Pollux as an acclimatization climb before Mont Blanc

On top of Pollux

Pollux is one of the two peaks known as the Twins. With a height of 4,092 m, it is lower than its twin brother Castor. Both mountains lie between the Breithorn massif and the Liskamm, with Pollux lying to the north-west of Castor. They are separated by the Zwillingsjoch. The ascent involves a glacier crossing and climbing on rock, but its not a difficult climb and is actually doable as a day climb from Zermatt. I decided to do it as an acclimatization climb before Mont Blanc. In fact my original plan was to do Breithorn first, stay at the Ayas Hut and then to Pollux and maybe Castor if time and weather permitted it, but if there is something I have learned this past week it is that things mostly do not go after the plan in the mountains. In the high mountains the weather decides everything and I have now learned that I should not only have plan A and B, but also plan C and D :D. I had to learn this the hard way, so let me tell you what actually ended up happening.

To hike Pollux or Breithorn you can take the cable car from Zermatt to Klein Matterhorn 3600m, so basically you are almost on the peak already, at least if you can handle the altitude ( There is a reason why it’s called the head ache peak).

 As always weather is the clock in the mountains and also this time we did not have the time on our side. The forecast was predicting rain/snow around 14:00 and even worse weather for the next day.  So after some small discussion we decided to change our plans, drop Breithorn and to go for Pollux instead. Breithorn is an easier peak, but also much more boring and if we had to choose we wanted to experience Pollux. Pollux was also on our way to the hut. 

We were travelling from Zürich and got to Zermatt around 9:15. The cable car(s) took around 45 minutes so we were all roped up and ready to go round 10:45. The weather was still sunny and warm, but the peaks were hidden in the clouds.  We could see a couple of groups of people and some solo hikers heading to Breithorn. We followed them for about 10-20 minutes and headed then to the right on the glacier. Luckily there was a visible trail. I also had a gps track as always, but as glaciers change so much these days, you can’t trust a track from previous years anymore. We followed the trail over the glacier and had to cross some edgy snow bridges at times. Some of the places looked so edgy to me that I would not have crossed them if there would not have been a clear trail. The … glacier is full of really deep cravesses. One definitely needs to be careful crossing it.

Looking at Pollux from the glacier, before climbing it.

We were making progress quite fast and were at the foot of Pollux around 13:00. There we also met two other groups of climbers. One Polish group and on Spanish group. They came from the hut, so I was wondering why they were just starting to climb Pollux now? So late with a quite unpredictable weather forecast? I guess some people like to push their luck more than I do, but then again. I was there climbing it too. We however knew that the time was not on our side and started the climb after a fast lunch break. From now on it was scrambling on the rocks and we could pack away our crampons. We left the rest of the equipment and took the rope with us just in case.  Scrambling/ easy bouldering on the rocky ridge was so much fun. We really enjoyed it.  Even though there were no markings, so we had to find our own way. Couple of spots were a little tricky (and more tricky on the way down), but still doable without a rope. We moved quickly and were on our own after the first 10 minutes.

Climbing up to Pollux

When we made it to the madonna statue the sun had disappeared and the weather had gotten colder, but we felt fine. No headache. There was a book at the statue and we took the time to write a small message into it. After all- this was our second unguided successful 4000m peak summit.

Writing the mandatory message to the peakbook

But we were not actually on the peak just yet.  From the statue one has to follow a snow covered ridge to the real peak. We could see it peeking through the clouds and fog at times. The traverse was easy and after about twenty more minutes we made it to the real summit. It was truly amazing. I remember the joy building up with each step I took on the ridge.  While we were at the peak, there were a couple of rather short moments with sky clearing up and sun peeking out from behind the clouds. We used these to take some nice pictures. 

It was a pity that we could not see all the other 4000m tall mountains around us, but we still felt very happy with being alone on one of the pearls of Zermatt. On our way down, more or less right after the hardest spots of the climbing, we met the other two teams. Some of them were not feeling too good and I think they were having trouble with the climbing. Luckily they decided to turn around, because at that time it had started to snow a bit. The climb down turned out to be a bit challenging, because it was actually surprisingly hard to find the right path. Just a little snow and the natural path that we instinctively had followed on the way up wasn’t there anymore! The worst part was right before the rocky steep ridge turned into the glacier. We struggled a lot  there and tried at least four different routes before we found the one we used to climb up. The Polish team decided to follow the Spanish team, who decided to take the path over wet gravel and mud. I do not know what they were thinking. It made me quite mad to see people taking such big risks. The wet gravel and rocks started moving under one of the Spanish guys and he was suddenly sliding on his belly for several meters. He just barely managed to stop before sliding into the crevasse at the beginning of the glacier. But he was still enguaranging the other to go take that path down. I mean sure, listen to the guy who almost got himself killed. BUT hey, at least he had not only one but TWO ice axes to stop his sliding with. Because such a pro..  I really tried to get the Polish group to follow us instead but they found climbing down even more scary. I guess they should not have been there to begin with.  We got down safely, but I actually could not stand looking at them trying to get down the gravel path and started walking down the glacier to the hut.

The weather was getting worse and we still had an hour or more of glacier travel to do.  The glacier was full of even more sketchy cravases on the way down to the hut. Some of the snow bridges were quite scary and I always made sure to let Elias know when I was crossing one, so that he would be ready to take the fall if he were to fall through. Lucky I didn’t. Still, I was quite relieved when I got to the hut. But I was a bit worried about the stupid Spanish and Polish climbes. They were nowhere to be seen. In the end they arrived two hours after us, so I guess they had an eventful hike down.  In the hut we discovered  that we were in Italy and all the prices were in euros. We only had swiss francs with us! We decided to not tell anything before it was pay time and our bellies were full. Luckily we could pay with card. Yeah, the 21st century has its advantages. The food was great. First one could choose between pasta and soup. Guess what we chose?  After the pasta we were served some veggies and meat and for dessert there was a delicious apple cake. Which I could eat two pieces of since it had nuts in it and Elias is allergic 😀

The unexpected way down….

During the dinner it really started snowing heavily. It was a complete whiteout. We could not see more than a meter. Everybody started to discuss what they would do the day after. The advice was not to go over the glacier. And since we came over it, and saw all the crevasses it was clear to us why one should not try to cross it with new snow… The problem was that we had to get back to Zermatt, in order to take the train to  Chamonix and climb Mt. Blanc (More about that in a blogpost soon).  But there was no way to get to Zermatt. The only two options were to wait or to go down to Italy. We could not wait, since we had booked our stay on Mt.Blanc hut in May(!!) in order to get a spot. Luckily there were two French climbers who were heading down to Italy and had a car parked in one of the valleys there. They promised to give us a ride to a bus stop where we could catch a bus to Chamonix. We took their offer, after all it was our only option. BUT as we would discover the next morning, these guys were crazy fast hikers. We had no trouble with keeping up with them on the way down, but it turned out that we had to cross several valleys (here I thought that it was just down to one valley) and on the steep uphills we really had trouble with keeping up with them. I lost count on how many ridges we crossed, (ok I think it was three) and on the last uphill I was so exhausted that I started to cry… What should have been a fast hike down to the valley turned out to be a veery long hike with very heavy bags. But we made it just in time to the last bus, and had to run to catch the last train to a small village from where we could take a train to our starting point on Mt.Blanc next day… At 23:30 we were exhausted in our hotel, wondering how the hell we were going to make it up Mt. Blanc early next morning. Our clothes were wet, because it had rained the whole day, and so now we tried to dry stuff with a hairdryer in our room. Before we fell asleep we decided to postpone the decision about hiking Mt.Blanc until the morning.  

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