Sat 21st Jul - Sun 5th Aug, 2012
Alps Trip (2 weeks) Bernese Oberland
Alps 2012 –‘The Malt Loaf Tour’ (or Brussels or Bust!)
Colin ‘Old Man’ Maddison – leader.
Andy ‘Rope Boy’ Stratford – supplies and general ordinance.
Steve ‘Scouser’ Graham – transport.
The Family Marsden (Craig, Sue and Phoebe) – amusements.
It promised to be the most organised Alps trip I’d ever been on! Two weeks to go and Andy issues set reading; one week to go and a kit list arrives! On departure, I was worried; I’d not done the homework and I didn’t think I was going to cut the mustard on the kit inspections. But item 6 on the kit list was ‘2 Chairs (One for Colin)’ so it was at least clear he had the measure of me in one respect.
Sadly, co-leader Bob couldn’t make the trip in the end so, once again, I was in sole charge of the meet report; the remaining members began to take on a self-conscious air. But you can read on confident that what follows is a fair, honest and impartial rendition of the facts as they unfolded.
Day 1 – Friday 20th July
Packing is a tricky affair. Once Andy and Steve have loaded the van with two weeks supply of malt loaves less essential items of equipment must be pared to the bone. The bucket is discarded and they almost have to leave the dustpan and brush behind.
But they’re under way about 3.30pm and the only slight nagging concern is that Andy has been, “… having major problems with my dongle.” Coming so soon after the twitch in the groin affair this is unsettling Steve and the Old Man. But save for the 50 minute hold up at Dartford the rest of the journey to Dover is uneventful.
Day 2 – Saturday 21st July
It’s the wee small hours when the team disembark the ferry to the bleakness of the Port of Calais; they head hurriedly to Belgium. Around 2.00am they make their first navigational error… they let Andy navigate! No doubt Brussels is an interesting city, but not at 2.30am in the morning and the second lap of the inner ring road is no more invigorating than the first. But Andy is in control:
“This is it. Keep going. No don’t stop. This is right; it’s the ring road. Carry on.”
“Andy, it’s a cul de sac!”
Forty minutes later they’re clear of Brussels and Andy is relegated to the bat cave, a dark windowless hole behind the driver surrounded by malt loaf, only to be released for periodic bouts of driving; the Old Man navigates.
2.45pm and, having successfully negotiated the rest of Belgium, Luxemburg, France, Germany and Switzerland, they arrive at Camping Eiger Norwand. The cloud is low and rain falls as they pitch their tents. Andy settles into his pink floral chair, with his pink head torch and pink knife to prepare Thai chicken curry; how alpinism has changed.
Day 3 – Sunday 22nd July
The team awake to cloudy skies, but the sun is starting to come through and soon the north wall of the Eiger dominates the campsite. They make plans for the next couple of days. Rucksacks are packed; Andy and Steve take several malt loaves, the Old Man takes a little gear; Andy, as junior alpinist, is given the rope and the game is on.
At this point the team makes its first public transport error… they let Andy read the timetable! Thus follows an unscheduled walk to the Grindelwald town centre to catch the bus they were assured goes from Grund, just a few minutes away.
The walk to the Gleckstien Hut is impressive; a narrow path clinging to the mountainside through dramatic scenery above high cliffs and steep slopes; either side waterfalls drop free of overhanging cliffs. The Old Man knocks half an hour off the advertised approach time and waits at the hut for the youngsters, who have been taking photographs .... allegedly.
The hut is plush, with flushing loos and hot and cold running water; how alpinism has changed. The views are spectacular and the sunset alone worth the walk.
Amazingly, Steve has carried a small aerosol of deodorant to the hut; his own small contribution to global warming. He sprays it on liberally and Andy and the Old Man watch another serac topple on the Ober Grindelwald glacier.
Day 4 - Monday 23rd July
They’re up before 3.30am; not long after Andy is loaded up with the rope and three head torches bob upwards through the darkness. The ‘old man’ leads the party across the Chrinnen glacier. Safely on the other side, this seasoned alpinist, this mountaineer of some four decades experience, this veteran of Scottish winters and Norwegian ice, at one with the snow and ice, to whom an ice axe is an extension of his very being, muses that perhaps he should have taken the rubber bung off the end of it!
