Alphubel (Rotgrat) (18.08.2017)

Written by hmsv1 (Hannah Vickers) GSM

Start point Täsch hut
Endpoint Täschalp
Characteristic Alpine trip
Duration 10h 30min
Map
Ascents Alphubel (4,206m) 18.08.2017

Alphubel isn’t one of the most attractive mountains in the Mischabel group (in my opinion) being quite big and rounded. The complete opposite of the Dent du Geant which we’d climbed a few days earlier! Nevertheless its long west ridge (Rotgrat) is one of its redeeming qualities and is described in good detail in Martin Moran’s guidebook for the alpine 4000m peaks. I was looking forward to ending the week with a decent long summit day (1550m from the Täsch hut), so this did to some degree fulfill some of what I’d hoped for. It would also be quite fun to revisit Alphubel, which was actually the first ever 4000m peak I’d ascended 15 years ago when I was 18 just after finishing school. That time we’d done the easy snow plod up the southeast ridge but I don’t remember that the weather had been good enough to give us a decent view from the top. So it was going to be quite interesting to go back and see how the Täsch hut had been transformed since my last visit!

We had a very laid-back start to the thursday morning before making the 2 hour drive eastwards toward Täsch and then up the mountainside to the small hamlet of Täschalp, where we started the short 1-hour walk up to the hut. It sort of felt like cheating to miss out some 800m of ascent by driving up to Täschalp, but it was pretty hot weather, so starting the walk from as high up as possible didn’t seem too daft :D There wasn’t a lot happening in Täschalp, and not a lot more people at the hut either - Linda and I even got a whole dormitory for ourselves since there was hardly anyone else staying there that night! We had a few hours to chill out before dinner at 6pm, which consisted of the usual soup for starter, followed by some chicken, rice and veg. Pretty good stuff here actually. Breakfast was starting at 3.15am the next morning (standard time for Alphubel apparently), so we were in bed by 8pm.

The walk up to the Täsch hut
The walk up to the Täsch hut
Looking back down the valley
Looking back down the valley
First rays of sun on the Matterhorn
First rays of sun on the Matterhorn
First rays of sun on the Weisshorn!
First rays of sun on the Weisshorn!
Early part of the Rotgrat
Early part of the Rotgrat
Breakfast stop nr.1
Breakfast stop nr.1
The elegant Weisshorn
The elegant Weisshorn
Walking up the ridge toward the buttress
Walking up the ridge toward the buttress

I have to say that our final hut night here at the Täsch hut was probably the best hut night I’d experienced during the entire 2 weeks. I slept so well! Linda on the other hand had had some nightmares and not slept equally well, but it was entertaining to hear her retell her tales at breakfasttime - though I’m not sure anyone else in the dining room could really figure out why the three of us were in fits of laughter at 3.30am. It got us in good humour for the long plod in darkness ahead in any case :) We left at about 4am and it was noticeably mild outside, so after 5 minutes of walking, I already needed to take off the thin jacket I was wearing and continued in just a vest top. The first hour or so was on a good path, but this disappeared at some point in what we nicknamed ’the graveyard’ which was a sort flat area with a lot of spooky-looking piles of rocks. It was a bit difficult to see where exactly on the walk-in we were because it was still so dark, but after the graveyard we had to find our way up towards the crest of the ridge through some loose rocks. Not very exciting, but at last we were putting on climbing gear by the time it started to get light. The first bit of scrambling along the ridge was nice enough, the rock was OK and we got to see the first sun rays hit the top of the Matterhorn and Weisshorn on the other side of the Zermatt valley. More walking around and up some loose stuff followed before we reached the first of some old snow patches, where we put on crampons.

