First winter traverse of the Furggen, Matterhorn, Grandes Murailles and Petites Murailles chains by FranÇois Cazzanelli
Published on 27/03/2020
A dream that comes true, an incredible adventure lived above the skies of home! It took three attempts, from 2017 until today, to implement this project, but in the end constancy and tenacity rewarded us.
From 20th to 23rd January 2020, Francesco Ratti and I traversed the long continuous ridge that links some of the main mountain massifs of the Valtournenche. Our idea was to start from the Theodulo refuge, cross the Furggen chain, the Matterhorn (going up the Piacenza route), the Grandes Murailles and the Petites Murailles; and to face this infinite ridge as fast as possible and in the coldest season.
Compared to previous attempts, we decided to change the itinerary on the Matterhorn, preferring the via Piacenza to the Furggen Overhangs and we decided to skip the summit of Dent D'Herens which does not border with the municipality of Valtournenche.
Compared to other attempts, we waited patiently for the coldest days of winter to be sure that the snow would be stable all the way.
The Himalayan-sized ridge is visible from the Breuil basin, where it fascinates and amazes the thousands of people who visit Cervinia. And it includes a total of 20 peaks: the highest is that of the Matterhorn with its 4478 m while the lowest is that of the Mont Blanc du Créton 3406 m. For its size, for the altitudes and for its dizzying passages, the ridge is certainly one of the most spectacular in the Alps. Just think that in total it measures about 51 km of uninterrupted ridge with 4800 m of positive altitude difference.
We start on 20 January from the Theodulo refuge with a temperature of -23 degrees and reach the Bossi bivouac crossing the Furggen ridge completely which includes 4 peaks: the Corno del Theodulo (3469 m), the Cima del Breuil (3462 m), the Furggen (3492 m) and the Cima della Forca (3349 m). We continue on the ridge of the Furggen up to the shoulder of Furggen and then deviate on the Piacenza route.
On the Piacenza route we are faced with some non-trivial pitches that take a long time. Finally, at 16.00 o'clock we are at the top of the Matterhorn (4478 m). From here we descend to the Lion ridge and spend the night at Capanna Carrel (3830 m) reached at 5.30 pm. In the evening the strong wind will rise that will accompany us throughout the night.
A perfect first day where we climbed very well: fast and precise as we wanted!
At 4am the alarm rings and at 6am we leave!
On the second day we go down to Colle del Leone, and cross the traverse of Leone to Colle del Breuil. From here we climb in sequence: Punta Maria Cristina (3708 m), Punta Maquignaz (3841 m), Punta Carrel (3841 m), Punta Bianca (3918 m).
Finally at 5.30pm we reach the Perelli bivouac (3831 m) which is completely flooded with snow. We clean it up and isolate the door with several blankets to prevent the wind from getting in. Inside the bivouac, the temperature is freezing around -20 °, we make water, eat and we immediately put ourselves in the sleeping bags.
On the whole, this day was really tough, things didn't go as planned from the start. On Punta Bianca the conditions were very bad, the snow was up to our waist; while on the slope to go out to the hill of the Grandes Murailles the 50 m of black ice, they literally made us “see the stars”.
Third day. At 4am the alarm rings again but we voluntarily waste time, outside the wind blows hard and the temperature is fixed at - 20 °C. At 6am we decide to leave. We have a long day ahead of us, we have to get to the Paoluccio bivouac!
We start with the Punte Margherite (3905 m), then the Cors (3849 m) and finally we arrive to the Ratti bivouac.
Here we take a little break for a piece of bread and a salami.
We leave again, we cross the Ester tip which, like the year before, makes us suffer with snow to the waist. Finally we are at Lioy (3816 m), the point where we stopped at during our last attempt. We look at each other and without thinking too much we throw the ropes for the first rappel and so we enter the lions' den.
"The Lions' Den" is how we nicknamed the abyss that separates Lioy from the Jumeaux. In this slender collar, the environment is truly bleak and oppressive and the perspectives are totally reversed and it is difficult to evaluate the next step.
Arrived at the collar, we begin to climb the Jumeaux. The snow is perfect and the cold impeccably blocks the rock, which is normally not very solid. After 4 pitches we finally reach the Giordano Point (3872 m) but it is not over.
The ridge is very sharp and to get to the collar between the two points we have equipped two rappels. At this point with two very aerial pitches we arrive at the Sella point 3872 m. It's 5pm and finally we see that the ridge in front of us starts to go down and we realize that we are now really close to realizing our dream!There is no time to waste, the bivouac is still far away.
We leave quickly but, after a while, the darkness envelops us, the ridge is very sharp and with the light of the headlamps we feel everything is even steeper.
