The main hostel facilities in a high-rise across the street from the main train station were fully booked, and the lady receptionist took us around the corner to the secondary facilities of the hostel. These rooms were on the second floor of a low-rise building, and the entrance was really inconspicuous, wedged in between the numerous street buffets and shops. Before the lady went away, she showed us a plastic basket and told us to “put shit” in the basket before we left, which later found its way into my book, as it was pure gold (the basket was meant for our sheets).
The next day we slept in quite a bit, and in the afternoon, we looked around the surroundings of the hostel and bought train tickets to Xincheng for the next day – our destination was the Taroko National Park. We asked a random guy at the train station where the ticket machines are, and not only did he show us to the machines, he basically bought the tickets for us (with our money), very polite and happy to help.
In the evening, we ate at a street buffet – which is very cheap in Taiwan, and as we found out, it is the best option for you if you are here only for a few days and don’t have a place to cook. Fair warning though – if you buy anything on the street, it will have meat in it (usually beef or duck). It is very hard to get any edible food, even in the numerous small food stores, that is without meat. The only milk products that you encounter are very expensive cheese and very, very, very artificially tasting puddings. You will also encounter eggs boiled in tea.
But other than that, it’s just meat, rice, and noodles. I am sure that if we had stayed longer, we would have found other options and alternatives, but in our two-weeks stay, moving about, we had to eat meat (which I normally don’t, but I am not fanatic about it), otherwise we would be stuck with instant noodles. It is also not always easy to get bread or vegetables. We came across a fruit-and-vegetables store just once during our stay in Taiwan, otherwise it’s usually just a small assortment of fruits and vegetables in the general food stores. But aside from the fact that every single meal comes with meat, the food on the street is very tasty, and you definitely won’t be disappointed with it. With bread not being readily available outside bigger cities, we later took the advice of a local guy and started eating the omnipresent instant noodles “as cookies”, i.e. dry – which is apparently a common practice in Taiwan.
We got up early the next morning and hurried to a gas station to get ethanol for our camping stove before we left for Taroko. We later found out that we had successfully bought technical gasoline instead and that it is not easy to get flammable ethanol in Taiwan – they use flammable gel instead.
We boarded our train to Xincheng and were pleasantly surprised by the quality of local rail service – clean trains, tickets for individual seats (without paying anything extra), and overly polite conductors. The first one, a girl, greeted everybody in the car and bowed literally into a right angle before she proceeded to check tickets. Riding south, we admired the green rice fields covering the flat areas around cities and villages, with little embankments between the individual fields. Rice fields are of course everywhere in Taiwan, even in the middle of Taipei, as we later found out.
In Xincheng, we bought some food, water, and a small bottle of whiskey to get any hostile parasites drunk, and set out for Taroko on foot.
Practical note – food and other supplies
What you can get anywhere:
Instant noodles, rice noodles, meat products, canned fish, dried fish, basic fruits like apples, bananas, and melons; water, soda, ice tea, especially green ice tea (without sugar, very good), beer, spirits.
What you can’t get that easily:
Potatoes, broccoli/cauliflower, or other staple/main-meal vegetables; cheese (if it is available, it is expensive) and other milk products, bread; ethanol for a camping stove.
What you won’t find outside big cities:
Sunscreen! The reason I guess is simple – locals don’t need it, at least not as much as pasty Europeans do 🙂 But you will at least get baby oil and similar moisturizing products without UV protection in smaller cities.
We had read a lot of warnings about potential dangers of drinking tap water outside bigger cities (one of them being typhus infection), but we drank tap water everywhere without any health consequences that we know of. We just avoided drinking water from streams. We bought a SteriPEN (UV disinfection device) before our journey, but we apparently used a wrong type of batteries, so we basically ended up carrying a useless dildo around 🙂
Tips for substitutes:
bread => dry instant noodles
ethanol => flammable gel – best used in a cut beer can, as it leaves residue – not very suitable for a regular camping stove
“And we’re off!” joyfully flashed through my mind as I was looking at the station through the window of a bus leaving for Prague. Finally. We were leaving for New Zealand.
