Eiger (3970 m) by the West Flank

Typical terrain somewhere around 3450 m. This is the part of the route that is very difficult for orientation on the way down. Photo by Honza.

In July 2017, my friend Honza asked me if I would like to go with him up the Eiger. He intended to climb the Heckmair route on the north face at some point and wanted to take a look at it from the west ridge and familiarize himself with the descent route. I was hesitant at first, due to the information I found about the character of the west-flank route – a very slippery, unstable terrain for the descent, basically the worst type of terrain for my equally unstable knee. But the more I read about the route and the more videos I watched, the more my worries became overwhelmed by the expected beauty and challenge of the ascent. And, of course, by the simple fact that it was the Eiger. We still had to wait for a good weather forecast. It finally came for the 20-21 August.

I hadn’t been feeling particularly healthy when Honza picked me up in Strakonice (South Bohemia) shortly before midnight, and though it was quite warm, when it was my turn to drive, I had to put my junkie suit on – i.e. a hoodie and a winter cap. Neither of us had slept much prior to our trip, so we turned in a few kilometers past Munich. I felt a bit better in the morning, but I was still unsure whether I would be able to continue above our planned bivouac the next day.

On the way from Eigergletscher station toward the Rotstock col. The route goes up the left part of the rock step. Photo by Honza.

We finally arrived in Grindelwald in the afternoon, a bit later than planned, and took a train all the way up to Eigergletscher station (2320 m). Though the forecast predicted clear sky for the next two days, there was a thick cloud sitting on top of not only the Eiger, but also some of the other peaks. On the train, I realized I had left my camera in the car – fortunately Honza hadn’t forgotten his.

Below the Rotstock col. You can see the Eigergletscher station below. Photo by Honza.

From the station, we followed the rail tracks up to the tunnel and then went up the obvious path toward the southern slopes of Rotstock. The trail goes up some good rock and offers some enjoyable easy climbing (I UIAA). We took a break in the col between Rotstock and the cloud-clad Eiger, enjoying the atmosphere and the two non‑alcoholic beers that we brought along as liquid energy bars for the start of the ascent. From this point, we continued up toward and along what looked like a snowfield, but in reality was a small glacier, rather thick at its head. We had intended to go up this “snowfield”, but upon observing the gaping tunnels opening into its side, we opted to go up the scree as far up as possible. When we got all the way up, we found that there was a big bergschrund (a gap between the glacier/snowfield and the rock), up to 10 m deep and about 2 m wide. We put our crampons on and traversed along the bergschrund toward a gully, where the easiest point to get on the rock was supposed to be. And it was, but I would advise anyone who goes up that way to rope up – it wasn’t obvious, but there was an inconspicuous snow bridge at the foot of the gully – it looked as if the bergschrund had tapered off, but in reality, we were standing above a 10-15 m hole above rocks and a stream of water. We would realize this on the way down, only after we had crossed it again, unroped. The snow bridge was solid enough, but I wouldn’t cross it unroped again. After entering the gully, we had to go through a tunnel under another snow bridge, and we emerged at the foot of the second rock step, about 50‑100 m high, the first more demanding part of the climb. There was a fixed rope with some knots there. We took off our crampons and Honza surmounted the first more difficult point (III UIAA), right at the foot of the step. With the heavy bag on his back, it wasn’t without difficulty, and he appreciated the fixed rope being there. I went the same way, but in my case, the rope had skipped over some bump on the rock above, and I turned into the bob of the pendulum. Once on the ground again, I tried to climb up the 10 mm rope, now hanging over a small cliff, but with my feet in the air, it proved to be too difficult. I opted to clip my bag onto the end of the rope and climb up the same way Honza did, only without the heavy bag weighing me down – which proved to be quite easy. After I climbed over the first few meters, I hauled the bag up, and we continued up the rest of the rock step without any difficulties (I-II UIAA). There were two more fixed ropes above this one, but there was no need to use them on the way up – but I would later more than appreciate them on the way down. Once we climbed over the first 50 m or so, straight up, with the gully to our right, we traversed along the ledges to the left (i.e. north), following the few cairns – there are only three of them that I noticed, but the route is quite obvious on the way up, it is much more difficult to find the right path on the way down. At one point, even though I was careful about what I was grabbing and stepping onto, a foothold collapsed under my foot when I had all my weight on it, but fortunately I was holding onto the rock with both hands, so I was able to stay where I was. Otherwise I would have probably just dropped only about one meter onto the ledge below me, but with the fully extended leg, the heavy bag, and the wobbly knee, this would not have been pretty.

