2018-07-07

Ober Gabelhorn (4063m), via Arbengrat (AD+)

Anita and Leonie travelling to visit grandparents in Germany, a great weather forecast and available touring partners all aligned for a rare opportunity for me to go on a multi day trip into the mountains. We had total planning chaos with options and partners being discussed until late at night on Thursday. In the end we finally settled on the Ober Gabelhorn shortly before midnight. Arne, Mark and I would drive to the Furka pass after work on Friday to spend one night at nearly 2500 meters altitude for a minimum of acclimatization. Then we'd continue to Zermatt and hike to the Arben bivy hut. Summit day on Sunday.

Our acclimatization camp at the Furka pass at 2400m.
Packing at the terminal in Täsch. Zermatt is a car free village so we got on the train in Täsch.
Would you trust these people with your life?

With the rushed packing I actually grabbed the wrong pair of pants from the closet and thus didn't have proper mountaineering clothes. In the end I ended up going in Arne's spare - thanks! Other than that little hiccup the approach to the hut went without a hitch. We arrived to a group of four women and a couple who all intended to climb the same route as us. Throughout the evening more and more people showed up and the tiny single room hut got very crowded. Typical for Switzerland there was a cacophony of languages: Swiss German, High German, Austrian German, French, Italian, English. One of the last groups to arrive was a group of volunteers for the alpine club who were there for the yearly maintenance of the hut. Including a 70 year old guy who claimed to have made the approach more than 280 times over the course of his life. Impressive.

Lush and green in the valley...
...before it gets progressively more barren.
Matterhorn North-Face. One of the great challenges of the alps.

It would be a very short night. I had a bit of a stomach issue (Boyle's law: at constant body temperature gases expand with lower atmospheric pressure...) and the crowded hut was incredibly hot and stuffy. I finally fell asleep around midnight with the alarm clock set for shortly after three in the morning.

Up the moraine. If you squint you can already see the bivy hut. The Ober Gabelhorn concludes this valley. Our route is the diagonal snow filled gulley on the left.
Even the approach to the hut isn't entirely trivial and requires some scrambling.
Chilling in the sun at 3200m.

We left the hut as one of the last groups around 4:30 in the morning. Instead of following in the other's footsteps we went off route almost straight away. Arne had climbed this mountain before and distinctly remembered being in a certain spot. He remembered correctly. Only they had been off-route back then too. It didn't matter very much - instead of hiking up gentle snow slopes we had a bit of scrambling up the rock buttress on the direct line and merged back onto the normal route.

Three levels of bunk beds. Before the hut got crowded.
Matterhorn in the evening.
Early morning on the first few snow fields.

We roped up once we gained the ridge. Many hours of climbing at nearly 4000 meters altitude lay ahead of us. Atmospheric pressure at that altitude is about 60% that at sea level and you can feel the difference in your performance. I had been struggling with a mild cold and runny nose for a few weeks now and had injured my thumb while kayaking. The others had been ticking off high mountains most weekends this season. So I was the weakest link and got the middle spot on the rope.

Matterhorn in the morning.
In the gulley. Steep enough to go up on all fours while standing nearly upright.
Arne on the ridge.

Despite climbing in a group of three and having to wait quite a few times for other parties blocking our way we made good progress. We simul-climbed everything (that is, instead of bothering with static anchors everyone of us was always moving with a few pieces of gear in between us for protection). This worked very well and we made both the ascent and descent in the times suggested by the guidebook.

Me, contemplating the rest of the ascent.
More steep ice.
Mark on a dicey patch of thin ice on steep rock.

Getting down from the summit involved many rappels. We managed the first half dozen without incident before our rope got stuck while trying to pull it down. Arne volunteered to climb back up and rescue it. Took only a few minutes and I think we managed a safe solution. Following the rappel off the summit proper was a long exposed snow ridge over the impressive North face. This ends in a granite needle known as the great gendarme. We had to scramble straight over it. Finally you ascend a gentle snow slope back up the Wellenkuppe to 3903m. This is where we could finally take off our crampons after 9 hours of climbing.

Mark and one of "the girls".
Some rock climbing for a change.
Summit!

We needed a few more rappels to get down from the Wellenkuppe onto the Trift glacier. This is not particularly steep and just a long slog. After a quick stop at the Rothorn Hut we continued directly down into the valley. It was a bit surreal. A few short hours ago we were chewing on frozen snickers bars, now we were roasting in the oppressive heat of the valley. I dipped my buff into the many roaring creeks we passed to keep my head cool.

Looking back at the ascent route.
Arne on top of the world.
Starting the long way down. Gaining the summit was barely a quarter of the day.

We arrived in Zermatt shortly after 7pm at the end of a long 15 hour day. It's Sunday though and we all have to work on Monday. I finally fall into my own bed at 2 in the morning. What a great day! Tremendously satisfying. Thank you Arne and Mark for always being reliable and fun touring partners!

The descent route. Rappel a lot; hike along the ridge; climb the gendarme; climb the Wellenkuppe back up to 3903m and rappel some more before finally getting onto the Trift glacier.
View into the impressive North Face.
One of many rappels.
The North Face again. Some people ski this!
A typically exposed anchor while waiting my turn to rappel the next section.
Mark hanging around.
Don't slip. It's a long way down.
Arne in his element.
On the gendarme.
Downclimbing the gendarme.
Looking back at the gendarme.
Our descent route almost entirely visible.
Finally approaching the Wellenkuppe.
Descending the Wellenkuppe.
This is my happy face thinking the exposed bits were over...
...before we started rappelling the next half a dozen pitches or so.
On the Trift glacier. Not kneeling down in prayer but trying to get a low angle shot of this impressive sea of ice.
Hiking down the moraine.
All creeks were roaring with melt water in the scorching sun.
Reaching green altitudes again.
Air conditioned trails! So nice.
Zermatt.
After dunking my head into the church fountain.
Car train through the Lötschberg tunnel.
You can see a faint line in the snow where we should have gone. We climbed the rock buttress directly instead.
The descent.
The image that inspired this trip. Arne took it with me in front of the Ober Gabelhorn North face when we climbed the Zinalrothorn in 2016 (amazingly enough that was our "first date" mountain!).