Alpine 4000 Meter Classics: Pollux and Castor

Alpine 4000 Meter Classics: Pollux and Castor

During a trip in July, in the acclimatisation phase, I had an opportunity to climb a couple classic Swiss 4000ers: Pollux and Castor.  Castor and Pollux are named after twin brothers in Greek and Roman mythology.  Pollux reaches a height of 4092 meters while his brother, Castor, is 4288 meters.  The ascents of Pollux and Castor are strikingly different.  Pollux involved mixed climbing with a good section of rock climbing while Castor is all snow and ice.

Looking at the Western face of Pollux (front centre) & Castor (back centre) from Roccia Nera

We climbed Pollux via the Southwest Ridge.  After an early start in the Rifugio Guide della Val d’Ayas and a light breakfast, we left at 5 am, the sun starting to break through.

Stood at the entrance to the Ayas hut, ready to go early in the morning

We travelled across the now frozen glacier, the day before in the warming sun we kept breaking through the surface and wallowing knee deep and sometimes waist deep in snow.  While travelling quickly over the frozen ground, I had time to enjoy the view of the sun rising.

After trekking over the glacier, we were at the base of Pollux. The initial climb of the ridge is exposed but straight forward. As the difficulties increase, there are chains fixed to the rock making passage of this very popular route, easier and safer.  I prefer to climb rock than using fixed protection but considering the environment and the altitude, I was grateful to be able to quickly climbed up the chains. 

Looking back at the first section of fixed chains. The crux is on my right.

The route has been climbed by countless numbers of climbers, so there are deep crampon scars etched into the rock.  The crux of the route is a large slab but adorned with an industrial chain, this can be surmounted with ease. 

The crux slab of the ascent of Pollux

Topping out of the buttress there is a large Madonna statue.   

The large Madonna with Pollux in the back ground, we were to travel there later in the day
The statue of Madonna looking out, high above the clouds.

The beautiful sweeping ridge can behind the statue, which is followed to the summit of Pollux. 

The beautiful sweeping summit ridge of Pollux

Feeling poorly acclimatised, I was grateful to reach the summit, take a breather and devour a sandwich I had brought with me. 

At the summit of Pollux
The view of steep face of icy Castor from the summit of Pollux

Having enjoyed the spectacular view and stocked up on carbohydrates, we headed back down the ridge and then reversed back down the fix chains. 

Quick pause before descending the fixed line again. Could have enjoyed that view all day

I was very glad to have the fixed chains on the return as they certainly made the descent much easier.

Making the most of the fixed lines on the descent

From the base of Pollux, we passed the back over the glacier towards Castor.  This time, crossing the glacier took much more time as the top crust had been warmed by the sun so we started to break through in places. 

Crossing the warming and softening glacier towards Castor

Castor, the taller of the 2 mountains but a completely different undertaking to Pollux. The ascent started by zigzagging up the steep and icy west face.  It was long and gruelling but without technically difficult.  There was a thin path that had been cut in by the previous ascents earlier in the week.  As we ascended, the mountain was consistently getting steeper and steeper until we reached the top of the western side.  From here, the thin ridge line is followed until the true summit of Castor is reached.  As we reached the top of Castor, for a needed rest, the wind coming from the Swiss side of the mountain whipped up at us.

Another snack on top of Castor
Looking back at Pollux, Roccia Nera and Breithorn from Castor

Looking down the mountain we could see small dots that looked like ants ascending the route. 

Looking down at the small people that looked like ant from the summit ridge

We would not be alone on the summit for long, so we started the descent.  At one point during the descent we waited for a group to pass.  I stuck my axe into the frozen mountain and then kicking in my crampons, I stood out of the way.  I wish I had waited longer before getting out of the way as the team we phenomenally slow, so my calves were burning by the time they passed. 

As the steepness of the slope reduced, we headed directly down the mountain, sliding down the snow.  This time at the base, the sun had softened the crust of the glacier so the return to the Ayas hut was exhausting.  Every other step we all broke through the crust and wallowed deep in the snow. 

Following Dave on the final stretch to the Rifugio Guide della Val d’Ayas

After a long push we got back to the Rifugio Guide della Val d’Ayas, breathless from the vertical gain and the strenuous crossing of the glacier.  I kicked off my boots, purchased a beer from the extremely friendly and efficient guardian, and sat drying off in the sun outside.

A beautiful day of Alpine mountaineering!!

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