Archive for July, 2007

More Alpine – 15th to 20th July

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Check out Mountain Weather for some good news

Between 15th to 20th July, Jim, David and I travelled into the vastness of the Oberland south of Grindelwald. This is quite simply the largest area of high altitude glacial territory in Europe.
Let the train take the strain unless you want a very long walk. Check out Jungfraubahn
and be sure to catch the very first train in order to save a substantial amount of francs!
During the train journey to Jungfraujoch you will catch a glimpse of the North Face of the Eiger. This year it had plenty of new snow on it around 15/16th July. Much of this disappeared in the following week. Many teams avoid the Eiger these days in the summer months due to stripping of the snowfields, which makes it even more serious than historically has been true. October onwards and colder conditions are more favourable.
This shot looks across the Second and Third Icefield, past the Flat Iron and Death Bivouac into the Ramp, which lies in shadow. The Traverse of the Gods and Final Chimneys are all in view.
As this was our first day at altitude we dropped down from the Jungfraujoch to the Konkordia Hut.


Konkordia Hut.

At an altitude of 2800 metres this hut is a far better place to spend the first night compared to the much closer Monchjoch Hut at around 3600 metres.
The two images above show the massive flights of steps to be climbed (466 in all) to gain the hut. Bear in mind that the glacier now, although measured as 900 metres thick in recent years, used to come to the door of this hut just over 100 years ago.
Even though we had found a good lower hut for acclimatisation, there are few easy options for training peaks of any worth. The new snow had turned reasonably solid underfoot, so we set off for an eleven hour day on the Gross Grunhorn at just over 4000 metres. Dave and Jim are hardy lads and it was selfishly a first ascent of this peak for me! Initially the Grunegghorn at 3800 metres must be climbed and that is no pushover as can be seen above. It has a sharp rocky ridge and a descent of around 100 metres to an intervening col, before the final ascent.
The early morning image above taken from the Finsteraarhorn shows the Grunegghorn on the left and the large bulk of Gross Grunhorn on the right. The ordinary route from the Konkordia Hut follows the left skyline. A descent from the connecting col is possible by abseil and fixed gear is in place, although two teams failed to find it whilst we were there. Maybe it was covered in snow. The col also provides an approach to the ridge from the Finsteraarhorn Hut.

The picture above shows the approach via the ridge on the Grunegghorn towards the Gross Grunhorn. The right-hand ridge of the distant peak forms the ordinary route. In descent we reversed our route of ascent and got back to the hut for a well deserved good afternoon ‘kip’. In fact sleeping formed a large part of our life that week!
As the Gross Grunhorn holds a central place in the Oberland it is a very fine viewpoint. Sunrise on the Aletschhorn above.
Another view of the Aletschhorn. The col on the right is a simple glacial trek towards Lotschental. The Hollandia Hut sits on the right of the col.
To the east can be seen the Finsteraarhorn, the highest peak in this area at 4273 metres and that is where we headed the next day. A short pleasant walk over the Grunhornlucke after a late (0700) breakfast and we arrived at the newly re-furbished Finsteraarhorn Hut in around four hours.

The hut is situated on the low spur of rock showing in the image above. From there th
e route heads up diagonally to the final flat crest at the Hugisattell, before turning up right to the summit.
The old building in the foreground is now the winter room. The new hut Finsteraarhorn Hut is exceedingly ‘posh’ and friendly.

The climb towards the summit of the Finsteraarhorn was plagued with soft snow in the mild conditions. Only just below the Hugisattel did it relent and harden up. We were however blessed with glorious weather and a quiet mountain, with only two other parties on the route. The photo above shows the final ridge, which was mixed and solid on this day.
A fine view towards the Schreckhorn
Looking north from the summit towards the South Face of the Eiger.

Schreckhorn and Lauteraarhorn from the Finsteraarhorn summit.

Back at the hut and time to relax, dry clothes and boots and sleep.

Considering the harsh alpine environment the hut area is well populated with flowers. We also followed a Fox track over the glacier for many kilometres.
A south-west facing veranda offers time to dry out in the afternoon sun.

