Ralf had planned another weekend mountaineering trip. Looking for a good weather window in Switzerland, the Wallis, and Saas Fee in particular, seemed like the best bet. So Andrey, René, Ralf and me left Zürich main station at 7 in the morning on Saturday. The plan was to spend a night acclimatizing in the Mischabel hut, climb the Ulrichshorn (3925m), continue along the ridge to the Balfrin (3795m) and descend on the other side of the ridge to Grächen.
Despite my usual philosophy, that only a mountain climbed from the valley counts as an ascent in good style, we intended to use the cable car to shorten the first leg. Alas, it wasn't running because of strong winds higher on the mountain. So we hiked instead and rewarded ourselves with crêpe and ice cream at the top station of the cable car. The ridge up to the Mischabel hut at 3340m is great. It's almost a via ferrata with lots of metal rungs and steel cables bolted to a steep jumble of boulders. Fun scrambling in beautiful scenery.
Once at the hut we take an afternoon nap. The hut is fully booked and the night will be short. While we can sleep in till 4 o'clock in the morning, there are a few crews going for the more ambitious Lenzspitze north face (4294m). They'll have breakfast at 2 o'clock...
After a timely start in early dawn we quickly cover the last remaining meters to the Hohbalm glacier and rope up. Even this early quite a few rope teams are meeting us coming in the other direction. They have concluded the conditions to be too dangerous to continue with strong winds and an uncertain forecast.
We continue across the glacier. Instead of hanging slack down, the rope between us is taut from the wind blowing sideways. Gusts of wind make it hard to walk in a straight line. Light snowfall makes the exposed skin in our faces feel sandblasted. We make it to just below the aptly named Windjoch at 3845m at which point Andrey and René decide they've had enough and turn around. It is well below freezing and the windchill factor is immense, making us worry about frostbite if we stay out here all day. Also clouds are shrouding the summit and the wind is picking up more and more. If it is hard to walk here - how much worse will it be on the exposed ridge?! Stumbling around drunkenly is not a good idea when you are balancing above steep drop offs.
Ralf's and my heroic effort to continue lasts for all of 3 minutes. Gusts of wind are nearly strong enough to blow us over and we are only staggering forwards. Time to retreat.
Once off the glacier the weather gets better and better with every bit of altitude we lose. The sun is shining even while light snow is falling. Back down in the valley it is warm enough to sit outside and enjoy ice cream and pizza. The weather seems to be mocking us. At least the surrounding peaks are still covered in fast moving clouds.
Despite not reaching our original goal it was a tremendously fun trip. Thanks for organizing and having me along Ralf! Special thanks also to René for many of the pictures in this post. Thanks to him I have a few with me in them for once ;-)