Part one: Nadelhorn and other plans ...
After SP-member Sebastian Hamm spent his holidays together with his girlfriend Katrin in Norway he was “hot” for another high alpine peak again. I was not satisfied for this season as well so we got together again.
Since my working days had put me over the limit I decided to take some additional days of holiday and not only do one of those pure weekend trips, that I already had a lot of this year. Sebastian could not get any holiday shortly after his trip to Norway, so it was clear that we could do something over the weekend together, but after that I would stay in the Alps alone.
We focussed on climbing the Nadelhorn together on the weekend. Sebastian could convince his girlfriend - SP-member Katrin - to join us a least up to Mischabel-hut. The couple planned a separate drive to Saas Fee, because I wanted to stay in the area longer.
I made some plans for solo ascents and prepared all information for “safe” solo ascents. In my mind were Zinalrothorn, Lagginhorn and Balmhorn and in my car my notebook with the Swiss Top 25 map installed plus additional SAC alpine guides for the Bernese Alps and the whole Wallis and the Rother guidebook for the Mont Blanc area.
Since my last working week in August 2007 was another hard one and I had to drive to Saas Fee all alone, I decided to start my trip on Friday already. I was focussed on relaxing so driving all the way down to Saas on a Saturday and running up to Mischabel-hut did not fit my image.
I quit work at 14:00 on Friday 31.08.07, packed everything together, said goodbye to my wife and drove from Gerlingen (Stuttgart area) to Visp via Basel and Kandersteg car-rail. The German Autobahn was packed full of Dutch cars one more time and those Dutch people have a strict speed limit at home that they still obey in Germany where in most highways there is no speed limit at all. Usually I can make it far below 2 hours to Basel and an average speed of 150 km/h is possible on that passage, but this time I was slowed down the hard way by Dutch caravans that had the feeling to overtake one another with 95 km/h.
I was not in a good mood at all, still stressed from my working week and really worn out when I reached the Kandersteg car-rail after almost 5 hours. On a good day I can make it to Kandersteg in 3 hours and something, but it was Friday …
Sebastian and Katrin started from Bonn the same day and were still some hours behind me. They planned on sleeping in the car somewhere, but I had a different schedule. I organised myself a single room in Visp in a small and good value hotel called “Visperhof”. They provide free WLAN access in the hotel and free parking in a garage plus a superb breakfast and everything for only 65,-€. Good deal. Visp is located very central in the western Alps at the spot where Mattervalley and Saasvalley meet the Rhone valley. All higher mountains of the western alps can be reached within under 1 ½ hours from there.
The next morning I met Sebastian and Katrin at the parking garage in Saas Fee. I always enjoy the parking there, because it’s the only parking garage I know where you drive on top of the roof and look at seven 4000m mountains. Many memories are related to that place because many tours started and ended there already.
We took the gondola to Hannig, because Sebastian wanted to safe some elevation. From Saas Fee to Mischabel it’s about 1500 meters of altitude, the Hannig-gondola safes about 450 meters from that. The lady at the counter identified me as a mountaineer and asked if I planned on going to Mischabel-hut. I agreed and she asked if I could carry up the daily newspaper for the hut keeper. No problem.
The climb up to Mischabel-hut is a steep track in the beginning, but about half way up it changes to a rocky ridge, that needs some basic climbing. From that part on the route is made safe my metal steps that have been connected with the stones once in a while and metal ropes for belay or at least to grab them with your hands.
I enjoyed this kind of route going up to a hut, because it was something different, to what I am used to. The easy climbing made it feel a short time and after 2 ½ hours we could see the hut for the first time.
I always tried to slow down Sebastian and especially Katrin on the way up because Mischabel-hut is at 3300 meters above sea level and nobody of us had acclimatisation. If you go slower your body can acclimatize better.
After 3 hours we reached the hut with no stress at all.
