Alps Summer 2010 Part 1

School broke up for Summer on Thursday afternoon, and on Friday morning I was on a plane to Geneva with Alan.  We took a train then a bus to Saas Fee, and arrived in sweltering heat about 6 pm, to see this inspiring view.



Saas Fee is completely car-free, so we had to haul our luggage across the village and up the hill behind the church to reach our apartment.  We managed to get lost on the way (which did not bode well!) but eventually we found the right block, and were warmly welcomed by the owners of our apartment.

I had planned a full day of acclimatisation activities for the Saturday morning, but Friday was Alan's birthday, and he was in the mood for a few drinks! After a vague attempt to encourage moderation, I surrendered to the inevitable and joined him in a round of cocktails, then another...



Some time around 10.30am, we declared that Saturday would be an "orientation day".  We wandered around, picked up some supplies and pulled ourselves together.  We decided to buy lift passes for the week, then took a stroll  from the village (1800m) up  to the top of the Plattjen Gondola (2600m).

[caption id="attachment_507" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Above the Plattjen Gondola Station"][/caption]

We both felt reasonably fresh after the climb, and were considering going further when a thunder storm began.  We jumped into a gondola and headed back down.

Since we had lift passes, we decided to get our money's worth, and took the Alpin Express all the way up to Mittel Allalin (3457m).  We hoped that we would begin to acclimatise simply by standing around in the sun up there and admiring the awesome views.  As we gawped at the mountains, I felt very small, and wondered if we were really going to get to the top  of any of them.

Back at the apartment, we ran through crevasse rescue techniques on the balcony and agreed that we would climb the Allalinhorn (4027m) the next day.  It is only 500m up from the Mittel Allalin station, but I was, nonetheless, very anxious about it.  Alan had no previous experience of glacial travel, and we were going to be walking up a route which crossed crevasses and a bergschrund.  I had invited Alan to the Alps, and I felt responsible for his wellbeing.  I did not sleep well.

We took the first train up to Mittel Allalin, and set off over the top of the Summer skiing area at about 8 am.  The snow had frozen overnight and this made the walking easy.  As the path left the pisted area, we stopped to put on harnesses, ropes and crampons.  We were both feeling the altitude (getting breathless more quickly), but neither of us had any other symptoms.

[caption id="attachment_510" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Setting off to climb the Allalinhorn"]Setting off on the Allalinhorn[/caption]

We walked together along a well defined path through the snow - Alan 12m in front of me with a rope between us.  As we plodded along we began to get the hang of moving together - the rope needs to be taut enough to be hardly touching the ground, but not so taut that it drags on the person in front. This tautness is important because the rope is there in case one of us falls into a hidden crevasse.  If it were slack, then the person falling would build up a lot of momentum before coming onto the rope.  This would make it much more likely for the other person to get dragged in after them!

My anxiety subsided.  We were moving well together and Alan seemed relaxed about the climb.  The track passed beneath a steep snow slope, and disappeared for 150m beneath the debris from a recent avalanche.  We traversed  this nervously, then headed for the end of the bergschrund, where the path  crossed a solid snow bridge.

We kept on plodding, and reached the top in less than "book" time (we were somewhat obsessed with this during the first week, as we took it to be a good measure of our fitness).  After managing the ascent without incident, the summit ridge was pleasingly narrow and exposed.
[caption id="attachment_520" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Summit of the Allalinhorn"][/caption]
[caption id="attachment_519" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Alan beside the Allalinhorn summit cross"][/caption]
 
Alan and I posed for photos, scoffed a sandwich and headed back down. At the Feejoch, we passed a group of 20-30 walkers heading up. We were glad to have made it to the top before the masses!

The snow was already softening up, and by the time we approached the Mittel Allalin station every footstep was sinking a foot or so into the snow.

We drank a celebratory beer on the balcony of the station, then took the gondola back down to Saas Fee, where we began to plan our ascent of the Weissmies.

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