2017-08-20

Salbitschijen (2981m) via "Super South-Ridge" (6a, 21 pitches, 800m)

I came home from work a little early on Thursday. I wasn't feeling too well and within the hour I was lying on our couch with several blankets and a hot water bottle piled on top of me, still shivering despite a hot 30°C outside. Stayed home on Friday, still running a fever. Helping Anita carry groceries up the single flight of stairs to our apartment made me break a sweat and gave me a pounding headache. The next day we left for one of the longest climbs I've done.

Luigi on the final approach to the hut.
Dramatic clouds. Unfortunately they meant rain.

To quote a co-worker "no one has ever accused you of being a sensible person". So I packed a bunch of paracetamols and aspirins and Luigi drove us to Ulmi near Göschenen. We made one rope team and Tereza and Mark the second. Sebastian and Arne would arrive in a second car much later in the day and join us at the hut. The 1000 meter elevation gain up to the hut takes 2:30 hours according to the signs. We made it in 1:50 despite stopping frequently along the path to collect berries. Sebastian and Arne would be even faster. Trying to arrive in time for dinner and before the approaching rain they ran up in 1:15. Impressive, as it would turn out that this is the time we'd later need for the descent of the same trail! Chapeau!

Mark, Arne, Sebastian.
Tereza disappearing into the fog on the very first pitch.
Luigi on the sharp end.

Dinner was served at 18:30 and I went to bed immediately afterwards. While the hike went well I wanted to get as much recovery time and rest as possible. After all, I have attempted this exact climb before and we ended up spending an involuntary night on the mountain because we were too slow. It was pouring rain while we were having dinner and we were worried the climb might not be possible at all. Starting super early wouldn't make any sense because we had to give the sun some time to dry off the walls.

Luigi and Tereza.
Mark.
Luigi. The long ridge peeking through the clouds.

We started climbing at 8 in the morning after a 6:30 breakfast. It was gray, wet and cold. We had opted to climb the Super South Ridge, instead of just the South Ridge. The difference is an extra 190 meter climb, the five pitches of the route "Takala", before you even gain the ridge. Tereza and Mark went first but we soon all climbed on top of one another to save time. Climbing wet slabs with fingers and feet numb from the cold made the route feel much more difficult and risky.

The even longer and harder West ridge.
I'm drowning in a sea of clouds.
Sebastian coming up.

We had party of three Fins follow us. They branched off into a different route but later rejoined us on the ridge, causing a bit of a traffic jam. Luigi and I tried to break free from the "crowd" by linking pitches and climbing as fast as we could. Luigi did a block of two, followed by me leading two, which, from my point of view, led to 150 meters of continuous and fast climbing at nearly 3000 meters altitude. Exhilarating!

Arne and Sebastian's perspective. If you squint, you can see me leading on the summit headwall.
Our perspective: Arne and Sebastian on the Zwillingstower.
It's clearing up!

Our strategy worked and we had the route to ourselves for the rest of the way. The Fins decided to bail and rappelled off. Shortly after so did Tereza and Mark. The route is long and they had already lost a lot of time and felt too slow. I kept following the ridge. I was climbing a few meters above my last piece of protection when the route suddenly stopped. I found myself on the tip of a leaning needle sharp tower. I should have traversed it to the West but screwed up and now had to lower off the top. We lost some time rescuing our ropes and gear. I later learned that Arne did the exact same mistake ;-)

Me on the summit needle. Not difficult climbing but quite intimidating. No protection on the way and _very_ exposed.
Looking down from the summit needle.
Luigi waving to his fans.

Luigi and I topped out on the signature summit needle at 18:00. 10 hours of back to back climbing. Just to mock us (congratulate us?) the weather finally cleared up and we got blue skies and some sun to warm us. A tremendously satisfying climb, especially considering that this was my second attempt. Thanks to Luigi and the gang for making this possible. And to the best wife ever for taking care of our kid and allowing me to indulge on these escapades - love you!

Luigi on the summit needle as seen by Arne and Sebastian.
Rappelling through space.
A bit of spelunking is required to reach the summit. Extraordinary.

The descent is a long and knee braking scramble. Just as we were starting to go down we caught a glimpse of Arne and Sebastian who were still going up on the other side of the mountain, some two hours behind us. We made sure everyone was OK and agreed not to wait. On green meadows, not a stone throw away from the hut, a head sized boulder suddenly came bouncing past us. It must have been kicked loose by grazing sheep above us and hit the trail like a bulls eye. A widow maker just when you thought yourself safe again. A quick dinner at the hut and we made it back to the car at 22:15.

On the descent.
Luigi and I kept quoting this short movie and joked about climbing porn. There's a very obvious objective in this image of the descent couloir ;-P

Dreams of Switzerland describes the route thusly:

The Salbitschijen towers rise up like rockets on a launching pad. They are captivating and unforgettable. With the ascents of the Südgrat, the Westgrat, the Niedermann and the Villiger, some of the most beautiful pages of the annals of Swiss mountaineering have been written." I concur! ;-)