I’ve been back from the Alps for nearly two weeks now having realised that I’d maid the schoolboy error of not entering a race on the weekend after my return. This cock-up dawned on me very early on in a run where I went out with Dorina on the first Friday after my return. Quite simply my altitude acclimatised lungs immediately told me to find hills & murder them, no matter how ‘hard’ I pushed I simply couldn’t find the usual strains of effort. One week later a longer run found the strain returning, my short term advantage almost wiped away but at least I hadn’t fallen like my Angel who came back from her separate run (fed up with the strain-less Paul of the week before) covered in blood leaving her to explain herself to numerous concerned customers over the weekend.
Anyway back to The Alps themselves & ‘my’ plan for Part Two:-
Judy & I rendezvoued with Tim outside his appartment at circa 9:00 am on Thursday 13th July after a good breakfast at The Rocky Pop Hostel in Les Houches near Chamonix. From here Tim would drive us to Saas Fe through intermitant rain which (despite a clearing up forecast) as we made the final climb into town turned into a thunderous downpour, ‘we could sit it out in a Cafe’ I opined. Thankfully the car park on the edge of town & the rains subsidence met with perfect timing, once again we’d received a very pleasant blessing.
Despite this Saas Fe deserved a bit of Cafe comfort where we were served by a very pleasant Australian woman, as you would expect in Switzerland? Saas Fe itself is a ‘picture perfect’ Tourist town but none the worse for that, surrounded by majestic peaks & a hanging glacier which wasn’t as threatening as it first looked. Without a map to study little did I know that one of the shrouded peaks was the Allalinhorn, our objective for the final day of our 3 days in the area.
After being Coked & Coffeed up a short walk through the elegant town brought us to the ski-lift where we told by a pleasant Swiss woman that the normal route to the Britannia Hut was closed due to risk of rockfall meaning that we would need to take a different lift leading to a longer walk of 2 hours or so to the hut itself.
Once off the lift we downed bags to sort kit for a few minutes to slowly realise there was a bit of a whiff in the air but were all too polite to ask ‘was that you?’. As we moved on I spotted the lid to the cess-pit we’d been standing by, clever start to the trek in! I initially set off in the lead but felt un-settled & wobbly on the large stones & rocks that made up the early path so soon let the others through, from here on the path & my nerves improved, as ever Judy’s nimbleness on rocks outshone mine. There was no rush, the clouds were clearing giving us a steady amble to the Britannia hut which came into view on it’s lofty perch after an hour or so. We reached it in a little under the prescribed 2 hours in cool but pleasant conditions.
The hut itself was spotlessly clean & managed by a gaggle of young women who were all very pleasant & efficient which was just as well as we would spend two long afternoons inside it as the weather made sitting outside just a little too cool to be enjoyable. I joined Tim with a pint of zero-alcohol Erdinger beer (not quite a first) & developed a thirst for it knocking back another 9 pints over the next two days. probably, no let’s re-phrase that, definitely much to Tim’s & Judy’s surprise. As the afternoon drew on the clouds continued to clear & we were treated to views of our two objectives, the Strahlhorn, 4,190 Metres (for Friday) & the Allalinhorn 4,027 Metres (for Saturday). The strahlhorn was clearly looking like a big route march of a peak with several sub-‘peaks’ to be overcome before the summit itself so an early decision for the still off colour Judy was taken for her to give it a miss & focus her efforts for Saturday. That said the Allalinhorn looked anything but ‘the 2nd easiest 4,000 metre Alpine peak’, I was still failing to register that’s Tim’s adaption to my ‘are you still focusing on the old hat 4,000 metre thing’ was to wake me up with the ‘non-tourist’ route to the summit. For now I just looked at it’s steep airy arête’s with vain hopes of it not being as bad as it looked.
Meals at the hut were either a bit poor (evening) or very good (breakfast) by normal hut standards. Judy would lie-in on Friday until 7:00 am whilst Tim & I rose at 3:00 am leaving the hut at 3:35, the first to do so & a very good call.