The route is AD-; easy scrambling and a loose, snowy couloir lead to the Willsgrätli, an enjoyable granite ridge that leads to the Wettersattel. Progress is good as they move together as a roped threesome, but slows as they pass 3000m and begin to feel the altitude. They are amazed to have the route to themselves and wonder what the guides know that they don’t, but soon find out.
On the Wettersattel the wind is fierce, but they press on up the snow arête towards the 3,692m summit of the Wetterhorn. Steve leads the way; the snow is very soft, making for hard going. At the rear the senior alpinist muses on what a splendid experience this trail breaking is for the young man. But when the snow slope steepens for the final 100m, inexplicably, it is considered to be Old Man territory and he is thrust to the front! He kicks a lot and gasps a lot and finally flops onto the summit. Andy and Steve arrive; they eat a malt loaf apiece and take many photographs. It is a big occasion; Andy has his first major alpine summit and his first major alpine headache.
The descent is long and slow involving three abseils and much down-climbing. The Old Man leads back across the glacier, carefully removing the rubber bung from his axe first.
Finally, they are back at the hut after 16.5 hours and want to stay another night. But to save weight for his aerosol Steve has left his money at the campsite and they don’t have enough cash. Andy negotiates to pay at the guide’s office. Steve sighs with relief and freshens his armpits; up above, the now arête degenerates a little more.
Day 5 – Tuesday 24th July
The day dawns fine and after breakfast they set off together for the valley. Andy hares away down the path, Steve hares off down a dry stream bed. Later the tortoise drinks beer and waits for the hares at the Wetterhorn Hotel.
They chill for the afternoon and do a little shopping. The Old Man has lost an over-glove on the Wetterhorn and scours Grindelwald for a replacement pair. But the few found were vastly over-priced. Landi, the local supermarket cum garden centre provides the solution; leather gardening gloves on sale at the attractive price of 9.90CHF. Thus ensues a period of gardening related jokes; ‘pottering in the mountains’ and so forth. Andy jumps on the bandwagon and opts for a rubber pair, which he subsequently pronounces ‘brilliant’, but only because he likes the feel of rubber against his chest when he stows them inside his thermal.
The lads replenish their reserves with malt loaf, more plans are made and Andy cooks mushroom risotto for supper.
Day 6 - Wednesday 25th July
It’s another fine morning with clear skies and warm sun. Andy phones the Fründen Hut to book places, “My name is Andy Stratford. No, Stratford, as in… er… Stratford”. Later that evening we are seated at a table labelled ‘Andy Stabfout’.
They drive round to Kandersteg, Andy is loaded up with the rope and they board the Oeschinensee gondola. From the upper terminal, faced with a 15 minute downhill walk to the lake, these ruffty-tuffty alpinists, the cream of British alpinism, instead buy ice creams and board the UNESCO taxi (a tiny blue bus); their fellow passenger an octogenarian lady!
But from the lake the walk to the hut zig-zags steeply uphill for the better part of 1000m. They tramp upwards under a hot sun. High above twin flags that indicate the hut seem never to get any nearer. On the way Steve stops to, “put on my lip gloss”! What else might he have in the toiletries/cosmetics section of his pack? Andy keeps up his spirits with malt loaf; the Old Man plods on.
Finally they arrive at the hut, another modern affair perched on a prominent rogon above the Fründengletscher. The Old Man and Scouser drink beer; Rope Boy downs a litre of peppermint tea – how alpinism has changed.
Day 7 - Thursday 26th July
They’re up early and away about 5.30am. It’s a fine morning that continues into a fine, sunny and cloudless day. Andy and the Old Man prepare by applying factor 50 sunscreen; Steve applies lip gloss, a little foundation and liberal amounts of deodorant; the Fründengletscher groans.
A short ascent of the glacier leads to the North-West Ridge (PD) of the Frundenhorm (3369m). The first two thirds of the route is rock or, to be more accurate, rubble with occasional rock steps, but it leads to a fine summit snowfield.