It was the end of winter in 2013 and our long-standing dream finally came true. My girlfriend and I were finally headed somewhere outside Europe. The first stop was Taiwan.
The main thing we wanted to see in Taiwan were its beautiful national parks. Discouraged by the requirement to arrange permits for various areas of Taiwan’s national parks up to a month in advance, we had decided we were just going to wing it, as well as everything else on this beautiful island. Make it sort of a getting-to-know visit. It turned out to be a good idea for the most part and certainly made our visit more interesting.
We got on board an early morning flight with China Airlines from Prague to Amsterdam and then from Amsterdam to Bangkok, where the leaving passengers received instructions – first in Chinese, but there were a few English words clearly audible throughout the monologue as well, in a nice succession: “…engine…blow up…get out…start crying.” Judging from the reaction of two girls a few seats back, I was not the only one who heard that. Contrary to the stoically delivered information of doom, the engine didn’t blow up, and after a short break in Bangkok, we made the last leg to Taipei. This journey from Prague to Taipei was my first time flying, and I spent much of the time looking out the window. The highlights were the snow-covered Tatra Mountains (Tatry) in Slovakia and the meandering reddish rivers and dustroads of the same color in the green rainforests of South East Asia. And of course the ocean. We flew around Himalayas at night, so perhaps next time. I also have to give it up for China Airlines, an absolutely great experience.
We repacked at the Taipei airport and left the unnecessary stuff at the left luggage office. Our wing-it approach hit the first minor obstacle when we asked the lady at the information desk where the nearest campsite was. Well, as we later found out, there are about seven campsites in all of Taiwan. Apparently, camping is not big here. But we probably weren’t the first ones to have come unprepared, and the lady produced a list of hostels and called one of the cheap ones for us. She and her colleague were very nice about it, which we later found out to be typical for Taiwanese people – very nice and accommodating people, ready to help anyone anywhere. You don’t even have to ask – they just see a foreigner with a map looking for a way and they help on their own initiative. That was something new for us, a very pleasant surprise indeed. A side note for those who have visited SE Asia before – it is not like in Thailand or Cambodia, where the act of helping is usually the start of a more or less elaborate scheme to extract money from you; in Taiwan, the helping is sincere, selfless.
Since the airport is not in the city itself, we got on the shuttle bus from the airport to the city. The journey took about forty minutes, if I remember correctly. The bus dropped us at the train station in the center, and we started looking for the street with our hostel. At this point, we already stank quite a bit since we hadn’t showered for almost two days and didn’t change our clothes at the airport. Also wearing pants was not a good idea, especially since we came straight from the freezing temperatures back in Europe to a very humid climate with temperatures around 25°C. But as I stated above, the Taiwanese are very nice people, and despite our appearance, it didn’t take long and a nice lady asked us what we were looking for. We showed her the address written on a piece of paper by the airport information lady. The nice lady thought about it for a while, during which another 5 or 6 people joined our little orientation session. Finally, after a brief discussion with the others, the lady took us to our hostel and even gave us her business card, saying we could contact her in case we needed anything. This was another one in the long line of selfless, hospitable acts we were yet to encounter during our stay in Taiwan.
Practical note – maps and orientation
We bought a map back in the Czech Republic, but there is no need for it – you can get very good free maps at the airport or at any information center around the island, both bilingual (in Latin and Chinese scripts) and in Chinese script alone. We ended up using these free maps.
We got by fine with English, a Chinese dictionary, and hand gestures. The main touristic points, stations, and public transport connections are English-friendly. Since the maps were bilingual, it was easy to figure out when and where the buses go at small bus stops as well, despite the timetables being only in Chinese characters.
Many people speak English in Taiwan, and those that don’t are patient and nice enough to communicate with using hand gestures, schematic drawings, and a Chinese dictionary. With the exception of the oldest generation, they all know Chinese (the primary language being Taiwanese), as we have been told by locals.
