Mark has never stood on crampons, a serious character flaw that had to be remedied. So he got himself brand new boots and crampons and we boarded the train to Saas-Almagell on Saturday. We intended to climb the Allalinhorn, one of the easier 4000 meter peaks. In fact, the normal route starts in a ski resort and almost everyone who climbs the mountain does so by shortening the trip to just the final 500 meters of elevation gain from the gondola. This is of course a terrible style to climb a mountain and completely unacceptable, so we decided to do it valley to valley instead and ascended and descended the full 2500 meters each way. We also avoided the crowds on the normal route by choosing the harder approach via the east ridge, the Hohlaubgrat.
We had the entire trail up to the Britannia-hut to ourselves. It was hot and the entire valley looked dry and scorched. Even with a long rest along the way we beat the posted time to the hut. Dinner was served uncharacteristically late at 7 pm, which left us a lot of time to chill in the sun, enjoy our beers and talk bullshit. For some weird coincidence we were sharing the hut with Dani Arnold again, just like last week at the Rothornhut.
Waking hour for the Allalinhorn was a comfortable 4 o'clock in the morning (a woman in our room had to get up at 1 for her objective). After a fifteen minute stroll we arrived at the Hohlaub glacier. It was completely free of snow so all of the (many) crevasses were plainly visible. Dani Arnold and his large party of clients (two ropes with 5 people each?) had a head start of about half an hour on us. This was good news as we could follow their headlamps in the distance and take advantage of their route finding in the dark.
We overtook them before we got onto the ridge proper. How's that? Mark's first mountaineering trip and we beat one of the world's strongest speed climbers to the summit. Take that you weakling! The ridge was in perfect condition with a good existing track and solid snow. A few places were icy and a bit brittle, but overall it was smooth sailing. The crux of the route is a small 20 meters barrier of rock which we scaled quickly without any difficulty. A narrow ridge to the summit cross and we shook hands at 4027 meters at only 8:30 in the morning. The guide book and trip reports had all been lamenting about crowds on the summit spoiling the experience. None of that. We had the small plateau entirely to ourselves. Bliss!
A cold wind was blowing and we didn't hang around for very long. We started descending the normal route towards the ski circus below. Even in early September desperate ski buffs were scraping the last few flakes of last winter's glacier snow. Quite a sad sight, even though some skiers were really strong and apparently training professionally for some slalom race. The normal route is easy and a well trodden highway. It didn't take long before we met with a steady stream of mountaineers coming towards us. We crossed the desert of ski slopes and ventured forth onto the long way down to the heat of the Saas-Fee valley.