26-Sep-2009 -- Only 5 degree confluences are located in Switzerland, but none can be visited as a cakewalk: two are located in lakes, two others on glaciers in high alpine terrain and the remaining one is at an extremely steep slope in a forest. This degree of difficulty cannot be found elsewhere in Central Europe. In Switzerland’s neighbouring countries, one can visit 10 confluences a day, but completing those 5 confluences in Switzerland took us more than 2 years - now finished through this successful visit of Europe's highest confluence.
This point has been visited already by helicopter and skiing. Now it was time to get there by mountain climbing. Since the area above 3000 m is covered by snow most time of the year, I choose the month of September prior to the first snowfall for an attempt.
Friday afternoon, we took a train from Zurich to the town Martigny, which is located in the Rhône Valley 13 km horizontal and 2.7 km vertical beeline distance from the confluence. Here we stayed for the night. The next morning, we continued our train ride in the amazing Mont-Blanc Express. This train passes by tiny mountain villages and provides astonishing views. We got off at Montroc-le-Planet (which is in France). Here, at 9 a.m. and an altitude of 1350 m we started our hike with a great view to the nearby Mont Blanc. Three hours into the hike, when we came around a band, the Glacier du Tour appeared in front of us. Another hour later, we reached the Refuge Albert Premier, a guesthouse at 2700 m altitude. Even though it was already closed for the winter, a simple unattended winter-room was open. Up to here, the hike can be done on a trail in good condition.
The weather was changing from a nice-and-sunny day into a sky with heavy clouds and local rains. Nevertheless I wanted to make an attempt that afternoon. If it wouldn't work out, we would have time for another attempt in the next morning. From the Refuge Albert Premier, the distance to the confluence point is 960 m horizontal and 500 m in the vertical. At 2 p.m. we set off towards the confluence. We took the direct beeline approach, which turned out to be the right decision. The terrain is covered with loose rocks in all sizes and the slope is steep, but not dangerous. 1.5 hours later we reached the ridge at 3100 m height. Here, a more difficult part begins. We had to follow the ridge, which consists of jumbled rocks of sizes up to 5 m. We dropped down to the mountain pass Col des Grands, and continued on the other side along the ridge. Partially, scrambled rocks were too difficult to climb that we preferred the slippery glacier surface to proceed.
The confluence is about 100 m from the ridge. The closest we could approach the point on rocky surface was 70 m. In the confluence area the glacier has an incline of about 45° and is (at this time of the year) not covered with snow. Walking on the bare ice was impossible for us. At least we should have had an ice axe or crampons. In addition, there were several crevasses that wouldn't have been easy to be crossed.
From the ridge, we had a panoramic view that included two glaciers: the Glacier du Tour in the South and Glacier des Grands in the North. The Aiguille du Tour (3540 m) can be seen if the weather would have allowed.
After a short break, we went back to the mountain hut and stayed for the night. The next day, we took another way back: via Col de Balme and then we hiked down to the village Trient (1300 m) in Switzerland, from where we took a bus back to Martigny and a train to Zurich.
CP visit details:
- Beeline distance from Montroc-le-Planet: 5.0 km
- Walking time: 6 hours
- Time at the CP: 3:59 pm
- Measured height: 3195 m
- Position accuracy at the CP: 2 m
- Minimal distance to the CP: 70 m
- Vegetation: none
- Distance to a road: 4.3 km (Le Tour)
- Distance to a hiking trail: 960 m
- Distance to houses: 960 km (Refuge Albert Premier)
- Distance to a mountain ridge: 95 m
- Distance to a village: 4.3 km (Le Tour)
- Topography: steep grade (ca. 45°), high alpine mountains
- Weather: cloudy, 10° C (felt temperature)
- Description of the CP: Europe's highest Degree Confluence Point, on a glacier (Glacier des Grands), just 100 m north of a mountain ridge and the 3263 m Aiguille du Génépi. In Switzerland's Canton Valais 100 m from the border to France. Ground covered with permanent ice.
- Given Name: The Icy Grade Confluence