^ The summit ridge. Stunning views, wonderful weather and a very narrow ridge! We were standing on the Swiss summit – there’s the Italian summit just across the ridge in the opposite direction. A wonderful way to celebrate Swiss National Day.
I know that before I said we were going to try the Weisshorn instead of the Eiger because of the weather, but it turns out I got the name slightly wrong. Instead we (Seth, Dylan and myself) heading up to the Weissmeis hut the night before last, to make our way to the Weissmeis ridge the next morning. Morning came and found us leaving at just after 4am on up a snowy ascent for a couple of hours, and climbing up onto a very picturesque, long ridge. At this point Seth and Dylan were worrying over the warm weather and the lack of stars that we could see, and so we, along with all of the other teams also attempting the ridge that morning, settled down in a relatively comfortable patch of ridge to wait for the sky to lighten sufficiently to make a decision on the weather, and to check the forecasts again.
As we watched the sky turn pink over in Italy we could see black cloud fronts in two different directions, and the forecasts had switched predictions of thunderstorms from afternoon to morning. Although from what we could see it didn’t as yet look decisively bad, the ridge route is one where if you start it, you’re committed to finishing it to be able to get back down… The decision made, all of us except one couple turned back down the mountain to contemplate our next move for the day.
We reached the hut an hour later, at 7am, and had a quick discussion over what to do next. The weather was being vague and it was hard to say what the day was going to turn out like, and so we wanted a route where we could turn back quickly and easily if it did take a turn for the worse. We decided to get started up the normal glacier route up the Weissmeis, and to try and move pretty quickly and basically just see what happened. So, starting out over two hours later than the other teams that were trying this route, we started off. Seth and Dylan had said that it should take 4 or 5 hours climbing to get to the top, and that we’d set a turning back time for 1:15 that afternoon, just to make sure we didn’t miss the last chairlift back down into the valley. We were at the summit in 2 hours and 10 minutes. We’d cruised up passed many of the other teams, and topped out at the same time as the couple that had pressed on with the ridge route – they were locals and had completed it incredibly quickly.
We were back down at the hut an hour later. It was great to have summited another 4000m peak whilst we were in the Alps, and although it was a real shame having to give up on the ridge bid we all knew it was the right decision. The weather swung between looking ominous and looking lovely and eventually ended up being good for the day, but definitely better safe than sorry and when we made the decision it was just too difficult to predict.
I ended up thoroughly enjoying the day, and we had a farewell late lunch down in the village of Saas Grund with my dad after the climb. I’ll definitely miss Seth and Dylan, but hopefully will climb with them again someday. Potentially ice climbing in Norway (hopefully!) with Seth, as he has his own guide company over there – Northern Alpine Guides – and maybe Ama Dablam sometime too. We’ll see what happens with my dad’s knee, and where life takes us, but this whole holiday has reminded me just how much I love climbing and I can’t wait for the next adventure.
Ttfn, thanks for reading and enjoy the rest of summer!
I’m pleased to report that I managed to summit the Matterhorn yesterday! Unfortunately that is singular, as my dad was forced to turn back about a quarter of the way up because of his knee – definitely the right decision as he doesn’t think he’d have been physically able to get down if he went any higher. I suppose that’s what you get trying to climb so soon after such a big operation. C’est la vie. The mountain will still be here in the years to come. He’s a little flat about it, but knows that it was the right choice, and this was always on the cards, at least he managed to get in some good climbing beforehand.
As for me, well, I now hurt all over. The day really is one long scramble. Going up went pretty well, Seth and I got up in 5 hours – not breaking any speed records, but not appalling (especially with my current fitness levels…) and I managed all the rock climbing bits and pieces with no problems at all, feeling strong etc. But coming down. Oh dear. Well, that part took 7 hours. I guess it was mostly down to my lack of confidence in down climbing. I would be careful normally doing that stuff, but when it’s so absurdly steep and exposed I was actually quite nervous a lot and according to Seth ended up almost freezing up every now and then and then carrying on very slowly. Not maybe helped by the fact that these are new boots and the bond of trust is still being formed… We also got lost a couple of times on the way down. It was Seth’s first time guiding the mountain and route finding was really, really difficult.
We had beautiful weather for the day, really sunny and hot with clear blue skies. Downside being that by the end of our gruelling descent Seth and I were incredibly dehydrated and just wanted to get in out of the incessant heat. Upside, however, being that from the summit we had the most stunning views and were up there for most of the time in just a t-shirt.
Climbing Alpine style is so different from anything else we’ve ever done. The biggest difference that sticks out to me is the pace. Everyone goes so quickly, the whole climb is in such a rush. It’s kind of strange, to me anyway. But I guess it makes sense if you have to catch the last chairlift back down into the village at the end of the day.
On another note, it was Swiss national day yesterday, and we got to see a stunning fireworks display over the village last night, and the hut we were staying in had two huge bonfires going. All really nice, although I have to say that my top priorities were mostly focused on getting off my feet and getting to bed. And drinking water.
We’re now one valley over ready to move into position to try and climb the Weisshorn tomorrow. I sincerely hope my body feels less sore by then. My knees are just two big bruises and I’ve lost all sensation in one of my big toes. Hm. Oh well. I hope it all works out anyway. I’ll keep you updated.
I don’t have any photos of the actual climb with me as the camera was with my dad, but I’ll be getting some off Seth soon. So for now, this is just a photo of the Matterhorn. It is just as steep as it looks.