Zumsteinspitze and Signalkuppe
This was to be another not very demanding day. Our objective was to climb to the Rifugio Regina Margherita (4554 m) that sits on top of the Signalkuppe and is Europe's highest staffed hut.
We were getting used to late "alpine" starts since it must have been close to 8:30am when we climbed down the rock outcropping from the Rifugio Gnifetti to the glacier where we roped up. We trotted up the glacier passing Lysjoch and all the little 4000er peaks that we had climbed the day before and finally reached the plateau between Signalkuppe and Zumsteinspitze, called Colle Gnifetti.
Instead of ascending to the Rifugio Regina Margherita we made a side trip to Zumsteinspitze (4563 m). It took us no more than an hour to reach the top via a surprisingly exposed snow ridge. This was quite exciting since the wind blew fiercely which made it very difficult to keep in balance. Although Zumsteinspitze isn't much more than a side trip on the way to the Signalkuppe, with 4563 m it is a pretty high mountain, after Mont Blanc, Dufourspitze and Nordend the fourth highest mountain in the Alps! Claus-Dieter and I were also contemplating to continue and to climb Dufourspitze from here. So we took a look at the south side of Dufourspitze. However, this approach -- rated as II+ -- had still a lot of snow on it and we had to abandon that idea. This was quite difficult for Claus-Dieter to accept, since he had to bail at Dufourspitze last year just a few hundred meters shy of the summit because of high winds.
Such strong winds were now also blowing snow off the ridge between the two summits of Lyskamm as we could clearly see. This was reason to worry about our planned traverse of Lyskamm the next day. We knew that with winds that strong it would be too dangerous to be up on that ridge where there is no easy way to retreat. Well, right now we couldn't do much about it and so we just hoped that the wind would die down and we would have better conditions tomorrow.
We headed back down to the Colle Gnifetti from which an easy ascend up a snow slope brought us on top of the Signalkuppe (4554 m) to the Rifugio Regina Margherita. There were only a few people in the hut besides the 3 staff members. Since it was still early in the day, we made ourselves comfortable, chilled out, and marveled at the stunning panorama around us.
It is quite amazing to have a hut at that elevation. Supplies are flown in by helicopter. Water is produced in a snow melting machine that was being filled up just when we were there. The hut is quite big: Inside there are several rooms with bunk beds, there is a kitchen, a dining room, and several other rooms. They have a fairly extensive mountaineering there and I found it difficult to decide whether I should be outside enjoying the views or peruse that library inside... One of the pictures at the walls shows Queen Regina Margherita of Italy opening the hut in 1893. She climbed up there in person! Must have been quite a lady...
Later that evening a few more climbers showed up but the hut was far from full. The dinner consisted of cooked canned tomatoes, creme cheese, and some unidentifiable stuff. I would have sent it straight back to the kitchen at lower elevation. But considering that we were being served a hot dinner at 4554 m it was quite acceptable.