At the foot of the snow slope they meet a Swiss guide descending. He’s delighted to find that he and the Old Man share the same taste in gardening gloves and clasps his hand enthusiastically. “Ahh, Landi, Landi!” “Yes, 10 francs.” Thus with a bond of fellowship forged forever in horticultural accessories, he offers the advice to, “Keep to zee right”, on the snow slope. “Very icy on zee left; needed an ice-screw. Much better on zee right."
So it was that shortly after they make their first route finding error… they let Andy pick the route! Now firmly established on the ice at the left-hand side of the snowfield an ice-screw seems a shrewd precaution. Fortunately, the junior alpinist out front has kept his safe; so safe in fact that it is still in the hut. Steve and the Old Man reach for theirs and move up to Andy who remains unconcernedly optimistic in the face of this minor hiccup:
“I can see the summit from up here; it’s only about 30 yards away.”
Two ice-screw protected 50 meter rope lengths and a further 100 metres on good snow later, they cross the summit rocks to the wooden cross! The views are fantastic far into the distance. They stay about half an hour and many photographs are taken, except by the Old Man who has left his camera on a ledge above the glacier. Steve and Andy devour a malt loaf apiece.
The descent is swift and they’re back at the hut for 12.45pm having seen only four other people and retrieve the camera along the way. Beer and peppermint tea (guess who) is drunk then they romp back down to the Oeschinensee just in time for the UNESCO taxi!
Back at camp Andy prepares chicken curry with yoghurt and muesli; how oriental cuisine has changed!
Day 8 - Friday 27th July
They awake to a hot sunny morning, but with thunderstorms forecast later in the day. The morning is leisurely; about 45 minutes too leisurely as events will later prove. Steve goes for the Lynx effect and, up above, the remains of the Second Icefield shrink a fraction further.
Finally, they rouse themselves to check out Hintisberg, an impressive crag of rough limestone high above the valley with stunning views across to the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. The threesome swing leads on the six pitch Reisefieber, c180m (5a, 5b, 5c, 5c+, 5c+, 5c+). It’s all very efficient.
From above, “Right I’m bringing up Colin on Blue.”
From below, “Well we said Steve on Orange, but that’s near enough.”
Storms are brewing around the big peaks and hit as Steve tops out on pitch six. He abs to the other two and they descend swiftly through heavy rain in a further three abseils.
Later, Colin receives a text from Craig, ‘Info update. Slight cock-up on flights. We arrive Sunday, not Saturday’. Colin reaches for the log, and thus, Craig makes the meet report before he’s even arrived.
Andy cooks a fine tea of pasta, chorizo and hot chilli sauce and the experimental cooking phase seems to have been short lived.
Day 9 – Saturday 28th July
There was thunder and lightning the previous evening, rain during the night and again in the morning. The skies are grey with only a hint of brightness; it rains off and on during the day. The Old Man lies in late, reads and does some laundry. He is happy to chill, but the youngsters don’t quite get enforced rest days. They chew malt loaf restlessly; Steve fidgets with his aerosol; eventually they go into town to mooch around and check the forecast, which is not great. They debate whether to go to Chamonix for a couple of days.
The lads return and after Andy cooks chilli the lap top is fired up to check the forecasts again and load up some photos to the KMC website.
Day 10 - Sunday 29th July
It has rained quite a bit overnight and it is very overcast in the morning. They drive down the valley to Interlaken where there are signs of improvement and they pay an afternoon visit to Neuhaus for a spot of single pitch sport climbing. A gentle walk in of 20 minutes rewards them with four routes that they each lead in turn, the best of which is Waldschat, 18m, 6a.
Back at camp, the Marsdens have arrived via Milan and they all enjoy a pleasant evening over supper of pasta with wild rocket pesto, red peppers and blue cheese cooked by Andy.
Craig describes how his new camera is ‘drop proof’ from a height of a meter or two, then quips that if you drop if further its probably gone the whole pitch and you’ve lost it anyway.
Sue, “You could put it on a long ribbon then you could get it back.”