At the end of June 2011, we went to check out the climbing possibilities in the Gosaukamm, a small Austrian mountain range about 60 km south-east of Salzburg, and possibly set foot on the summit of the adjacent Dachstein. Archeology enthusiasts might know the area thanks to the nearby town of Hallstatt, with old salt mines and both bronze-age and early-iron-age burials, the latter giving the name to the prehistorical “Hallstatt culture.” There is also an amazing ossuary in St. Michael’s chapel in Hallstatt, with nicely decorated skulls on display, each of them bearing the name of its former owner. All around the area, mostly to the north, there are numerous large lakes with beautiful aquamarine water, certainly worth a dip.
We left our car at the uppermost parking lot at Vorderer Gosausee (lake). There are four large parking lots there, the upper one furnished with toilets, you can spend the night there. We left at 13:30 toward Hinterer Gosausee (lake) along the gravel road connecting the two lakes. Among other things, the road serves as a track for the local Bummelzug – a tractor with an open trailer adjusted for transportation of those who can’t (or don’t want to) use their own legs. It takes about 1.5 hours to get to the upper (or rather “rear”) lake. From there, we turned up toward Adamekhütte (hut). The sun was going at it, and the path was winding through low vegetation that was keeping the air nice and sultry while not providing any shade at all, and soon enough, we were sweating profusely. The vegetation gradually disappeared with the gained height, and the air was much more pleasant. To refill your water bottle, there are two streams crossing the path, one at c. 1400 m, the other at c. 1650 m near the small stone ruins of Grobg’stoanhütt’n. As we continued further up, nice views of all the three lakes opened – both Hinterer and Vorderer Gosausee and the middle d’Lack’n. At around 1900, the path slowly straightened, and we could see the hut. It took c. 4.5 hours from the parking lot (c. 900 m) to the hut (2196 m), and we continued a little bit further above, where we found a small lake, or rather, a bigger puddle with clear water. We prepared a small wind barrier from stones so we could sleep more comfortably – we didn’t bring our tent since the weather was stable. One thing that is worth mentioning is the fossils of various prehistoric sea creatures that you will find all around this area – in the rock, polished by the glacier, that has been receding for years and has revealed this open-air museum of natural prehistory. The small fossils displayed back down at Vorderer Gosausee are truly runts, compared to these.
Thanks to the fresh breeze blowing into our faces all night, we didn’t sleep much, but the sky full of stars was truly amazing – as it always is high in the mountains. We got up at dawn, and shortly after 5 AM, we set out. The way was marked by red dots, which, as we learned, was not the best way to go up in the conditions that were there then – not enough snow for that. The trodden path led on the right side (looking up, orographically left side) of the glacier (Grosser Gosaugletscher), but the red dots continued further to the right under Schneebergwand, where 50-meter sections of smooth rock alternated with 50-meter sections of frozen firn. Not really the best terrain to go through in crampons nor without them. Putting them on and taking them off every 50 meters was not really an option either. A little fun right at the start 🙂 But maybe when there is even less snow there later in the season, the firn fields may not be there, so it may be a suitable path. Just 2 hours after we left our bivouac, we got to the Obere Windluck’n, the col between Hoher Dachstein and Mitterspitz. The summit rock of Hoher Dachstein seemed quite small from the glacier even though it is c. 250 m high.
There is a via ferrata from the glacier all the way up to the summit. Since no one was there, we left our things at its start. The climb is easy, but it is a good idea to have your harness sling clipped onto the steel cable since the rock can be icy. There is basically no vertical climb, so an ordinary sling will do. It takes 30-60 minutes from the glacier to the summit. We got to the summit at 8 AM – 3 hours from our bivouac at a rather slow pace with breaks. We achieved quite an unusual thing – we were alone on the normally very frequented summit. Probably because it was the end of June and it was Wednesday. We met four mountaineers on our way back in the lower section of the via ferrata, three of them Italians in aviator sunglasses, wearing jeans and sneakers. It reminded me of the normal route to Grossglockner. At least these weren’t on a leash. They were faster on the descent, sliding on their shoes. I have no idea how they had managed to walk up the glacier without crampons in the morning, maybe it had softened a little bit by then. We felt a little bit over-equipped in our crampons, harnesses, with helmets and ice axes, roped together. These Italians may have even had hair gel in their hair. Nevertheless, a fair warning to those who should be tempted to try an “Italian” ascent – it is not uncommon here for people to end up in a crevasse – one such case happened just a few weeks after our visit.
