New First Ascent in the Alps?Well not exactly a fist assent but it is the first time this route has been climbed in this century anyway so I guess it is a first assent of sorts.
The route in question is the North face of the Nadlehorn, not a classic climb on anyone’s list. I actually have not been able to finding any info on the first assent, but no doubt someone here on SP will have that info squirreled away someplace.
The route’s unpopularity is in no small measure do to the rather torturous approach across the chaotic crevasse labyrinth of the upper Reid glacier, menaced by a nasty serac band, then there are the twin gaping bergschrunds, which rarely close--even in winter, to contend with and to top it off the face gets a good deal of late summer sun so it is often very icy.
So it was no surprise when asking at the Bordier hut that we got a rather queer look from the warden. She consulted the log book and found that the last attempt was in 2002 and the last successful climb was well back in 1998. A quick glace of Swindin & Fleming’s guide yields less than 10 words on the route, the 94 edition of the SAC guide has only the words (pardon my translation) “not recommended” and it is not even in the latest edition of the SAC guide.
“Well then, what better reason does one need to give it a try then? Anyway if it is out of shape will just do the normal route!” “No harm done!”
It was now my 7th day in the Alps and it has been raining, snowing and blowing the whole time and the week before my partner faced the same situation, so what did we have to lose?
Up and AtomFortunately, we awoke to fine clear weather and we were out of the hut 03:40 and by sunrise we were on the Reid Glacier and had our first look at the face.
“Well, Well! No schrunds to be seen!” “So I guess all that snow and bad weather the last two weeks was worth something after all!”
We shared our tramp on the Reid with another team who were heading up and over the Ulrichshorn then follow the regular ant trail up the normal route of the Naddlehorn.
After about two hours of uneventful tramping we broke off from the other team and approached the base of the crevasse field and then our first close look at today’s challenge in the early morning light.
Fortunately there were no seracs ready to plink off and yes indeed the schrunds appeared to be fully closed. “So far so good” I though.
After the obligatory drink and quick snack we rearranged our gear and made our way up into the unknown (at least to us) still keeping roped up in the lower section.
“Well can’t complain about this!!” I yell back to Irma, as I crossed quickly over a some very nice neve dusted with a little powdered snow and up to and around the first of many big crevasse we had to turn that day.
After large number of twists, turns, bridges and bends in little over 45min we are through the first crevasse field and even with the serac ban and out of any potential trouble from that.
A quick look around and we a treated to an unopposed view to the north with the Jungfrau and Moche visible far in the distance and the Reid glacier spread out before us.
A quick look up and we can see no problems with our planned route and I jokingly say to Irma “Well that is the hard part done!”
The Cascade ShuffleWell after a few more meters I was about to eat those words. The lovely dusting of powder over the neve quickly gave way to about 1m of fluffy white stuff!!
Just then a through raced though my mind “I should of taken up skiing, at least that way I could really enjoy this more.”
Then welling up, like some secret, than all of us hide in the dark recess of our mind, came the vivid images of my fist climbs in the Rockies and Cascades where climbing up 45˚ powder slopes was considered “fun” and if you fool enough to break trail, you were always invited back on another climb.
With quick shudder and a unvoiced “Oh Great!!”, I called back to Irma, “Well this might be a little more fun that I initially thought!” and then upwards I plunged (quite literally) into our next task to get up to the first of the schrunds.
For once in my many climbs in the Alps I was glad I put my gaiters on as I continued up doing the Cascade shuffle.
Left knee up--Stomp, Stomp, Stomp down the snow,
Left leg up--Step into the snow,
Right knee up--Stomp, Stomp, Stomp down the snow,
Right leg up—Step into the snow
Continue till you run out of snow!
Well upward and onwards until we got just under the first of the schrunds and after cleaning off a ton of snow, having a drink, and putting the rope away, we decided to alter our line a little as there was some risk that this whole face might come down in one big sluff.
So we took a less direct line up, moving well to the right and hoping to come up someplace along the ridge between the Nadelhorn and the Stecknadelhorn.
I figured it also about time to share the pain so I encouraged Irma take the lead.
Well Ok but what now?Well Irma mastered the Cascade Shuffle in a few steps and was quickly running way ahead of me. In no time we were over the first schrund with only a little punch through and a then up to the second.
Irma had a few nervous seconds when she though she was punching through but to here surprise and relief (I guess) it was me who punched thought the second schrund as well.
A few quick and delicate steps later I was over the hole I made and I was on my way up following Irma.
The rest is pretty much the same, a hour or so to the Cascade Shuffle up the full face until we reached the ridgeline.
We quickly trundled over ridge to the Stecknadelhorn to bag that one were we spent a few moments enjoying the view. Unfortunately Irma’s camera decided at that moment to go for a chop so that is the last of the pictures.
Not much from here on in we made our way back over the ridge to the Nadelhorn, which we enjoyed in peace as the gaggle of ants on the normal route, who were watching us all day, were long gone and enjoying a hot cocoa in the hut.
We didn’t see much as clouds quickly rushed in so we decided to make a quick exit.
Now that that is over how about dinnerThe tramp down was the inverse of the way up. The entire normal route was a block of ice, which would of made it quite the challenge for your average PDer on the way up that day.
Well we reached the Bordier hut in plenty time for dinner (for once) and as we were the only ones there and as a little celebration the hut warden treated us to a dinner of Ibex stew with rice and wild mushrooms.
Quite a nice way to round out a near perfect day.