|Neat and tidy graveyard in Saas Grund|
|Heading to the hut|
|Just reached the hut as the gloom gathered|
|A morning companion|
|Heading for the Sonnighorn|
|Starting out over broken rocks.|
We had a nice leisurely start to the day, as first of all, it was needed after the little sleep we had had due to all the travel etc and secondly today's target was the Sonnighorn. At 3487 mtrs it seemed the right height for an acclimatisation day and the guide book time was four hours to the summit so it seemed the right length as well. All this and the fact that there was no major glacier crossing required meant it was almost seven am before we rose. We originally hadn't intended having breakfast but the late start and the reasonable spread that was on offer meant we stayed for muesli followed by coffee , bread and cheese. We exited the hut to a beautiful clear morning. The view west down the Almagellartal valley and beyond to the mighty Mischabel range glowing in the morning sun was an inspiration. A light breeze meant that there was a nip in the air ( well it was at 2894mtrs after all) and we didn't delay in getting going.
There was a rough track heading south that initially contoured around the moraines and screes left behind from the dying Rotblatt Glacier. As we progressed further the track disappeared to be replaced by paint markings on the low rock bands that crossed our route. This made the going slower than expected as even though we were traversing more or less horizontally under the very impressive Portjengrat, we had to constantly clamber over these rocky obstacles. It was a bit like travelling on the Beara Peninsula without the bog. It was as we crossed there rock bands that I saw for the first time how Petra was able (or not) to cope with rough ground. It was immediately clear that she was struggling. Easy little scrambles where I didn't even need to use my hands presented Petra with major problems. Progress slowed but eventually we arrived at the small glacier that leads to the Sonnigpass and the base of the north northeast ridge which was to be our route. Even though there were no crevasses on the dry glacier I took this opportunity to don our crampons ( for the practice really) and get roped up and ready for the climb. The short little crossing on the ice gave Petra the chance to get the feel of the crampons but once we arrived at the rocks at the base of the route we took them off and started up.
The ridge itself was pretty straightforward and only involved occasional use of the hands to steady oneself on loose rock etc. It also stayed quite broad initially until after a while we came to the first of the obstacles, a sudden drop of six or seven metres that requires a bit of back climbing. Petra to her credit doesn't lack in courage and set off down it once she was held secure on the rope. It took a while but she managed it and we were off again. Soon we came to the crux of the route a "gendarme" at point 3332mtrs. This presented a more formidable barrier with a steep drop of about twenty metres. It looked worse than it was as there were many ledges and hand holds on the way down. Again Petra got down it and I followed but by now it was clear to me that we were taking a long long time and ahead the going didn't look like getting much easier. We continued for perhaps another 150mtrs before I decided to call a halt to our progress and return. We were already over five hours to this point and I judged that we were the most of another hour from the summit at our current pace. The return along the ridge was uneventful.
|Looking back up the "Gendarme"|
|The Rimpfischhorn and Allalinhorn|
|Dawn from the pass|
|First rays of sun|
|The ridge aglow|
|Monte Rosa and the Allalinhorn in the morning glow|
|More interesting upper sections|
|Narrow final section|
The next couple of hundred meter section is an almost level snow slope, broad and easy. Then a steep stony path up a rocky section is followed by a pleasantly narrow snow ridge, only a hundred or so meters long, to the summit. This came as a bit of a shock to Petra but she stepped bravely forward and soon we were there. There were perhaps another twenty people there but the broad expanse meant there was plenty of room for everybody and we dropped our bags and relaxed for a good while. As you would expect the views are tremendous. To the north the Lagginhorn was splendid with the giants of the Bernese Oberlandand beyond. To the east there remained a sea of cloud covering the north of Italy and to the west the Mischabel Range constantly drew the eye. Unbelievably even here at over 4000mtrs there was no cold and it was easy to rest and bask in the pleasant sunshine.
