From a practical point of view, returning at the same place as where you started is just convenient. The logistics are easier and therefore the planning is slightly easier. As such, I am a great lover of the Annapurna Circuit (although we didn’t start at the same place as where we ended) and the Tour du Mont Blanc.
As I’ve come to think of it, it seemed to me that there is a great opportunity to hike around the greatest mountains of Switzerland and northern Italy: a Tour du Monte Rosa. Although this doesn’t quite cover it: also the Mischabel Group and Weisshorn are passed.
Tour de Mischabel-Monte Rosa: the metrics
To be honest: until a few years ago, it would have been considerably harder to make this tour.
Starting point: Zinal, Valais/Wallis, Switzerland
Elevation gain/loss: 15.540 meters
Total number of mountain passes: 13
Highest point: 3137 meter
Lowest point: 1073 meter
Best time frame: Late July-Early September
Tour de Mischabel-Monte Rosa, stage by stage
This is not an official “route” like de TMB, however I believe it would be quite interesting to map it out. All the trails are available, so why note?
Day 1: Zinal- Cabane de Moiry
The distance is approximately 14km, and it starts with a tough climb to Col du Pigne, which is also the highest point of the route. Until a few years ago, this pass would “end” at the Glacier de Moiry. Nowadays, the glacier has retreated to such extent that you don’t need to cross it anymore.
Day 2: Cabane de Moiry – Arolla
A slighltly easier day, although it takes you over a longer distance, roughly 16km. The high point of the day is the Col du Tsaté, then down to the valley to the village of Les Hauderes.
Day 3: Arolla – Rifugio Nacamuli
14 kilometer. And potentially the most spectacular stage: across Col Collon (3082m). Again a stage which wasn’t possible until a few years ago but the Glacier d’Oren has retreated so far, that you don’t need to cross it anymore. It has lost its connection to the Glacier d’Arolla as you can see from below picture (edited from Google Maps)
Day 4: Rifugio Nacamuli – Rifugio Perucca-Vuillermoz
Another 12-13km. The day starts with a long descent, but ends with a steep climb to Col Valcoumera. An unpleasant climb, too as it’s facing southwest and you end up here in the later afternoon. The mountains to the left form the first ridge of the Matterhorn, where each next mountain is slightly higher until it reaches the summit.
Day 5: Rifugio Perucca – Rifugio Gran Tournalin
This is a long stage: approximately 18km. A descent to the Valtournenche-valley, then a climb to Col de Nannaz, followed by a short descent to the Gran Tournalin refuge at 2600m altitude.
Day 6: Rifugio Gran Tournalin – Grenne
17km, but with stunning views on the south wall of Monte Rosa. Up & down today.
Day 7: Grenne – Rifugio Pastore
You’re half-way today! 105km in.
Day 8: Rifugio Pastore – Staffa
We cross Passo del Turlo (2780 meter) and make a long push to Macugnagna. 20km, of which a long part is through a lush valley. Macugnaga is quite well used to tourists.
Day 9: Staffa – Saas Almagell
After crossing the Monte Moro pass at 2853 meters, it’s all down hill. There is a rifugio near the pass, but after that there is a long stretch of nothingness until Saas Almagell. There is a restaurant at the Mattmarksee, but that’s not always open. It’s a 19km stage today, but relatively easy going. The worst part is in the morning.
Day 10: Saas Almagell – Saas Fee
Just a small hike today. Saas Fee is a nice village to relax and enjoy. Fill up your energy a bit.
Day 11: Saas Fee – Grächen
Recharged? Nice. 18km of relatively flat terrain is waiting for you, on the east-flanks of the Dom de Mischabel. You might consider stretching this day a bit, until Sankt Niklaus (or stretch the day before to Grächen). Tomorrow is going to be a tough day.
Day 12: Sankt Niklaus – Gruben
A very long day – and a technical one too. The Augstbordpass is 2850 meters high, and thanks to its orientation (east-west, so in the shades of a mountain to the south), the snowfields are massive.
Day 13: Gruben – Zinal
The last 15km! Just the Col Forcletta (2800m) to cross, and then descent to Zinal.