Galenstock (3586m)

Nicola, Vladimír, Barbora, Eduard, Rafał, Andrey and I set out to climb the Galenstock (3586m) on Saturday. Andrey, Rafał and I started from Adliswil by car at 5:15 in the morning. The others had already arrived at the Furkapass the night before and bivouacked in the mountains. The original plan had us starting at 7 o'clock sharp. Instead we managed to get moving around 8:30. We had a bit of shuttling to do. With two cars we had the opportunity to traverse the mountain from the South to the North, requiring one car at either end. With both cars in place Rafał discovered that he had left his hiking boots in the wrong one and had to go once more ;-) A welcome delay for the others which used it to have breakfast and get their gear in order.

Rhone Glacier Shanty-Town.

Access to the Rhone glacier is blocked by a tourist shop demanding a 7CHF entrance fee to visit an ice grotto. We avoided this and got free admittance by helping the owner carry crates of groceries up the stairs.

Andrey testing an ice bridge.
Eduard and Vladimír.

The first glimpse of the glacier is a bit depressing. Anita and I had just watched Chasing Ice the day before and now I was witnessing evidence for the disappearance of the glaciers first hand. A sign high above the glacier pointed out where the high mark used be as recently as 1996. A plank offered level access to the ice grotto. Now you had to walk down lots of switch backs to get to the surface. In a depressingly desperate attempt at saving their tourist attraction the locals covered the glacier in huge white tarps. These slow the melting somewhat, so you end up with a Mad-Max style shanty town of flapping white fabric 10 meters higher than the surrounding ice. The glacier's surface is covered in black soot, dust particles from the air that collect on the ice. If they bunch up they create dark balls of slush that store more warmth than the white reflecting ice and melt deep holes into it. Pools and small trickles of water everywhere result. Death by a thousand paper cuts.

Andrey failing on a trivial boulder problem ;-P

The glacier is completely free of snow on the lower parts and not very steep. Thus we do not rope up and navigate the maze of crevasses in crampons. We depart from the glacier, heading up for the Galenridge between the Sidelenhorn (3217m) and the Galenstock (3586m). There is no marked trail, but the terrain is easily negotiable by scrambling up over blocks and balancing up granite slabs. We see the odd climber in the distance, but the area feels mostly deserted. The weather is overcast, but dry and stable. Perfect.

Rafał soloing up the Galen Glacier.
View towards the west across the Rhone Glacier.

We reach the first couple of snow fields and Rafał separates from the group. He motors up the steep Galen glacier while the rest of us continue for the ridge. At some point he disappears out of sight and instead a huge boulders crashes down the ice. Scary. We only learn that he's OK after meeting up with him several hours later on the summit - which he reached a full 1.5 hours before us.

Rafał waiting on the summit ridge.

The summit offers beautiful 360 degree vistas. Some of the best I've experienced yet. It's already 2 o'clock in the afternoon and we have a long way to go yet. I set up the first rappel on the North ridge. It is down-climbable, but very steep terrain, making it safer to rope up. Rope management is difficult, there are quite a few lose rocks and cracks snagging the rope. A group of 7 people is always slower than a small group and some of us don't have a lot of experience with this type of terrain. We waste a lot of time with this first 50m decent. Seeing that the ridge ahead will require several more rappels and tricky scrambling only to get us to an unknown glacier we prudently decide to bail and turn around.

Cornices. "Nicht jeder, der eine Spur legt, legt diese tief genug - aber nicht jeder, der einer zu hoch gelegten Spur folgt, überlebt dies."

The summit ridge is steep and icy. You cannot walk too high because of overhanging dangerous cornices. On the traverse first Nicola, then Barbora, slip and fall. Luckily both of them react quickly and correctly and self arrest immediately. A quick adrenaline injection but no real damage done. On the way up I dropped the lens cap for my camera on one of the snow slopes. We watched it slide and tumble down and disappear out of view. I climbed down after it, but it was a lost cause. Better not pick up momentum on these slopes!

Rafał trying to untangle our ropes.
Nicola rappelling down the North Ridge.

Further down, on snow now softened from the sun, I charge ahead and break this rule. Offering a safe run-out I run down the slope with a giant's steps or start skiing down in my boots. This works surprisingly well and is quite similar to real skiing. You assume the same position with flexible, bent knees and use the edges of your boots to steer and break. A steeper section offers the chance of comparing various techniques. Some of us ski toes pointing downwards, others side-ways, some on their bums, some carefully walk and yet others just tumble and slide. I let you guess who's who ;-)

Andrey down-climbing some mixed terrain.
Barbora - "This isn't as fun as it looks!".

I earn myself the nickname of "Slab-Commander" for my preference for balancing down steep slabs of granite instead of fighting the loose gravel surrounding them. I later get the somewhat less flattering name "Glow-Face". A nickname that cannot possibly have anything to do with the fact that I severely sun burned my face. That's what you get for assuming you've already had enough exposure to the sun during the summer so you won't need sun screen on a glacier. Doh!

Follow the Slab-Commander!
Nicola contemplating the universe.

Despite not achieving our original objective of a full traverse we did reach the summit and made it back down safe and sound. A beautiful day on an exciting route and mountain.