|Glorious glacial scenery|
However all good things must come to an end and eventually we set off down the easy snow slopes on our descent. Initially the route goes west southwest and bar a couple of little icy sections the going was easy. A lovely firm track was in place which turned in a northwestern direction just short of point 3813mtrs. The going easy and the gradient was gentle. The glacier was in great condition for this time of year with a good covering of snow and firm neve underfoot. It wasn’t until we reached the 3500meter contour that we came to the first interesting bit. Here there was a short steep section where the steps were far apart and very little snow covered the ice. As if that wasn’t enough this led directly down to a sizable crevasse which was turned at the right. Petra found this quite harrowing but to be fair it had my full attention as well. Still with care we got past it and thereafter things were again quite straightforward. Soon enough we were on the dry section near the track to the lift station at Hohsaas. Here we took off all the gear and even though we were tired we were very happy to arrive at the station at 15.45. Well in time to catch the lift to the valley floor. It had been evident for some time that I was badly in need of a shower and the excellent ones at the campsite were gratefully used shortly thereafter. While not perfect, it was nonetheless a superb beginning to the trip. I believe we got the maximum out of it.
|The steep section of descent|
|Easy way down|
|Sculpture in Saas Fee|
|Way to go|
|Enjoying the view|
|Impressive Egginer and Allalinhorn|
As we went down Petra wished to extend the outing and once we consulted the map we saw that long descent to Saas Almagell could be done and this she opted to do. I chose to return to the valley via the lift as my knees were giving me a little trouble and I didn’t want to exacerbate any injuries that may be after occurring. A leisurely stroll around Saas Fee followed and a relaxing remainder to the day. Later in the campsite we decided to do the Allalinhorn the following morning as bad weather was forecast for the afternoon. We resolved to catch the first lift at 7am so after getting out packs sorted for the morning another early night followed.
|Towards the Allalinhorn|
|Leaving the Ski chaos behind|
The first thing that we had to avoid was the throngs of skiers that were by now whizzing down the pistes. I am not familiar with skiing at all and it was quite the revelation just how fast some were going. still we were soon past that mania and we started up the good track in the snow. It promised to be a short outing with less than 600mtrs of climbing and an overall rating of Facile. This is one of the easiest and therefore most popular 4000mtr peaks in the Alps. The ease of access to the gentle slopes ensures that on any good weather day there are sure to be lots of parties out. Today was no exception and we were part of a procession of people heading up. Solitude wasn't to be found but then it wasn't expected. Still the outing had the undoubted feel and beauty of the high mountains and I was enjoying the outing immensely. After a while we reached the Feejoch and we had our first views of the stunning mountain scenery to the west. The giants of the Monte Rosa massif and the Matterhorn were resplendent and further west again Mont Blanc stood proud. The lenticular cloud that is famous as a harbringer of bad weather hovered over it's summit. But it was the stunning sight of the nearby Rimpfischhorn and Stralhorn that most impressed me. Again they spoke of great outings in the future. We lingered for a while and then set off for the summit, now a mere 200 mtrs above.
|Towards the summit|
|Across to the Matterhorn with Mont Blanc beyond|
|The Strahlhorn and Rimpfischhorn with Monte Rosa between.|
As predicted there was some rain about today. It sometimes threathened to clear up but never managed it. We still felt that doing the Via Ferrata would be a good idea so we set off the Saas Fee and hired the kit. We caught the lift to Masuela at 2572 mtrs and traversed across to the northwest ridge of the Mittaghorn. We were in the cloud as we started up but there was no rain. It wasn't a great route to be honest with fairly lenghty horisontal sections that gave the outing a fractured feel. Petra was understandably careful. This was ok on the lower stretches but as we gained height and the weather took a turn for the worse it made things a bit uncomfortable. It was snowing and the metalurgy was icing up which led to cold hands etc.
|Abseiling with aplomb|
|Delightful subsidary hut|
|Nice view from our kitchen|
|Looking up to the Gendarme|
|Not the most pleasant stuff to climb|
|The Fletchhorn, there for another day.|
We were indeed on our way by 6am and enjoying a clear crisp morning. The route initially climbed the crest of the moraine and followed the track to the base of the normal route to the Lagginhorn. Just below point 2926mtrs the route dropped left and crossed the rubble strewn Talligletcher. It was now bright and we were able to see our way ahead. It didn’t look too inviting. Earlier in the season there is a snow slope that allows easy access to the shoulder of the Gruebug Glacier. Now this was bare ice and presented a more formidable barrier. The other option is to climb a rubble and scree slope that rises steeply at first and then goes diagonally to the right up a broad couloir. This was not a lot of fun and meant we had to pick and choose our way carefully as you never knew what was going to move. Still we managed it and arrived in good time at the crest of the ridge that marks the end of the impressive Jegigrat.
