Fun and Games in the the Alps
Saastal, July 2011
Mittaghorn – Egginer Traverse (AD, III+)
After a mammoth drive, and a day spent loafing around eating waffles, we were ready to get up some hills. The long traverse between Mittaghorn and Egginer looked interesting, and would help with acclimatisation, so we settled on that.
Soon after beginning the traverse, we were faced with an awkward downclimb, with a scary looking drop below it - time for the rope! We moved together over a series of gendarmes with some interesting and exposed climbing - none of it difficult, and all enjoyable.
The climbing got steadily easier as we went, but the quality of the rock deteriorated, getting looser and looser until near the summit of Egginer where every footfall seemed to send a cascade of stones down the hill. Looking at the loose and chossy final chimney pitch, we decided to leave it – it didn’t look pleasant, and dropping rocks on each other wasn’t our idea of entertainment!
Descending involved retracing our steps along the ridge for some distance, before picking the best line down loose rocks to the west. Much entertainment of the ‘sliding down rubble’ variety was had here! A patch of slushy snow (once a glacier), and some boulder-hopping over the moraine then led easily to the path down to Saas Fee.
Jegihorn South Rib (AD, III+)
The next day, after a lie-in and a late breakfast, we decided to make the most of the good weather by doing the Jegihorn South Rib. After a lift to Hohsaas, we walked in to the Jegihorn via the Weissmeis hut. Again, a slog up a steep eroded path was required before we could begin the route, but this time we were doing it at midday in 30 degree heat, making the ascent feel much more than the 300m it really was! After what seemed like an eternity, we reached the pillar at the bottom of the route, ready to get started.
The first pitch was a straightforward traverse, taking us to an exposed part of the rib with startling suddenness. Seconding Mike, I climbed past a bolted belay station, only to find him belaying approximately 3m above it, using a hex and sling in protest!
The bolts weren’t mentioned in the guidebook, so I can only assume this was a recent initiative by the local Guides. A real pity, as it was otherwise a good quality, protectable route in a magnificent position. Seeing as the bolts were there though, we ended up using some of them in the end to save time and effort.
I led pitch two, following the rib before heading up a slab. The slab was easy, but without a doubt one of the most sensationally exposed bits of rock I’ve been on, with a cracking eagles nest of a belay position at the top. Mike, with an enormous grin on his face by this time, headed up pitch three, which contained a thought provoking short traverse that felt a little sketchy in big boots! Seconding it felt bold, as I looked at the chunk of rock I’d swing into if I fell. Having short arms was also a distinct disadvantage, eliminating the possibility of using the only hold. One deep breath later, I was romping up the easier stuff above to join Mike.
We decided against the optional harder finish (IV+), and took the standard route, traversing right before following chimneys to the top. The bolts stopped at this point, making route finding trickier - as I traversed round I saw a large chimney that looked doable and climbed it quickly to see where it led. However, once at the top it was apparent that I had probably followed a blind alley. Hmmm. Rather than waste time, I decided to attempt to get back on route by doing a short but scary looking traverse. As is often the case, reasonable holds materialised to turn the scary looking moves into a walk in the park. Once safely back on route, there was just one more easy but loose pitch to the summit at 3206m.
After some time sunbathing on top and eyeing up the Weissmies (which we were planning to do next) we headed down and began the long tramp to Saas Grund.
Weissmies Traverse (PD)
After a couple of days of bad weather we were keen to get out again, so on the first nice morning we set out for the Almageller Hut in order to do the traverse of the Weissmies. The walk was beautiful, but 1300m of ascent in hot weather wearing a big rucksack and Nepal Extremes wasn't conducive to appreciating the views!
The hut was fantastic, and we enjoyed a slap-up meal before relaxing and chatting with a fellow Brit, whose forty 4000m peaks dwarfed our one! After a better than usual (for a hut) night's sleep, we breakfasted at the unholy time of 4am, and were heading up the hill by 4:30am.
By the time we reached the col, it was sufficiently light to dispense with headtorches, and the views on either side of the ridge started to open up. To our west we could see the incredible Dom - Nadelhorn ridge, while to our east was a classic cloud inversion and Alpine dawn.
We made our way up the ridge on its eastern side, climbing a lengthy snow slope followed by a long rock scramble to the foresummit at 3965m. Here the ridge narrowed to a perfect snow arete, curving its way up to the main summit at 4017m.
Once on the summit we relaxed and chatted for a while with the teams coming up the 'normal' route (our descent route). For the first time ever we had smashed an alpine guidebook time, and were feeling pretty chuffed.
I soon got chilly enough to want to be moving though, so we roped up (for the first time that day) before tackling the spectacularly crevassed terrain of the descent.
We weaved between ice-cliffs and crevasses throughout most of the way down, with a few jumps required to cross crevasses, and some thin snow-bridges that were thankfully still frozen! Once off the glacier, we were able to chill out at the handy cafe, and get the lift down. You don't get that on Ben Nevis (thankfully)!
And I thought the Alps were meant to be sunny...
Sadly the next day brought rain, and the gloomy forecast persuaded us that we weren't going to get anything else done in the week ahead, so we decided to call my brother with a last minute request to visit him in Amsterdam. Of course, much extreme mountaineering then took place among the canals and coffeeshops...