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The north side of the Dom and the Mischabel massif
The north side of the Dom and the Mischabel massif

The Dom is a mountain of the Pennine Alps, located between Randa and Saas-Fee in the canton of Valais. With its 4,545 m (14,911 ft) summit it is the third highest mountain in the Alps and the second highest in Switzerland, after Monte Rosa.[3] The Dom is the main summit of the Mischabel group (German: Mischabelhörner), which is the highest massif lying entirely in Switzerland.

Although Dom is a German cognate for 'dome', it can also mean 'cathedral' and the mountain is named after Canon Berchtold of Sitten cathedral, the first person to survey the vicinity.[4]

The former name Mischabel comes from an ancient German dialect term for pitchfork, as the highest peaks of the massif stand close to each other.

Geographical setting

The Dom is the culminating point of a chain running from the Schwarzberghorn on the south, at the intersection with the main chain of the Alps (Alpine watershed), to the Distelhorn on the north and ending above the town of Stalden. The chain lies entirely in the district of Visp.

The two valleys separated by the range are the Mattertal on the west and the Saastal on the east. The towns of Randa and Saas-Fee lie both six kilometres from the summit (to the west and the east, respectively). The elevation difference between the summit and the valley floor is 3,150 metres on the west side (Randa) and 3,000 metres on the east side (Saas-Grund). On the Mattertal side, the Dom faces the almost equally high Weisshorn and, on the Saastal side, it faces the Weissmies. The Dom is the highest point of the Saastal and the second highest mountain of the Mattertal after Monte Rosa.

Since the Dom is not on the main Alpine chain, the rivers flowing on both the west and east side of the massif end up in the same major river, the Rhone, through the Mattervispa and the Saaservispa. The Dom is the highest mountain in the Alps with this peculiarity.

The Mischabel group includes many subsidiary summits above 4,000 metres. To the north lies the Nadelgrat, composed of the Lenzspitze, the Nadelhorn, the Stecknadelhorn, the Hohberghorn and the Dürrenhorn. The Nadelgrat is easily visible from the north and gives the massif its characteristic pitchfork appearance. The second highest peak of the massif, the Täschhorn to the south, culminates at 4,491 metres, and south of it, is the characteristically flat summit of the Alphubel. In total, eight summits above 4,000 metres make up the Mischabel massif.[5] Other important peaks of the massif are the Ulrichshorn and the Balfrin. The Dom has a western shoulder (4,479 m) and an eastern shoulder (4,468 m).

Generally, areas above 3,000 metres are covered by glaciers, the two largest being the Ried Glacier situated at the foot of the Nadelgrat and the Fee Glacier, at the foot of the Dom itself, below the east face.


The massif is almost entirely composed of gneiss from the Siviez-Mischabel nappe. The latter is part of the Briançonnais microcontinent and is located in the Penninic nappes. The Dom is a depositional mountain.

Climbing history

The first ascent was made from the Festigrat (north-west ridge) by the Reverend John Llewelyn-Davies with guides Johann Zumtaugwald, Johann Krönig and Hieronymous Brantschen on 11 September 1858.[6]

The first ascent of the western ridge (above the Festikinlücke) was made in 4.9.1878 by Mrs E. P. Jackson and Percy W. Thomas with the guides Aois Pollinger, Josef Truffer, Josef Marie Biner, Josef Imboden and Josef Lengen of St. Niklaus in the canton Valais. They traversed the west face to reach the Festigrat before arriving to the summit. The first complete ascent on the western ridge was made later in 1882 by Paul Güssfeldt and guides Alexander Burgener and B. Venetz. The direct route on the west face was first ascended in 1962.

The 1000-metre-high east face above Saas-Fee was climbed in 1875 by J. Petrus, A. and W. Puckle and L. Noti.

A route on the south face was first made in August 1906 by Geoffrey Winthrop Young and R. G. Major, with the guides Josef Knubel and Gabriel Lochmatter of St. Niklaus in the canton Valais. According to Young it was more dangerous than the south-west face of the nearby Täschhorn, which they had climbed two weeks earlier.

On 18 June 1917, Arnold Lunn, a pioneer ski mountaineer, and Josef Knubel of St. Niklaus in the canton Valais made the first ski ascent of the Dom, by the Hohberg Glacier (north flank).[7]

Climbing routes and huts

Despite its considerable height above the surrounding valleys, the Dom can be climbed quite easily, as the normal route does not present major difficulties. It is however a demanding 3,100-metre ascent with objective danger in the upper part. Cable cars and other facilities are located only in the Saas-Fee area on the east side of the mountain, from which all the routes are difficult.[7]

The easiest way to the summit starts from Randa, where there is a railway station (1,407 m) served by the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn. From Randa a trail leads to the Dom Hut (2,940 m), which also crosses the Europaweg near the Europa Hut. Climbing the mountain requires an overnight stay. Most popular sleeping sites are the Dom hut and the camping place one hour higher from the hut. The hut needs to be booked in advance and is not free to use like the camping place. The normal route starts from the hut and goes on the Festigletscher glacier towards the Festijoch pass (3,720 m). Then it follows the Hohberggletscher glacier to the summit above the north face. The Festigrat, traversed on the first ascent, is the north-western ridge going directly from the Festijoch to the summit. It is preferred by climbers who wish to avoid the long slopes of the north flank.[7]

The Mischabel Hut, on the east side below the Lenzspitze, is generally used for the ascent of lower summits in the district, such as the Nadelhorn, Lenzspitze, and other peaks on the Nadelgrat.[7]

Views from the normal route

See also

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