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Climbing in Zermatt this May

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Climbing in Zermatt this May

Postby alapy » Wed Mar 26, 2014 7:19 pm

Hi!

I'm highly likely going to climb in Swiss alps, in Zermatt this may.
The trip would start last day of april and last until 18th of may.

And to the subject. I'm planning on climbing maybe a one or two PD+ routes but mostly those AD- and AD ones. At the moment the peaks I've been looking at are: Ober Gabelhorn, Zinalrothorn, Lenszpitze, Dufourspitze, Dent Blance, Rimpfischhorn and Dent d'Herens.
I'm going alone again so it's just luck based if I find someone to rope up with or not which brings at least one question in my mind which decides which peaks I will be summitting. Could I get some opinions about the crevasse dangers in these particular mountains? Crossing big glaciers isn't something I'd like to do a lot for example.

Last parts of Dufourspitze climb seem like much fun but the longish journey before that seemed to require a rope definately.

So I'm welcome to opinions about Zermatt mountains. I'm also aware that going solo if I don't find some climbing buddies is very dangerous but hiring a guide for like 15-50 days / season is kinda expensive. One could afford an eight thousander expedition with that money.

PS. I gladly appreciate tips if there is some fun routes including a lot ice climbing as I find climbing with technical ice axes more fun than rock climbing even thought I'm probably way better in the latter.


EDIT: Moderator can move this thread to Europe section if it's more fit for the topic.
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Re: Climbing in Zermatt this May

Postby selinunte01 » Thu Mar 27, 2014 1:40 pm

Hi alapy,

what do you mean with "climb in Swiss Alps"? April / may in this region of the swiss Alps still is ski touring season. Additional the summits you choose, like Zinalrothorn, Rimpfischhorn, Dent Blanche would be rock climbs with winter / snow condition. Summer season starts around end of june! No region for solos!
I hope you are aware of that fact!

Happy climbing, Michael
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Re: Climbing in Zermatt this May

Postby alapy » Sat Mar 29, 2014 2:23 pm

Pardon my possible grammar mistakes, with "climb in Swiss Alps" I ment that I'd be climbing in the alps in Switzerland. Zermatt seemed like the best hub according to the route difficulty etc. Saas fee mountains include often very little technicality and Chamonix isn't really good place if you are using a tent. Camping isn't allowed in many places.

About the seasons, what I've understood the glaciers are nowadays shrinking and so on. I was in Saas Fee last time late september and it was already winter season there (huts closed and a lot of snow) which made the climbing conditions actually niceish because the temperatures stayed down.

The summits I've been looking at are just the summit/routes that have stood out when searching what to climb. I know a lot of them consist a lot of scrambling which I don't mind, but some technical ice axe action would always be much fun. As mentioned I'm staying only couple of weeks so changing "climbing hub" in the middle of my trip might be too much of a hassle.

What you mean with the No region for solos? I mean I know how soloing isn't the best choice but do those particular routes consist some dangers which especially make it way more risky to go alone? Extra snow feels more like a blessing than a curse (until avalanche of course) because of the crampons and ice axes. At least the really hard routes seem to be more popular during early spring than in the warm summer months.
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Re: Climbing in Zermatt this May

Postby selinunte01 » Sat Mar 29, 2014 3:16 pm

Hello alapy,
I did not thought about grammar mistakes - as my English is not the best I would never say something about possible mistakes of other people!

I just wanted to say that - having climbed some of your proposed summits myself (mostly in july) - climbing the high peaks in may in the Zermatt region needs a very skilled mountaineer who really knows his stuff. May is ski touring season in the Valais Alps and summits like Dent Blanche are rarely summited before end of june as the routes normally are much more difficult in may, due to the winter conditions in this height. I don´t know if ice and snow are a blessing on the Dent Blanche gendarme, rated UIAA grade IV.
Glacier crevasses are everywhere in the Valais Alps - the danger of falling might be less in may with a sufficient snow pack covering the crevasses. But for me a glacier solo never is a good idea.
Every mixed rock - glacier route is more difficult in winter. So, unless you are a very skilled mountaineer familiar with ice and snow conditions in rock climbing, you should rather stay away from such solos.

