Take your pick: top 10 alpine peaks

Posted by Alex Messenger on 11/08/2017
Mountaineering in the Mont Blanc Massif. Photo: Shutterstock / Stefan Petrovski

Get your hands and feet on rocky slopes and snow, taluses and airy gendarme-studded ridges. Why not challenge yourself to reach the summit, or traverse one of our top 10 alpine peaks this summer?

From traverses of the Eiger and Mont Blanc to easy start-out adventures and perfect routes to escape the crowds, here’s our pick of the best alpine peaks in the Alps, from facile to difficile. So rope up, pack your crampons and head out for an alpine-style summer escape.

1. Gran Paradiso  F, Italy


A great intr​oduction to the higher peaks. Photo: Bruce Goodlad

Gran Paradiso (4,061m) is the highest mountain that lies entirely within Italy, and a great introduction to the higher peaks. It sits in the Gran Paradiso National Park, where development is controlled and there is a wild unspoilt feel. Two huts service the mountain - the Chabot and Vittorio Emanuelle. The routes from both huts join high on the mountain and the level of difficulty is pretty similar. The Chabot route is more heavily glaciated and the crevasses can become quite open later in the summer but early in the season(June – mid July) it's no problem. My favourite route is to start from the Chabot hut, then descend to the Vittorio Emanuelle hut, traversing the mountain. On both sides the route involves movement on glacial terrain then a scrambly ridge to the summit. It’s possible to make a short abseil from just after the summit then traverse back to the ascent track under the summit block. Gran Paradiso is a popular summit and can be busy.

2. Traverse of Weissmies PD, Switzerland


The best PD in Switzerland? Photo: Bruce Goodlad

This has to be one of my favourite routes at its grade in the Alps. The Weissmies sits above the Saas Valley and offers two very contrasting faces. On the north side the mountain has steep glacial terrain accessed from ski lifts, and on the other a fun rocky scramble from a beautifully-positioned hut that can only be reached on foot. This south ridge begins with a walk-in to the Allmageller hut, which has recently been refurbished and extended, offering a very comfortable night. From here, follow a track through boulders and slabs to the Zwischbergen Pass. Next you can follow the southeast ridge directly, or more commonly drop into the right side and climb the snow until you find an easy place to join the ridge. Follow the crest of the ridge, which changes from rock to snow. The traverse continues down the west ridge then drops down through a steep but short ice fall. This is not a place to linger as the route is threatened by a number of seracs. The steep ground gives way to an easy-angled but crevassed glacier, which you cross to reach the top of the ski lifts at Hohsaas.

Kenton Cool, mountain guide, says: “One of my favourite peaks in the Valais Alps. A wonderful walk to a great hut followed by a splendid ridge to the summit which gives stunning views.” 

3. Eiger Traverse  D, Switzerland


A great route for competent alpinists wanting to get their hands on the Eiger. Photo: Bruce Goodlad

The Eiger is an iconic mountain - its north face is a thing of legends that many climbers will dream about but never set foot on. However, the traverse of the peak is achievable for most competent alpinists. It's best done by climbing the Mitallegi Ridge then descending the south ridge. Take the Jungfraujoch railway to Eismeer, where you can access the glacier. The route to the Mittaleggi hut is not the easiest to find – ask the hut guardian if you're not sure. The route from the hut couldn’t be easier to find though - come out of the hut and follow the crest of the ridge. There are deviations but these are obvious. There isn’t much fixed equipment until you reach the fixed ropes on the upper tower. The final snow crest to the summit is as spectacular as anything you will find in the Alps. Descending the south ridge allows you to abseil over most of the difficulties (a 50m rope will do). For a descent route there is a surprising amount of ascent as the ridge has plenty of crenellations before the final pull up the glacier to the Monschjoch Hut. If you are quick you can get the train back to the valley but it is nice to relax, spend the night in the hut and climb the Monch the following morning.

Kenton Cool, mountain guide, says: “The summit will be etched in your mind forever but keep something in reserve for the descent, the south ridge can be challenging and long even in descent.”

4. Piz Bernina  AD, Switzerland


Climb one of the most famous snow crests in the Alps. Photo: Shutterstock

The Bianco grat on the Piz Bernina, rising majestically to the summit of the most easterly 4,000m peak, is one of the most famous snow crests in the Alps. All the pictures you see are of the famed snow arête but this is just part of the route. The first bit of the route can be difficult to find in the dark so a thorough inspection the previous afternoon is worthwhile. Once you have ascended the glacier you need to climb to the Fuorcla. This is on steep snow early in the season but when the snow melts out there is a lot of loose rock. A via ferrata has been built on the rocks to the left of the col, making access easy. Above the col, rock on the side and the crest of the ridge leads to the snow crest - you want to have checked before embarking on the route that this section is snow. If the snow has turned to ice the whole thing will be significantly more difficult and scary. At the top of the snow the route returns to rock - this is often dry but can be mixed and is a lot more involved than the guidebook suggests. It is possible to climb the route and make it back to the lift at Diavolezza but it is more enjoyable to stay at the Marco Rosa. The next morning you can enjoy the traverse of the Piz Palu before taking the lift to the valley and the train back to your car.

