The Tour de Monte Rosa is a long distance hiking path around the beautiful massif of Monte Rosa (4634m), the second highest mountain in the Alps. It celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2014.
The hiking trail is relatively young, but the different parts of the route obviously have a very, very much longer history!
The Pennine Alps were formed in the Mesozoic era when the African and Eurasian tectonic plates collided. We find metamorphic rocks of gneiss, limestone and mica slate, green stone and granite.
The region of the Wallis has a rich flora since its vegetation zones range from mediterranean to the nival (above 3000m). There are also many endemic species. At lower altitudes vines provide possibilities for grape harvest and wine production, and potatoes and fruits are typically grown. For most of the UTMR you will be in the higher altitudes of the subalpine and alpine zones. You will see some perfectly adapted plants such as the low lying shrubs of the Alpenrose and blueberry, and alpine flowers such as the Edelweiss and sky herald. Even in the nival zone you might find some lichens and mosses, and also some alpine flowers such as the glacier buttercup and Vandellis Mannsschild.
The bear, the wolf and the lynx have all recently been reintroduced to the Alps. However, I think you would be lucky to see them while making the UTMR. However, the “King of the Alps”, the Eagle, is much more likely make his presence known. And his chief prey is the marmot with its very distinctive cry. Along some sections of the route you will almost certainly see either the larger ibex (steinbock / bouquetin), or the smaller chamois. Both part of the family of mountain goats, they make me wish I could run with their agility, tenacity and fearlessness. Please watch and learn from them, but please don’t follow them during the race unless you are confident you can also do this:
The Tour of the Monte Rosa passes through the region of the Walser people. Originally Germanic these peoples migrated into various parts of Switzerland including the Wallis (the German speaking upper part of the Swiss Canton of Valais), and from there in several waves to Italy. There are similarities in all the Walser communities – whether on the Italian or Swiss side of the border, and they maintain a recognition of their common origin and language, and distinctive culture.
This 3301m pass has an ancient and fascinating history. It is the highest pass of “comparable” importance in the Alps (which you can probably take to mean that it has always been an important pass for both trade and passage of people). A stone axe, found in 1865, suggests that it was in use from the Neolithic Period (4000-3500 BC). Roman coins from the 1C to 4C AD found near to the pass can be seen in the Alpine Museum in Zermatt.
During the warm period from 1000-1300, the Theodulpass was free of ice, even on the northern Swiss side (now glaciated). During this time the pass would have been used as a trading route. There is still some evidence of the ancient paved trails that the mules would have been driven along.
The trail that leads to the 2738m Colle del Turlo was built in the 1920s by military personnel. You can however still clearly see the traces of the original and ancient paved footpath which dates back to the medieval period.