Just my opinion and my advice to think about it.
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Re: Climbing in Zermatt this May

Postby alapy » Sat Mar 29, 2014 4:19 pm

Thank you Michael,

I take those tips into consideration and at least will follow the weather forecasts a lot, as you kinda never know how early the summer comes etc.
Do you have any suggestions if there would be some better destinations to climb a couple of weeks? (this doesn't have much regional restirictions, just as long as it's pretty easily achievable by trains /bus from airport and going for this long trip it ofc shouldn't be any 6km+ high destination as the acclimisation already takes way too long)
Chamonix is of course all the time in my mind but just the forbidden camping kinda worries me. I can afford to stay some nights in refuges but I'd rather sleep mostly in my tent. Also there is plenty of ice in Chamonix but then again the actual mountains don't interest me that much.
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Re: Climbing in Zermatt this May

Postby rgg » Sun Mar 30, 2014 1:04 pm

Last year I wanted to head off to the Alps early too - by the second half of June that is. Since there was still a whole lot more snow than usual, I decided to go to the southern part, and so I flew to Milan (Malpensa airport to be precise), not far south of the Alps. The next ten days or so I spent on the Italian side. The highest I got was Blinnenhorn (3375m), on the border with Switzerland. There are many other 3000-ers in the area. Which ones would be suitable for soloing depends on what you're comfortable with. Blinnenhorn involved a short glacier crossing, and Punta Arbola a slightly longer one. According to the map, both those routes are not completely without crevasses - but with all the snow I reckoned they would be filled nicely and so I judged the risk to be acceptable.

The first week of July I teamed up with a friend and went to Zermatt and head for Monte Rosa. After struggling with soft snow on the Monte Rosa glacier, not all that far above the 3000 m mark, we decided to descend and drive around to the Italian side. That proved an excellent choice. Our first night we stayed at Rifugio Gnifetti (3647m), and early next morning it was cold enough to ensure that the snow was hard.

If you decide to come to the Monte Rosa massif in May, then, as Michael wrote, that's still ski season. If there is recent snow, there can be avalanche danger and you'll need skis or snowshoes. As for accommodation, I can't say which refuges will be open, and until when. If they are closed, you can ask if they have a winter room that is unlocked. The latter would be better if you want to keep down the costs, because often it's free to stay in a winter room. In addition, you can check out the bivouac shelters, which are always open, and free as well. There is one on Balmenhorn. But to get there you'll have to cross a glacier, with plenty of crevasses. It's impossible to predict if the hidden ones will all be filled up nicely or not. Others are so big that even in winter you can easily see them. You'll just have to ask locally about current conditions right before going up there.
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Re: Climbing in Zermatt this May

Postby alapy » Sun Mar 30, 2014 7:26 pm

Yes last year was very snowy, but this year feels like different according to the current weather forecasts in the regions near Alps.

Than you for the nice information rgg!
Could you tell me more about your trip to Blinnenhorn (and probably mountains nearby as you mentioned ten days)? How technically demanding are those routes etc? As I'd like to climb (and use double axes but I'm starting to feel that only option for this is Chamonix) something atleast a bit demanding. Some routes including like sections of WI3 and some not ultimately straightforward scrambling would be the best.
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Re: Climbing in Zermatt this May

Postby rgg » Mon Mar 31, 2014 4:45 am

I didn't have much route information for Blinnenhorn, but went up from Lago del Sabbione via Rifugio 3A. There were no tracks in the snow until quite high up, so I had to figure it out for myself. I estimate that what I did was PD-. On the way down I first descended to Rifugio Claudio e Bruno. When I later checked it, I learned I hadn't quite followed the normal route, but it was quite easy just the same, only F.

The next day I went up Punta d'Arbola. Again there were no tracks until I got near the summit. I went up the glacier from the NE, probably F+. The north face looked quite interesting too:
Image
Punta d'Arbola, with the 200 m high N face on the right.
I didn't like the sight of the avalanche debris below it, but if you ignore that for a moment, it looks like fun.


The other solo climbs I did in the area where all easy, and not on glaciated peaks. There was snow on some of those, but only very occasionally did I need crampons and ice axe. Nothing harder than F. If I would have had a few more days, Monte Leone was at the top of my list. From what I read about it, the two easiest routes are the S and W rock ridges, both PD-, with some exposed UIAA grade II parts. And I read that the N side has some steep ice/snow, starting at AD-. Since I didn't go there, I can't say in what shape it was in 2013, but if I read about ice/snow faces routes rated AD-, I start thinking about a second ice tool. Being alone, I would probably have opted for a traverse, either S-W or the other way around. Though I've soloed a couple of AD routes as well as some UIAA grade III rock, those are the exceptions. I usually don't go beyond PD+ and UIAA grade II when I'm alone.

