With Judy fearful of waking up the other 6 members of our dormitory with her phone’s alarm she asked me to give her a wakeful prod when my quieter watch alarm pinged at 3:00 am on Saturday 15th July. In truth this was not necessary as we were both already awake in nervous anticipation of the climb ahead, hut sleeping at it’s usual best.
Returning from another good breakfast to the boot room I was surprised to see our dorms door open with the lights on. All six of the others were also on the move too, nonetheless we were the first team to leave the hut at 3:30, even better form than yesterday, again the temperature was cool but as close to perfect as possible.
As Tim made an early diversion to find a shortcut to the Hohlaub glacier which failed we were passed by a team of 3 guys who moved ahead. Tim soon corrected & after another 10 minutes or so we arrived on the glacier at the same point as the day before. This time however we turned right to begin ascending it rather than cross it. It soon steepened a little so Tim called us to a halt to put crampons & harnesses on (we would rope up a little later). Here a young couple caught us up whom I’d over-heard asking one of the hut warden’s a question the evening before ‘is there a path on the glacier?’, a bit worrying I’d surmised. The guy asked us if this was the way to the Rimpfischhorn ‘no it’s not, you need to retrace & then turn right at the blue poles’ Tim explained, I think we all feared they might need a bit of luck.
With the 3 guys moving directly up the steepening glacier Tim began to veer left, ‘why’ I thought but as ever Tim is not a follow the leader type of guy & had correctly assessed that the true line lay on the rocky rib which soon came into view. Our route was the ‘Hohlaubgrat’ far from the second easiest route to a 4,000 metre summit in The Alps. Reaching it we roped up & began a lovely scramble on solid rock which felt that we were making good progress with little physical exertion. As we moved higher the rib gave way to more good snow before we were on a second rib similar to the first. Nearing the top of this with daylight now firmly upon us we got a nasty shock as it looked like we’d stayed on it too long & would have a demoralising 50 metre descent to re-join the glacier, ‘oh great’ thoughts came into both mine & Judy’s thoughts. However in reality we’d both suffered from the same optical illusion, our descent was a mere few metres & over in less than a minute. Soon after this we had a pit-stop to refuel where I surmised ‘what do you reckon Tim another 300 metres, maybe an hour…’, ‘no Paul, 6/700, 2 to 3 hours, I’d say’ whilst looking a tad dumbfounded by my optimism. Looking at a map I think 500 metres was a more accurate reality.
Back on the move we soon moved onto the first of the steeper ground that had been un-nerving from the hut. As ever Tim often took his line rather than stay in tracks made on the previous day by other climbers, this added to my nerves but clearly he had a degree of faith in those he was leading. Slowly we moved higher before reaching a small levelling off (circa 3,835 metres some 200 metres below the summit). This gave excellent views of the work to come, two steep snow sections (split by a short respite) & a final rock climb to the summit ridge. Thankfully both the snow sections felt a bit less steep & exposed once we were on them & we reached the final rocks without incident. Below us two teams of two were following after our footsteps about half an hour behind us. With a fixed rope to ‘pull on it if it helps’ (Tim’s words) as he led up before belaying Judy & Myself up the vertical initial crux. Care was needed before we reached easier ground after about 10 metres giving us another pleasant, albeit steep, scramble to the summit ridge. The summit lay 50 metres away over a broad & very gentle ridge, we stopped to take some photo’s before Tim said ‘Paul we’ll move to the summit, you’ll lead on the way back & you’ll need to turn off to the right soon afterwards to pick up our descent route’. I looked ahead, saw the track he had in mind & made a mental note of it.
Another day, another summit, the Allanlinhorn (4,027 Metres) & then time to take in more glorious 360 degree views. Of especial note were the views north to Alphabel (4,206 M), Taschhorn (4,491), Dom (4,545) & the Lenzspitze (4,294), peaks for another year? Again we had the summit to ourselves with plenty of time for photo’s & celebration. Judy had gone well throughout the climb, it had taken us about five & a half hours, again climbing in regulation time, a great effort adding icing to the cake of the last few days.