Going round a corner
Going round a corner
Linda climbing without gloves!
Linda climbing without gloves!
More scrambling
More scrambling
Next bit of snow
Next bit of snow
The Rimpfischhorn (left)
The Rimpfischhorn (left)
Right of the slabs - Sami tried a ledge feature but we didn't use it in the end
Right of the slabs - Sami tried a ledge feature but we didn't use it in the end
Two other climbers coming up the ridge behind us
Two other climbers coming up the ridge behind us

There were intermittent periods of walking on snow and scrambling on rock in crampons, which of course really didn’t thrill me all that much, but after a final walk along a snow ridge we ended up at the start of the final tower, at around 3850m. The tower itself looked pretty dry so we took off crampons here for the remainder of the climbing; however the next 20 minutes or so were spent trying to figure out where the route went. Directly up from the snow were blank slabs and further to the right there looked to be some possibility to follow a ledge feature which Sami tried but changed his mind about as this option was far more exposed even though it could be protected. Linda finally spotted the first bolt in the middle of the slabby stuff, which was several metres above where we were stood on the snow. To get there would involve some pretty delicate footwork since there really was nothing to hold onto! Fortunately after some rather intense observing and belaying from below, Sami reached the bolt and got the rope clipped. After this the climbing appeared to be easier and there were a few more cracks and other features to put some protection into. My fingers froze when I first attempted to climb the slabs without gloves, so I had to put them back on which kind of made it harder to grip the rock. On the other hand I couldn’t grip any rock with frozen fingers anyway, so it was a bit of a no-win situation for several minutes until I finally managed to carefully crawl my way up to the first quickdraw and reclip it to the rope between me and Linda! Anyway, it was a relief to get up to the next stance and from hereon the climbing was pretty straightforward – but lots of it, all the way up until we reached the summit plateau and had to put crampons on again.

It was a nice route, though not immediately obvious since the route kind of went all over the buttress instead of one direct line. The plus side of this was that the south side of the buttress was illuminated with nice warm sunshine by now, which was much more comfortable than shivering in the shade! Linda and I lost count of how many short pitches we did, but there were many. It must have been after 11am when we got to the summit – somewhat later than expected so we didn’t hang around on the top waiting for the snow to become even slushier than it was. We took the the easy route down the east flank since the southeast ridge was looking very dry and icy. Not sure if I preferred the slushy snow in the east flank either, but I guess it was the quick option, even if it did mean having to wade our way through calf-deep glacier snow in a rather fast pace.

Easier than it looks
Easier than it looks
Linda looking a bit cold ;)
Linda looking a bit cold ;)
More nice climbing
More nice climbing
In the sunshine again!
In the sunshine again!
Team summit photo
Team summit photo
The other pairs of climbers chose to do the icy ridge option on the descent
The other pairs of climbers chose to do the icy ridge option on the descent
Some of the other Zermatt 4000ers
Some of the other Zermatt 4000ers
A random glacial lake on the way down to the hut
A random glacial lake on the way down to the hut

By the time we’d reached the flatter area where both routes meet on the glacier, the snow was much more ’walkable’ and shallow, though there were still several crevasses to watch out for. The rest of the descent down the glacier was easy, the snow became less snowy and more icy until we got down to the moraine. I can’t ever remember that the glacier stopped so high up the mountain the last time I was here, so I guess it has retreated a lot in the 15 years….. We stopped by a sort of glacial lake to unrope, take off climbing gear and eat a bit of lunch before the final walk down to the hut. Still 500-600m of height, but at least it was straightforward and we were back at the hut at around 2pm where we collected some stuff we’d left at the hut in the morning and then continued all the way back down the footpath to Täschalp. It was a great end to the 2 weeks – quite a varied route with a long ridge and plenty of climbing and scrambling. Maybe slightly more interesting than the Lagginhorn South Ridge but not quite as exciting as the Dent du Geant. I guess the pointy peaks and eye-catching jagged ridges around Chamonix have a bit more wow-factor, but the Zermatt valley is surrounded by lots of big peaks with elegant ridges too!

Thanks to Sami and Linda for two excellent and varied weeks of climbing!

User comments

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    Thanks

    Written by mortenh 17.09.2017 12:00

    Thanks again for sharing such a wonderful report from the alps. Both interesting and inspiring at the same time, although I will probably end up doing Alphubel the normal way if and when it hakkens.

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