Colin, “Or you could put it on a short ribbon, then you wouldn’t drop it in the first place!”
Phoebe, it seems, has learnt much from her previous alpine season and rationalised the kit list to just three bikinis.
Day 11 – Monday 30th July
There is no rain overnight and although it starts cloudy it breaks up quickly as the team breakfast. Steve, Andy and the Old Man drive round to Handegg at the eastern end of the Oberland. In the gloom of the bat cave Andy passes the time reading the road atlas, “Oh, look there’s a really good map of Brussels in the here.”
It’s a fine afternoon and after a bit of jungle bashing to get to the crag they enjoy the five pitch Engeliweg, c160m (5b, 5a, 4b, 5a, 5b) on the enormous sweep of granite slabs. As they pad upwards they note that Gareth would enjoy it here ‘c’ being a very low number indeed (see July Newsletter). The lads are delighted when the senior alpinist makes a route finding error.
Supper is courtesy of Craig, Sue and Phoebe who’ve enjoyed a walk from Kleine Scheidegg. The forecast is looking up; trips to Chamonix are shelved and fresh plans made.
Day 12 - Tuesday 31st July
Interlude – It is summer 1990, the sun is shining and the Old Man’ is younger, much longer, and even better good looking. He relaxes in a campsite beneath the Eiger; nearby is his friend and climbing partner Alan Payne. The previous day they traversed the Eiger by the Mittellegi Ridge and the West Flank; tomorrow, they will make their way to the Guggi Hut for an ascent of the Nolan Spur on the Monch, an overnight stay at the Monchjoch Hut and an ascent of the Jungfrau.
Today Steve and Andy take the train to Kleine Scheidegg heading to the Guggi Hut to attempt the second two of this trilogy. It is a flawless exhibition of alpinism… well as far as the end of the train ride anyway, when they discover they have forgotten the guidebook!
Meanwhile, Sue has lent Craig to the Old Man for a couple of days. It’s a beautiful sunny day and they drive round to the Räterichbodensee below the Grimsel Pass. From there they walk into the Bächlital Hut for the East Ridge (D-; V) of the Gross Diamantstock (3162m).
The Alpine Club Guidebook makes it sound straight-forward; just one hard pitch that can be avoided. Many years of experience tell the Old Man they won’t need rock-shoes so they are left behind. Later at the hut he eyes a topo on the wall that shows a 4c pitch (HS/VS) to start and a further 5 or 6 pitches of 4b above; thinks, ‘Hmm, perhaps we should have brought... oh well.’
All the next day’s Diamantstockers have been put at the same supper table. There are four teams; a young Swiss couple, two Swiss girls who look very fit (in more than one sense), two Swiss lads and the two representing the cream of British alpinists. Craig strikes up a conversation with one of the lads, “It will be the first time I’ve been on rock since Norway in February… and then it was... er... ice.” The Old Man reaches for the logbook.
Day 13 - Wednesday 1st August
Craig and the Old Man leave the hut about 5.10am. The Swiss lads are just ahead of them and the girls perhaps half an hour in front. The young couple left much earlier.
The approach is over moraine, a short glacier crossing and scree to the col where the route begins. Those ahead are in rock-shoes, ‘Hmm, perhaps...!’ But the rock is good rough granite and though the 4c pitch has a tricky move right at half height, the 4b that follows is more positive. The ridge is long; there’s not a lot of height gain in the first half but lots of gendarmes. From midway it rises much more steeply to the summit. They keep in touch with the boys and catch the girls where the ridge steepens. Both parties are overtaken in the last 150m and they top out first around 3.20pm. Rock-shoes? Pah!
The descent is slow and tedious, the rubble strewn ice of the long glacier tongue especially so and they reach the hut at 8.05pm; just shy of 14 hours. There is still an hour and a half walk back to the car – Craig is only on loan for one night.
Much earlier, Andy and Steve leave Guggi Hut by head-torch. The details of this and the following day are narrated elsewhere by Andy, but the essential facts are recorded here. But sadly, for this meet report interrogation has failed to uncover anything incriminating. Their ascent of the Nollen Spur (AD) on the Monch (4107m) it seems is slow but ruthlessly efficient in execution. Along the way they save two hapless Hungarians from certain doom by instructing them in useful techniques like belaying, placing ice screws and front pointing!
