The Dom 4545m

The Dom is the highest peak wholly within Switzerland and if Monte Rosa is counted as one summit, the 3rd highest mountain in the Alps. It is situated on the east side of the Matteral valley and is the highest point of the great Michabel ridge. Only John and I climbed it as my Dad had done it some years earlier and didn't fancy going up again. When we arrived at Randa, after the drive from The Val d' Aosta over the Grand St. Bernard Pass, we checked the weather. Surprisingly, given that it had rained a lot, the day after next it was forecast to be near perfect. Our luck pulled through again when after inquiring at the camp site about vacancies at the hut we were told a party of three had cancelled their booking at the Dom Hut which is full most nights during the peak season.

The following day John and I set off from the camp site at about 11am. From Randa (1400m) it is 1500m of ascent to the hut (2940m) and a further 1600m to the summit (4545m) making it the largest vertical ascent of any of the normal routes to a 4000m summit in the Alps. After we set off we gained an extra hour unappreciated exercise due to a mistake on my part but once we were on the right path it was a long constant slog all the way up to the hut. The excessive heat and heavy loads didn't aid progress nor did the heavy boots we were wearing. About two thirds of the way up we hit the fixed ropes which made the last section up to the hut a basic via ferrata. We eventually reached the hut at about 4pm to enjoy fantastic views of the great Matteral peaks which had been shedding cloud since the early morning showers. We checked in and were told we had dinner at 6, so we sorted out our bunks and our gear for the next day as well as some deserved relaxing. Booking a meal is compulsory at the Dom Hut during the peak season. It consisted of soup, salad, curry and a dessert. I ate it all although didn't enjoy the salad and curry because of my tastes but didn't want to cause offence by not eating it. We also needed lots of body fuel for the next day. The food in the huts is of very good quality. After dinner we enjoyed the sunset then went to our bunks. John was snoring until the guy beside me woke him up to tell him, as well as telling a couple of guys that were speaking to “Shut up”. Thankfully I slept a lot better than I did the night before the Gran Paradiso

At 2:45 a.m. the following morning we got a wake-up call and went downstairs for a continental breakfast. After getting ready we joined the line of head torches going up the moraine behind the hut to the foot of the Festi Glacier. At the start of the glacier we geared up and headed up towards the Festijoch. We were roped at this point as there was crevassed areas that had to be passed . We were in no rush and John wasn't feeling that great so we took our time. All morning we had been hearing what was most likely avalanches thundering down the great North snow face of the Weisshorn. We reached the bottom of the slope up to the Festijoch and removed our crampons as it was mainly loose rock with only scattered snow patches. This section was a bit chaotic and an Austrian guy below us on a snow patch was almost wiped out by a large falling rock that I thought came from John and John thought came from me, although there was also a guy between us.

The Festijoch, at 3723m, is the splitting point of the two normal routes on the mountain. The easier and longer of these is the North Flank route which it appeared only one party was doing, everyone else including us was going up the Festigrat which is a long snow ridge that finishes at a subsidiary summit at 4479m. The sun was starting to rise now and fantastic alpenglow could be seen on the great peaks to west of which the Matterhorn, Weisshorn and Dent Blanche were exceptionally spectacular. We started up the ridge after some food and photos, it was steep and quite slow going. Not far up a great roar could be heard, it was quickly identified as an avalanche on the face to our left. It moved towards the people on the North flank route but stopped long before they were in any real danger. Seeing the power displayed by this relatively small avalanche was quite chilling. Continuing up the ridge was getting increasingly difficult due to the altitude. I had not experienced any difficulties on the Gran Paradiso but we were probably about 100m above GP's height when the ridge started getting hard and we were stopping every minute or two for deep breaths. About halfway up the ridge I heard a crack, it was most likely a serac which probably caused the avalanche, and grew eager and anxious to get this short section behind us despite the constant struggle. John, however, was as calm and unaffected as ever and we continued at the same pace. Nearing the top of the ridge we reached the point where we had to traverse to the col between Pt. 4479 and the summit. At the col the Festigrat route and the North Flank route meet before the final 100m push to the summit. Looking over to the col there was a lot of spindrift flying about and the reactions of climbers caught in it was an indication of how debilitating it was.

I was in the front and we moved through, past the col and up the final slope. My glasses were constantly steaming up and I was battling through deep, steep, soft snow which is demanding without taking account of our poor acclimatization and the high altitude (4500m) as well as the

spindrift. We edged our way up the slope to the summit, there was basically no wind and the view was fantastic, we waited a few minutes for the large group of people that were there to start their descent and we had the summit to ourselves. The vista before us was incredible, Mont Blanc in the East beyond the Dent Blanche, Obergabelhorn, Zinalrothorn and Weisshorn, The Gran Paradiso past the iconic Matterhorn. To the South over the near Taschhorn was the mass of Monte Rosa and the long ridge over Lsykamm all the way to the Briethorn. The view to the West was opened with a near vertical drop of 1000m to the glaciers of the Saas valley and continued over the Weissmies to a sea of peaks. The Bernese giants with their huge Glaciers lay to the north over the peaks of the Nadelgrat. The area on the summit is quite spacious but there is a short extremely exposed ridge out to the Cross. We took turns going out and getting our photos taken before beginning the long descent.

The route down was the same as the ascent from the col, it the took the North Flank route down onto the Hobarg glacier and round to the Festijoch before joining our ascent route again. I had worked out my glasses were getting steamed up due my balaclava being over my mouth and thankfully going down we were pretty much unaffected by the altitude as we weren't bothered with head aches. As the route withered down the north side it proved to be a very scenic snow trek that passed a lot of crevices and gave a fantastic view of the mighty serac wall where the avalanche had came from earlier in the day. It was a struggle to get up to the Festijoch again although it's a snow slope from the north side rather than the rocky chaos on the south. From the Festijoch we had a tedious descent to the Festi glacier. We also caught up with some of the parties that had overtaken us on the ridge. They seemed to be very fit and acclimatized meaning that they could move fast on the snow, but when it came to rock they were very slow. Near the bottom I caused a rock to fall while trying to sort out the rope that hit John's hand, it was bleeding but he was fortunately OK. We descended the glacier past the now more visible crevasses and then the moraine back to the hut. My dad had said he would meet us on the way down either at the hut or below it, so we had a few cokes then continued our descent. At the bottom of the fixed ropes we met my dad who took the rope off me and we headed down the remainder to the welcome camp site. The end of a long day.


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