Here we faced the first obstacle of the day. A fairly small “Gendarme” was immediately in the way. There was a sling to be seen at its top but it was obviously used in the return and useless to us now. The south side was hopeless and the north side involved an exposed traverse with a rock step beyond. I didn’t feel confident that Petra could handle it so I choose to go down. It was disappointing but it felt like the right thing to do at the time. If it wasn’t a lot of fun climbing up the choss it was less appealing going down. Still we managed it quite well and returned to the hut for a bite of lunch. We were back in the valley by lunchtime. Petra feeling the need to make the most of the fine day went for a sizeable hike around the Mattmark Reservoir at the valley’s end beyond Almageller. I must be getting old as I lazed about at the campsite for the rest of the day.
|Across to Saas Fee with its unsightly car park|
The bad weather had returned again and cloud hung low in the valley. We decided to do a hike from the campsite that zig zagged its way up the Thriftgratji on the East side of the valley. We passed some impressive walls constructed I presume to deflect avalanches to safer channels. Further up the path traversed through some impressive steel avalanche defenses. From here the trail wound its way pleasantly to the lift at Kreuxboden. It passed a pleasant few hours and at least gave us something to do.
|Impressive avalanche defences|
|Steep but well equipped|
|The Dom and Lenzspitze|
After the easy few days we had had prior to this I felt that a more challenging outing was required. In an ideal world we would have gone to the high mountains again but I reasoned that we had had quite a bit of snow over the previous few days and it would have made glacier travel considerably more hazardous. So I choose instead a climb up to the Mischabel Hut which is situated on a rocky ridge that descends from the Lenzspitze. At an altitude of 3340mtrs this would mean a height gain of 1800mtrs and should afford us close up views of the giants above. The weather was again fine and we opted to do the climb in our trail shoes. It was pleasantly warm and so we took the opportunity to refill our water bottles in Saas Fee. The trail proper starts from the church in the village and the climbing starts immediately. Initially you climb through a small wooded section then cross a river and continue up a broad spur towards Schonegge. The guidebook states that the gradient is relentless but the switchbacks make the going fairly easy. Soon we were at a crossroads at 2419mtrs where a traverse to the lift station at Hannig is possible. Our objective could be seen way above just jutting out from the ridge. It looked steep and no obvious easy route was to be seen from here.Further up the trail passed around under the Distelhorn. From here there was a wilder feel and look to the mountains. A noisy collection of Alpine Choughs serenaded us with their raucous chorus. Onwards we climbed until we eventually came to the beginning of an equipped trail that enabled progress up the steep and exposed ground that led to the crest of the ridge coming down from the hut at Oberes 2806mtrs. The hut still looked a long way off but we were making good time and enjoying ourselves. We met first an older couple who had turned back who informed us that it was very steep. Then a couple of young guys came back towards us and informed us that where the route passed to the shady side of the ridge it was too icy. We opted to continue anyway and see for ourselves. We soon came to a short section with a little ice and snow on the trail but it was well protected by steel ropes and as far as I could see the way above seemed to stick to the crest or sunny side. We continued on quite easily and the interest was maintained for the rest of the climb. It was a little bit like a Via Ferrata without the harness. Eventually we reached the hut and rested a good while and enjoyed lunch.
|Down to the valley|
|It had a nice high feel about it.|
|Back to Hannig|
The schitzophrenic weather pattern resumed today and rain and low cloud were back. We intended climbing the Jegihorn 3206mtrs today but a forgotten map and no path where we thought it would be meant we only did a short hike back down to Saas Grund from the lift at Kreunsboden. An altogether unsatisfactory day.
|Crowds on the Via Ferrata|
|Easy ridge to the summit|
|Maybe next year|
|A bit of weather across the valley|
|Glorious final view|