Saturday, 15 August 2015

Salbitschijen and Other Alpine Rock

Sophie enjoying good granite on the second tower of the West Ridge of the Salbitschijen
The West coast of Scotland does not seem to have been the ideal place to be a rock climber this summer. It has been pretty wet, with little being climbed. Therefore at the end of July I decided to head to the Alps for some sunny rock climbing. I flew out to Geneva and hired a car. My friend Sophie was coming from Sheffield and traveled by train. I met her at Geneva station after a slightly random conversation with the former Pakistani diplomat to Switzerland who was wondering why I headed to Siwzterland rather than Pakistan for my climbing holiday. We headed over to Chamonix in some really heavy rain. It was late and I was tired when we got there, and then I made the tactical error of reversing the hire car into a tree; oopps. I assumed this was going to be an expensive error, but surprisingly Europecar only seemed to charged me £18 for the large scratch/dent.

Next morning we had a wander around Chamonix trying to decide on a plan. The Alps had been having the opposite problem to Scotland this year, things had been very hot and dry. This meant there was a lot of rock fall in the mountains around Chamonix, so we were considering other options. We bumped into some friends who suggested a 10 pitch granite sport route called AlpenTruam near Andermatt in Central Switzerland. AlpenTruam proved to be a fine warm up, and a good re-introduction to the dark art of granite climbing. That evening it started raining, but we headed up the lovely Salbit hut anyway.
The very pointy summit of the Salbitschijen
The next morning things were still a bit damp, but we did a nice 6 pitch route called Me-Mo, which was the equivalent of about E2 or E3, This allowed us to get back to the hut in plenty of time to sort our stuff out. After dinner we headed over and stayed in a bivvi hut at the base of the classic route of the area, the West Ridge of the Salbitschijen. This has about 36 pitches of climbing, and various abseils as it ascends the west ridge over various towers to the spectacular summit pillar. We did not move particularly fast, but were were steady and we did get to the spectacular summit in daylight. However, descending into the thick cloud, we made a slight navigational error (by following the footsteps in the snow) and got back to the hut a bit later than we should of done. Unfortunately this meant we missed Hans's (the hut guardian) birthday drinks.

Gary seconding the 8th pitch of the very fine Hammerbrucke
By the time the sun came out again a few days later we had been joined Gary Smith; a friend who we had met at the hut a few days previously. Gary's climbing partner had headed home, so he joined us for a few routes. We decided to do Hammerbrucke; one of the fine looking rock routes on the second tower of the West Ridge. The route did not disappoint, it gave about 10 sustained pitches of rounded granite cracks and corners. This was a fantastic route, well worth doing.
The top of the Furkr pass in the rain. Luckily Gary had a van which we able to use for cooking in  that evening.
After some more mixed weather we headed to the Grimsel/Furka pass area. There we did the classic 14 pitch slab route "Motorhead". A great route, but baking sunshine led to some painful toes by the top. The next day some cloud gave some welcome shade on the final route of the trip; Sacramotion, a 10 pitch 7a above the Furka pass.  A final day was spent sorting and socialising around the Chamonix area before heading home the next morning.

All in all a successful trip, and thinking back there is little we could have done to improve it (other than avoiding that tree on the first day), I certainly did more climbing than I have done in Scotland so far this year. In fact, it was so good that I am considering going back out in September.

An Austrian team following us up the classic Motorhead. 

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