We had planned to travel to the Monchjoch Hut via the Gross Fiescherhorn, however the temperature went through the roof, new snow fell and we were left with few options other than to retrace our steps to the Jungfraujoch by Konkordiaplatz. I have done this a few times and it’s not too bad as the route will nearly always be well tracked-out.

The usual dirty summer area at Konkordiaplatz with big glacial streams to cross and rugged glacial architecture.

Six hours into the journey and an empty waterbottle. Not to worry the Beer Kellers and glass panelled shelter of the Jungfraujoch beckons on the horizon.
Finally after just over eight hours we make the Monchjoch Hut at the start of another storm. The next day we descended to Grindelwald as the wind was still strong on the tops and we had all had a good trip and showers were in order!

That evening we toured the hotels and bars of Grindelwald trying to find a free WiFi connection to upload this page……”Nothing is free in Switzerland”….said the lady at the tourist office. She was correct, at least that is the case in Grindelwald. We did however have a great evening out trying to logon. Well done Dave and Jim.

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Check out this method of ordering home-made beer in a five litre tube bar across the road from the train station in Geneva at Les-Brasseurs
And Geneva City Hostel where I was staying also offer free WiFi and a free Geneva Transport ticket. This allowed me to get to the Airport for nowt the next day. Back out to the Alps at the end of August, so watch this spot.

Minginish, not so minging!

Friday, July 27th, 2007

We saw a Golden Eagle and this is how it flew!
Earlier today the weather was not great and we binned the idea of rock climbing. An alternative presented itself in the Scottish Mountaineering Club guidebook, ‘Scrambles on Skye’. Notably in Minginish above Talisker Bay. Route 160, Preshal More – Boswell’s Buttress Grade 2 **. The route as described is simple to follow and provides ample practice on wet, slippery rock. If anyone else climbs or has climbed this buttress, maybe they could let me know if they found the “superb” and “excellent” rock mentioned, beware.!

The views from the top are superb out over Talisker Bay, towards Macleod’s Maidens and the Outer Hebrides. We also saw a young Golden Eagle fly past on the wind. A great distraction from hobbling about in the mist and rain on the main Cuillin crest.

Bidein Druim nan Ramh

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

Another good but unsettled day on the northern section of the Skye ridge. Quite a number of folk avoid Bidein Druim nan Ramh, as it is not a ‘munro‘! However, this section is as dificult as any other part of the ridge and well worth the effort. We approached via Coire na Creiche to Bealach Harta, traversed the three tops southwards and descended from the extreme north side of Bealach Glaic Moire. In both ascent and descent these routes can be troublesome in mist.

Traversing the tops north to south involves some moderate to difficult climbing. In the opposite direction the difficult sections are normally abseiled.

Great views toward Coruisk and Loch Scavaig.

Isle of Skye – Misty as usual

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

An unsettled spell of weather on Skye did not deter Wendy and Naomi, grinning (?) all the way to the top of the Innaccessible Pinnacle today. Such a pleasant change from trekking over soft alpine glaciers over the last month!
As we descended, the cloud moved aside to reveal a beautiful view over towards Rum, Eigg and Canna.
Wendy is a world champion ‘grinner’. Underneath that happy exterior lies ‘some’ terror of the descent to come. Well done Wendy.

Home for a Break

Saturday, July 21st, 2007

For a while now, away from the laptop and free wifi, especially in Grindelwald where I was reliably informed by the tourist office and various other short-sighted establishments that..”Nothing is free in Switzerland”…!!! Fortunately this is not true in most places, including City Hostel in Geneva
We did of course have a very good ‘pub-crawl’ through the main street in Grindelwald trying to logon!

Since the last upload the weather has been very mixed. The first of a few trips was to try and climb Liskamm via Kleine Matterhorn, Castor and the Sella Hut, then on to the highest hut in the Alps, the Margarita, with a view to traversing to the main summit of Monte Rosa (Dufourspitze), before descending back to Zermatt.

After this little expedition we were pretty tired of all the poor weather and fresh snow on the higher peaks, so we lowered our altitude plans away from the Jungfrau and Monch, to allow the snow to settle a wee bit. Central Switzerland turned up trumps (12/14th July) with dry granite at Grimsel and good climbing from the Sustli Hut, near the Susten Pass. Check out Schweizer Plaisir through Google and translate the pages through Google also. The guides to look for are west and east. A lifetime of bolt-clipping fun!

