Andrey and I take an early train to Ausserberg on Saturday. We want to spend a night in the Wiwanni hut and climb in the area. The 1500m of elevation gain and about 10km of distance should take 4:50h according to the sign at the train station. We make it in 2:50h, beating the time posted for the descent, impressing even the hut's steward, Felicitas. Since the weather is perfect and it's still early in the day we take a quick look around and decide to climb the Gross Öugstchummuhorn. A glance at the topo and we decide to go for Silbermantel, the longest route on the mountain and at the same time the most direct line to the summit.
The approach from the hut should normally take 55 minutes. We spent almost two hours on it, breaking trail through deep snow, often breaking in up to our waists. We reach the base of the climb at 15:00. This means it'll be very tight making it before sundown, as the climb supposedly takes 3+ hours in good conditions and conditions look everything but good. It is icy, wet and snowy. I dig away the layer of snow on the first couple of moves with bare hands only to uncover the rock underneath it sheathed in blank ice. Doesn't make for particularly easy climbing.
We decide to climb in mountaineering boots. Climbing shoes are simply too uncomfortable and cold. Finding bolts is an issue as they are often covered in snow. I lead one particularly exposed 30m pitch where I clip two bolts in the very beginning and then accept a huge runout before reaching the next anchor. All the while the couloir next to our route is very active, sending down a constant shower of rocks, ice and snow.
Leading through a narrow chimney I take off my backpack and leave it for Andrey to retrieve. This turns out to be a mistake, as following while carrying two backpacks is pretty much impossible. Andrey manages to drag it half way up the pitch as a kind of haul bag hanging from slings, but then has to give up. So he lowers me down and I climb half the pitch again, retrieving my pack. In general, climbing at almost 3000m altitude, with a backpack weighing 15-20% of your body weight, in mountaineering boots and on exposed snowy, wet and icy rock does make quite a difference to climbing the same grade in the gym. Who would have thought?!
The second but last pitch is the crux. It's wet and we finally decide to switch to climbing shoes. It would have been seriously tricky without. We top out at 18:00, half an hour of daylight left. The summit is a narrow ridge with a lot of snow. According to the summit book ours is the first ascent in a month. We cannot go back down the route we came up and thus start climbing along the ridge. This is the diciest and scariest part of the entire climb. We are climbing on a short rope, slinging it around flakes for protection where possible, but often having nothing solid between the two of us. It is getting dark rapidly and we use our head torches for scrambling through lose snow hanging on near vertical walls.
When we finally reach the rappel piste Andrey's head torch is nearly dead and only gives off a slight glimmer. Doesn't really matter as he drops it down the wall anyways. As luck would have it we find it two rappels later, caught on a small ledge and still glowing. Once we reach the base of the wall and the steep snow slope Andrey loses his backpack and we watch it merrily slide down almost a hundred meters into the dark. To make matters even worse it was open and spilled its contents. Luck is on our side again though and we manage to find and collect everything but his drinking bottles.
We arrive back at the hut at 22:00 in the evening - long past dinner time. Felicitas is awesome though and re-heats the food, providing us with a full three course meal. Very much appreciated! By now we've climbed 2000m and hiked 15km, hardly eating anything. We are the only guests in the hut except for a French speaking couple from Montreux. They are studying from books. Andrey gets the price for most hardcore of the day because he actually carried up a giant hardcover book on machine learning and about ten thousand pages of German course material, intending to study in the evening (he dropped that plan though ;-)).