I was soon leading the descent but at the first switchback was a bit un-nerved to see that yesterday’s snow melt had turned to solid ice so I had to take a line on the upward edge where there was more snow than ice. Two switchbacks further the ice was more extensive so I moved onto rocks to my right my decision meeting Tim’s approval, he was bringing up the rear a few metres behind (we were very short-roped). Shortly after I deliberately traversed above two large & very un-stable rocks (in truth all the rocks here were loose), Tim suggested I go below them to which I made a calm explanation of me reasoning. Moments later passing the same rocks Tim’s foot nudged one & they both immediately began to hurtle down the steep slope picking up speed & other rocks with them at an alarming & frightening rate before they jumped other a precipice & out of sight, a wake up call if ever we needed one.
There were no more instances of this nature, soon the ice reduced & we could leave the un-stable minefield to re-join the trodden tracks. Not long after this the first two climbers ascending the ‘Tourist’ route came into view. We stopped for a chat & explained our route (rather proudly I’d have to admit) whilst I made a point of ‘be careful of the loose rocks’, we were away from the firing line at least so felt safe. Continuing our descent with me leading on it was not long before the next group of roped climbers came into view soon to be followed by more & more. Over the next 45 minutes we must have passed at least 40 climbers where on the narrow track I would either move to the side to descend off line or wait for the next one to to edge past. Tim was calling for me to keep moving but I could tell the tight rope was a sign of Judy moving more slowly or stopping so simply had to balance between their two will’s. Judy later confessed to finding the descent tough on the legs thereby explaining her hesitancy.
Finally the crowds subsided (they’d probably all come up from Saas Fe on the first lift or two) & we moved to flatter ground where we stopped to remove Crampons, Harnesses & Helmits & to re-fuel. An easy amble down & then up gentle slopes led us to the Mittellallain station where we boarded a tram that descended via a long tunnel to the Felskinn lift that took us back down to Saas Fe. The climb & descent had taken us a very creditable 7 hours or so.
Back in the Cafe, this time a slightly less welcoming Swiss woman served us. I had time to by a map in the shop next door which would help me compile my Blogs (Parts 2 & 3), a simple but important point of detail.
Back in Les Houches we said our fairwell’s to Tim before retiring to a Cafe for a coke & more alcohol free beer before a little food shopping preceded our return to Morzine. We knew the Tour de France might impeed our journey (today’s stage was finishing in Morzine so there were road closures) & indeed our worse fears were realised so another Cafe ‘sit out’ entailed before we finally reached Judy’s apartment a little before 7:00 pm. We’d had the wherewithal to pre-book one of Judy’s favourite restaurants, Le Clin d’Oeil, the week before so after freshening up by 8:00 pm we’d walked into town & I was ordering a glass of white & Judy went into cocktail hour.
The following day was a rest day so I went for a run to Judy’s ‘I’m having a rest, don’t you ever sit still’ before she once again fed us handsomely.
The journey back over Monday & Tuesday went pretty much to plan (adjusted car seat led to only minor hip twinges) with me introducing Judy to the delights of Bethune, an overnight stop within striking distance of the tunnel. A bit of a delay at the tunnel meant that I would be too late to get to the Cafe before it closed so after first dropping Judy off my reunion with Dorina would instead be at home which I reached a few minutes after she did. ‘Hello my darling’ rang out from the Kitchen & we were soon in each others arms.
I realised it at the time but it should still be stated that every day of the trip (with the exception of the hip issue) had gone as well as I could have hoped & in particular the mountaineering seemed to have been as near to perfect as possible feeling that I had done well throughout. Before it I had been wondering how would I feel & indeed perform post my Gasherbrum II experiences of the previous year. I now knew the answers & it felt very good indeed. So obviously a massive thanks to Tim for, professionalism & leading back into the high mountains, to Judy for agreeing to come with me, her company & food & of course to Angel for supporting me as ever as I try to fulfil my dreams.
One final note to Tim, it’s 21 now & I’m still counting!!