After getting cooked in the sun on the glacier, we filled our bottles at our puddle and continued down the mountain. The views on the descent from Adamekhütte are amazing, but the descent to the parking lot at Vorderer Gosausee is quite long, about 4 hours.
Difficulty: (F) The ascent is very easy in good conditions, yet it is not a good idea to underestimate the glacier. According to an email from out Austrian friend, it was quite crevassed by the end of August that year, and their party was the only one (!) with glacier equipment – the others just waited for them to cross and followed their path.
Right at the start of our trip to the Alps in 2015 my girlfriend’s back refused to go any further up Rimpfischhorn, so after coming back down we decided to spend a few days climbing and wait for things to improve. After two days it became clear that it wouldn’t get any better, and since she wasn’t able to climb either, it was pointless to wait any longer. Luckily I knew there was one four-thousander that didn’t require crossing a glacier and was easy enough not to require belaying either. And luckily, my girlfriend has the same-size boots, so I didn’t have to worry about the fact that my right sole had decided to become independent and was now just barely hanging onto my boot.
Lagginhorn, with its 4010 m, is one of the lowest four-thousanders in the Alps. The standard route to the summit goes up the west-south-west ridge. You can either go up the ridge from its foot, or you can get on it midway up from the Lagginhorn Glacier, at c. 3500 m. As you can avoid any glaciers completely, my main worry was not to sprain my not entirely stable knee on the way down from the summit because of the many scree fields and loose slabs.
The suitable starting point is Saas Grund (around 1590 m). If you decide to make the trip with an overnight stay on the mountain, you can either use Weissmieshütte (hut, 2726 m) or you can bivouac at several places above the hut – there are both water and prepared sites for tent at the foot of the WSW ridge. There are also several good spots on the ridge itself, again with sites prepared for tents, up to 3200 m, but there is no water anywhere on the ridge nor are there any snowfields in this part of the ridge.
There are several possibilities of accommodation in Saas Grund. We chose a campsite right across the main street from the cable car station. Their standard price per person includes a ticket for the lift, which I didn’t want, and they offered me quite a decent price for the area (25 CHF for 2 people, a car, and a tent) and were absolutely OK with us leaving around 5 PM the next day.
I got up at 1 AM, and at 2:00 I set out from the cable car station and reached the hut at 4:25. There were already a few groups of people ahead of me on their way up the mountain. At the hut I made a mistake and went further up – there is a stream to the left of the hut when looking up the mountain and the easiest way to get to the foot of the WSW ridge is to cross the stream right at the hut – there is a small metal bridge there, a bit hidden, which I didn’t see in the dark. I continued up from the hut along the path that led up to the glacier and missed the path branching off it toward the foot of the WSW ridge, which would have been impassable anyway as there was too much water at the crossing. I realized this after a few minutes, when I was unnecessarily high for crossing the stream, descended toward it and crossed it without any problems. This is the last spot where you can refill your bottle, which I did and continued to the foot of the ridge where I climbed onto the right path that leads from the bridge. As the dawn had begun by now, it was quite easy to find a suitable point to start the ascent of the WSW ridge.
The ridge itself is very wide at its foot and is basically a scree field. The path is marked by cairns and is visible quite well. Even if you wander off it, you’ll be able to continue up without any problems. The only danger is to watch out for loose slabs – in most places you can’t fall off the ridge, but you can still take a fall or a slide of several meters, which can be just as inconvenient for a safe return. A helmet is a must – in this part of the ridge not because of a rock fall from above (which is the case in the upper part of the ridge), but for the simple fact that in the case of tripping, you can easily bust your head open in this terrain. The last suitable place for pitching a tent (no pun intended :-)) is roughly at 3200. From there on, the ridge gets more narrow. Still, there is almost no exposure anywhere. This middle part of the ridge is also much more entertaining, as it requires using your hands (an easy climbing of I UIAA). The way up is still marked by cairns and is well defined, with many possible variants. Just watch out for unstable slabs – there are quite a few, and at several points they could knock you off the ridge even though generally it is still almost impossible to fall off the ridge here. I met the first party here – the path from Lagginhorn Glacier joins the path on the ridge here. They were a bit surprised to see me in a T-shirt and shorts, but since I hadn’t gone up the glacier and had kept a good pace, I was warm.
