From Home to Guggi Hutte
We departed from Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic late as usual. Ales my brother James and I were on our way to pick up Tonda in Chomutov. Once there we gave him a call, no answer, the cell was turned off. After a while we managed to find a gas station with a phone book and his home number. After a while Tonda picked up the phone, gave us directions to his place and said he had fallen asleep. As we arrived to his place as his girlfriend was on her leave!!! Since our team was now complete, we threw our gear into Tonda’s van and set out for Grindelwald, Switzerland to climb the Monch via the Nollen route.
About 500km into the ride the battery control light went on and just before we wanted to get off the highway the van shut down. We were somewhere who knows where, on the highway, it was pitch black out, with a dead van with no lights, nothing. We solved this minor problem within about 15min, the battery cables came loose. We got the van moving again, but the red light would not go out. We figured it was the alternator. After stopping to try and fix it ourselves we drove to an authorized mechanic, who gave us the good news. “The alternator needs to be changed” price 300Euro. Great, we just about made it half way to Grindelwald and had to spit out 300Euros. We actually didn’t have much of a choice. Unfortunately, we lost most of the day getting the van together, so our plan to make it to Grindelwald sometime in the morning diminished.
As we were nearing Interlaken we decided it would be best to crash at a comfortable rest area, and so we did. After a good nights rest at the rest area we packed our gear and headed out to Grindelwald, parked the van, bought return train tickets to Eiger Gletscher station 40Euro.
On the train to the Eiger Gletscher station, you can see the wonderful North face of the Eiger in all of its beauty. Can’t really figure out how someone can find his way around in such a huge wall.
We had to transfer trains at Kleine Scheidegg and that is where I got my first look of the Mönch and our actual ascent route.
Once at the station we put our so to say light packs on and headed out towards Guggi Hutte.
At first you must descend a bit and traverse just below the glacier, then make a left and start the strenuous ascent to the hut. The steep slope was covered in snow, sometimes the snow was up to my thighs, but nothing we couldn’t make it through. The only slight problems occurred when trying to make it up snow covered slabs and not being able to see what you are standing on. We didn’t use crampons or ice axes up to the hut.
The Guggi Hutte itself is placed on top of a cliff with wonderful views. It has a wood furnace inside and can sleep about 20-30 people, a very comfortable place. It is also open all year round, no staff if there not even in the summer I think.
Day two from Guggi Hutte to Bivy
The next morning we woke up at 3:30am the wind was howling and about 10-15cm of fresh snow had fallen. We made breakfast, the sky cleared up and the wind slowed down, by the time we got ready and geared up. We tied on and I protected the traverse from the hut to the saddle from which the ascent begins. The traverse is rather tricky with snow cover, protecting it is hard as well since the rock is just rotten. Once in the saddle we put the rope back into the pack a started upwards. The climbing is about the same as to the hut, except it is steeper. We went solo without crampons but with ice tools for balance. At one point when I was breaking trail in about 2/3 of the slope I couldn’t go further since there was ice beneath the snow. I shouted to the guys who were a bit below me to put on their crampons. I protected myself with the ice tools, took off my pack and put on my crampons. Started climbing up the snow covered ice after. The angle of the slope is about 50° at times.
After finally making it to the plateau above the slope, we had a little rest, ate a snack and took in some of the wonderful views before us. About an hours hike ahead of us was the technical difficulty of the climb, the Nollen, which is a huge ice knob. The length of the ice varies depending on snow conditions. We arrived beneath the ice in about the hour we estimated it would take us from the plateau. Our tactic was that Ales would lead the ice on twin ropes Tonda and I would follow taking out the screws, each of us on one strand, and I would trail another rope for James. This way we thought we could save weight by not having to take as much gear and another rope. We did save weight but this tactic was more time consuming. The first pitch was the hard pitch 80-85° ice and about 45m long. The next two pitches were easier. Three years ago Ales, James and a number of others turned their ascent around at the ice knob, due to the fact that one of their team mates took a nice whipper, and then he had a nice flight in a helicopter.
Above the ice knob there is a small plateau, at this point of the ascent we knew we would not be able to make it up and down by the end of the day. We were not sure of the exact descent, so we decided it would be best to bivy in a safe place, summit the next day and make it down in the light of the day instead of searching for the descent route in the light of a headlamp. We didn’t find the plateau to be the best of options for a bivy since there was a fairly nice and steep slope above it.
The decision was made to climb over onto the steep slope, and make it to one of the two rock bands we thought could be the right place to bivy by. We started out fast toward what looked like a crown fracture from an avalanche, only to find out a crevasse popped up beneath our feet, we quickly tied back onto the rope that we tied off of, after ascending the ice. We also told ourselves off, just to make sure we knew we were stupid and remembered our mistake.