Their first foray above 4000m is satisfying but exhausting. On the summit Andy can barely manage a full malt loaf. Steve just summons the energy to freshen up his armpits and then wonders why the descent is mush.
Day 14 - Thursday 2nd August
Despite their exertions of the previous day and a few inches of overnight snow the intrepid pair toil upwards once more towards the 4158m summit of the Jungfrau via the South-East Ride from the Rottalsattel (PD). The weather is perfect and the views fantastic. As they approach the Jungfrau summit Steve casually turns to Andy, “Fancy cragging tomorrow Andy?”
They are once again in the ‘F’ zone above 4000m where Andy can only speak in monosyllabic obscenities. An altitude where language descends rapidly to baser levels strangely at odds with the transcendental movement to a higher plain of spiritual attainment through physical effort and pursuit of risk…. or some such bollocks!
On descent two Spanish climbers who only have a 20m rope are saved from certain doom and they’re back at the Jungfraujoch at 1.30pm for the train to Kleine Scheidegg.
Down in the valley the Old man enjoys a leisurely breakfast with the Marsdens. Sue invites him to join them on a short walk that seems to involve a gondola ride and a downhill walk to Kleine Scheidegg. The Old Man thinks he can manage that even after the previous day’s efforts. The views from Männlichen are fine and the walk indeed downhill. At Kleine Scheidegg he rewards himself with a large ice cream and wonders what time the train goes.
“It’s a bit steep uphill to the Eigergletscher station and then there’s just that spur to cross.” “What’s that?”
Twelve and a half kilometres into Sue’s short walk they just miss the train from Alpiglen. But the views of the Eiger Nordwand have been spectacular and there’s beer while they await the next.
Day 15 – Friday 3rd August
It has been very wet in the night, with low cloud in the morning that clears only gradually. A lazy morning is followed by packing and some shopping before beers and giant ice creams at the Wetterhorn Hotel. That evening they all dine in style on the terrace of the Hotel Spinne.
Day 16 – Saturday 4th August
It has been a successful trip with lots of laughs. The Family Marsden has another day before they move on to the Italian lakes, but now it is time for Andy, Steve and the Old Man to depart
There are clear views of the Eiger as they leave. The journey is uneventful save for roadworks on the only piece of motorway they have to pay for. The last of the malt loaves are devoured. The Old Man navigates and Brussels is avoided by a good 50km. They even catch an earlier ferry.
Thank you to the whole crew for a great trip; to Steve for the transport; to Andy for feeding us so well; to both for driving; to Sue for letting me borrow Craig; to Craig for making the transition from ice to rock; to Andy for showing us Brussels; to Phoebe for giving Steve make-up tips.
Watch out for details of next year’s trip.
You can make a long rope shorter – you can’t make a short rope longer!
Rock climbing/scrambling in big boots at 2800m at V Diff feels like Hard Severe at sea level....i had been told….but I felt confident. I had read the books and watched the DVD's. I had listened to tales told by other much more experienced mountaineers and tried to absorb their experience. I had weighed my gear - despite my attempt to put my rack on a diet it just got fatter and heavier. At TP on the Cloggy meet I brought colour copies of route descriptions. When I took out my landeskarte map and started tracing routes between huts - some of which involved 3 alpine routes of ascent over 3 peaks prefaced with ' It’s only about 10km' there were some comments from those older and wiser along the lines of 'it’s not so easy at 3600m you know....'
Two weeks later, hit by a blinding headache at 3000m at the top of the willsgratli ridge with over 600m to go before we reached the summit of the Wetterhorn, reality hit home. I had really enjoyed the climbing on the ridge and felt comfortable and confident but the altitude headache erased that in minutes. Two very hard hours later, I relished the few moments we had on the top - but then we had to descend. 15 and a half hours after setting out at 4.30am we arrived back at glecksteinhutte 2475m. The headache had gone but I no longer had full control of my legs!