An old man was leaning out of the window when we arrived. He yelled at us, if we had a reservation and I answered: sure we have. Sebastian thought the old man was a nasty tourist who was making fun of us, but after some minutes we found out that he was the hut keeper. He was not one of the friendliest ones or maybe that way was just part of his character, but for the rest of the stay we didn’t really get warm with him.
I gave him his newspaper, received no "Thank You" but only a critical look at the newspaper and the question: "is that one from today?". I said: "Yes it is" and so the hut keeper assigned us to the lower hut next to the main building, because Katrin wouldn’t get up the next day early and had time to sleep longer. Hut number 2 was not fully booked, so the chance to sleep longer there would be bigger. The old man said it could get a little colder inside the other hut, but we didn’t care at first. That changed very fast, when we stepped inside the hut. The temperature was about 5 degrees Celsius. The wooden stove in the basement had possibly not been working for weeks, because that old guy eventually wanted to safe his wood. That led to the course that nobody inside the hut ever opened a window so it was not only cold inside but also the air inside was really wet. I don’t have a problem with cold temperatures down to minus 25 degrees, but when I plan on a bivak I usually have my sleeping bag with me. Not this time, inside the hut were only lots of old worn out and wet from moisture blankets. The meal in the evening was also bad for what I am used to in SAC huts, so we went to bed early.
The weather on that Saturday was very stormy and the Mischabel range looked as if it was “smoking” from the ragged, surrounding clouds. This view alone was worth coming up here. A feeling of freedom came up inside me. It was really cold, but the weather forecast for the next two days (Sunday and Monday) promised clear skies.
Sebastian and me woke up at 03:30 on Sunday morning and left the hut about 04:30. The climb to Nadelhorn follows the rocky ridge for some more meters. The ridge changes it´s characteristics to a more combined area, but this can change in warm summers.
At about 3650m the route takes an angle to the right and the glacier is crossed in a wide circle to reach the 40 degree steep slope to Windjoch.
Some climbers where on a schedule to make their way up Lenzspitze northface. A German couple planned to go down the face with skis.
This summer was rather unusual. It rained a lot, and there were temperature dropdowns almost once every two weeks. That led to the fact that the conditions in the Lenzspitze northface were best as they can be. Not usual for the beginning of September.
We crossed the high valley and made our way up to Windjoch. Windjoch means “windy gap” and the name is the program. Strong north winds made my right hand start to freeze even I wore a pair of Mammut windstopper gloves with an additional Mammut Zermatt gloves over that. From Windjoch we could see the crowd cross the glacier and Sebastian got the feeling they are chasing us.
The ascent was lovely because the sun went up behind us and touched the icy surrounding in warm light. Mattervalley and Saasvalley where still under a sea of clouds.
We reached the summit in a total time of about 3 ½ hours, losing time at the rocky steps and the last passage to the summit, because a party in front of us tried the passage first without belaying and then – already inside the passage – changed their minds, so they made everybody wait until their action was finished.
On the summit we could see the crowd come closer, so we spend just a short time taking pictures. The view is one of the best, because almost all 4000m mountains of the Wallis and Bernese Oberland and in distance also Mont Blanc and Gran Paradiso can be seen.
Panorama from Nadelhorn summit
When we wanted to go down back again the crowd got stuck in the small snow coloir that leads to the summit. That would take time, so we shortly decided to climb down the combined ridge directly. That worked well and we had an easy decent back and could watch the two Germans ski down the Lenzspitze northface.
We could also see a "late" party start climbing Hohberghorn northface.
At Windjoch Sebastian decided to jump up Ulrichshorn to take some pictures, but since I hade been up there already with skis I skipped that 15 minutes extra and took a break in the wind protected shelter directly behind the Joch. The sun was shining now and I could get rid of my Goretex XCR Jacket.
Sebastian came down and since he wanted to overtake me he was sliding down the slope from Windjoch on his back.
We made it back to the hut, I ate some eggs and checked the weather forecast from Swiss meteo on my mobile phone …
To be continued with part two