At the bivouac at 3066 m, above the clouds. Photo by Honza.

Surprisingly soon, we arrived at the bivouac – the “Eiger Hilton” (3066 m). The bivouac on the outcrop of the west ridge was rather windy, but we had ascended above the clouds at this point, and the views were really beautiful, making up for the wind. It took us less than 2 hours from Eigergletscher station, including the beer break.

A beautiful view of Jungfrau from the bivouac.

As I have mentioned, my main concern regarding this trip was the safety of my bad knee, and I expected some increased risk on the route. What I hadn’t expected, was that my knee would buckle when I was taking off my boot. Well, there wasn’t much to do about it but to hope that it would be OK in the morning, since it didn’t seem too bad.

The bivouac became increasingly windy after midnight, and when it was time to get up at 5:30, neither of us was too eager to crawl out of our sleeping bags, not having slept much. The sky was one big cloud and the strong wind was quite unpleasant. We decided to sleep in for a while and see if the weather improved. I finally dozed off, and Honza woke me up around 7:30. The weather was more or less the same, and I could feel the knee, but we decided to at least take a look at “the mushroom”, where basejumpers jump from, and only then decide whether we would continue further up or not.

Just above “the mushroom” around 3250 m. You can see the bivouac at the furthest outcrop (pointing toward the lake), Rotstock, Eigergletscher station, and Kleine Scheidegg (station + hotels & restaurants). Photo by Honza.

The terrain was quite OK on the way up and the knee warmed up and didn’t hurt or feel unstable, so after we reached the mushroom, we continued up, traversing away from the ridge. The wind wasn’t so bad there, and we had a good pace. We were both surprised by the quality of the terrain – according to the accounts we had read, we should have been passing through some unstable, stone-quarry-like terrain – but the rock seemed reasonably compact, just with some scree on it. We reached the abseil point at 3668 m, drowned in mist at this point, and continued along the ridge and then traversed a snowfield under some steeper rocks. The weather had gradually worsened, with about 50 m visibility in the mist now and with that strong wind gathering some force again. But being only about 200 m from the summit at this point, and thinking it was less than 150 m thanks to the altitude meter on my watch, we decided to continue. For me, the summit part was the most enjoyable bit of the whole ascent, since we had good snow conditions – good, solid firn from about 3750 m all the way up to the summit. The snow field was quite steep (I would guess around 50-55°), so we put our crampons’ front spikes and ice axes to full use for about 200 m. One ice axe was sufficient in the conditions we had, but for the first time, I appreciated that the shaft of my axe is slightly bent – so I didn’t bruise my knuckles too much against the firn.

On the final snowfield leading toward the summit, at around 3800 m. Photo by Honza.

We reached the summit at 11:45, so it took us 3.5 hours from the bivouac (we started very late, at 8:15). We took a photo of each other, ate some grape glucose tablets, and hightailed out of there, since the mist was becoming thicker and thicker and the wind was very strong at the top, the combination of which created some icy crust on parts of our equipment.

Enjoying the summit views 🙂 Photo by Honza.

Climbing down the snowfield was rather enjoyable as well, and it was reasonably quick, so we opted for climbing all the way down the snowfield to where we had stepped onto it, not using the abseil post that was on the rocks at the ridge in the lower part of the field. When we got back to the abseil point at 3668 m, the visibility was still low, with the strong wind still unceasing, plus, as a bonus, it started to rain. We abseiled about 4 pitches (we had one 60 m rope), freezing in turns when one was waiting for the other person to abseil the pitch. Luckily, we were below the freezing altitude now, so the rock was just wet. If it had been freezing, the rock would have turned into one giant ice-slide. The wet shale wasn’t much more slippery than when dry, so climbing down wasn’t the main problem – the main problem was orientation.

Getting back to the abseil point at 3668 m. Photo by Honza.

Though we were trying to memorize some reference points on the way up, finding them on the way down in the mist was quite difficult. I had had to take off my glasses below the summit on my way up due to the mist, so I couldn’t really see any cairns and other smaller pointers. Luckily, Honza’s corneas had been polished with laser, so in the end, we zig-zagged through the maze of ledges and rock steps surprisingly smoothly. Had it been just up to me, I’m pretty sure it would have taken me longer, with some detours. And despite all the accounts of the unbelievably slippery, crumbling terrain, I have to say that with the exception of a few places, it is possible to climb down a rather solid rock – you just have to focus really hard not to slip on the scree that covers it, and of course watch out for loose holds and footsteps. I did dislodge one piece of rock the size of a large watermelon and sent it tumbling down straight in Honza’s direction with the accompanying shower of smaller stones – I yelled at him to watch out, and luckily he was able to move aside and hide behind an outcrop in time.