Descending the next day I began to question my fitness and my commitment to do another 'big route' - the Wetterhorn was AD and Steve and I had discussed doing the Mittellegi on the Eiger at D, the Nollen on the Monch at AD and the Jungfrau at PD - was I up to any of them? That evening we decided on a trip to the Bluemlisalp range near Kandersteg: the Frundenhorn with the 'normal route' PD as our goal. The following night, after success on the Frundenhorn 3371m in decent time and no headache my confidence had returned. Steve and I decided to abandon the idea of the Mitellegi and concentrate on the Nollen route up the Monch and the normal route up the Jungfrau. After a few days cragging and the weather window set fair we departed for the Guggi hut. At the railway station I confessed I had forgotten the guidebook. But we had Steve’s map and I thought I could remember all the descriptions so we carried on. I kept up with Steve on the climb and felt fitter - but the next day was a beast...1300m of climbing to 4107m. Approximately 500m of this was on snow-ice of 50 degrees requiring ice screw protection. The crux pitch and a half on the Nollen (ice-boss) steepened to 70 to 80 degrees. With our combined experience (I had been in Norway climbing WI IV with Jim Symon earlier that year) we were confident……
We were slow…. but not as slow as the Hungarian team just ahead who weren't belaying well, couldn't place screws properly (we had to show them!) and appeared not to know how to front point on ice!
The climbing was hard but exhilerating, the exposure outrageous, the sun hot, then hotter and finally unbearable. By the time we reached the snow crest at 3750m on softened snow ice we had just a sip of water left between us with 300m of relatively gentle but tiring plodding to go. Once again my mind entered dark places as I fought for every breath. I cursed at my complacency about my fitness and began planning my new aerobic regime for when I arrived back in Manchester. After an eternity we arrived on the tiny summit pyramid where the three main routes converge.
It was late – gone 3pm. The snow on the ridge crest down had turned to slush. No security to speak of from an axe….we tried to convince ourselves it would Ok. We discussed the concept of jumping ‘the other way’ if one man slipped. Short roped, short of breath and short of courage we set off – Steve in the lead.
‘Ohhhh….i don’t like this….ohhhh….sheeet…..ohhhhhh’
The sounds from my partner were not encouraging.
‘just keep moving, you’re doing great, we’re getting there…aarrrrgghhhhhh’.
I yelled out as first my left leg then my right disappeared down a hole – had I gone through the cornice? Steve screamed and sank to his knees ahead of me burying his axes in the soft, slushy snow.
I didn’t go down any further. It was just a big hole or air pocket. Nerves shot we inched downwards. 45 minutes later we reached a stake to ab down a steep section. 45 minutes to cover 400 virtually horizontal metres. Compared with that, the rest of the descent was relatively easy and well protected.
That evening at the Monchsjochhutte, after our 14 & a half hour day, we debated the Jungfrau. Once again I had a raging internal debate – could I make it up another 4000er the next day? Did I have the physical strength.? Did I care? I tried to back out. Steve persuaded me.
We agreed we would get up at 3.30am and at least walk across the glacier ‘for a look’. A couple of inches of snow had fallen in the night but undeterred we followed another couple of parties out into the darkness. Dawn came and the remnants of the wind abated, the skies looked good. We were on! Confidence returning we climbed the spur from the snow bay above the main bergschrund and plodded onwards & upwards. On reaching the crown wall and second bergschrund we had caught the two Spanish lads. Much Spanish swearing was in evidence as they realised their 20m glacier rope simply wasn’t up to the pitch lengths. As we climbed the steep slope to a col a French couple were waiting to descend.
How was the summit? We asked. They were also abandoning the route – the traverse ahead was too long for them to complete safely with their 25m rope. They had been trying to save weight. They felt very stupid. Note to self: Never take a rope of less than 50m up an alpine route! You can always make a long rope shorter – you would have difficulty making a short rope longer!!
The Spanish took the risk on the traverse and we caught them on the next section of pitched climbing – 20 to 25m between several stakes concreted into rocks protecting what would be a mostly snow descent on soft poor snow……they were very worried about the descent….we offered them the option of sharing our rope which they gladly accepted.
