Jegihorn (3206m), via "Alpendurst", 300m, 4c

I have long since wanted to climb the famous Alpendurst route in Wallis. When we set out to do so ten years ago my climbing partner was sick and we had to bail. This time around it was a great success. Ventsi has recently caught the climbing bug and was keen to get some outdoor experience. The family on the other hand was keen on a camping expedition. Thus we combined the two. Ventsi graciously agreed to write a trip report from his perspective, so the text below is all his (I only did the image selection and captions). Thank you very much Ventsi!

Autoverlad Lötschbergtunnel - the kids were super excited about driving onto a train.
Exploring the creek at the campground.
We built bark boats and let them float.

I was quieter than usual on the approach. The Alpendurst climb was supposed to be only grade 4c, which is well below what I had done in the past, but I had never tried a 300m multi-pitch, let alone one in such altitude, so I didn't know what to expect of my body. I was conserving every bit of energy, just in case. It was already getting hot early in the morning, the sun was shining and there was not a single cloud in sight - a beautiful day through and through, but not exactly ideal for a long day of climbing. Only a weekend ago I had done another multi-pitch in the constant unrelenting embrace of the high-noon sun - an experience I was hardly looking forward to repeating again.

Leonie practicing slab technique.
Setting up camp.

My concerns turned out to be unsubstantiated - at least as far as the climb itself went. Alpendurst was a pleasant and fun route, almost undemanding with one or two exceptions. What would prove to be the actual challenge that day was the descent - a dangerous test of stamina that would squeeze more sweat out of me than I was expecting. And some blood... None of that however was apparent when we arrived at the wall in the morning. We found it already besieged by other climbers - many of them already on their way, two groups patiently waiting for their turn to start climbing.

Crawling through a flood pipe.

This is evidently the downside of Alpendurst’s popularity - there is no shortage of people wanting to climb it. Much of that is no doubt due to the extensive documentation of the route. I had researched it in advance and found an abundance of information - topos, descriptions, detailed ratings of all pitches, locations of safety bolts and anchors. You go into the climb with as much information as you can possibly want. Combine all this with a fairly reasonable difficulty level and the crowds start flocking. We waited our turn patiently, used the time to discuss strategy and - very important - make selfies.

Good night!

Alpendurst is absolutely a treat for the climber. Great rock quality - nothing crumbles or moves loosely under your hands. You grip onto something and it is guaranteed to hold. In that regard it is almost like a climbing gym, only you have real rock in your hands. The route is long and consistent in difficulty - 300m of 4c pitches, nothing more, nothing less. The true beauty of Alpendurst is however in the variety of its terrain. Every pitch brings something new - there are slab sections, corners, traverses, a few muscle-bound sections that require strength. Despite its length, Alpendurst keeps you entertained and at no point you have the feeling that you’re grinding the same terrain over and over.

Ventsi on the approach.
The objective.

After two or three pitches my silent demeanor cleared and I started to feel at home, even cracked a few jokes. We were climbing swiftly, finishing each pitch without delay, but our progress was stifled by the crowds on the wall. One group in particular was taking its sweet time - giving each other commands and chronicling each move in loud Italian. Everytime Sören and I would conclude a pitch, we would have to wait for the Italian brigade to free up the next. Suffice to say that Sören was not a fan. I wonder which was worse for him - the slow speed or the loud and incessant shouting. Earlier that day when we discussed strategy, Sören attempted to convince me to climb silently and “listen to the rope” instead of shouting commands at each other. This is the way Sören climbs with his usual partners, but I had to put my foot down and dissuade him from that, given that this was our first multi-pitch together.

Via ferrata rope bridge.
Ventsi coming up.
Good mood.

Luckily, Sören had brought his trad gear, so at one of the anchors, while waiting for the Italians to clear up the next pitch, he proposed we go off-route. This way we had a chance of overtaking the Italians. I haven’t tried trad, but given that Sören would be leading and hence taking the brunt of the danger onto himself, I agreed to try it out. For me this essentially would mean that I would be top-roping on an already established route and being belayed from the top with no added risk. This turned out to be quite fun - it allowed us to go on a bit more difficult terrain and to climb at our own speed. I had to collect the trad gear on my way up, which was the first time in my life that I touched a cam. Sören was joking that he is leaving extra challenges for me on the way up, referring to all the special equipment that I needed to pick up (and decipher how it actually works as I go).

In no time we managed to leave the Italians safely behind. But Sören was not done spicing up the climb yet. His next suggestion was to try simul climbing, also known as running belay. This is a technique which allows you to cover several pitches in a row without stopping at the belay stations. The whole idea is that the leader starts leading and when there is no more rope remaining the belayer just starts climbing as well. Both partners climb at the same time. If one of them happens to fall, the other climber is their counterweight. I wouldn’t have tried this on a more challenging route, but I hadn’t felt even close to failing at any point that day and was still in excellent shape. I communicated with Sören that I’m willing to try it, but only for 2 or at most 3 pitches and off we went. I watched the rope keep slithering up on the rock, even after I lost vision of Sören. Once there was no more rope remaining I disconnected my belay device, unhooked my munter hitch from the anchor and started climbing myself. This was clearly a much faster way to progress and more stamina-intensive, as you don’t have a break in between pitches. All in all, everything went without any problems. I reached Sören who was patiently waiting for me at the belay station 2 or 3 pitches above and we reset back to normal, as agreed.

