Left Morzine early to get back to Geneva in order to meet long time friend Richard for another week in the Alps, this time in the Jungfrau region, based out of the Chalethotel Steinbock in Grindelwald.
As usual the Swiss train network took us efficiently through Bern, Interlaken Ost and then up to Grindelwald, magnificently set amidst the towering cliffs of the Schwartze Lütschen valley. On route, just after Lausanne, we were able to see two of last week’s summits, the Mont de Grange and les Cornette de Bise, across the waters of Lac Leman, a great vista under perfectly clear skies.
Grindelwald is a tourist honeypot, so was crammed with the usual crew strutting around the town with all the walking gear on, presumably to walk from one shop to another…just like Ambleside in the English Lake District!
|Views from Grindelwald|
A major mountain bike event was being staged over the weekend, so there was a fair sprinkling of the Lycra brigade too…better watch out for these maniacs on the trail tomorrow.A lazy day, a few beers, a late stroll to catch the last of the evening light on the Wetterhorn, Mattenberg and the north face of the Eiger directly over the town…all looked like volcanoes with the darkening cloud slowly oozing around their summits. Very atmospheric.
A clear day dawned and we were off early to catch the train back down the valley to Wilderswil to connect to the little diesel train that takes you steeply from 584m up to Schynige Platte at 1967m. A very slow train, but there are great views down to the two lakes straddling Interlaken, one crystal blue in colour and the other a green hue due to the glacial sediment emptying into it.
At Schynige Platte the hordes all set off for the circular walks and the main path signposted First (our ultimate destination for this walk).
However, if you want to do this route then ignore all these signs and look for the one saying Oberberghorn (Panoramaweg): the path leads up in the ‘wrong’ direction, across the terrace of the main restaurant and then curves steeply back up the hill to provide instant solitude and a narrow contouring path giving fabulous views as it takes you towards the little top of Oberberghorn at 2069m. The summit of this little top is accessed by a path off left from the main trail and takes about 10 minutes, the last sections on steep wooden ladders up through the summit rocks. Fine views to the lakes and the whole range of the Jungfrau region to the southeast.
|Looking back to Oberberghorn|
A good first day, about 17.3km, with 1265m of ascent and 1063m of descent.
|Descent to Bachsee|
Eiger day! Another early start, descending through Grindelwald to the base of the valley at Grund 943m. A beautiful day, clear blues skies, but thankfully a chilly start as we now had a considerable ascent ahead of us.
Following the Wanderweg signs to Alpiglen, we made our way steadily up through chalets and farms to reach the hut at Alpiglen (1616m) two hours later. Good going! A quick lemonade, then upwards from the hut to join the famous Eiger Trail which traverses under the north wall of the Eiger. A great path, steep to start, then rising progressively to reach the Eigergletscher station of the Jungfraujoch railway at 2320m. We took 2.5 hours from Alpiglen, including a stop, so good walking in evidence, as the signpost times had indicated 2 hours 50 mins, without stops.
There were plenty of people on the path, with a lot coming down in the other direction as the morning wore on, but the close up views of the immense north wall of the Eiger were awe inspiring.
We had lunch above the Eigergletscher station, with close up views of the glaciers tumbling down from the Eiger and the Mönch, witnessing a small avalanche on the former as we enjoyed our grub. The Mönch looked massive and it was a somewhat worrisome moment, given that we plan to climb it with a guide later in the week.
|The Mönch from Eigergletscher station|
|The north face of the Eiger on the descent to Alpiglen|
In all, a very good circular walk, but very hot in the afternoon. In all, about 17km, with 2002m of ascent and 1433m of descent. Sore feet towards the end of the day!
Another big day beckons, so an early start with trains from Grindelwald down to Zweilütschinen, then train to Lauterbrunnen, a cable car to Grütschalp 1489m, then a train to Mürren at 1645m. A quick breakfast in Mürren, then on the hill at 0900.
The trek today is the ascent of the Schilthorn 2960m, best known for its part in a James Bond movie. Ordinary, sane, people get two cable cars to the summit. We, with very few others, decided to clamber up the thing.
The first part of the climb is very steep out of Mürren, and in an hour we had climbed 475m vertically over a very short distance…hard work in hot sun, but proof that we were getting in condition for our big climb at the end of the week.
Climbing steadily we entered the remote valley of Engital and had a quick lemonade stop at the Schilthornhütte, before taking the lower track up the col just below the intermediate cable car station of Birg. Here the path steepens under the cable car, taking the hordes up to the summit station, revolving restaurant, etc., but for us it felt like a classic mountain ascent. A path contours above the attractive corrie lake of Grauseetoli (2514m), then pushes steeply up the summit ridge.
|Approaching the final ridge to Schilthorn summit|
A short final, steep and unstable slope brought us to the steps of the ‘Panoramic Platform’, complete with fit grannies, the inevitable Japanese photographers, and assorted fat Americans (sorry, USA friends and colleagues ;-)).
We had taken a total of three hours 25 minutes in ascent, with 15 minutes of stops, so were well within the guidebook time of 4 hours 20 minutes. So, a well-earned beer with würst and rosti was consumed with vigour, albeit in the vomit-inducing revolving restaurant at the top.