The view at the top was, of course, worth it. I felt great. No headache. It was about 10am. The snow was softening but wasn’t mush. The Spanish lads were good craic and we deployed various tactics to work as a four on the one rope. Second best bit of the day was the alternative descent through the serac barrier – incredible ice formations and improbably deep crevasses…… and across a different section of glacier to reach the Jungfraujoch and the hordes of day trippers.
An hour later we were eating chips and drinking beer at Kleine Scheidegg.
The following day was a day of complete rest. Well needed. With Colin, we started to discuss where the KMC trip to the Alps should be based in 2013………
The Dark Side of the Alps.
There is another side to the Alps one occasionally glimpses… Tony and I started a fortnight East of the main KMC Alpine Trip in the Goshenen and Susten Pass areas as our interest was in long rock routes of which there are plenty here. Weather was unsettled to start so we had wait a few days for the UK to export a high pressure before heading high. A quick day trip to the Bergsee at ~2700m saw us ‘prepared’ for a two trip (with bivi gear) up to the Salbit alp. A crack of dawn start soon had us on the interminable hut approach (most of which is steps) from 1100m to the Salbit hut at ~2400m. After passing this and nearly collapsing on the final approach to the route we had our first challenge (this has a bearing on the main story) – that of getting to the foot of the route on the Gemsplanggen. More snow than usual was about, so there was a snow bank at the foot which had to be ascended at the shortest point with approach shoes and nut-key – then avoiding losing limbs & things down the gap at the back. A good route later and following the abseil descent (with an anxious 10min trying to get the rope to pull over the initial big roof, and an extra, limbs flailing, abseil down the snowfield), we were soon at the hut for a few beers whilst watching Italy make thunderclouds.
Day two started with a sunrise on the rock playground (for alpine grown-ups) of the Salbitschijen seen from our pleasant bivi site. Italy has taken a rest from cloud manufacture and it looks fine. With a long route on the back of the south face in mind, the long grind up the approach past the South ridge was underway (a bit more lung power in hand this time). A large snowfield against the face had to be skirted with guide-book in hand – that looks like the area of our route (the Niederman) – with the start on the other side of the snow. Slightly odd, there’s just one person at the foot of it. Contemplating the traverse in over the snow with a long run out below plus our equipment, we became aware of the arrival of a rescue helicopter. It dangles someone picked up from the Salbit hut, who’s dropped on a team way below starting Takala (South Ridge Direct). No, no custom here and it’s off round again, checking out the south face – oh, the solitary person is signalling, but he looks alright – where’s his mate? Back again to hover close to the face – it’s a gale down below – we hang on to everything. Once again a rescuer is lowered down the face to the guy waiting – but he keeps going and disappears, the cable keeps on going. Um, so there’s a big gap between rock and snow then. Is the second guy stuck down there? Sure enough a few moments later the rescuer reappears with the second as the cable is winched in, and the helicopter turns from the face to disappear valley-wards, cargo still dangling below. A free scenic ride to the valley (a long way below). Meanwhile, the first is left to calmly pack up and make his own way down – it did not appear to be too serious fortunately. And another mate arrived to help. Watch out when there’s snow at the start – get a belay quick and don’t stand on the edge!
Tony and I looked at each other and without much discussion, decided discretion was the best option – the route didn’t seem so attractive now. So down we went to Takala and spent the day on the South ridge direct. Due to the length of the route, the then time of day and a lack of supplies forcing a return to the valley, we didn’t make it to the summit. We took the escape abseil route (a couple of 52m abseils involved on 50m ropes) down the west side after 5-30pm, traversed back to the ridge, abseiled again, then down the notorious couloir to the foot. On the way we could see the recently installed suspension bridge spanning the West half of the couloir way below like a thin thread. As the approach to the Westgrat it would make for a particularly exciting hut to hut traverse! (A via-ferrata was the original way across the couloir). Our excitements were over – just a race back to the bivi gear, rucksack cramming and then the long descent to the valley, 2800 to 1100m. Innumerable, knee crunching, steps later we were back at the car at 10pm…
This year’s Alpine meet will be based in Grindelwald (http://www.grindelwald.ch/), at the heart of the Bernese Oberland, and will run from Saturday 21st July to Sunday 5th August.
