The Capanna Regina Margherita is located on the summit of Punta Gnifetti in the Monte Rosa group. At an altitude of 4554 meters it is the highest mountain hut in Europe and one of the highest fixed observatories in the world. These characteristics make it the perfect destination for lovers of classic high altitude mountaineering with sections on snow and ice. It is indeed considered a perfect entry level ascent for those who are starting to approach the world of mountains above 4000 meters. But be careful, this is not a trivial excursion: the crevassed areas with seracs that must be crossed represent a danger that should not be underestimated.
Ascent to the Capanna Margherita
The starting points for this classic excursion on Monte Rosa are Alagna in Piedmont or Gressoney in Val d'Aosta. From the valley you can reach Passo dei Salati with the ski lifts and then, with the second section, Punta Indren (3275 m). The real ascent to Capanna Margherita starts here: the excursion is not particularly difficult from a technical point of view, but still presents a considerable elevation gain. We are talking about 1300 meters that are normally covered over two days. Only the fastest and most trained mountaineers can try it in a day.
From Punta Indren you first reach the hut Città di Mantova and then, with another 45-minute hike, the Capanna Gnifetti at a height of 3674 meters. It is a historic retreat, nestled between the rocks at the beginning of the Garstelet glacier, a traditional stopping point for those who climb the Monte Rosa. At the hut you eat really well and the managers are very kind: in short, an overnight stay here offers you the right energy to continue to the final destination! The Capanna Gnifetti has 176 beds, but it is always better to book in advance to be sure.
The path that leads to the hut is well marked and crosses rocky terrain, with a couple of exposed but short passages (these are small rocks to cross).
Almost none of the people that I’ve accompanied are used to high altitude and, during this night at the hut, they could have difficulty sleeping because of the more rarefied air.
The alarm clock rings at 4.30 am, breakfast is scheduled at 5.00 am and then, around 5.30 am, we finally leave for the Capanna Margherita. The group always starts the ascent well roped.
Depending on the level of training, it takes 3 to 5 hours walking. It is a path that ascends at a constant pace, interrupted by two ridges. The last section is the steepest and you have to pay attention to your level of fatigue.
The panorama that surrounds us is truly incredible: on the right side there is the Monte Rosa range, while on the left Mont Blanc and the Swiss peaks stand out. The arrival at Capanna Margherita is equally spectacular: we are in fact on a peak of over 4000 meters and the view extends over the whole Monte Rosa massif and its peaks. For sure, whoever faces this excursion for the first time experiences a great emotion: being here is equivalent to crossing a mythical threshold, linked to the history of classic mountaineering.
And if that's not enough, why not try the famous pizza prepared at the hut? Surely, not everyone can say that they have tasted what is probably the "highest pizza in Europe"!
The advice of the guide to climb up to Capanna Margherita
It may seem trivial, but the first piece of advice I can give to those who want to attempt this excursion on the Monte Rosa is to be well trained. The difference in height is challenging and the altitude can put you in difficulty: it is therefore essential to arrive at the starting point well prepared. Then it is important to hydrate and eat well without exaggerating, also in order to facilitate sleep and thus have a good rest.
As for equipment, mountaineering clothing is required, with a rainproof/windproof jacket, and mountain boots with semi-automatic crampon inserts, as well as crampons, ice axes, poles and standard glacier equipment. The Garmont Ascent GTX boots, for example, are perfect for this type of climb: they are quite warm, light and have a good roll for walking. They are then semi-automatic and waterproof, an essential feature for those who move on snow and ice.
The best time for the ascent to Capanna Margherita is from mid-June to mid-September, period in which mountain huts are open, as they are an excellent point of support. In spring, though, it is possible to get here even on skis.
In both cases these are trips that require preparation and experience: if you are not sure or have recently started to approach the world of mountaineering, it is better to be accompanied by a mountain guide.
Daniele Guagliardo is a mountain guide of Friulian descent. He began to go to the mountains as a child, gradually turning it into his profession. He lives in Milan, a strategic base to reach the Alps in any season, and organizes excursions both in summer and winter, helping enthusiasts reach their mountaineering and ski mountaineering goals. The ascent to Capanna Margherita is one of the proposals always present in Daniele's programs for the summer season.