I met a second group at around 3600 m, preparing to surmount a slab of II UIAA – there was a child in the party, so they were tying themselves to a rope. The slab is easy and wide without any feeling of exposure, though you can fall off it toward Fletschhorn Glacier if you climb it on the left side – which I did as it is the most obvious choice, with very good holds, and won’t even slow your pace. The climbing part of the slab is only about 5 meters, above it the inclination drops to the point that you can walk. After this slab comes a giant scree field with occasional easy climbing (I UIAA). A helmet is absolutely necessary here because of the rockfall from people above you. Up until the snowfields further up the ridge, the only way to fall off or get injured here is by rockfall. I met another group here, a Swiss guide with two clients. They courtly ignored my “Hello” though at least the guide definitely wasn’t mute, as he kept instructing his clients. Without flinching, they successfully ignored my presence and carried on at their pace with me behind them. After a few minutes I managed to climb around them and continued up.
Only a few minutes later, somewhere around 3800, I reached the first snowfield. It was a very hard firn when I got there (at about 7:30), almost ice. I put on crampons, took out the ice axe, and dressed up, as I finally cooled down when unpacking the necessary gear. The guide with his clients were quicker about it since they were dressed already and got ahead of me again. The snowfield, when icy, is indeed a place where you can fall off the ridge – it would be quite difficult to stop on the few meters before the drop to Fletschhorn Glacier. At least there were frozen, trodden-down steps from the previous day. I walked carefully, and above the field I caught up with the guide and his clients again, which I didn’t mind as the main thing here was to walk/climb carefully. The second snowfield, just meters above the first one, could be avoided for the most part on the scree to the right, but it seemed a better option to walk up the firn. It definitely was not the better option, as I found out – the firn was much steeper here without any steps, and the tourist crampons with my girlfriend’s boots were pulling my heels quite unpleasantly. I had to stomp the crampons in (though I had sharpened them) and had to use the front spikes at one point. However, the tourist ice axe blade’s wide tip, though sharpened as well, just chipped the ice, not even remotely sticking in. The only possible way to go up was the French style, i.e. sideways, feet inclined, using the ice axe shaft’s tip as a supporting point. I got on the scree again and after a few meters I entered the last snowfield. This one was less inclined with good steps, and after a few minutes I got to the last few meters of rock (I UIAA, maybe not even that) at the summit.
The Swiss guide with his clients sat about a meter below the summit in the east face without any belay, watching the clouds. I wondered what the guide would have done if one of his clients had fallen down. Not too hard to imagine – but that has been the case with all guides I have seen so far, the best example of which was a guide on Austrian Grossglockner dragging three very insecure clients basically on a leash on the summit ridge without any sort of belay – I doubt he would have had a chance to react and jump down the other side of the ridge if one of the clients had lost their “balance”.
I got to the summit at about 8:15, ate a bar and tried to take a photo of myself with the summit. After a few tries I asked one of the clients, sitting closest to me, if he could take a picture of me with the summit cross. He refused (probably not feeling overly secure) and referred me to his guide, who helped me out and took the picture. I thanked him, looked around one last time and went down.
The firn fields had somewhat softened by this point and getting down was easy. The guide with his two clients were descending above me. At one point, I heard a rock getting loose – I looked up, and sure enough, a rather large rock was tumbling right at me from one of the clients – who didn’t make a sound to warn me, nor did his guide. I had but time to duck behind a bigger boulder. The rock slammed into the boulder and stopped. A few minutes later, I appreciated having my helmet on, as I received a rather big hit right into the back of the helmet by a small rock, which I didn’t hear falling. Quite a punch. Again, it came from the same group, and again, absolutely no warning. I looked at them, expecting some sort of “my bad!”, but they carried on without any sort of regard for their surroundings. The helmet was OK, but had someone without a helmet (there were some people without helmets there) received this little present, I think it is safe to say they would have had a pretty big hole in their head. If they managed to stay on the mountain, that is. I’m not criticizing the fact that the group had dislodged some stones – I myself succeeded at that a few minutes later – I’m criticizing the fact that they didn’t warn anybody about the falling stones, which is selfish, irresponsible, and very dangerous.