Choosing Grindelwald and the Lutschental allows a whole range of possibilities and caters well for all activities, some of which are outlined below.
There are a number of campsites to choose from but the Eigernordwand site is our base location. (http://www.eigernordwand.ch/index.php?userlang=en). It has been used by a number of members of the club in the past and the reports are favourable, with a fantastic view of the Eiger north face. The website states that advance bookings can’t be made in the summer but, if arriving before 3pm, vacant pitches can always be found.
At least one of the meet leaders will be on site from late afternoon on Friday 20th July, with a view to ascending the Schwarzhorn (2928m) and it’s via ferrata on the Saturday as a bit of acclimatisation.
The area is surrounded by high peaks of various levels of difficulty, supported by a network of huts. The Monch, Jungfrau, Finnistaarhorn, Schreckhorn and of course the Eiger! There is certainly more than enough to go at for a fortnight’s excursion. For a flavour of the delights, see ‘An Oberland Trilogy’ (by Alan Payne) in the KMC 50th Anniversary Journal or get Colin to tell the tale.
The proximity of the peaks and the location of huts, means that it would be possible to take the train to the Jungfrauhof and then spend time at height moving from hut to hut.
The best guidebook (in English) is the Alpine Club guide. We both have copies and if you a going out it’s definitely worth getting as it also covers the sports crags. Visit: Amazon guides
For a change of scene or if the high peaks are not in condition, the Engelhöner is a delightful cirque of lower, but shapely limestone peaks at the eastern end of the range. It offers fine rock routes in a range of grades and is well worth a visit. Colin can recommend the West Ridge of the Vorderspitze (400m D+ 5a ob/5b) or the North Face of the Kingspitze (500m+ 5b ob/5c+), It’s also covered in the Alpine Club guide.
The possibilities here are pretty extensive. The whole area is criss-crossed by footpaths as well as being supported by mountain railways, chair lifts and gondolas, etc. Most of paths are maintained and way marked in true Swiss style.
There are 30 day walks listed in the best walking guide that we’ve found “The Bernese Alps – A Walking Guide”.
Many of the walks can also be linked into via ferrata to extend the day. The details of the via ferrata can be found up on the Grindelwald web site.
There is a range of sport and trad rock climbing options in the general area, including some at lower altitudes that might offer wet weather alternatives. There is certainly enough to keep you going for a fortnight, though you will need to drive a bit for some of it.
The climbing is generally on compact limestone or good quality granite. Some of the areas offer quite long, multi-pitch routes. A selection is offered in the Alpine Club guide to the Bernese Oberland. For more detail, so far we’ve found:
Schweiz ExtremWest guidebook for Western Switzerland - describes a selection of rock climbing and sport climbing routes at grades from F6b and above, in Western Switzerland. Covers the areas around Interlaken, Meiringen, Grindelwald and Kandersteg.
Interlaken: Sports Climbing – describes sport climbing around Interlaken that can provide an alternative ‘bad weather’ venue for people on alpine trips in the Bernese Oberland.
Schweiz Plaisir Alpin – describes easy to mid-grade Alpine routes throughout the Bernese Oberland and Pennine Alps and outlying areas.
Hut to Hut
There are plenty of opportunities for hut to hut tours – both at high and low level.
There is one hut to hut tour that is being contemplated by Bob. To leave Grindelwald to the west via Kleine Scheidegg and then descend into the Lauterbrunnental. The intent would be climb to the head of the Gasterntal and the Kanderfirn glacier. We would then stay at the Mutthornhutte, situated on a rock island on the glacier.
The next day would see a crossing of the Petersgrad and into Lotschental. Kev Reynolds in his book “Walking in the Alps” describes this as one of the brightest memories in the Alps. We would head east up the Lotschental to stay at the Hollandiahutte and then onwards into the glacier complex of the high mountains with a view to eventually descending the Jungfraubahn.
If you’re interested and want to know more speak to Bob or Colin.