The original plan
I had planned an ascent of Groß Grünhorn and Fiescherhorn for some time. Three weeks ago – around the 1st of May the huts in the higher parts of Bernese Alps were all fully booked and since I felt to lazy to carry out all the bivi equipment like tent, stove, mattress and sleeping bag Sebastian and I went to Südtirol and bagged some peaks around the Casati hut.
There was another public holiday to come at the end of May. But Thursday, 22nd of May was not only a public holiday in southern Germany but also Sebastian’s birthday and Sebastian wanted to celebrate a party at home. So I asked Frank, a ski mountaineer originally from Kleinwalsertal who is living in Ditzingen now, just some kilometres away from my home. He liked my idea of a final ski-tour for the 2007/08 season and because there was no public holiday in Switzerland it was easy to get a booking on the huts: the original plan was driving to Grindelwald on Thursday, taking the train to Jungfraujoch and skiing down to Konkordia-hut. Friday: ascending Groß Grünhorn and crossing over to Mönchsjoch-hut. Saturday: ascending Fiescherhorn and returning to Mönchsjoch-hut. Sunday: ascending Mönch or Jungfrau depending on fitness, weather and conditions.
The weather forecast changes plansI checked the different weather forecasts for the weather station at Jungfraujoch every day from Monday on. The only thing that could be quoted for sure: there was definitely no good weather period but a chance for at least a small weather window. A high pressure zone was stuck above Scandinavia and a low pressure zone above northern Italy. The Bernese Alps were between both zones.
I called the hut keeper of Konkordia on Wednesday. He told me, that there had been wet snow this morning for the first time this year because fog and clouds all through the night kept the snow away from freezing. The “Konkordiaplatz” is at 2700m, the hut approximately 100m higher. I talked to Frank and we changed the plan. A 3-night stay at Mönchsjoch-hut (3640m) was the better idea, because from there no tour would lead us under the altitude of 3200m and the escape to Jungfraujoch railway-station in a severe bad weather situation was much easier than making the way back from Konkordiaplatz.
Going to Mönchsjoch
Thursday morning came and as the proposal said, the weather was bad during the day. We took our time driving to Grindelwald and hopped on the train after a relaxing coffee-break in the afternoon. It was my fifth time riding the train to Jungfraujoch. My first time was together with my father back in 1984. It is interesting to see how the quotes of nations have changed during the decades. Back in 1984 there was a 95% majority of Japanese tourists, almost no mountaineers and a mixture of other nations as a minority. Nowadays tourists from India fight for the majority against the Japanese, who are still present in big groups. Chinese and Korean people are on the run and I wonder if they might beat nowadays leaders in some years.
It was Frank’s first time taking the ride. I felt sorry for him, because everything was in clouds, when the train stopped at Eigernorthface window and at “Eismeer” station, who both offer spectacular sights. When we arrived at Jungfraujoch station another innovation could be seen. A restaurant called “Bollywood” for tourists from India. WTF: hope they don’t serve cow-meat there.
The ascent to Mönchsjoch from the station can easily be done in less than 45 minutes, but since we had no acclimatisation, we forced ourselves to go really slow. The clouds opened up just 10 minutes after we left the station. I told Frank about my Mönch traverse in 2006 during walking and took a picture of Mönch’s southface. A huge cornice was hanging over the west ridge into the south face as big as I have never seen it before at this place. The summer is coming, so it won’t stay there for long.
In the hut
The hut was pretty empty. We had a nice dinner and talked to the few others. Most of them were on the same plan as we were: doing the Fiescherhorn on Friday and looking for the weather development deciding other goals next evening.
The clouds opened up more and more and I could take some spectacular pictures of the surrounding 4000m mountains.
The night was short in time and breathing. A human body doesn’t like to be transformed from nothing to 3640m in some hours.
Waking up on Friday I felt really bad and couldn’t believe that anything could work out that day. I was not hungry for breakfast at 5 am and so were most others. The altitude stopped any hunger.
Getting on the gear and stepping outside a brilliant morning and fresh air woke me up. What a fantastic day was about to start: clear skies all around and clouds way down under 2500 meters in the lower valleys.
We put on our skis and skied down the well frozen Ewigschneefäld down to approximately 3200 meters.
The sun came out and touched Mönch and Aletschhorn into warm colours.
The ascent to Fiescherhorn climbs up in narrow turns on a quite steep flank. Gaining altitude spectacular views down to Konkordia and Aletschhorn opened up. After both of us felt quite bad in the night we were surprised how fit we were now and how fast and nice the ascent worked out.
We reached the final spot for taking of the skis with no problems except of a single tricky, steep and icy passage. Because we planned to return the same way there was no use in carrying the skies up the final passage to the Fieschersattel.
A Swiss group right in front of us wanted to go down to Finsteraarhorn-hut, so they carried their skies.
The ascent to Fieschersattel is a 50 degrees steep snow/ice flank that is followed in a direct line first, turning left after two thirds and traversing in direction of a gap in the ridge.