In the final parts of the maze around 3350 m. Photo by Honza.

It stopped raining, and the visibility somewhat improved in the lower parts of this section. We somehow emerged from the mist already below the mushroom, and continued down the clearly visible path toward the bivouac. We packed our things, had a quick snack, and continued down the last unpleasant part of the descent. For me, personally, this was the most unpleasant part of the descent – even though climbing up the previous day, I had found it easy and enjoyable, now, on the way down, after several hours of highly demanding descent, it was really uncomfortable trying to avoid falling down at every single step. The terrain is very steep here, and if you fall, you either fly down a 50‑m gully or towards a slightly more distant snowfield/glacier at the foot of this rock step. There are three fixed ropes in the lower part of this rock step, each following the other, but it is not very enjoyable to get to them, and neither is climbing down them – though it is the easiest, quickest, and relatively safe way down. But I really have to stress the word “relatively” here. The access to the ropes and the condition the second rope was in (which I only found out after I had climbed down half of it and was in a vertical section), the rope on which you then swing involuntarily, does relativize the word “safe” quite a bit. I would advise against using the second rope (i.e. the middle one), and recommend rappeling down using one’s own rope.

The last fixed rope at the foot of the rock step above the Rotstock col. Photo by Honza.

After we got down this rock step, we crossed the snow bridge I mentioned earlier – again, I would highly recommend roping up here. After the snowfield, there was just one small cliff to downclimb, and then it was over the scree field past the col between the Eiger and Rotstock, and down the ledges back to Eigergletscher station. There are many fixed ropes in this last part, most of which I think will amuse anybody who just came down the terrain further up on the Eiger. But two or three of them do come in handy for a faster descent down the ledges.

We reached the path above the station around 7:30 PM, so the descent from the summit took us about 7.5 hours. A person with healthy knees could do it a bit faster – I think Honza would have been there one or two hours earlier, if he hadn’t been waiting for me, descending at the grandpa speed with my walking sticks.

The Eiger still in clouds as we walked back down to Grindelwald. Photo by Honza.

We walked back down to Grindelwald, which took us over three hours – when we saw some similar figure on the signs along the way, we thought that would be at a leisurely pace, and we should be able to do it in two. Nope, three hours, not a leisurely pace. Again, Honza would have been there sooner, but I wasn’t going extra slowly either.

Starting point: Grindelwald – paid parking lot (not very expensive, I think we paid 10 CHF for two days). Eigergletscher station (2320 m) – from Grindelwald either on foot or by train. I would recommend taking the train, it will save you 3-4 hours walking up an asphalt road.

Bivouac: I think the “Eiger Hilton” on the outcrop at 3066 m is the best option, and above the second rock step, it is the only safe option. The terrain further up the mountain would expose you to potential rockfall virtually anywhere on the west flank. If the Eiger Hilton is already occupied, it shouldn’t be a problem to find a spot somewhere in its immediate vicinity, you would just have to rearrange the rocks a little bit. The downside of this option is the lack of water in summer – there are no snowfields around, you have to bring all the water you are going to need. The only snowfields are in the steep terrain in the upper part of the mountain. The col below the second rock step, between the west flank and Rotstock, is another option – plenty of space there & snow or water available. You can also find a spot somewhere above Eigergletscher station if you don’t mind that there are going to be people there coming down from the Rotstock klettersteig.

Time needed: Eigergletscher station to the “Eiger Hilton” bivouac 1.5-2.0 hours, Eiger Hilton to the summit 3-4 hours, descent from the summit back to Eiger Hilton 4-6 hours, descent from Eiger Hilton back to Eigergletscher station 1.5-2.5 hours. We went all the way up and down solo, without protection, and abseiled only about 4 pitches in the upper part of the mountain – our total time on the way up from Eigergletscher station to the summit was 5-5.5 hours at a good pace and back down about 7.5 hours with me descending slowly. With protection, the time would be much longer – if you need a rope on the second rock step above the Rotstock col, you will probably need it on about one third of the route, so take that into account.

