Situated in the heart of the Alps, straddling the border of Switzerland and Italy, Monte Rosa towers 4,634 metres (15,203 feet) above sea level.
After Mont Blanc, the massif is the second highest peak in the Alps. Dufourspitze, which is the tallest of the massif’s six highest summits, is located entirely in Switzerland, making it the country’s highest point as well.
Since it is the highest point on Monte Rosa, Dufourspitze is the most commonly climbed. Signalkuppe (also known as Punta Gnifetti) is the second most popular peak on the massif. Situated just 1.3 kilometres (0.80 miles) to the southeast of Dufourspitze, it is the smallest summit on the massif and also home to the popular Margherita Hut.
Dunantspitze and Zumsteinspitze (also known as Punta Zumstein) are the other two peaks on the massif that are most frequently climbed.
Quick Facts about Monte Rosa
- Some first-time climbers are surprised to find out that there are no hues of pink on Monte Rosa. That is because “rosa” in this context is a false cognate of rouése, a patois word that translates to glacier.
- While Monte Rosa has six major summits, the massif boasts a total of 11 others, ranging in height from 3,200 metres (10,500 feet) to 4,400 metres (14,400 feet).
- Away from mountaineering, Monte Rosa is also a popular destination for trekkers. The Tour of Monte Rosa is a 10-day hike that circumnavigates the entire massif. Ski touring is also popular in the winter.
History of Monte Rosa
Monte Rosa has been an object of fascination for explorers and geologists for centuries. Leonardo da Vinci and studied the mountain in the late 1400s and famed alpine explorer, Horace-Bénédict de Saussure, started exploring the massif at the end of the 1700s.
The first successful attempt to climb to the summit of Dufourspitze came on August 1, 1855 when an international team of eight alpinists led by Matthäus and Johannes Zumtaugwald arrived at the summit.
Prior to this ascent, various other expeditions made it to the summits of some of the minor peaks on the massif.
Johann Madutz and Matthias Zumtaugwald successfully climbed Dunantspitze and Grenzgipfel in 1848. Zumsteinspitze was summited even earlier, when Joseph and Johann Niklaus Vincent arrived at the summit on August 1, 1820, and in 1842, Giovanni Gnifetti became the first person to climb Signalkuppe.
Experience Required for Climbing Monte Rosa
Due to its sheer size, the Monte Rosa massif offers a variety of different options for climbers of all levels.
The easiest routes to the summit are perfectly suited for beginners with at least some previous experience and require a mix of rock, snow and ice climbing. Slightly tougher routes require more technical climbing abilities.
Regardless of which route is taken, a high level of physical fitness and at least some acclimatisation are needed to reach the top. Most ascents will require at least 1,750 metres (5,740 feet) of elevation gain on summit day, meaning a high level of endurance is particularly important.
Main Routes up Monte Rosa
While numerous routes lead up to the various summits of the Monte Rosa massif, there are two main ones that climbers take to the top of Dufourspitze: the normal route and Marinelli couloir route.
The normal route starts from the Monte Rosa hut at 2,883 metres (9,459 feet) and proceeds to climb the peak via the west face. Climbers will traverse a mix of snow and ice until reaching the rocky ridge that runs to the summit.
The Marinelli couloir route heads to the top of Dufourspitze via the eastern face of the peak. Starting from the Marinelli hut, climbers will spend a long day ascending the couloir, using a mix of more technical ice and rock climbing than the normal route.
Several routes also lead to the summit of Signalkuppe, but the most commonly taken is the normal route. This begins from the western foot of the peak and requires climbers to traverse a series of glaciers before scrambling up the summit pyramid to the top.