I climbed down the II UIAA slab a bit further from the edge to avoid landing on Fletschhorn Glacier in case I slipped. Shortly after that I ran out of water, which was a bit uncomfortable, since the sun was now going at it with all its might and to reach any snowfields, I would have to divert quite a bit from the ridge. This was the first time I had used a tube mounted on my bottle in the backpack, and it proved to be a great and comfortable thing, but the downside was I hadn’t kept track of the amount of water left.
About two thirds down, past the turn-off to the glacier variant of the descent, I heard someone coming in the other direction along the ridge. A girl emerged from behind a rock and asked a few questions about the conditions and the time left to the top. Her climbing partner caught up with her, a bit winded, and they continued up the ridge. It was about 11:00 AM, so my guess is they got to the top around 1:00 PM, which weather-wise was OK that day, only no one on the upper part of the ridge got to enjoy the views at that point as the summit got drowned in a cloud around noon.
In the lower part of the ridge, I enjoyed two chamoises not even trying to pretend they would flee if I tried to get to them. They were probably laughing at the lame animal with two metal sticks for front legs and felt absolutely secure, though I went quite close past them.
I was back at the foot of the ridge at 13:20, took a few pictures of the colorful rock plants, refilled my bottle at the stream and went across the little metal bridge to Weissmiesshütte, where I met with my girlfriend and continued to Saas Grund. We came back to the campsite at 16:45 without any sort of hurry.
Starting point: Saas Grund (1559 m), camping grounds available
Elevation: Saas Grund – Weissmiesshütte 1127 m; Weissmiesshütte-Lagginhorn summit 1284 m; Saas Grund-Lagginhorn summit 2411 m
Time: Saas Grund – Weissmiesshütte 2.5 hours, Weissmiesshütte – Lagginhorn summit 4 hours (4-5 hours back down); Saas Grund-Lagginhorn summit-Saas Grund 14-15 hours
Difficulty: PD; in good conditions a very easy climb. !!This applies only if the rock is dry, without ice or snow (see “Dangers” below)!!
Dangers: Rockfall in the upper part of the ridge (helmet is absolutely necessary), snowfields in the upper part of the ridge can be tricky when icy; otherwise a very safe climb. According to the information from a Czech mountain guide Viktor Korizek here, the upper part of the ridge can become very dangerous when there is a lot of fresh snow (especially early in the summer), which becomes soft during the day and turns into a very unstable layer and any reasonable belaying is virtually impossible in such conditions. This is not very hard to imagine with the icy snowfields under such a layer, and there were fatal accidents in this part of the ridge in 2011 and 2012 for this very reason.
In 2011 we took our Red Devil for another spin around Europe. As was the custom, the exhaust pipe did not enjoy German motorways, and we entered Switzerland producing sounds right out of 1920s’ slapstick movies, similar to gunfire, whenever I changed gear. That proved to be a useful thing in the Alpine switchbacks – whenever an impatient driver drove too close behind us, a simple gear change and the sound it produced made them back off by 50 to 100 meters. After warming up on the Kandersteg via ferrata and spending the night in the Grimselpass, we continued toward Täsch with the intention of climbing/walking up the western standard route up Alphubel (PD, no rock) – according to the available information a less frequented one than the standard route from the east from Saas Fe. We arrived in Ottafe (c. 2150 m), a small village above Täsch, where I found out the middle muffler was hanging on a single rusty suspension – the pipe connecting it to the pipe leading from the engine was completely rotten off, hence the shooting sounds. I later secured it with a piece of wire so it wouldn’t fall off completely.
We left the car in the small “parking lot” (free parking) and set out toward Täschhütte (hut, c. 2700 m) and further above to Alphubelsee, a small lake, or a large puddle, c. 100 m below the foot of Alphubelgletscher (glacier). It is a perfect spot to spend the night if you are slightly acclimatized (c. 3150 m in elevation) – if not, there are suitable spots (with water) on a grassy terrain at 2800-2900 m, halfway between the hut and the lake, which might reduce the night-time headache a little bit. There is also another good spot right at the foot of the glacier at 3250 m with a smaller “lake”. It took us about 3 hours to get to Alphubelsee from Ottafe. There was one other guy at the lake, on his own.
