2013-11-02

Rinderhorn (3448m)

A couple of days ago I posted the following email to the Google internal climbers mailing list:

Subject: "Rinderhorn (3448m) on Saturday"

Start from Leukerbad and reach the summit via the normal route. Descend the long way to Kandersteg. The normal route is via the North Ridge and is rated PD, featuring steep (40°+) snow/ice, but no crevasses. Doable as a solo tour, so no rope. Fast and light.

According to the weather forecast it'll be snowing and blowing with a wind chill of around -10°C.
http://www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/Rinderhorn/forecasts/3448

Warning: 2000m ascent! The normal route to the summit, in good conditions, starting a full 1000m higher than I intend to, already takes 5 hours! This will be a loooong day and a descent in the dark.

Adliswil ab 05:35
Zürich HB ab 06:02
Visp ab 08:07
Leuk ab 08:22
Leukerbad an 08:35

Last train back from Kandersteg: 22:43
Last train back from Leukerbad: 21:05

There is the possibility of cheating at either end by using a cable car, but that doesn't seem like good style to me.

Anyone up for it?

For some reason no one signed up. Their loss really, as it should turn into one of the most beautiful, and strongest, days in the mountains I've had yet.

I left our apartment in the rain at 5:15 in the morning. A little disheartened by the bad weather I arrive in Leukerbad where it is still raining and I can only steal brief glimpses of the surrounding peaks through the clouds. The first 1000m of ascend up to the Gemmipass look impossibly steep. Yet they managed to thread a very comfortable, high way style, hiking path through the wall. It is here that I meet the only two souls for the entire day. Two women who took the cable car up and are hiking back down to the village.

Someone had enough vision to see a path up there!
The village of Leukerbad.
Trail through the cliffs.

After circling lake Dauben I have my first and only rest for the day. 15 minutes sheltered from the wind behind a big boulder at noon to have a snickers bar for breakfast. Leaving the luxury trails I'm now headed for the Rindersattel at 2909m through loose scree and snow. It is very windy on the ridge and looking up ahead clouds are boiling and swirling around the mountain. A very dramatic sight.

Lonely footsteps.
View towards Rindersattel.
Long summit ridge.

I don crampons and start up the ridge through perfectly dry powder snow. I'm very careful about overhanging cornices and stay well away from the drop and on the face instead. Spindrift is sandblasting my face. Instead of following gravity the snow I kick up with every step whirls straight up the mountain. A very primal experience. I love it!

I experience a brief moment of terror until I realize that the growling thunder I heard is just an airplane passing overhead and not an avalanche. It's getting late and to stay within schedule I have to activate "beast mode" a couple of hundred meters below the summit: Stop with the sissy switchbacks. Point the front points of my crampons directly at the mountain and have at it!

Leukerbad 2000m below.

I sign the summit book at 16:00 with about one and a half hours of daylight left. The final few meters on the ridge are very steep, very exposed and very windy. Gusts of wind are strong enough to get me off balance, so a lot of concentration is required not to fall. Considering the forecast and the rain in the morning the day turned out fantastically beautiful in the end. Dramatic cloud formations racing the sky, the sun shining and winter clear air with infinite visibility. The last entry in the summit book is more than a week old and there are no traces of humans anywhere.

Running down the steep face with huge steps is so much fun that I miss my "exit" and get too low on the face. Bad idea with some near vertical drops below me. So I endure an uncomfortable traverse back to my ascent route and backtrace my steps down. The snow was such that I seeked out frozen solid parts (blank ice reflecting the sun) during the ascent to avoid sinking in too much and powdery sections on the way down so I could dig in my heels.

Colors.

By the time it gets dark I'm on a well maintained and well marked trail down to Kandersteg. It follows a beautiful canyon and later the Kander river. It's pitch black beneath the trees in a dense forest, very Blair Witch. I arrive at the train station with the train already waiting at the platform. The conductor is nice enough to allow me to purchase my ticket on the train using my cell phone and I'm headed home at 19:13. 10 solid hours of breaking trail and straight hiking with a single 15 minute rest. 2100m up, 2300m down, around 30km distance covered.

The still frames make it look so idyllic and peaceful and don't really capture the action in the sky. So here's a video ;-)