Good luck, Rob
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Re: Climbing in Zermatt this May

Postby jdenyes » Mon Mar 31, 2014 10:31 am

Hey there,
I live in Switzerland, and there is a ton of snow this year. I was in the mountains all week, and the resort I was at got almost a 1m of fresh powder, last week. It's wet and heavy, but a lot. We keep alternating between extremely strong Foehn wind storms creating really odd snow, 20°c and then the next week -10--15°C and a new ton of snow. It has not been a good winter for winter sports, at least in the Northern Alps, and there was virtually no ice for climbing at all. It was snowing last week and will likely snow again this weekend, and this is not even speaking of the high mountains this is in Zurich. Again with the weird 20°C in between.

The April to May chunk of time is usually considered 'off season' for mountaineering by foot (climbing if you will) because of one main reason: the snow covering the crevasses on the glaciers is strong enough for a snow bridge to cover them, but generally not strong enough to let people walk across them. Lots of covered crevasses to fall through.

For most of the Alps Winter is until end of March, and the normal 'mountaineering by foot, not on ski' seasons doesn't start until June, end of May is even pushing it.

From my experience of Saas Fee/Zermatt, at the end of May, two years ago, more snow did not make it more fun or challenging, at all. It meant post holing, snow up to your thighs, every single step. Snow shoes would have helped, but ski touring did seem better. On foot, it was miserable, slow, and extremely exhausting. We had to route find extremely cautiously, because the sagging snow bridges were extremely obvious. Also, we could only climb in specific areas because avalanche dangers were extremely high.

All of the mountains you describe in your first post involve significant glaciers, with significant crevasse to negotiate, which is a component of the difficulty rating which really takes into account the whole trip and not just what 'technical difficulty' you might encounter on the summit ridge. AD does not include scrambling, it includes climbing above II or III. To find routes with less crevasses, less glaciers, less avalanche risk, and scrambling rather than climbing, a PD would be more likely. The glaciers on the approach are usually a big component of the rating for a mountain. And you're right, most technical ice is in Cham.

The recommendations for the Italian side seem reasonable and way more fun then waist deep snow, especially considering a lot of snow this year. You just probably won't have as much fun as you would hope to. A good place for more info is in guide books, there is a nice one with the standard routes on the 4,000m peaks in english available, and some specific ones for zermatt but those might not be in english.

Good websites for specific route information, recent tours and conditions include

http://www.bergtour.ch/
http://www.hikr.org/
http://www.4000er.de/index.php

which likely won't be in english but work fine in google translate for me. Hikr and Bergtour have the less common peaks and usually really good beta, and include a really wide geographical region, usually i go to the map section on hikr, find a cool location, and then get better info on Bergtour, but for the big mountains 4000er.de will be your best bet for route information. I think they usually also include expected conditions at different times of the year, but this may be wrong.

I think its a bit of a bummer, but in your time frame, with my personal experience you may not get to do what you hoped to do, which is definitely a bummer. If it comes down to picking one location and going exploring out of it, in April Zermat is probably not ideal.

Personally i would at least bring snow shoes, and switch them out with crampons when you need to, but you'll probably also need the snowshoes. I also use this website, http://www.snow-forecast.com/maps/dynamic/switzerland, for looking at snow forecast and where the thaw point is, you can change the options on the right side. You could check it in the few weeks leading up to the trip and see what the area had been experiencing as well as what would come while you are there.

Good luck finding something awesome and adventurous, stay safe and have a blast!
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Re: Climbing in Zermatt this May

Postby Flachlandtiroler » Mon Mar 31, 2014 1:08 pm

alapy wrote:I take those tips into consideration and at least will follow the weather forecasts a lot, as you kinda never know how early the summer comes etc.

For the higher peaks in the alps: Sometimes the summer arrives in the middle of June, sometimes beginning of July. But in May -- never ever!! (hopefully... global warming etc.)

alapy wrote:Yes last year was very snowy, but this year feels like different according to the current weather forecasts in the regions near Alps.

Winter on the northern flank of the alps saw very few precipitation, whereas southern and esp. south-easter part drowned under snow... anyway:
No matter what the weather will be, in May and above 3000m there will be more than enough snow to keep a footwalker very very busy :roll:

Could you tell me more about your trip to Blinnenhorn (and probably mountains nearby as you mentioned ten days)?

