High altitude trekking:
the four thousand of Punta Castore

Punta Castore was my first ascent on the Monte Rosa and when Piero and Andrea, among my habitual climbing companions, proposed me to go with them, the happiness and the impatience to undertake this trip in the high mountains accompanied me for the whole period of physical and mental preparation needed to face a 4000

Where is Punta Castore

The Castore (we are in the Rose Group, Alpi Pennine) is located along the watershed from Breithorn leads to the Punta Dufour. More in detail it is placed between the Polluce, from which it is separated by the Passo di Verra and the Western Lyskamm, from which it is separated by the Felik necklace.

Punta castore

It is named, together with the nearby Polluce, after the twins of Greek mythology Castore and Polluce. Càstore (in ancient Greek: Κάστωρ,-ορος) and Pollùce (in ancient Greek: Πολυδεύκης, -ους) are two characters of Greek mythology (and then also Roman): they were twins, but it was said that Leda, their mother, had conceived them separately, joining in the same night with Zeus and then with her husband, the Spartan king Tindaro: from the union with the god Polluce, endowed with immortal nature, was born; from that with Tindaro the mortal Castore. The affection between the twins was so strong that when Castore died Polluce, who was immortal, decided to die too.

Destination Staffal

For me, the high mountains are a harbinger of very special sensations: finding oneself in an alpine valley surrounded by crests and imposing peaks or in the middle of a glacier at high altitude makes you feel small, a “debris grain” in the immense proscenium formed by nature.

It is unimaginable what feelings Piero, Andrea and I had when we arrived in Gressonay-La-Trinitè (in the valley of the same name) and then a little further up, in Staffal, where the road that climbed the whole valley ends in a huge car park (this is where the alpinists leave their cars and take the lifts to start their adventures in the mountain group of Rosa): in front of us, imposing, the front of the Monte Rosa massif with some of its epic peaks; inside me a vice in the mouth of my stomach and a sense of deep respect for something that is truly greater than human beings. We have therefore decided to climb up to the peak Castore (4226 mt s.). l.m.) having as base the Quintino Sella al Felik refuge (3585 mt s.).


Towards the Quintino Sella al Felik refuge

Looking at the head of the valley we immediately see that from above the car park two cable cars start; one runs fast to our right: it is the lift that leads to Passo dei Salati and from there even higher to Punta Indren (from here the climbers continue on the glacier to Capanna Gnifetti and finally to Capanna Regina Margherita, the highest refuge in Europe at 4554 metres); the other branch of the cable car, which we will take, climbs very steeply to the left in the direction of Colle di Bettaforca, from where our trek begins to the Sella al Felik refuge and, afterwards, to Punta Castore.

We get off the cable car and take a chairlift which, after a long panoramic stretch, leads us to the hill of Bettaforca (2730 mt). From here starts the trekking that takes us, on the first day, to the refuge and, on the second day, to the top of the Castore. From the Colle we start, very slowly to allow our body to acclimatize at high altitude, the path following the yellow signs of the path n° 9; the environment is almost lunar, in the middle of rocks, stones and big boulders: without having to wait for a long time we come across groups of ibexes, elegant and proud, who populate these environments; with slow and short steps (Kalipè: “Go with short and slow pace”, say the Tibetans when they leave for a climb as Reinhold Messner), which allows us to completely absorb the silence and the mystery of nature, we head towards the hill of Bettolina Inferiore (2906 mt) and then Bettolina Superiore (3131 mt).

Kalipè: “Go with short and slow pace”, say the Tibetans when they leave for a climb as Reinold Messner recalls

We are really high up in the mountains, where breathing can begin to be tiring and a slight headache may begin to appear. Going up, on our left, we admire the moraine formed by the glacier.

From here on, the route is more delicate but, in any case, well marked: we encounter large boulders on which it is less easy to proceed; at this altitude, until the whole month of June, it is still possible to find a fair amount of snow with a clearly visible track due to the frequent transits; after about three hours from the Bettaforca hill, just past some rocks and a slightly exposed point, we arrive at the most exciting passage of the first day: a long and slender rocky ridge with breathtaking views – you can see Monviso in the distance – situated at about 3400 metres above sea level, which climbs gently towards the plateau that hosts the refuge; the whole ridge is equipped with canapons and metal cables thanks to which, for greater safety, we make sure after having “put on” the harness.