At 8pm we finally open the door of the Bivouac. We are tired but now we feel that tomorrow there is a good chance of reaching the valley. Entering the bivouac, there seems to be another world, temperatures have risen and unlike Perelli the Paoluccio is dry and without snow. From the valley we get a message from Damiano that the weather is changing and therefore we cannot relax. At 9pm we are in the sleeping bag and set the alarm clock for 5am tomorrow. We will have to get to the valley at all costs because the weather will change on the 24th.
Fourth day. January 23, 2020, 5 am, the alarm rings early for the 4th consecutive day. This time it is less cold and we activate ourselves more quickly. At 7am we are out and at 7.30 we turn off the headlamp. On the Petites Murailles the snow is perfect and the temperature is pleasant. In 3 hours we are at the top of Mont Blanc du Creton (3406 m). We change the face and go down into a narrow channel on the north side then with two rappels we reach the traverse that will take us back to the south. A long pitch and it is done: we see the Florio bivouac. We untie ourselves, remove the helmet and reach the Col Des Dames. From there we start the dive in the Vofrède valley. The snow is perfect and we go down quickly. Arriving to the amphitheater of the falls, we see a lot of climbing teams. On the Camello I recognize my two cousins Teto Stradelli and Michele Cazzanelli who came to meet us and took the opportunity to climb a bit. I call them and they greet us, throw the rappels and reach us on skis. We are now downstream and Nicola Corradi comes to meet us together with the heliski staff with two bottles of prosecco! Dominique, Francesco's wife, Damiano Levati and Daniele Molineris also arrive. We open the bottles and with two shots we are immediately tipsy. It's 12:30 and we decide to go and have a pizza with Lucio Trucco. Giuliano Trucco (father of Lucio) welcomes us and he immediately finds us a table! I order two pizzas and toast to our trip is a beautiful moment
Getting involved to try to overcome your limits is one of the fundamental points of our mountaineering. Trying to traverse a large number of peaks as fast as possible in the colder season is a big challenge. This project is an important step forward in our mountaineering. It made us understand that we can go a little further and that we are not lacking in determination!
I really want to thank my partner Francesco, my whole family and my girlfriend Alessia. Special thanks go to all the friends who supported us and cheered us on. Special thanks go to Damiano Levati and Teto Stradelli who motivated us, always supported and controlled with binoculars!
The first complete crossing Grandes and Petites Murailles was made by Alfredo Perino with the Mountain Guides Luigi Carrel "Carrellino" and Marcello Carrel on 2nd-3rd-4th August 1940. This team made two bivouacs: one on the hill of the Grandes Murailles and the other al col Budden. The first linking of the Matterhorn and the Grandes Murailles was carried out by the guides Ferdinando Gaspard and Bruno Bich together with Mrs. Carla Durando of Biella on 7th-8th August 1947. This extraordinary team completed the entire route with only two bivouacs (at the time there was no shelter on the ridge). Starting from the Hornli refuge, (where they were forbidden to enter, they bivouacked outside, because in Italy it was the year of the foot-and-mouth disease epidemic) they reached the summit of the Matterhorn at six in the morning and then continued and bivouac on the Grandes Murailles hill. In the evening the two guides reached the top of Dent D’Heren (without Mrs. Durando who waited for them at the col) and then returned to the col and bivouacked. The following day they left and arrived at the Chateau des Dames, where they bivouacked again and then descend to the valley the following day. In December 1985 Valter Cazzanelli (father of François) and Marco Barmasse made the first winter crossing of the Grandes and Petites Murailles. Unfortunately, due to unfavorable conditions, they had to give up the peaks of the Matterhorn and Dent D'Herens from the start. On August 16, 2018 François Cazzanelli and Kilian Jornet Burgada made the first crossing of the Grandes and Petites Murailles in one day. The two mountaineers left and returned to Cervinia in 10 hours and 59 minutes making a 23-km loop tour with 3300 meters of ascent.
On the 20th-21st-22nd-23rd January 2020 François Cazzanelli and Francesco Ratti make the first winter traverse: Furggen chain, Matterhorn (Piacenza route 2nd winter ascent), Grandes Murailles and Petites Murailles, climbing in 4 days 51 km of ridge with 4800 meters of ascent.
Article by François Cazzanelli, February 2020. Pictures by François Cazzanelli and Francesco Ratti
François Cazzanelli, born in 1990 and based in Cervinia (Italy), is part of the Grivel team since when he was a child. Mountain guide, mountaineer and member of Società Guide del Cervino since 2012, he collected many extra-European expeditions, from Patagonia to Himalayas, to the unknown massifs of Sichuan, opening many new routes.
Favorite Grivel product: North Machine Carbon ice axes.