Alps

Hut costs on the Matterhorn

Looks like the Italian side of the Matterhorn and the Monte Rosa peaks will be busier this summer, unless of course you are very wealthy.

Hornli Hut

Matterhorn mapped with drones

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Top of Europe

The tannoy gave its multi-lingual message…”Top of Europe”…as we gently gained altitude from Grindelwald to Jungfraujoch, via the most expensive train in Europe (the world?). We were all acclimatised and looking forward to a couple of nights at the Monchjoch Hutte. Working for my old company with Bruce Poll, the new owner and a group of friends who have been coming back for at least fourteen years now, was a pleasure. Excited passengers were delighted to savour a view for five minutes over both the north and south faces of the Eiger, before being deposited at 3454m and a themed retail experience with a difference. Supping Latte’s whilst viewing the mighty Jungfraufirn, descending towards Konkordia and the Rhone valley, our objectives of Monch and Jungfrau, sprang up left and right.

We stashed some extra kit beneath the S.W.Ridge of the Monch (AD-) for collection later and headed off away from the clamour of the station. This ridge is no pushover and consists of most things alpine. Loose rock, good rock, chimneys and slabs plus very exposed and icy slopes on the final summit rise. Descent would be via the normal PD South Spur. Neither route should be underestimated and the Monch is certainly more serious than the Zermatt Breithorn or Allalinhorn normal routes. The ascent of the Jungfrau by it’s normal route proved easier, but watch out for icy slopes just below the summit.

Cogne

Rain for the first time in a couple of weeks in Fort William

Short walk in, thick ice, pairs climbing parallel on wide smears in the sunshine, abseil descents. The guys are having a break from Scotland this year and loving the climbing, cuisine and wine offered by our Italian hosts. The only thing missing is the sunset views out to sea. Bruce Poll and Chris Ensoll with Mike Anderson and team ( the doctors of wind)

Bruce Poll

And on Sunday 3rd March:

More sunshine in Cogne and a rapidly increasing  temperature  through the morning which caused some interesting and thought provoking snow slides from the sun exposed aspects. This made us run away and go for an entertaining  and energetic cross country ski in the afternoon on the excellent trails under the climbing cliffs. Mike went leashless today and still has two axes. Jerry (aka Kermit the frog) was spotted on the cross country trails, see attached photo.

Bruce Poll

Today in Zermatt

Just in case you are considering fleeing the wintry storms up north, thanks to mike Anderson for sending this image of the Matterhorn shot today!

Bishorn today

Thanks to Mike Anderson for this photo taken today of the Bishorn.

Bishorn from the hut

Italian High Level Route

In recent weeks a course arranged through West Coast Mountain Guides has been run by Mark Seaton and James Thacker attempting to complete the Italian high Level Route on the south side of the Zermatt Breithorn, over Castor and on towards the Margharita Hut and hopefully finishing on Monte Rosa. Unfortunately the weather decided to intervene and an amended programme resulted. However, it just goes to show that with a little imagination on the part of the guides and the help of a Land Rover taxi on the Italian side of the range, success can be assured! Well done guys and thanks to Mark and James for persevering. Anyone reading this blog and wishing to have a go at this trip this summer, please get in touch. Thanks to Alan Irvine, Mark Seaton and James Thacker for the photos. A detailed account of the route eventually followed appears on Mark Seaton’s Blog

Matterhorn Blue

Looking into the early afternoon  gloom in Fort William (it started nice!) my mood is lifted by this rather splendid photo from Mike Anderson, currently ski-ing above Zermatt. Watch out for those mega Rostis Mike and thanks for the photo. Was that taken with  your Blackberry? I’m considering upgrading to a Samsung Galaxy. Trying to avoid an iPhone as its owners come over all precious and protective and dewy eyed and short sighted about the other possibilities on the market! Have a nice day.

The Matterhorn

Cosmiques and Mont Blanc du Tacul

Finally catching up with a host of photos from 9th and 10th September. After being reduced by poor weather on Monte Rosa, we moved over to Chamonix at the start of a good spell of weather. The previous week had given us good acclimatisation, which is always a bonus when catching a cable car straight to 3,800m and spending a night in the Cosmiques Hut. A leisurely afternoon start on the Cosmiques Arete after dropping our kit at the hut was supposed to avoid any crowds! Unfortunately we were in a bit of a ‘confusion’ of ropes, especially at the wall pitch close to the finish.

Various techniques were on display from prussiking up a fixed rope to cleanly by-passing the whole ‘guddle’ on the left or right. Interestingly the teams who showed a clean pair of heels were all British and fast. Leaving crampons on for this section (see photos), can provide added purchase on the smooth granite, as a number of conveniently slotted drill holes are placed just perfect for front points. Strange that! A night back at the hut plus an 0500 start placed us on the summit of Mt Blanc du Tacul all by ourselves on a very fine morning, with views all around. At the time of our ascent the approach face and seracs were all silent and well frozen. This area is notorious for serac fall and avalanche, so be warned in poor weather. Seracs are a law unto themselves and it’s wise to be swift when climbing below them in case gravity takes over!

At the time of our visit the conditions were very good and quite a number of teams were out on the Chere Couloir and adjacent routes. Since arriving home in Scotland another dump of snow has arrived in Chamonix, so my alpine blog is now out of date and climbers are asked to find more recent reports. One noticeable concern that will remain, was the amount of loose rock and glacial melt-back on the lower rock apron of the Aiguille du Midi, south face. So much so, that a fence has been erected below obvious loose ares to encourage climbers to stay clear!

Monte Rosa

Now the weather has improved (6th September) we left for Zermatt. I normally use a taxi into the village. The advantage being slightly cheaper and a place to leave your vehicle. Plenty of options on the left as Tasch is entered. Our plan was to try and climb Monte Rosa from the new Monte Rosa Hut which has recently been rebuilt uphill of the old hut. Just a shame it could not have been built a little higher, as the height gain on summit day is around 1800m! The new hut is however a wonder of modern design and boasts a 90% self-sufficient energy design, using solar power to good effect. The Swiss Alpine Club have removed the old hut with explosives I believe!!

Approaching the hut from Rotenboden on the Gornagrat railway has become increasing difficult since I first stayed on the site in 1975. Even in the last year, retreating glaciers have forced the authorities to place metal ladders in various places to help alpinistes and ‘hut trippers’ reach the hut with some degree of safety. Crampons will often be essential once the ladders have been negotiated to gain the Grenz glacier. The exit from the glacier on to the rocks below the hut is guarded by a very big and fearsome glacial tunnel that carries a huge amount of melt water.

Unfortunately our attempt on Monte Rosa was thwarted by bad weather and white-out only 150m below the summit. The normal route on the west ridge was cloaked in too much fresh snow and a large group in front had blazed a good trail to the col between Dofourspitze and Nordend. We followed this trail but it was filling in quite quickly and not easy going. The glacier below the col is not straight forward, especially in descent and in a white out. It’s certainly a good place to carry a GPS and plug in various waymarks in ascent, which can be followed in retreat if the trail becomes unclear.

The route from the col follows easy but steep fixed ropes at around Scottish grade II and is also used in descent. Thanks to the Verbier Guides for blazing a trail, both up and down the mountain. They deserved their success. Of interest here is the reason for the Verbier Guides being on the mountain. They were leading a group of young men on a drug rehabilitation programme over two weeks from the lowest point to the highest point in Switzerland and were …”as fit as butchers  dogs”…well done.