5. Mont Blanc de Cheilon Traverse PD/AD, Switzerland


Perfect routes for those looking to climb their first PD or AD. Photo: Shutterstock

Arolla is the area where many Brits cut their alpine teeth. There are lots of great peaks and, having no summer lifts, the area has a relaxed feel. Mont Blanc du Cheillon is a great peak offering perfect routes for those looking to climb their first PD or AD. The south-west ridge from the Dix Hut is as good a PD as you will find - an ascent on the snow to the Col du Cheilon followed by a rocky ridge, glacier section then finally a narrow mixed ridge to a perfect summit. If you have climbed up this way it makes sense to descend the same way. If you want to up the grade a bit then the traverse of the mountain is perfect. You can start from the Dix Hut but I prefer to start from the Vignettes as it is higher and you can traverse the Pigne d’Arolla on the way (which doesn’t add any time). Leaving the Col Serpentine, climb steep snow then a horizontal rock ridge to a drop. The guidebook talks about an abseil anchor here but it has always looked a bit suspect to me so I have climbed down and round the steepening on the left. When you have regained the ridge just follow the crest. The rock is generally good and the positions superb. When you reach the summit descend the south-west ridge then pass the Dix Hut, head over the Pas de Chevre and back to Arolla.

6. Breithorn Traverse AD, Switzerland


As a good a day route as you’ll find in the Alps. Photo: Bruce Goodlad

When you arrive in Zermatt it is the Breithorn that you see in profile as you travel up the valley. The classic route is an easy snow climb that can be accomplished in a short day from the Klein Matterhorn lift. The whole traverse is a longish day from the lift or the Ayas hut but the half traverse is as good a day route as you will find in the Alps. Start at the Klein Matterhorn and head for the classic route on the Breithorn. Then, at the Col Rosa, drop round on the south side and traverse under the Breithorn - you are looking for a snow slope that leads to a col at the start of a series of pinnacles. When you reach the ridge climb on the left side; the route takes a series of dog legs on the left always returning to the crest. There are a number of possible variations but they are all about the same grade. The route eventually leads to the col to the east of the central summit. From here you traverse the spectacular corniced central summit then the higher west summit before you can descend the classic route and head back to the lift.

7. Castor, South Ridge PD, Switzerland/Italy


All on snow with spectacular views. Photo: Bruce Goodlad

When viewed from Zermatt, Castor is overshadowed by its mighty neighbour, Liskam, but it is a great day out so don’t underrate it. The peak can be traversed from the Ayas Hut to the Quinteno Sella hut as part of the classic Italian high level route or it can be climbed in its own right. The Quintino Sella hut is reached by taking the lift from Gressoney to Bettaforca, then following a good track and a few fixed ropes for three hours. The start in the morning couldn’t be more convenient with the glacier starting just behind the hut. Follow the glacier to Felekjoch left and follow the south ridge. The route is all on snow giving spectacular views and great positions. After enjoying the summit retrace your steps back to the valley.

8. Mont Blanc, Entreve Traverse PD+/AD-, France


One of the best routes on Mont Blanc. Photo: Bruce Goodlad

The Mont Blanc massif has so many great routes it is hard to pick one. The Traverse of the Entreve on the Italian side of the Vallee Blanche is one of my favourites. Take the lift to Punta Helbronner (work is going on at the moment to replace the lift but it’s still open) then follow the glacier round to the Col d’Entreve between the Entreve and the Tour Ronde. Depending on conditions you may take your crampons off here. Follow the crest of the ridge - the rock is great and there are bolts anywhere you may want them. The route climbs then moves horizontally before coming to a notch. You can down-climb this awkwardly or scramble down a ramp on the south side to reach the same point. When you leave the summit, scramble along the ridge then down a groove to where the ground becomes steeper. A couple of abseils (the anchors are not that obvious) take you back to easier ground. Follow the ridge with the odd detour on the side to where it steepens, depending on the conditions you can either drop off the left of the ridge or go straight on - both options involve down-climbing. Once on the glacier head back round to the lift.

9. Monte Viso, East Ridge AD, Italy


Pitch on rock and snow to a perfect summit. Photo: Marco Barone

If you are on any of the big peaks of the Valais and you look to the south you will see a perfect pyramid - this is Monte Viso. At 3,841m it is the last big peak before the plains of Italy’s Po Valley. The summit sits 500m higher than any of the peaks around it, so it has a unique feeling of space. There are two classic routes on Monte Viso. The east ridge is a 1,200m AD, which has everything on it, moving together, pitching on rock and on snow to a perfect summit. The easier ‘classic’ or ‘normal’ route is anything but normal, spiralling its way from the hut over a col and round to the south side of the mountain where it climbs a series of grooves and ramps to the summit. The view is incredible with the whole Valais laid out to the north and the planes of northern Italy to the east. The mountain can be busy in summer because it’s visible from far away and the normal route is relatively easy.

10. Monte Disgrazia, North-west Ridge PD+, Italy


Head here to have the mountain to yourself. Photo: Bruce Goodlad

There’s a big peak to the south of the Bernina range, it’s the last big peak in this part of Italy before valleys of the Italian Lakes and it’s called Monte Disgrazia (3,678m). Legend has it this mountain used to be called ‘Beautiful Peak’ (‘Pizzo Bello’), but God cursed some arrogant shepherds on the top of it, and now it’s called ‘Mount Disgrace’. I had wanted to climb it for years but was always put off by the five hour hut approach caused by a blocked road. Last summer was the anniversary of the first ascent, so the road was cleared, reducing the approach to the Ponti Hut to an easy hour and a half. We climbed the northwest ridge, the ‘normal route’, which gave a superb PD+ / AD- route with difficulties on rock, snow and ice. The mountain is not very popular so we had it to ourselves and could enjoy perfect views to the Bernina. At 3,800m the mountain is a perfect acclimatisation route for the bigger peaks of the Bernina. Sitting above the Val d’Mello, it can be combined with some great granite cragging.

Alpine Grades

F (facile - easy)
PD (peu difficile - somewhat difficult)
AD (assez difficile - fairly difficult)
D (difficile - difficult)
TD (très difficile - very difficult)
ED (extremely difficult)

Bruce Goodlad is an IFMGA mountain guide. He’s supported by Dynafit, Back Country Access and Haglofs.
Find him at www.mountainadventurecompany.com.


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