Ales climbed over the crevasse secured the rope and we made it over to him using a prussic. The slope above the crevasse was nice and beautiful firn, which made the ascent of the steep slope a breeze, as long as you didn’t flip. I made it to the first rock band and found it to be of little use for a bivy. The second band was better, and that is where we constructed a snow trench. The elevation of the bivy was 3800m so a total gain of just over 1000m that day from the Guggi Hutte and another 300m to the summit.
That night was beautiful, the stars were out and the temperature was fairly warm for the altitude and time of year, about -15°C. Ales and I decided to go light so we only took one sleeping pad and one sleeping bag along for the two of us. James only had a bad ass sleeping bag and skipped the pad while Tonda had both. Since as it seemed I was more spent than Ales, he let me use the bag, while I traded it in for my down jacket and the one bivy bag we had between the two of us. Ales took his down vest and James’s down vest put those around his legs, put on the down jacket, got into the bivy bag and had a good night. I put my pack and a rope under me and also had a good night. The only downside of that night was the strong wind that blew every 15min or so and carried snow into every opening there was. Basically said, every 15min or so my face was hit by a cold shower. There was not much we could have done about it.
We woke up early Monday, started making breakfast and organized our gear. The morning sun made the vistas just wonderful. We knew we had about 300m of steep snow climbing ahead of us and then a descent to the Monch Hutte a hike to Jungfraujoch, which is the highest train station in Europe. We also decided to go roped up, Tonda mainly wanted this, since he was not that sure with himself with crampons on.
Since we were climbing as a roped team, and as the leader I tried to protect the climb once in a while. Due to the fact that the rock is so rotten, it was quite difficult to find placements, which would hold a fall. Once I made it to the summit ridge Ales took over the lead.
The summit ridge was fairly nicely corniced, so we kept in a fair distance from the ridge. The summit itself had a huge cornice on it, for safety reasons we stayed about 10m from the lip. The weather was awesome, except for occasional winds that almost sent us flat on the ground.
The views were also fabulous, we took a few pictures and still tied on started to descend the corniced descent ridge. The strange thing about the descent ridge was the fact that the cornices were on the opposite side of the ridge, compared to those when we were coming up, while the direction of the climb was still the same. At one point I had the feeling the snow slope beneath my feet must slide, the snow was rather deep and I didn’t want to balance on top of the sharp ridge. The drop to either side of the descent ridge is really neat.
As we were descending a party of three were coming up via the normal route from the Monch Hutte, this fact made our descent much easier, since we were just able to follow their tracks. After a few hundred meters the descent line turns to the right along a wider ridge with iron poles every 10-20m allowing you to protect your advancement. At one point we rappelled 25m, otherwise the descent is a walk off, not necessarily a walk in the park though, there is some easy climbing involved, and of course a fumble could mean serious injury, possibly death.
Once on the glacier we hit the snow plowed highway from the Jungfraujoch to the Monch Hutte, this is a nicely groomed and marked highway, for tourists to make it to the Monch Hutte from the train and back without worrying about crevasses.
Unfortunetly for us we missed the last train by about 10min, and therefore had to bivy again. This time we decided to dig into a nice slope by the tunnel entrance and created a snow cave.
The night inside the cave was rather calm, Ales and I slept under the one sleeping bag without any problems, with our packs, sleeping pad and a rope under us. In the morning there was a nice surprise waiting for us in the form of 20cm of fresh snow and it was still snowing like crazy. We all made a sigh of relief and of luck, since we all knew that if this weather had caught us up in the first bivy we would have had loads of fun. Probably would have had to stay put till the weather changed.
Overview: The Nollen route up the Monch starts at 2320m at the Eiger Gletscher train station, from there a slight descend below the glacier and up along the ridge which you follow past the Guggi Hutte 2730m to the first plateau past the ice knob and to the summit ridge. The climb in itself is not too technically difficult, it is more or less physically strenuous the entire way up, the only problems is the ice and the angle of the snow slopes, which are rock bands below the ice knob. The slopes above the ice are probably a bit steeper than the ones below it. Objective dangers lie in the avalanche prone slopes, which if there is too much snow would not be passable anyway. In the summer I would guess the slopes are prone to rock fall. A mistake made on the snow slopes above or below the ice can be fatal, due to the angle of the slopes. You must be confident using crampons. I can’t really see myself self arresting over the rock bands below the ice knob, or on the firn slopes above, unless I stopped the fall right off the bat without gaining speed. We all found the traverse to and from the Guggi Hutte to be very dangerous, there is no chain or rope leading to the hut, and with the snow cover we had on the rocks, protecting the traverse was the only option. There is a pipe or cable leading to the hut, from a certain point, but it is nowhere near a secure anchor.
Difficulty: UIAA IV, WI III 80-85°, supposedly 8-10 from the Guggi Hutte to the summit (maybe in the summer).
Date of ascent: 25.3. – 27.3.2006
Actors: Jakub Capek (James), Jan Capek (myself), Tonda Pultar, Ales Soukup, Mr. Donkey (as a talisman)