Frank got cold after deposit of the skis, but I still wanted to drink some tea and eat a bar, so Frank started on climbing in advance. The Swiss group and Frank had been going up right in front of me. There was a good “track” of stairs without any difficulties in the beginning. On the last 30 meters the tracks gapped. The “stairway” was traversing left with minor steepness and a thin line was going up more directly. I could already see Frank stretching out his head behind the upper rocks of the ridge in the direction of the steep direct line, so I followed this one, but had to find out that it was the wrong decision. The conditions changed fast after I left the “track” and I was in a blank ice field with just some centimetres of snow on top of very hard ice. “Damn, should have taken the other one”, I thought.
Frank put his head over the ridge again and asked me if I wanted the rope and I didn’t say no. He through the rope down, I secured myself, relaxed and climbed the last part of my “alternative route” directly through a mixed chimney.
Escaping out of the shadows the sun was shining already strong on the other side of the ridge. A huge snowfield is connecting a plateau like a triangle between Ochs, Groß- and Hinter Fiescherhorn to the eastern side of the ridge between Groß- and Hinter Fiescherhorn.
The climb up to Groß Fiescherhorn was an enjoyable grade II mixed scramble over rocks and ice. We reached it in a total time of 5 hrs. from the hut, including breaks for taking pictures and drink some tea. The summit offered gorgeous views to each side and we were alone arriving there. I stood on some 4000m already, but the view from Groß Fiescherhorn was one of the greatest ever.
Once you reach the quite airy and small top an impressive 3100 meters deep view down to Grindelwald comes to your eyes.
To the right Schreckhorn, Lauteraarhorn, Ochs and Finsteraarhorn are the eye-catchers.
To the left the profile of Eiger’s Mittellegi ridge, Jungfrau, Äbeni Flue, Gletscherhorn and Aletschhorn and Trugberg in front are fascinating.
Behind Hinter Fiescherhorn the Groß Grünhorn marks the last 4000+ spot on the ridge.
In closer distance the Bietschhorn peaks out behind Aletschhorn.
In bigger distance, but still visible well the whole range of Wallis mountains can be seen left of Aletschhorn.
The Matterhorn peaks out as the first peak left of Aletschhorn, Dom, Lyskamm, Weißmies, Lagginhorn, and the Monte Rosa can also be identified further to the left.
In bigger distance are Grand Combin and the whole Mont Blanc range, when looking in the direction of the Lötschenlücke.
I am not sure, but maybe this is the peak with most 4000m visible from the top?
Another fascinating thing on top: except of some housings of Grindelwald you don’t see any other sign of civilisation where ever you look. Big glaciers all around give a feeling like in Antarctica.
It doesn’t happen often, that I don’t know what to take pictures of, but on top of Groß Fiescherhorn my brain had an overload error for a minute. To many mountains, to many panoramas, to many things to digitalise. I took my time and had to change the cameras batteries before going down again.
Meanwhile bigger groups approached the summit, so we turned back and went down again.
Back in the Fieschersattel Frank decided to hop on the Hinter Fiescherhorn also. I decided not to go, but relax in the sun and wait.
After he returned, we climbed down the steep flank, most of it turning face to the mountain. Decending back to our skies took caution and energy from both of us.
Skiing down to Ewigschneefäld we found perfect conditions. The sun had melt the upper part of that frozen snow from the morning, but underneath everything was still hard. Great for drawing lines, but both of us got a little tired already. We still felt that altitude and had to stop once in a while after some corners.
Back on Ewigschneefäld we took a break and enjoyed the spectacular surrounding. We could see two snow-shoe-walkers in front, who seamed to force the rest of energy for the ascent. After 30 minutes sitting in the sun, the snow-shoe couple still looked as if in same distance. “Long glacier”, we thought and then we started our sucker: ascending about 6kms back up the Ewigschneefäld to Mönchsjoch-hut. After walking for an hour it looked as if we were still in the same place. We joked around that we might be on a big treadmill or that the glacier was maybe floating as fast as our tempo.
Climbing the last 200 meters to the hut exhausted both of us to the limit. I started counting my steps starting at one thousand counting back, in order to play a trick to my mind, that didn’t want me to walk up that glacier but preferred a sleep in the sun.
Finally we made it to the hut and ordered a big bowl of soup and some mountain cheese. We could witness all afternoon that the weather, that was brilliant all day, was turning bad. Before sundown the whole hut was in clouds. The weather forecast promised a chance for good weather for at least some hours on Saturday morning, but after that bad weather for the rest of Saturday and really bad weather for Sunday.
Going homeWhen I woke up around midnight for going out to take a pee, strong wind was already pushing snowflakes through the air. Frank woke me up next morning telling me what I already knew: “it’s snowing and the visibility is below 25 meters. No more mountains today, let’s go home.
Good choice that we went to Mönchsjoch-hut. Taking breakfast, checking out and returning to Jungfraujoch station was done quite fast, so we could take the first train going down that Saturday morning. We had originally planned for 3 days and hoped to climb three mountains, but the Bernese Alps told us, that one perfect day must have been enough this time. Both of us were not sorry about it. The Friday climb was worth everything.