Azalea Beach is five minutes simple walk from the road. Here Julien is ‘padding’ one of the many good slab routes. Abseil descent is normal.

One of the many hydro dams in the area, used as a concrete canvas.

More dry, warm granite at around 4c ish on this occasion.
Mike unleashed and a bolt every two or three metres!
Another couple of hours drive from Grimsel and slightly higher, simple snowy peaks around the Susten Pass. This area also has loads of good rock climbing and all is revealed in the guide books mentioned earlier.
The Sustli Hut is only a simple hours walk away from the road.
Plenty for the botanists amongst us all around the hut.
Simple glaciers and easy peaks, Great places for novices or tired old alpinists!
We spent one night at the Grimsel Hospice. They offer anything from single rooms to dormitories and the food, location and service is very good indeed.
East Face of the Finsteraarhorn from the Grimsel Hospice balcony. This is the highest peak in the area. It is possible to trek into the Bernese Oberland from this direction, via a series of very good high huts.

Earlier we had spent one night at the Gandegg Hut, which provides good acclimatising and easy access to the Kleine Matterhorn uplift from Zermatt. The hut is also a good kicking off point for the routes on the north side of the Zermatt Breithorn. These were in good shape around 7th July with the comprehensive cover of new snow. This snow has enhanced the build up on the glaciers and is beneficial to the continued short-term state of the glaciers. The photo shows the view from the hut towards Breithorn and the Monte Rosa massif

Anyone thinking of climbing the Matterhorn, might like to re-consider. It is very snowy (7/10th July).

Evidence of recent avalanche activity on the trek towards Castor and Sella (Felik) hut.

Then another blizzard blows through and John and Julien study the scene from the first floor dormitory windows!

A day in the Sella (Felik) hut sitting out the storm. Unfortunately for John a group had walked off with his rope, so he had to descend into Val Gressoney and pick it up. Thank you very much to the hut warden and his team for tracking down the travel company, who in turn contacted the leader of the group to let them know of their mistake. Well done John Lyall for going back down to pick up your rope. Such a bloody nuisance!

Unfortunately the toilet block is detached from the hut at left and in these conditions a rather chilly and slippery walk. Not much use for the cement mixer in these conditions either.

Fortunately the clouds cleared, but our plan to traverse Liskamm was put on hold for another year as it is well known for big cornice formations and it’s slopes were loaded with windslab avalanche hazard potential.
Sella Hut in better conditions. It is possible to use a tent for free here and thus save on your hut night fee. It is part of a testing programme Ferrino Tent Test
The solo Dutch guy who tried out the cold ‘kip’ was not impressed and found his way back inside the hut by the end of the night! The tents look fine, but in the cold conditions experienced a good sleeping bag was required.
We opted to traverse the Passo Naso, which had been scoured by the north-west winds. On it’s east side there was a safe and sure way down through rocks and these were well marked by wooden posts. Make sure you find the edge carefully in a white-out and descend a good distance to the south before finding the rocks. The slopes on both sides of this shoulder could prove a problem in heavy snow. The west side on this occasion had a good, but exposed ice/snow track.

Approaching Passo Naso. It is the slope over the heads of John and Julien

We finally found the Margarita Hut on the same day as leaving the Sella hut, after a long spell of very tiring trail-blazing, often in a whiteout, but fortunately with tracks to follow at all the right places. At least the tracks agreed with our compass bearings!

The photo above shows the technique for escaping the Margarita Hut in case of fire. What it does not inform you, is that you should dress up before escaping down the rope. A case of out of the frying pan into the fridge.

Mike coming to terms with hydration tabs in gassy mineral water at 4,500 metres. He was not the first, enough said:)
Classic rock table formations at the bottom of the Grenz Glacier

We threw out the idea of traversing Dufourspitze in the face of more high winds and new snow. Descent of the Grenz Glacier was fairly straightforward, as it had a good covering of new snow and a good trail.

