Friday, August 25, 2017

Big Classic Alpine Climbing : East Ridge of Beitschhorn 3934m

The Alpine Club Guide book states
Beitschhorn Viewed from almost any angle it is a magnificent sight, standing proud of all the adjacent peaks. It has three principal ridges, each of which is quite narrow … None of the routes are easy
… The East ridge is probably the hardest of them . Naturally this is the route that John Young and I decided to attempt. Yet before the attempt there is the herculean task of actually getting to the hut: The walk in from the highest road point is a formidable five and half hours. The longest walk in in the western alps. Fortunately it is also the most beautiful once you have negotiated the 1600 meter long tunnel which is a "new" Bise a water irrigation system. The original was built in the 1400's and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The route passes through fabulous terrain , plus a sort of summer village come hippy retreat, before eventually arriving at the Baltschiederklause Hut. [Not before time.] Having invested all this effort in actually getting to the hut we felt we should perhaps climb another peak while we were there and so choose the west ridge of the Jagihorn. The ridge was good and quite hard, with some thought provoking rock climbing. The descent was relatively short although probably a little longer day than we would have wanted considering the task we had set for the next day. Just before dinner I was invited to "Cocktails" by the Guardian . It was a chance to meet other Guides. No one else was planning to climb the Beitschhorn the next day. The Guardian gave us the weather forecast. It was stellar. 21st August 3.00am Breakfast . Then we were off up the path following the reflective markers. These ran out just when they would have been really useful but we still randomly found the toe of the glacier. We trudged up the dry glacier and after about an hour we had a debate about where we should leave the glacier and start on the lower part of the ridge. The options looked difficult although in the end the correct choice was made and it was a lot less difficult than it looked. Once we were established on the ridge things went well. It is very long , mostly on good rock and the route finding is on the whole straight forward. If in doubt stick to the ridge. After about 7 hours since leaving the hut we arrived on the summit feeling we had made a good account of ourselves.
The plan was then to traverse the mountain and descend to the Beitschhorn Hut. This is where the plan went awry. The cloud behind John in the photo was not as benign as the forecast had predicted . Soon we were enveloped in thick mist. Then the wind got up. It then started to rain. John's glasses steamed up and he could see his feet. Then the wind started to really blow. We now couldn't see further than an out stretched hand and the only way we could communicate was to yell into each others ears. In addition this side of the mountain was plastered in thick unconsolidated snow where as the east ridge , our route of ascent was dry. So strong was the wind that we could not climb down the ridge for fear of being blown off. The whole outing was turning into a bit of a challenge. Eventually we got forced into descending a steep couloir on the north side of the mountain just in an attempt to get out of the wind. We were making very slow progress because John could not see through his misted up glasses. It was now raining hard and we were getting very cold . Again we were forced onto some more unpleasant loose ground . Eventually I spotted an escape route and a rappel point. We rappelled onto the glacier out out of the mist. We were feeling mightily relieved even though the glacier was soft and there were lots of holes to navigate around it was a thousand times better than what we had had to endure. Eventually at about 9.00 pm we arrived back at the Baltschiederklause Hut. Drenched through. The first thing we did was get the Guardian to call the Beitschhorn Hut to inform them we would not be coming. Then we both sat down while the Hut Staff prepared lots of food for us and some large beers. A big day. The next day we awoke to a leisurely breakfast. The main topic of conversation was how could the weather forecast be so wrong? A local Swiss Guide who had been on an adjacent mountain told me that when the storm came in he called Geneva Airport to ask them what was happening in real time. Apparently they denied there was any bad weather!

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