In the morning, we slept in due to our sleep deficit, and set out in full light at 6 AM. There wasn’t much snow on the glacier in its lower part, but there were probably a few crevasses there, judging by the hollow sound of the firn – but it was hard to tell whether those were crevasses or just pockets of air above the terrain, as there was no way to tell how thick the glacier was. My guess is probably not too thick. In the upper part, the glacier was already covered with a nice layer of snow, and after a short steeper part we reached the Alphubeljoch (pass), a good spot for refreshment, about 2 hours from Alphubelsee.
The views from the saddle and especially from the upcoming ridge were truly magnificent – just masses of ice and snow all around as far as you could see – with views of Monte Rosa, Allalinhorn, Rimpfischhorn, Matterhorn, Weisshorn, and other four-thousanders. The sun was up and did such a good job on the ridge that I took of my jacket and went just in my T-shirt. And pants, obviously. There was a lot of snow that year, so the steepest part of the ridge, which might require belay when icy, presented no trouble at all. For tougher conditions, there are two metal rods for belay on the 50-m steep part, which is about 45° in inclination. At this point we heard a loud rumbling noise somewhere from the ridge below. We reached the summit plateau and arrived at the summit cross, drowned in snow up to the cross-beam, making the brass Jesus swim. It was 10:05, so it took us four hours from the lake, going at quite a slow pace.
We took a few pictures and went back down. The steep part was easy on the way down as well – I descended it face down, still using the ice axe just in a walking-cane manner. But two German-speaking guys coming from below made a full use of their climbing equipment, and the one on the lead was hammering away with his two climbing ice axes, standing on the front points of his crampons, shouting instructions at his partner, who was giving him belay. Well, why not.
When we got to the sharp part of the ridge below, we found out that the rumbling noise we heard on our way up was caused by a small avalanche that had fallen down from the ridge – separating just along the trampled-down path. The combination of the large amount of snow and the searing sun had dislodged the avalanche before 10 AM – luckily it was a smaller one, and it apparently didn’t hit any parties, as it didn’t cross any paths.
It took us 2.5 hours back down to Alphubelsee, so altogether less than 7 hours up and down from the lake. Due to some gastric bug we both experienced prior to our trip, we arrived at the lake quite exhausted and with quite a headache – the sun definitely helped that as well. Anyway, the route is a really easy one and quite a short one as well. If you are acclimatized, it is suitable as a single-day trip from Ottafe, taking around 12 hours at an average pace. This route from the west via south ridge is, in my opinion, safer than the standard route from the east – there aren’t that many crevasses (probably), and the fact that the lower half is in the shade during the morning can be a big advantage in snow conditions such as we experienced – avalanches might fall down the east face of the mountain, I would think. However, the route from the east goes up a different slope than the one where the avalanche fell down when we were there. Otherwise both routes should be of approximately the same difficulty, meaning easy snow plods. The route from Ottafe was also the route of the first ascent. The views from the south ridge are one of the best you will see in the area.
Starting point: Ottafe (2150 m), free parking; alternatively Täsch (c. 1450 m), paid parking
Elevation: Ottafe-Alphubelsee 1000 m, Alphubelsee-Alphubel summit 1050 m
Time: Ottafe-Alphubelsee c. 3 hours (2 hours back down), Alphubelsee-Alphubel summit c. 4 hours (2,5 hours back down), Ottafe-Alphubel summit-Ottafe c. 11-12 hours
Difficulty: PD, just snow; the summit ridge might be tricky in icy conditions, especially when there is little snow; in very warm conditions, there is a possibility of avalanches tearing from the ridge down the east face, especially when there is a lot of snow.
Dangers: objectively very few – see the point above; still, I would avoid a solo trip due to possible crevasses and no partner to jump down the other side of the ridge in case of an avalanche taking down the ridge path