Initially we frustratingly had to descend a couple of hundred metres from the huts 3,027 metres onto the Hohlaub glacier where Tim read my mind & scheduled a stop to put Crampons on for a short traverse with a dicey final descent back onto a rocky moraine. The moriane was a bit tortuous & long & with hindsight we should have taken the crampons off but didn’t. Eventually we were back on more crampon friendly terrain beginning a very long & gradual ascent of the Allalin glacier, where we roped up. Route finding finally became easier as dawn’s early light began seeping in over to our left. The temperature felt ideal, cool but not cold, my three layer system felt just about ideal.
We were now walking underneath the rock walls of the Rimpfischhorn, another striking 4,000 metre peak with me optimistically thinking ‘if it’s Southern ridge is snow & ice maybe we could bag it too on our way back’. Thankfully for my credibility I avoided mentioning those thoughts to Tim until ‘I knew more’. After about 3 kilometres on the Allalin glacier we stopped briefly before setting off again as it began to steepen towards the Adlerpass which connects the Saas Fe peaks to the Monte Rosa massif (scene of mine & Kean’s epic week back in 2014). The final climb to the col saw us shorten the rope & my nerves fray more than a little (at least the rope was in good shape). At the col (well just above it) we were met by a strong wind so retraced a few metres to take a deserved rest/refuel after the strenuous nervy climb.
Soon we rejoined the ridge, relatively broad as ridges go, & made our final push to the summit, still some 1.5 kilometres away. Tim led on a line that kept to steeper ground along the ridge itself whilst I followed eyeing up some easier more gentle ground off to our left. Rounding a final false summit which we skirted to it’s left we made a final b-line towards the summit ridge itself. We got to the ridge 50 metres to the North of the summit itself to make the final more technical moves to the summit itself intially handrailing a narrow snowline between rock face above & below before cresting the true narrow snow-arete for the last 10 metres. It had been a long, mostly non-technical ascent, a climb made in regulation time so our mutual congratulations felt fully deserved. I also took time to exclaim ‘that’s my 20th Alpine 4,000 metre peak’ to which Tim avoided a yawn. We were also rewarded with a simply stunning 360 degree vista encompassing such iconic peaks as the Monte Rosa Massif, the Materhorn, Mont Blanc (all to the South & West) with a myriad of Swiss peaks to the North & East which included the like of the Dom & even the Aletschhorn scene of another great mountain day for Tim & I back in 2015. To make matters even better with the exception of a couple who were trailing about an hour behind us we’d had the whole climb to ourselves.
With photo’s taken Tim asked me to lead the arrete’s descent which despite the exposure I coped with far better than my pre-trip hopes could have hoped for. Once off the ridge I mentioned the easier ground I’d seen on the ascent & was delighted to hear Tim’s response along the lines of ‘I was thinking about that too’. With me leading the line we’d soon traversed to it where simply wonderful snow conditions saw us make excellent progress back to the Adlerpass. Despite this the Britannia Hut still looked an awfully long way away, well roughly 6 kilometres to be a bit more precise.
Again I led the initially steep descent on a short rope back down the Allalin glacier with a degree of confidence & ease that was a pleasant surprise before the rope was lengthened & Tim led us on downwards towards a line West of our ascent route to find an easier way back. This worked well but it still seemed to take an age to descend the glacier & reach the moraine. Learning the lesson from our ascent we removed crampons allowing for easier more controlled progress up & over an annoying ridge before re-crossing the snout of the Hohllaug glacier without crampons where again I performed with a degree of un-expected prowess beyond my normal forte.
The final 200 metre re-ascent to the hut was as frustrating as imagined but at just before 12:00 pm we reached it’s airy terrace where we were greeted by Judy who was reclining in one of the huts suspended circular chairs where she’d been trying to both read & monitor our progress. Her un-expected surprise of our early return confirmed that we’d had a very good morning indeed. Big route, regulation time or better, low on difficulty, stunning surroundings & views, what’s not to like about a 3:35 am start when you can achieve so much in just one morning? Soon Tim & I would agree that it seemed sensible to set our alarms for 3:00 & not 4:00 on Saturday, it made obvious sense despite the shorter route that lay ahead.
Back in the hut I was soon re-acquainted with an Erdinger & we ordered a good lunch before settling into an afternoon of reading & relaxing & more Erdinger’s (well me at least).
I was going to include the Allalinhorn & remainder of our trip within this ‘Part 2’ but to give those of you who have got this far will give you a break & leave that to a ‘Part 3’ to come.