Alps Summer 2010 Part 2

The previous day, the ascent of the Allalinhorn had seemed like a big deal. Now in retrospect it seemed like a doddle - a quick jaunt up from the top of the mountain train. Our thoughts turned to plans for the rest of the week.

This first week was supposed to be an acclimatisation week, so we wanted to get progressively higher, and in particular to spend nights in huts at increasing altitudes. But we were aware that Alpine weather is a fickle thing, so we also wanted to make the most of the good weather we were experiencing.

I came up with a plan: to climb two more 4000m peaks before the end of the week -  the Weissmies and the Nadelhorn. It seemed very energetic, but I was expecting the weather to get in the way at some point and impose some rest.

After lunch on Monday we caught the local free bus down to Saas Almagell, and set off up towards the Almageller Hut in blazing sunshine.  We climbed about 300m up the right-hand side of a gorge, only to discover that the route across from that side to the hut was closed for repairs, so we caught a chair-lift back down to the valley and started again on the left-hand side!  After a steep slog back up the first 400m of the valley, we collapsed in a sweaty heap for a rest

[caption id="attachment_567" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Resting on the way up to the Almageller Hutte"][/caption]

The plod up to the hut was relentless, and we knew we risked arriving too late for dinner, but in the end we arrived with a few minutes to spare, in well under the all-important "book time"!

[caption id="attachment_568" align="alignnone" width="225" caption="Just below the Almageller Hutte"]Just below the Almageller Hutte[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_570" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="2896m and a bed for the night"][/caption]

At dinner, we chatted with a couple of French climbers, who recommended the route up Mont Blanc from the Aiguille du Midi as a good alternative to the usual Gouter route.  After dinner, we met a group of young Brits who were planning to do the Portjengrat the next day.

[caption id="attachment_569" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Alan outside the Almageller Hutte with Portjengrat behind him"][/caption]

This was going to be our first proper alpine start, so we organised our kit in the crowded dormitory then hit the sack, with industrial strength earplugs in place! This was going to be a much bigger day than the Allalinhorn, but I was confident about our abilities this time.

After the usual horrors of a night in a hut, we were up and on our way by 4am, with head torches to guide the way along the path up to the Zwischenberg pass. At this stage we were walking in a line with about a dozen other climbers.

At the Zwischenberg pass we turned left and headed up to the base of a steep triangle of snow, where we kitted up.

[caption id="attachment_571" align="alignnone" width="225" caption="Kitting up on the Weissmies"][/caption]

The ascent of this steep snow was pretty straightforward, if exhausting.  My only worry was the risk posed by some of the other parties.  There was one particularly large gentleman being dragged up by a Swiss guide just above us at one point.  I changed our route to avoid them, as I didn't fancy any of our chances if the big guy took a tumble!  This part of the climb was comparable to something like Central Gully on Ben Lui (a Scottish grade 1 winter climb).

We emerged into the sunshine and onto the rock of the South Ridge, which was technically similar to Tower Ridge in Summer (without the Gap!).  It would have been an enjoyable scramble were it not for the fact that the altitude was taking its toll.  I was feeling pretty worn out by the time we reached the top of the scramble and put our crampons back on.

The final ridge across to the summit was spectacular - a real knife-edge with massive exposure on either side.  We thought manly thoughts and stepped across, glad to be roped up.  Once the ridge had widened a bit, Alan snapped this picture:

[caption id="attachment_572" align="alignnone" width="225" caption="The final few metres to the summit of the Weismies"][/caption]

The views from the top were spectacular, and we shared the summit with one couple.  Looking down towards the Hohen Saas cable car station, we could see long, snaking ropes of "clients" being guided up towards us.

[caption id="attachment_573" align="alignnone" width="225" caption="On top of the Weissmies (4027m)"][/caption]

The descent went quickly and smoothly.  We could see, from above, some snow bridges which looked rather insecure, but when we got down to them them seemed very solid, and we crossed them with only minimal yelping of "keep that rope tight!" and "keep moving!". After the snow bridges, we crossed through some spectacular glacial terrain - teetering seracs and gaping crevasses.

[caption id="attachment_574" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Looking back up at the descent route"][/caption]

40 minutes later we were nearing the end of the track across the glacier when we met a middle aged woman walking towards us with no rope on, no crampons and no ice axe.  A guide 50m ahead of us spoke to her, but she didn't seem to want any help.  I would have been begging for a rope - the sun was beating down on the glacier and both Alan and I felt the edges of narrow crevasses crumbling beneath our feet as we leapt over them.  I guess she survived her crazy stroll, as there were no reports in the local news of any accidents.

We made it to the Hohen Sass station at about 10.45am, and sat down for a celebratory beer.  Now we were real alpinists!

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