Blinnenhorn is a glacier hiking trip, very long but nowhere steep. Did it in middle of May some years ago with snowshoes (disrecommended -- bring skis). I myself cannot imagine to do it on foot under this circumstances...

For the peaks around Zermatt you mentioned, I would say forget about that unless you're a quite experienced winter mountaineer.
The only routes done this time of the year are:
1st) ski-able mountaineering peaks e.g. dufour, Rimpfischhorn (scaling the last meters on foot) and
2nd) ice walls e.g. Lenzspitze, which nowadays in summer conditions are no more recommendable.
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Re: Climbing in Zermatt this May

Postby alapy » Mon Mar 31, 2014 8:08 pm

Thank you for the great answers, I will be doing some research with the mentioned sites and routes when I have more time.

And I read that the N side has some steep ice/snow, starting at AD-. Since I didn't go there, I can't say in what shape it was in 2013, but if I read about ice/snow faces routes rated AD-, I start thinking about a second ice tool.

This sounded really interesting.

Also
2nd) ice walls e.g. Lenzspitze, which nowadays in summer conditions are no more recommendable.
. Just some really long, all the time WI3-WI4 sections as solo... well I'm not a professional + that bold. But some steep icy routes would be the optimal climbs for me. As the ice situation is bad as you mentioned and I've heard about the current (or few weeks ago) bad condition of icy routes this might be just a dream.

But overall I'm thinking that I might actually just cancel the big trip there if it's possible. Need to see what I can arrange with the holidays during summer with my boss. There is a public holiday in the end of april/early may in Finland so I might go and do some single summit trip during the long weekend then and get actually some time off from work later on, like in early/mid june. Also as I mentioned there is still the possibility to go somewhere else but I haven't done any climbing/nature stuff outside Europe or Japan so it's hard to know how stuff works in different countries. So I'm also open for suggestions about any easily reachable mountain ranges around the world.

And to the heaviness of snow in May, I know it is heavy to walk when you are all the time up to your knees in snow but it's doable.
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Re: Climbing in Zermatt this May

Postby Flachlandtiroler » Tue Apr 01, 2014 7:31 am

alapy wrote:As the ice situation is bad as you mentioned and I've heard about the current (or few weeks ago) bad condition of icy routes this might be just a dream.


That sounds as if you mistake the conditions for waterfall ice climbing down in the valleys (this season being below average and already finished) with the conditions of the north faces (season starting later on)? Don't know about Lenzspitze conditions, but I suppose it's far too early to judge that now...

alapy wrote:And to the heaviness of snow in May, I know it is heavy to walk when you are all the time up to your knees in snow but it's doable.

I support that in general, but not for Blinnenhorn: From the Capanna Corno Gries the distance is about twelve Kilometers (one way!) so even after a cold night you will get stuck in deep soft snow without skis or snowshoes.
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Re: Climbing in Zermatt this May

Postby bidasking » Tue Apr 01, 2014 8:48 am

Agree with everyone else on here. My experience in the Valais alps last July is bang on with what they are saying.

If you decide to go, your wisdom and experience when you are there will tell you that you have made a poor decision to go during the off-season.
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Re: Climbing in Zermatt this May

Postby rgg » Tue Apr 01, 2014 11:02 am

Flachlandtiroler wrote:Blinnenhorn is a glacier hiking trip, very long but nowhere steep. Did it in middle of May some years ago with snowshoes (disrecommended -- bring skis). I myself cannot imagine to do it on foot under this circumstances...


If you come up the Gries Glacier from Switzerland It's long alright. And that glacier has lots of crevasses, especially lower down. From Italy it's much shorter. You still have to cross the Gries Glacier very high up and there are some crevasses in that area as well, but that's less than 1 km instead of 12.
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Re: Climbing in Zermatt this May

Postby Flachlandtiroler » Tue Apr 01, 2014 1:04 pm

rgg wrote:If you come up the Gries Glacier from Switzerland It's long alright. And that glacier has lots of crevasses, especially lower down. From Italy it's much shorter. You still have to cross the Gries Glacier very high up and there are some crevasses in that area as well, but that's less than 1 km instead of 12.

ACK, you're right. The rest of the ascent is on south-sided slopes and in May may be not a problem.

As Monte Leone has been mentioned:
There we've been end of March and shortened the trip to Simplon Breithorn as the glacier plateau to Monte Leone was in clouds.
The plateau crossing IMHO is poorly suitable to a soloist without skis...
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