NW Ridge

Page Type
Berner Oberland, Switzerland, Europe
Route Type:
Mixed Climb (Rock and Snow)
Time Required:
Half a day
PD (WS) with class II rock

Route Quality: 2 Votes

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Created On: Jul 20, 2003
Last Edited On: May 27, 2005


From Kandersteg to the Oeschinensee and then on to the Fründenhorn hut were you will want to stay the night before you climb.

Route Description

This excellent mixed route is easier than the SW Ridge and while there is some class II (or II+) rock-climbing, a steep ridge of icy snow and a tiny, and an airy summit, it is a good route for someone who is looking to improve their skills in an environment that is fairly managable. This mountain is easier than many of its neighbors because none of the hazards on this route are sustained for very long. While certain situations may seem to be difficult, they are soon overcome and left behind. If you are able to climb with a partner and you have a rope, you can use the fixed bolts (not many) to provide some measure of safety while improving your skills on rock and snow/ice (there is even a fixed cable on one of the more exposed traverses, but this does not extend very far and I would not rely on these few bolts and this cable if I wasn't comfortable with the other 97% of the climbing). The climb can be broken into five sections, each of which may have drastically changed since July of 2003 and which are inherantly different during other times of the year...
The Glacier - Behind the Fründenhorn hut, you need to drop down onto the moraine, put on your crampons and head back up and to the left (facing the upper portion of glacier). Despite dozens of water-filled crevasses this is a short 15 minute crossing to the bottom of the rock face that makes up the NW side of the mountain. There is no need to rope up if all the crevasses are visible and you are in the company of a good group, but under other circumstances, a rope might prove wise. The glacier is nearly flat at the beginning and only gets steep for the last 30m before the wall. There was a bergschrund between the wall and the glacier but luckily snow happened to fill the gap where we approached the rocks.
The Wall - The rock here is more difficult than the slopes above. Although the climbing is actually quite easy, the fact that the quality of the rock is less than perfect and the exposure fairly great, gives every move and every step a new level of importance. None of the "pitches" are very long, never more than a few holds, and most of the time they are quite obvious. However, the fact that this section is crossed early in the morning (6:30 am) means that plenty of water, frozen or otherwise, adds to the things you need to consider when climbing here. We did not wear our crampons at all while on the rock but climbers earlier in the year did need them due to the large amounts of ice. You can practice your route-finding skills as there are only a handful of "steinmännle" or markings. There are a few steep places where you can screw up, though it is not really possible to get off the route. For most of the traverses (and the less steep sections), fairly obvious "paths" in the rock make it easy to stay on course. The route does zig-zag a lot but not in a way that is illogical.
The Snow & Ice Ridge - After going back and forth across the NW flank for about 2 hours, the route turns a corner onto the North side of the mountain (soon after the traverse with the fixed cable). From this point the mountain lays back and becomes much easier up to the point were the snow ridge begins. In years when there is a lot of snow or early in the season, this section would probably still be covered and you would put on crampons here. However we were able, in mid-July, to go on for another 300m without crampons over easy rock. Once the snow is reached the crampons become a essential part of the climb. The constant melting and refreezing of this glacier creates "Blankeis" or a hard ice into which you cannot kick steps. The route however is extremely obvious, straight ahead up 45° snow and ice to the summit. Keep the thousand foot drop-off well enough to your left but at the same time try to climb as far to the left side of the ridge as you comfortably can as the snow seems to be better and the route more direct. We did not have any technical problems at all but did rope up due to steepness of the slope and the conditions of the snow.
The Summit - At the end of the ridge the route turns left for about 10m and ends on a pile of rocks where a small, wooden summit cross has been placed. a large group will have some trouble all fitting on the summit at the same time and if there are many other teams of climbers on the mountain you may not be able to relax as comfortably, or for as long, as you might like. We were alone on the upper portion of the mountain (although it was a Sunday) and spent about 30-40 minutes on the summit. The drop-offs on all sides of the summit, except the from the West, make for an awe-inspiring view down to the Oeschinensee (where you started the day before) to the North and the entire vast expanse of the Alps (including the Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau and Matterhorn) to the South and East. The Blumlisalphorn towers just to your NE and the Doldenhorn is directly SE above its famous Galletgrat (Gallet Ridge).
The Descent - The route back down follows the same course (putting on and removing crampons in the same spots) as the ascent but special attention needs to be given to the slabs near the very bottom of the climb, just before one is back onto the glacier. These rocks are not very steep but the water running over them made the slick and we found that it was easiest to belay from a fixed bolt (using figure-eights but no prusiks due to the ease of the terrain). We had two ropes tied together which allowed us to go all the way back to just above the Bergschrund. Once on the glacier it was an easy 20 minutes back to the hut (with crampons again). Ein Apfelsaftschorler and Rösti with eggs taste best after a long, hot climb! The hike back down to the Oeschinensee is long but beautiful, enjoy.

Essential Gear

All the usual gear (rope, crampons, harness, warm clothes, axe, helmet, figure-eight and so on) and some unusual stuff too... I took a tube of mustard and a video camera. We also took some ice screws but never needed to use them.

Miscellaneous Info

If you have information about this route that doesn't pertain to any of the other sections, please add it here.

NW Ridge

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