Equipment: Helmet, one ice axe, crampons, one rope (I would recommend at least 50 m), some protection – you might not use it as there are metal abseil rods in some of the more difficult parts, but I would highly recommend bringing it as it may come in handy even if everything goes smoothly, let alone if it doesn’t. If you take the same route that we went up, you probably won’t need the rope for the way up, but you will need it for abseiling. Also, if you decide to get on the second rock step elsewhere than from the snowfield, you will probably need a rope and some protection to do that – the terrain is steeper there. In bad snow conditions, the rope and protection might be necessary on the way up and down in the final part, i.e. in the part that we climbed on snow – it seemed possible to place some protection on the rocks closer to the ridge.

Dangers: 1. The bergschrund on the approach to the gully at the second rock step – from the snowfield/glacier itself, it may not be visible, and you may be standing on a snow bridge over a 10‑15 m hole! Rope up before you step onto this snowfield/glacier! 2. Some loose holds, a lot of scree on the inclined shale, and rockfall from people above you. 3. Fixed ropes along the gully on the second rock step above the snowfield – check the quality. I would advise against using the middle one on descent – when you climb down, it swings and grinds against the rock, and it is impossible to check for defects from above, it is anchored at the bottom. Use your own rope to abseil. 4. Weather – as in the case of any mountain, but here I would stress it as an especially important factor – in icy conditions, the inclined shale would be very difficult and extremely dangerous to climb down, in most parts requiring abseiling and a lot of material left on the route, since most of the route is on inclined shale. Eiger is also well-known for unstable weather, and a day-old forecast might not be accurate, as in our case. 5. Water – we had more than enough due to the weather conditions we had, but I imagine on a hot, sunny day, the lack of water would make the descent very, very unpleasant, and it would make a mistake more likely to occur. As I mentioned above, there are no snowfields between the Rotstock col and the upper part of the mountain (say 3500 m).

The terrain above the bivouac. The difficult maze of rocks starts around the skyline – not difficult on the way up, but on the way down. The summit is not visible. Photo by Honza.
Looking into the north wall. Photo by Honza.
“The mushroom”. Photo by Honza.
The views from about 3500 m. Photo by Honza.
Honza on the summit.
A look down from the end of the maze at around 3350 m. Photo by Honza.
At the end of the maze at around 3350 m. Photo by Honza.
The snow tunnel at the foot of the gully above the Rotstock col. Photo by Honza.


Lagginhorn (4010 m) via West-South-West Ridge

Lagginhorn from above the Weissmieshütte, the main summit with the WSW ridge is on the left
Lagginhorn from above Weissmieshütte, the main summit with the WSW ridge is on the left

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.

Weissmieshütte, Lagginhorn summit in the clouds, and Fletschhorn (3993 m) on the left

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 foot of the WSW ridge - basically a giant scree field
The scree field at the foot 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.

The II UIAA slab and the upper part of the ridge with the summit

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.

The WSW ridge from its upper part
The WSW ridge from its upper part

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 summit cross with the south ridge and the Weissmies summit
The summit cross with the south ridge and the Weissmies 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”.

Trust your client
Trust your client

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.

Weissmies from the upper part of the WSW ridge
Weissmies from the upper part of the WSW ridge

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.

The terrain in the upper third of the ridge, where flying rocks are rife
The terrain in the upper third of the ridge, where flying rocks are rife

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.

The WSW ridge from its lower third
The WSW ridge from its lower third

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.

When you don't give a fuck...
When you don’t give a fuck…

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.

...you just don't.
…you just don’t.

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.

One of the beautiful rock plants at the foot of the ridge
One of the beautiful rock plants at the foot of the ridge

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.

Fletschhorn from the Lagginhorn summit
Fletschhorn from the Lagginhorn summit
Nicely crevassed Fletschhorn Glacier from the middle part of the WSW ridge
Nicely crevassed Fletschhorn Glacier from the middle part of the WSW ridge


Alphubel (4206 m) from Täsch via South-East Ridge

The summit plateau from upper Alphubelgletscher, just below the Alphubeljoch

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.

On the SE Ridge – in the background left to right: Allalinhorn, Strahlhorn, and the north ridge of Rimpfischhorn

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.

On the SE Ridge – in the background left to right: Strahlhorn, Rimpfischhorn, and the Monte Rosa massif with Signalkuppe, Nordend, Dufourspitze, Liskamm, and Castor

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.

The summit cross – photo by Marketa

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.

A small avalanche on the SE Ridge

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