In about 40′ of route we arrive at Quintino Sella (comfortable and well managed), right on the edge of the Felik “ice”: beyond the refuge, at the top, the glacier, the colle del Felik and the long and sharp top ridge of the Castore, destination of the next day; up there on our right, face to the refuge, punta Gnifetti and Capanna Regina Margherita: the commotion is a thousand! !! (it’s been about 3h30′ – 4h from the beginning of the trek).

This is a high mountain route, partly on a glacier: therefore it should only be undertaken with mountain guides, groups CAI, or in any case with people who are very experienced in this type of trekking, in the safety systems of glacier progression and in the equipment to be used.


Punta Castore: towards the Felik Hill

The next morning, early (around four o’clock) wake up and have breakfast; it is night outside and from the little windows of the refuge we can see, in the distance, the lights of Capanna Margherita, at the top of the Gnifetti peak, where other men, at the same time, are preparing for other adventures! Let’s start the backpack preparations and above all the “dressing”: harness, crampons and careful preparation of the roped party.

Before dawn we are ready and can then, under the starry sky, attack the Felik glacier just behind the hut in a gentle and gentle ascent. The route, which is generally well traced, may vary depending on the snowfall and the degree of opening of the crevasses, well present at every significant change of slope.

Proceeding in this way (the direction to follow is in front of us anyway) we arrive, in about 1 hour, at the so-called terminal crack that precedes the last significant change of slope before the summit ridge. Having carefully passed this last crevasse, in the middle of the glacier, the route climbs very steeply to the right and then, with a narrow hairpin bend and maintaining the steepness, to the left; at the end of the climb (45′ from the terminal crevasse) we reach the Felik pass: we have reached and exceeded 4000 metres (4061 m).

The city of Felik

In the past, glaciers have not always blocked the high hills of Massiccio of the Monte Rosa : numerous legends tell of pastures, cultivated fields and towns, where everything is now covered by snow and perennial ice. Among them, there is the legend of the town of Felik, which is said to have sprung up on the right side of the moraines of the current terminal tongue of the glacier of Lys, at the head of the Gressoney Valley.

The town, favoured by trade with the neighbouring Vallese, had a very prosperous activity, which made its people forget their respect for God: it was therefore punished from heaven with a very long winter that buried it forever. Even today, it is said, the souls of its inhabitants still roam in search of eternal salvation among the glaciers of the Rosa.

Towards the top of the Castore

on top of the castore

From the hill we continue to the left; on our right, beyond the frozen plateau, the Lyskamm (Western, Central and Eastern): who knows, one of the next summer, we won’t ask them to welcome us up there. After crossing the last slope in the direction of Punta Felik, we reach the desired South East ridge of the Castore: elegant, sinuous, beautiful!! The crest requires the utmost attention because of the remarkable exposure and the sharp lines it presents. A few steps slightly downhill increase the sense of emptiness that we feel. Cautiously we reach an early and then, with a last effort in gentle ascent, here is the peak of the Castore.

We are privileged because from here we enjoy a panorama of rare beauty: in front of us, just arrived, drawing an almost perfect straight line the Polluce, the Black Rock, the Breithorn group and, in the distance, the Cervino, unmistakable.
On our right, as far as the eye can see, the Swiss Alps of Valais! It’s been about three hours since we left the Quintino Sella; a short stop at the summit, the time to share emotions with our companions and some other alpinist who in the meantime reached the summit and off we go, back to the refuge, for the same satisfying climbing environment.

Going down, especially once we have reached the crevasses, we are very careful because of the state of the snow which, at that time (it is about 11 am) and with the high sun, is rather soft: the possible snow bridges over the crevasses could be less stable! After the glacier descent we are still waiting for the return to the Bettaforca Pass, just in time for the last ride of the chairlift and the cable car to Staffal.

Punta Castore: The Itinerary Map

Punta castore map

Our trekking in brief

Access valley: Val di Gressoney
Support point: Quintino Sella al Felik refuge (q. 3585 m)
Type of route: Normal route
Type of route: Trail on glacier
Difficulty: EEA; PD
Hiking days: 2
Equipment: Suitable for high mountain routes in snow-covered surroundings

Suggested period: 15th June – 15th September


The four thousand of Punta Castore

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