta. The area is ideal for longer multi-day (glacier) tours and climbs of various degrees. In recent years, the area has been significantly affected by warm summers and low snow winters or drought. As a result, several glaciers have shrunk considerably or even partially broken in fragments.
The area is less-suitable for hiking. Most of the hiking in the area is in the north-south directed valleys such as the Matter & Saas valleys. The Monte Rosa area itself is generally too high to consider “hiking”: it involves a lot of glacier-experience and exposure. The traverses through the area, from north to south for example, are considered proper ice & rock climbing, and less-so hiking.
The best possible entry into Italy from this side is the Monte Moro Pass at the end of the Saas Valley.