14km, 1390m up and down



Bishorn (4153m)

A weekend with perfect weather. Thomas, Andrey, Ivan, Ralf and I endure a 4.5 hour public transportation ride to Zinal to climb the Bishorn (4153m). We choose the white-blue-white trail up to the cabane de Tracuit where we want to spend the night. This turns out more challenging than expected since a bridge that used to cross the Navisence river is no longer there. We ford the creek only to discover that the trailhead prominently features "fermer" signs. Ignoring these we go on to climb the steep trail. It is secured with chains and some metal rungs as steps, but is in perfectly good condition with no indication as to the reason for the closure. I can only assume that it is in expectation of the winter's snows, which would make it quite tricky and dangerous indeed.

Val de Zinal, dominated by mighty Besso (3668m).
Cold feet.

The guidebook describes the normal route to the hut as exhausting for it climbs 1600m. We still decide to take a detour and visit the cabane d'Arpitetta on our way up, adding another 200m to the trip. It is well worth it, offering spectacular views over the Besso (3668m), Zinalrothorn (4221m) and Weisshorn (4506m) mountain range and a nice scramble across the Col de Milon (2976m).

Grand Cornier (3962m), Dent Blanche (4357m) in the background. Look at the face of that thing!

The final meters to the Tracuit hut are a bit adventurous on lose rock and slushy snow or ice depending on which side of the ridge we are on. The hut is brand new, featuring all the latest eco tech with solar panels, composting toilets, reflecting insulation and gigantic panorama windows catching the sun and fantastic vistas to the south west. Unfortunately it is also crowded and expensive, being the first hut I visit that doesn't offer free drinking water but charges 10CHF for a liter of "Marschtee".

Cabane d'Arpitetta.
Thomas coming up the moraine.
Scrambling up the Col de Milon...
...and down again.

It's a short and fitful night. The dormitory is much too warm with people repeatedly closing the window after I got up to open it. Someone is always snoring. And people apparently never learn how to properly use their headlamps or quietly open their backpacks in rooms full of sleeping hikers. Then again, the Bishorn being one of the easier 4000m peaks, attracts a lot of noobs. The breakfast table at 5:30 in the morning is crowded with "mountaineers" sitting in their harnesses, complete with ice-screws dangling on the benches.

Fancy modern cabane de Tracuit.

We start in the light of a full moon hanging from a clear sky. Head torches not required. After only a few minutes of hiking it's time to rope up and continue on the glacier. It is not very steep and the snow in good condition, allowing for quick progress. The only tricky bit is the last 5m step to the summit proper, where an ice ax helps for balance.

Last few meters to the summit.
Mighty Weisshorn North-Ridge (ignore the commentary, enjoy the video!).

The views from the summit are grandiose. I'm particularly fascinated by the forbidding ridge to the Weisshorn (4506m) and am already scheming...

Scale reference: the three dots in the far left are humans.

It's -6°C with an icy wind blowing, so we don't linger long. Going back down to the hut is easy and quick. Where we had to travel in switchbacks on the way up we now just jog down with a giant's steps. The way back to the valley drags on. By 3 o'clock we're sitting in the picturesque tourist village of Zinal enjoying our first round of beer.

The very definition of Hipster Beer I'd say.
Dead people on the bus...

By pure chance I meet Rafał on the crowded train back home. He is returning from a solo up the Eiger where he spent the night in a bivy above 3000m and had the summit to himself. Seems like a very successful weekend all around!

2767m up and down, 31km


Climbing "Dr Blau Chäfer" (Cheselenflue)

I left the others at the Melchsee and headed back down in the morning to meet Kornelius. He had casually mentioned a classic route "Dr Blau Chäfer" on our way back from the Grosser Diamantstock. I followed up on that and we set out to climb it. This time the weather forecast turned out to be right and it was cloudy, wet and rainy. Luckily for us the wall is hugely overhanging and a natural roof and shelter from the rain. Standing below the cascading roofs is quite intimidating. Yet someone discovered a line through it that is "only" 6 pitches of 6a+ and slightly overhanging. The route became famous enough that the Tagesanzeiger wrote about it.

I actually found a live "Blau Chäfer" in the route.
The wall. You can barely make out the fixed ropes.

Since Kornelius has already climbed it multiple times in the past I get to lead the third crux pitch. Slightly overhanging and very exposed (as most of the route is). Luckily it features mostly good holds, but it's still a little pumpy. You tend to grab just a little bit harder when your ass is hanging a hundred meters above the ground.

Kornelius coming up.
How's that for exposure?

Kornelius takes a short lead fall on the next pitch when one of his holds breaks off. No damage done. A technical traverse on small crimps leads us out under a huge roof onto the short final pitch. This is slightly wet from the rain, but still very climbable and worthwhile, as you can do nice moves up the corner.

The traverse in the second but last pitch.
Comfy belay spot.

For this particular route topping out doesn't mean the fun is over though. Because of the overhang, rappelling back down is quite exciting. You reach the end of the rappel, hanging 10 meters away from the wall with ~60 more to go before reaching the ground. Better not forget to tie off the end of the ropes! There are fixed ropes which allow you to pull yourself back to the wall and set up the next rappel anchor. Now I'm not wimpy with heights, but dangling in the void did give me pause. I do have to agree with what the guide book says:

"What one needs are strong nerves, fresh batteries in ones pacemaker and good rappel technique - the overhanging rappels are unforgiving." No kidding.

The first rappel.
The final rappel.

In the end the entire operation took us about two and a half hours. It's starting to rain in earnest and we decide to call it quits and hike out. Definitely one of the more memorable climbs I've done. Awesome!