Monday, 5 August 2013

Alpine Adventures

Around this time last year Kathryn and I headed to the Ecrins for our first attempt at conquering some alpine mountains. We had an lovely time, although things didn't quite go entirely to plan: I dropped my camera off a via ferrata, and we failed to make it up any summits due to a combination of failing to acclimatise properly and picking some peaks that were beyond us. My grand plan of a romantic mountain-top proposal was hastily rearranged into popping the question on a col.
Looking across to the summit of the Allalinhorn

This year we headed to the Saas Valley in Switzerland, with more preparation and (possibly marginally) more nous. Our first two days were spent above 3000m (via the cable cars) to get used to the altitude, before our first attempt at an Alp: the Allalinhorn. The cable cars meant that we only had about 600m of actual ascent to climb that day, but nevertheless the steepness of the snow slopes and the size of everything took some getting used to. The mountain proved to be the perfect choice for a first alpine peak and was a real confidence boost.
The Stellihorn as seen from the Mittaghorn summit
After a day off to say hello to the marmots above Saas Fee, we decided to get away from the crowds by climbing the Stellihorn. The route starts above the Mattmark dam and climbs a steep grassy slope to a bivouac spot (there is no hut) next to a stream with stunning views across to the Strahlhorn. We shared the area with two Ibex and nobody else - very special. The following morning, against a backdrop of a wonderful dawn alpenglow, we climbed the ever-steepening Nollen Glacier towards the summit of the Stellihorn. By now we were used to the very steep snow slopes, but towards the top, the snow had started to soften considerably, and we finally encountered a chossy, rock section, which added a bit of excitement to matters. We had the whole mountain to ourselves which, whilst wonderful, made us particularly aware of how important it was not to fall into any crevasses or off the summit ridge!
A couple of days later we climbed the Weissmies. This felt a bit more serious and challenging. The glacier was more crevassed (at least from what we could see), the snow steeper and the route longer. A mighty wind was blowing across the summit ridge, sweeping plumes of fresh snow into the abyss below. It was truly dramatic and, to us fledging alpinists it all felt quite epic.
Mission accomplished!
Marmot above Saas Fee

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