A group of photos below showing why the Matterhorn is not a good bet just now. These images were shot around 11/12th July

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Hi Alan, just missed you at the airport… got home in the end hey!!…how unlucky can you get..probably the first delay in the history of the Swiss Railways….. what a trip…just been looking at the photos…a great trek together with two great peaks..Goedeke says of the Gross Grunhorn… ‘the peak offers everything that an alpinist treasures…remoteness, history, excellent views and good climbing’…cant disagree with that only to say…we were in great company as well. Thanks for getting us so far as alpinists.

I will send your glove up in the post …. cant wait to see the photos and read the blog

Look forward to catching up again this winter



Blue skies all over at last!

Saturday, July 7th, 2007

Finally a blue sky day in Chamonix. Also nice and cool early in the morning. This will not last for long according to Chamonix Weather and Swiss Meteo Some more unsettled changes in the weather to come over the next week. I’m off to Switzerland and hopefully some more settled conditions (?).

Keep an eye on Mark Seatons website as he is seriously considering putting a webcam up on his home, where the picture above was taken from. Go for it Mark and thanks for the hospitality and good food from Jane. Good luck with the displaced hip Leo (below).

Be careful Sophie, Mark will have you painting the bedroom soon:)

Andrea’s on the ball at basketball and music amongst other things.

Florence and Sophie. If you get passed by some small girls on the Vallee Blanche this winter, it could well be Andrea and Sophie!

Some blue sky at last

Friday, July 6th, 2007

Finally a brief break in the clouds to reveal the snowy Chamonix Aiguilles. The cool airflow is still persisting and the high rock routes are suffering. However, a settled spell could be good news for mixed or ice routes, once the snow has been allowed to compact.

A change of venue to Switzerland for me after tomorrow and less frequent posts, as I’ll hopefully be away up at the high huts above Zermatt, and the laptop will be stashed safely away in the valley.

Check out Chamonix Weather and Swiss Meteo

Very cold on Monte Rosa

Thursday, July 5th, 2007

In Chamonix today it started with rain and now the afternoon is looking better, although no mountains showing yet. The picture above is courtesy of Mark Seaton Mark was out on Monte Rosa ski-touring with his client, Chris, over the last few days, with temperatures down to minus 20c. The picture just goes to show that good weather can be found if you are prepared to travel.

Mark accessed the south side of the Monte Rosa massif from Alagna Valsesia and its complex of cable car uplifts. Check out which facilities are working before heading around into Italy. By going this way it is possible to get to Gnifetti and Mantova Huts, plus the highest refuge in the Alps, Cabane Margarita on the summit of Signalkuppe at 4,500 metres, where Mark spent last night. Don’t forget the headache pills!

Access is fairly simple by travelling through the Mont Blanc Tunnel .

Rain and Snow in Chamonix

Wednesday, July 4th, 2007

Plenty of new snow down to lower levels (2000 metres) and rain in the Chamonix valley is putting a cap on activity for the time being.

Check out Chamonix Weather and Swiss Meteo to see how the unsettled weather is spread over the Alps. Reports from Monte Rosa are suggesting a high avalanche risk. Many guides in the Chamonix valley have been thwarted by poor conditions, lots of snow and high winds on Mt Blanc.

The two photos below show a very ‘characterful’ ascent of Aig Petite Verte made on Monday in very poor visibility.

On a more leisurely note, try an evening out at
Casa Valerio

High winds on the tops

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2007

The last eight days has seen a mixture of weather. Mostly good, but towards the end, we have been plagued by high winds on the tops above 4000 metres, which have effectively put paid to our plans for attempting Mt Blanc. Tonight it is raining consistently in Chamonix.

Approaching the summit of the Weismiess from the Almageller Hut to the south.

Moonset over Alphubel, taken from the Hohsaas Hut.

Looking up towards the summit of the Weismiess on the north side.

Looking up towards the summit of the Weismiess on the north side.

Ascending towards the Hohlaubgrat on the Allalinhorn, from the Britannia Hut.

The final, steep and rocky barrier at the top of the Hohlaubgrat on Allalinhorn.

Descending the Weismiess towards the crevasses and seracs on the north side.

Aig du Chardonnet, Aig Verte and Mt Blanc from the Aig du Tour.

Ascent towards the summit of Aig du Tour by the ordinary route off of the Trient glacier.

Looking back over the Trient Glacier