Part 3 of 4 : A traverse of Castor and "abandon ship" due to incoming weather

After a somewhat sleepless night spent in the Refugio Guide della Val d’Ayas, our group were the last to get out of bed and leave the hut for an ascent of Castor.

Some discussion had taken place the night previous, with a large group of Germans, who were intent on setting off at 5.00am. Our experienced guide said, “Why! Setting off at 7.00am will be fine.” He was right as we almost caught them up anyway despite setting off two hours later.

While waiting for the rest of our group to kit up, I stood outside watching some birds that I believe to be Snow Finches.

Snow finch:

The weather this morning was not so good. The cloud level was low, visibility was almost non-existent, it was already fairly windy and due to get considerably worse. I set off with my camera in the rucksack as there was no point in taking photos in cloud.

After approximately 400m of ascent, we had our first brief stop where I got the camera out and thereafter took the occasional photograph. By the time we reached the col between Pollux and Castor, the cloud was starting to lift and we could see other groups ahead already commencing the steep ascent of Castor.

Heading for the col between Pollux and Castor:


From the col between Pollux and Castor there were impressive views of both “twins”.

Lower rock ridge of Pollux:

Higher snow ridge to summit of Pollux:

The following photo, taken the day previous, shows the steep zig-zagging ascent up the face of Castor.

Ascent route up Castor:

Despite the zig-zags, the ascent of Castor was hard work. It didn’t take long before we were looking down on Pollux, its lower twin. We all had our ice axes out for the ascent of this one.

Looking back down from high up on Castor:

On reaching the summit of Castor, only Iain took a quick photo with his point and click camera. There was no way I was taking the camera out of my rucksack, as it was really windy and the summit area was small, with really steep drops all round. I think we spent no longer than 30 seconds or so at the summit, before continuing to traverse the knife-edge summit ridge of Castor.

Chris walking along the ridge of Castor:

This ridge was fairly “interesting” given the wind, but posed no problems thanks to crampons. Note some spindrift in the next photo.

Looking back along Castor’s knife-edge ridge:

Looking back along Castor’s knife-edge ridge:

Once we had traversed the summit ridge of Castor, we dropped down to the Felikjoch and then down onto the Felik Glacier to the Refugio Quintino Sella.

Until now, all four days had went to plan and we were on schedule to summit all the peaks. However, the weather was deteriorating and was due to get much worse. It had already started raining and the wind was still strengthening. After checking out the forecast, our guide recommended that instead of staying at the Refugio Quintino Sella, as planned, we instead walk down off the mountain towards Gressoney in Italy.

While at the refuge, our guide cancelled our hut booking and called to reserve accommodation and dinner for us down in the valley instead. He suggested that it was likely that we could be stuck in the hut for the whole of the following day and that that would prevent us from getting to our accommodation the following evening.

We knew that this meant we would miss out on the four 4000m peaks we were due to summit the following day. Really disappointing, but you can’t really argue with the experience of the guide and the weather!

We descended from Refugio Quintino Sella via a narrow, rocky ridge which was equipped with fixed ropes in its upper section. The descent of this ridge turned out to be great fun - I loved getting my feet off of snow and onto rock.

Descent from Refugio Quintino Sella:

Descending the South ridge from Refugio Quintino Sella:

The descent of the ridge took at least a couple of hours as we made our way towards the Colle Bettaforca cable car station. The cable car station was >1500m below the summit of Castor, so our day was turning out to be much longer than anticipated.

Descending the South ridge from Refugio Quintino Sella:

View from descent of South ridge:

View from descent of South ridge:

Looking back at descent from Refugio Quintino Sella:

It was great to see the cable car station come into view as the rocky ridge involved 900m of descent. The following photo, taken the next day, shows the ridge we descended to escape the mountain.

South ridge, descent from Refugio Quintino Sella:

Descent towards Colle Bettaforca cable car station:

Before the final descent to the station, we again saw a number of Alpine Ibex that were happy to have their photo taken.

Alpine Ibex:

Alpine Ibex:

Alpine Ibex (having a wee yawn):

On reaching Colle Bettaforca we descended via cable car to Sant’ Anna and then from Sant’ Anna to Staffal in Gressoney, Italy.

Looking back towards Colle Bettaforca from Sant’ Anna:

We were delightfully surprised at the quality of accommodation our guide had secured for us in Staffal, and at no extra cost. The dinner we had in Hotel Nordend, was also outstanding. Well done Poldo!

Glacier meltwater in Staffal:

Accommodation for the night:

Accommodation inside:

Across the road from our accommodation was a building with a gear shop, a pub and restaurant. We ended up spending most of the evening and over half of the next day in this building, all of which wearing our heavy boots as we had no hut sandals to change into.

Getting down to the valley was also handy for Poldo, as the guide company he works for are also based here, “Guide Monterosa”.

Gear shop, pub and restaurant:

It turned out that our decision to abandon the mountains for the valley was the right one. The following day all uplifts were closed due to winds in excess of 70kph. Our guide called up to the hut and confirmed that no-one was able to venture out – those who stayed were stuck there.

We had hoped to venture back up into the mountains later in the morning but could not as the uplifts were not running.

We had a plan B for the afternoon but that will wait for the final report, Part 4 of 4 - packed with even more adventure .