For three of us, Derek Augood of King’s, John Williams of St. John’s and myself, it was our first holiday in the Alps, and thanks to the patience and competence of Bob Stevenson of Sidney Sussex, it was a good holiday. But perhaps of all our expeditions, the day which stood out most clearly in our minds was the one on which we climbed the Nadelhorn, Lenzspitze and Dom.
After having spent nearly a fortnight in the Saas-Fee area we had decided that we were probably fit enough to undertake the somewhat formidable task of walking up to the Mischabel Hut, and we had arrived there the previous Thursday evening. On Friday we had climbed the Lenzspitze intending to do the traverse of the Nadelgrat, but had been forced to return the way we had come by bad weather, under the circumstances a slippery operation. Saturday had been frightful, the temperature in the hut being three degrees below freezing point, and some fresh snow had fallen. On Sunday we had made an abortive attempt to climb the Nadelhorn, but had again been forced to return, this time without reaching the top. But in spite of the wind and the cold the weather now was showing signs of improvement. Early the next morning we again packed our rucksacks and sitting round the table squeezed the last of the condensed milk into our tea and hurriedly ate unwanted food, and this time we did leave not to return, and wound our way up the boulder strewn track to the point where the two routes up the Lenzspitze and the Nadelhorn fork. As on the previous day, we climbed the Nadelhorn ridge passing, as the sun was beginning to rise, the place where we turned back, and the summit was reached about seven o’clock. This is a pleasant and easy snow ridge with approximately two hundred feet of scrambling immediately below the top. We had originally intended to do the Stecknadelhorn and, spending the night at the Dom Hut, continue to Zermatt the following day. However, my three companions decided unanimously to do the Nadelgrat traverse onto the Lenzspitze, and as it was still early, from there to do the traverse of the Lenzspitze and Dom. I can remember thinking that the Dom looked an exceedingly long way away and realising a little dismally that there was nothing for it but to agree.
The Nadelgrat is quite magnificent and I imagine well justifies its reputation as being one of the finest ridge climbs in the Saas-Fee area. One half is rock nearest the Nadelhorn and the other snow leading to the summit of the Lenzspitze. It is quite sensational (and particularly impressive in photographs), but under good conditions not difficult. We ate a sardine on the top of the Lenzspitze, and found it really hard to believe that it was indeed the same place where we had been three days previously in a driving snow- storm, and that the sunlit ridge, along which we had just come, was that razor snow edge, that had been seen disappearing so alarmingly into a deep void of grey mist and snow.
From the Lenzspitze we descended the comparatively rotten ridge to the Lenzjoch, a ridge which exhibits one amazing and terrifyingly contorted gendarme. The route at this point is fairly easy to find and there are a number of variant ways. From the Lenzjoch, Bob and I made use of our crampons by doing a short but to me rather alarming traverse across a steep frozen snow slope of about 45 degrees angle onto the main massif of the Dom. There we found that Derek and John had been waiting some time, having presumably followed the normal route which entailed doing a rock pitch, and which we thought we would avoid by a more interesting variation! Apparently the pitch was easier than it looked. From there we joined the ordinary route up the Dom from the Dom Hut, and I have no very clear picture of this part of the expedition other than a vivid impression of a snow slope, which seemed somehow to be highly symbolical of Eternity.
We climbed the whole day on two ropes except on the descent or crossing glaciers, when we went on one, Bob and I together and John and Derek. The whole day we met only one other party on their way up the Dom as we were coming down. They had done the Lenzspitze-Dom traverse and rather surprised us by in- forming us that they had seen John’s pen-knife, which he had left on the top of the Lenzspitze, although they had apparently seen fit to leave it there, no doubt bearing indubitable witness to the absolute honesty of all mountaineering parties, but nevertheless rather irritating.
Suffering rather inordinately from that spiritual pride peculiar to all mountaineers on reaching their objective, we had a late lunch on the top of the Dom, ending traditionally with Kendal Mint Cake. It was exceedingly pleasant. There was a slight breeze, and if the temperature was not exactly conducive to sun-bathing, at least the sky was cloudless, everywhere there were mountains and below in a thousand valleys were little isolated patches of mist. Near to, the Matterhorn appeared as a somewhat cheeky rocky prominence registering a certain individualism which did not seem quite to fit the scheme of things. Such independence was out of place in this panorama of giants as Monte Rosa and the Weisshorn and in the far distance Mont Blanc.
Curiously, at this height of just under fifteen thousand feet, we saw a large and colourful butterfly flitting from rock to rock as (apparently) contented as if it were in some botanical garden. John, by way of being an amateur lepidopterist, although until then unbeknown to us, was much impressed.
Before leaving the top we took our leave of Saas-Fee, which had been our H.Q. for the past fortnight, and wondered whether Heinrich Supersaxo, the head guide there, who had in the past given us much advice, was pointing at us his vast telescope on the verandah of his pension, and telling his guests (as he had told us on our first arrival) that if they looked quickly now they would be able to see four persons on the top of the Dom.
The descent to the Festijoch was fast and the afternoon sun was hot, and I for my part had omitted to put on any sun-burn cream, an omission which I afterwards regretted. The route we took, the ordinary way up the Dom was uneventful, and so long as we were on snow was well marked and made a wide, and judging by the number of recently fallen blocks of ice, necessary detour of a series of amazing ice-pinnacles. From the Festijoch, where we left the snow, we had some slight difficulty in route finding, descending a steep and extremely rotten slope leading onto the glacier, where we picked up the track again and eventually reached the Dom Hut about five o’clock.
The expedition afforded more varied aspects of Alpine climbing than we had hitherto experienced and was most enjoyable, and I think we can well recommend it to others.
This bivouac has nothing to do with the Lenzspitze.