Italian Pair Complete First Winter Linkage of Matterhorn and Grandes Murailles

Climbing Mountain
François Cazzanelli and Francesco Ratti. Photo: Daniele Molineris/ Storyteller-Labs

On January 23, François Cazzanelli and Francesco Ratti completed the first winter linkage of the Furggen chain, the Matterhorn and the Grandes and Petites Murailles chains.

They attempted the challenge in both 2017 and 2018, but it was third time lucky for the Italian alpine guides. Setting out on January 20, they completed the traverse in four days, including 40 hours of climbing.

Matterhorn/Grandes Murailles winter enchainment. Photo: Daniele Molineris/Storyteller-Labs

Linking the peaks of Valtournenche, Italy has long tempted alpinists. In 1940, Alfredo Perino, Luigi Carrel and Marcello Carrel made the first complete crossing of the Grandes and Petites Murailles. A few years later, in 1947, Ferdinando Gaspard, Bruno Bich and Carla Durando linked the Matterhorn and the Grandes Murailles. In both cases, the teams completed their routes with only two bivouacs.

It wasn’t until 1985 that the first winter linkage of peaks in Valtournenche occurred. In 1985, Valter Cazzanelli (François’ father) and Marco Barmasse crossed the Grandes and Petites Murailles. They had also intended to include the Matterhorn and Dent D’Herens but failed because of bad weather. Following in his father’s footsteps, François Cazzanelli did the first one-day crossing of the Grandes and Petites Murailles with Kilian Jornet in 2018. They did the 23km route, including 3,300m of elevation, in a staggering 10 hours and 59 minutes.

Both Cazzanelli and Ratti have family history on these mountains, and it is one of the reasons this challenge was so important to them. “François’ father completed the first winter traverse of the Grandes and Petites Murailles, while the Ratti bivouac on Grandes Murailles was built by my father,” explained Ratti. “Our roots are in these mountains.”

They wanted this to be a winter challenge. “A winter enchainment isn’t a foregone conclusion,” said Cazzanelli. “To get all the way to the end, you need to be good.”

An earlier attempt to traverse  what’s been called “a Himalayan ridge above the home sky.” Photo: www.francoiscazzanelli.it

They set off on January 20 from the Theodulo refuge (3,317m) and linked the Furggen chain via its four main peaks, the Corno del Theodulo (3,469m), the Cima del Breuil (3,462m), the Furggen (3,492m) and the Cima della Forca (3,349m). Then they climbed the fabled Matterhorn (4,478m), the highest peak in the ridge, via the Piacenza route.

On day two, Cazzanelli and Ratti hiked from the Carrel hut to the Perelli bivouac (3,831m), and battled strong winds to link a first part of the Grandes Murailles. They then climbed Punta Maria Cristina (3,708m), Punta Maquignaz (3,841m), Punta Carrel (3,841m) and Punta Bianca (3,918m).

Day three saw the duo complete the Grandes Murailles by tackling Punta Lioy (3,816m), I due Jumaux (3,872m), Becca di Guin (3,805m) and Punta Budden (3,603m). In contrast to day two, they had perfect conditions.

Their fourth and final day saw the Italian pair cross the Petites Murailles. They successfully climbed the Colle des Dames (3,488m), Tour du Creton (3,579m), Mont Blanc du Creton (3,406m), and Chateau des Dames (3,488 m). Finally, they made the descent to the Vofrède valley of the Château des Dames and arrived in Cervinia in the early afternoon.

“For its size, its height and its exposed sections, the ridge is certainly one of the most spectacular and beautiful in the Alps,” said Cazzanelli. “It’s the completion of a dream for both of us,” added Ratti.

About the Author

Rebecca McPhee

Aspiring sports and travel journalist based in the UK.

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