Summit views, by the way, were stupendous. The big three Jungfrau peaks dominated the view to the east, but peaks like the Breithorn came into their own, as well as the immediate peaks to the west and north, plus the pass of Sefinenfurgge that Richard and I had crossed on a demanding Exodus trek across the Bernese Oberland back in 2002. In the distance we could see the peaks of the Haut Chablais, last week’s fun spot, and further afield the Mont Blanc Massif.
|View from the Schilthorn summit, and our steep descent route|
|Not the recommended path...|
Descent to Mürren from here was straightforward, reached in about an hour on increasingly tired legs in very hot sunshine. The views on the way down into Mürren are truly wonderful…the west side of the Jungfrau, diving into the Lauterbrunnen valley, one of the steepest sided valleys you’ll encounter anywhere in the Alps.
|Dropping down into the Lauterbrunnen valley|
The evening was then enlivened by a call from our mountain guide Yvan, to advise that bad weather was forecast for Friday, so we would have to scale the Mönch during the day on Thursday, so no early alpine start for us, but hot sunshine, avalanche risk and a steep technical ascent in daylight beckons…far better to do this stuff in the early morning darkness so that you don’t see the exposure…ho hum. An exciting and unnerving prospect!
A slow start to today, given the big one, the ascent of the Mönch, tomorrow. A gear check, and a minor panic whether my normal boots will be rigid enough for the climb (solved by a phone call to our Swiss guide), then off to the nearby Pfingstegg cable car to take us to the start of the difficult path to the Schreckhornhütte at 2529m. Our ride took us to 1391m and we quickly gained height on the narrow path under the towering rock walls of the Mattenberg to our left and the chasm of the Gletscherschlucht to our immediate right…a huge gorge created by rivers flooding out of the multiple glaciers above us, almost certainly exploiting a fault in the huge limestone walls towering around us.
Stunning views back over Grindelwald too.
|The Gletscherschlucht path|
After a quick refreshment stop, we pressed on up the path, passing the warning signs that we were now on a true Alpine path (demarcated with blue and white stripes on the rocks along the way, rather that the usual red and white way-markers. The path narrows, steepens and the exposure increases significantly after this point, but, all in all, it is a good path, contouring the very steep slopes high above the Unterer Grindelwaldgletscher. Views forward were magnificent, and following a steepening of the path through the wooded cliffs of the Banisegg ridge, we were soon rewarded with a massive view of glaciers tumbling from the summits of the Gross and Klein Fiescherhorn directly ahead of us, and the huge glaciers plummeting from the Eiger and Mönch high to our right. The view to the Mönch way above did little to calm our nerves…very high, with steep rocks before the exposed summit ridge…sweaty palms time!
Spent some time at our viewpoint at 1830m, savouring the view before descending back to the Stieregg hut for some lunch.
|The path beyond the Stieregg hut|
|Glaciers dropping from the Mönch|
An early finish to the day, to rest and pack for the big day tomorrow.
|Mönch, SW Ridge|
We took to train up to Kleine Scheidegg to connect with the Jungfraujoch railway, which works its way up via tunnels through the Eiger before emerging on the col between the Jungfrau and the Mönch at 3454m.
Here our climb started in earnest, with a short walk to join the start of the SW Ridge route.
|Approach to the start of the SW Ridge of the Mönch|
|Early rock pitches on the Mönch|
|Yvan leading one of the more challenging pitches|
|Views back to the Jungfraujoch from the SW Ridge of the Mönch|
|Views on the upper section of the SW Ridge of the Mönch|
Another climbing team descending our route
|The final snow approach to the summit of the Mönch|
|Don't slip now!|
|Nearly at the summit!|
The top of the Mönch stands at 4107m, so we were looking down to the summit of the Eiger. Awesome views all around, including the 22km long Aletsch Glacier to our south. Helicopter and light plane tourist traffic was seen far below. Truly magnificent.
|The Eiger from the Mönch|
|The start of the descent route along the SE Ridge|
|Colin and Richard on the summit of the Mönch, 4107m|
|Stumpy at the top :-)|
The reality of the descent ahead of us then loomed large after a short break on the summit. We were to descend by the SE Ridge (the ‘normal route’ up from the Mönchsjochhütte, the most popular climb and when observed earlier in the day, there had been quite a few people on it). The beginning of the descent is an almost horizontal ‘walk’ along the crest of a snow cornice, about two boot width’s wide with drops of over 500m on either side. It has to be seen to be believed. Moreover, in all the photos that you can view on the web, it doesn’t look very long. Not true…it’s about 250m long…and the exposure and narrowness never let up. Never before have I concentrated on foot placement so much in my life, especially as you need to be very careful to not catch the crampon spikes on a trouser leg or the straps on the other foot in such a narrow channel. Things went very quiet for a while. You know the seriousness of the situation when the guide ignores the request for a photo stop (yes, I did ask) with a short response ‘I took one already’ (he did). I will never forget the exposure on that path, ever.
|Setting off along the SE Ridge|
|SE Ridge of the Mönch|
|Middle section of the ridge|
|Lower section of the SE Ridge|
|Richard on the descent of the SE Ridge|
Another narrow, and steeper snow arête followed, then another rock section and easier snow slope, before crampons were removed and the last half an hour or so was spent scrambling down the final section of the ridge to emerge just right of the Mönchsjochhütte at 3627m. We reached the base of the mountain at 1700, after a two and a half hour descent.
Without being too over-dramatic, the traverse of the Mönch was one of the most demanding days of my life…the physical exposure and the relentless mental concentration required throughout.
An easy descent back across the glacier to the station, where we just managed to catch the last train back down.
A dinner and a few beers, but exhaustion meant an early night.
A lazy day, as the weather broke overnight, as predicted, with a major thunderstorm in the early hours. A great excuse for a big lunch and a few more beers, ready for the return home the following day. We had our treat at the restaurant at the top of the long Männlichen cable car at an altitude of 2222m.
|The Mönch viewed from Männlichen|
A good week’s work!