An improvised anchor. Not my best work, but it held ;-P

I had stopped counting the pitches a long time ago. I knew there were a total of 14, but I had no idea where exactly we were and how many were remaining. I was completely engulfed in the fun of climbing. Unfortunately, this is where I fell - for the first and only time during the climb. I had just started following a pitch - a bolt or two above the ledge - when I made the mistake of stepping on some shrubs. What looked perfectly stable mere moments ago promptly gave way and fell apart once I put my weight onto it. I found myself falling a few meters and then dangling on the rope. I learned a valuable lesson - we are rock climbers, not plant climbers. On a wall with perfect rock quality where no edge felt loose, I had managed to find a plant to climb on. Once I reached the end of the pitch I examined my body and found it surprisingly bruise-free. The only victim of my fall was the rope itself, which had dragged over the jagged terrain and was left with a visible tear in the sheath close to my harness. Luckily, the core of the rope was intact, but anyway I opted for playing it safe and retied my figure-of-eight on my harness in such a way that the compromised section of the rope would not carry any weight. The damage was very close to the end of the rope, so we didn’t sacrifice much length.

The kids coming up while we were still climbing.

Soon after that we reached the top. We had managed to make up for the delay with the Italians and we were back within our time schedule. We had a short snack, took the obligatory pictures next to the wooden cross that the Swiss people love mounting at the top of their peaks and made our way down.

This is where things became sketchy. The descent was a standard T4 white-blue-white trail that was supposed to continue for 300m elevation and eventually wind up at the standard approach trail. Nothing new for Sören who dashed down like a mountain goat, waiting for me at the trickier sections. I, on the other hand, progressed much slower. I was carrying the rope dangling on my back and every once in a while had unexpected effects on my balance. The trail was rock plates loosely stacked upon each other, moving treacherously beneath your feet once you step on them. I decided to err on the side of caution and progressed slowly. Unfortunately, at some point during the descent, I deviated from the trail and ended up in no man’s land. No Sören in sight. The white-blue-white markings had been sporadic enough that their absence didn’t alert me immediately. And once it became obvious I was off-course, I was already too far away.

Adventure playground at the top station of the cable car.
Bird showing off.
Lukas in the foreground, Jegihorn in the background.

Sören called my cell phone - he had been waiting for me at the beginning of the standard approach trail, which ironically had been just a few meters away from the spot where I deviated. He got suspicious when several hikers passed him on their way down and there was no Ventsi in sight. Thankfully, he decided to go back up in search of me and managed to eventually spot me in the distance - already way down. We decided to continue down off track, but soon enough it became clear that this was a dangerous gamble. Sören navigated using the GPS on his phone and thanks to him we managed to avoid several cliffs deceitfully lurking nearby. We found ourselves in a rockfall area where the rock plates didn’t just move beneath your feet, but also tended to slip and tumble down the slope with hideous bangs. It felt like moving down a scree path, only instead of tiny sliding pebbles we were knocking off 20-30kg rocks that were battering down the slope with all their force, each cracking sound resembling a gunshot. Abruptly, we became aware that there are people behind us by the sound of tumbling rocks above. The Italian brigade from earlier. They had also started their descent and lost the trail. I must have been the only visible thing in the vista and they must have followed me. Unfortunately, that made the descent that much more dangerous, because we never knew if one of them would set off a landslide above us that might land on us. Sören pushed for us to move faster as any minute we spent in that area would put us in more danger. In the hurry, I managed to braze my ankle which left a continuous numb pain and a small bleeding wound on my leg.

Scrambling down.
Looking back at the wall / summit / descent route.

To top all that off, the descent took more time than the climb itself and soon it became clear that we will miss the last cable car down. We would arrive at the 2000m station late in the afternoon and then we would have to keep hiking down the standard hiking paths. Once we cleared the trickier section of the off-trail descent, Sören dashed down towards the cable car station. I don’t know what kind of a silver-tongued devil Sören must be, but his powers of persuasion must know no bounds, because once I made my way to the cable car station, I found the operators patiently waiting for me to start the cable car just for us with Sören. During the ride down, we sprawled leisurely and the tension of the descent dissipated quickly. We started laughing and joking about it. In Sören’s case he was worried not so much because of the difficulty of the descent - for him that must have been nothing special - but rather because his family was waiting for him down in Saas-Fee to drive back to Zurich.

Ventsi really didn't like scrambling over loose scree...
...but somebody else liked it even less. Notice the Rega helicopter flying a rescue mission, picking people up from where we just left.
My silver-tongue was bribing the operator and paying him his "Feierabend Bier" to wait an extra 15 minutes before shutting down the cable car for the day.

In the end, what I can say is that Alpendurst is an extremely fun and rewarding climb. If you make your way up though, make sure you don’t miss the trail on the way down.

Spectacular mood and views on the way back. This time we didn't take the tunnel but used the passes instead. The perfect pyramid at the horizon is my proudest mountaineering achievement to date, the Nesthorn.
Beautiful Grimsel Pass.
Home. The kids are dead ;-P

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