Sunday, June 28, 2015

Climbing the Gaeltehore via the Col du Brochet

The forecast is much better than last week, so we set out for the weekend with high hopes that we will be able to complete a tour. We've planned to do a trip from the book "Hochtouren Topoführer Berner Alpen" that takes us from the Geltenhütte to the Col du Brochet, along the ridge to the Gältehore, and then further along the ridge to the Arpelistock.

On Saturday we have a short day planned, so we have a lazy morning and then take the long train/train/train/bus ride to Lauenensee. The weather is overcast but not really anything to complain about as we do the short (1.5 hour) and nice hike up to the hut, arriving just before 4pm. We spend the rest of the afternoon/evening enjoying the recently renovated hut and its views. At dinner we end up at a table with a two other couples who are planning hochtours the next day (surprisingly, the only other two couples planning such things in the half-full hut), so we do a bit of comparing notes and discussion. One pair plans to do the Wildhorn via the Col du Brochet, the other isn't quite sure, but they are thinking about the Gältehore via either the standard route or the ridge and then continuing along the ridge to the Arpelistock.

Breakfast is at 5 and we're underway under a cloudless sky, a couple minutes ahead of the couple going to the Wildhorn, by 5:45. The blue-white marked trail takes us over the low ridge just in front of the hut and then down through the very nice Rottal. We detour around a large field of remaining snow (likely from an avalanche) and then follow the trail up an old moraine.
Morning sun on the peaks
Following the marked fork to the Col du Brochet, we head off to the left, cross some snow, and then try and figure out where the path goes to lead us up the first step to p2425. We end up getting this wrong by not staying on the snow long enough, so it takes us longer than it ought to to get up the step, but we find our way back to the mostly marked (with stonemen) and mostly visible trail that continues to lead us up the valley wall and to the glacier. Once hitting the glacier we put on the climbing gear and crampons and rope up, wish the other couple (who have caught up to us) a good day, and then set out across the glacier towards the pass. Here we make what is almost certainly a tactical error by starting to ascend to the ridge as soon as we can instead of heading to the pass to find the best way. We do some ascending in very loose gravel/rock and scree until hitting something like stable rock ("like"), where we take off the crampons, shorten up the rope, have a snack, and then continue to climb. The higher we get, the better the going gets, by the time the ridge flattens out we're able to move more or less normally. The first step is, as promised in the guidebook, fairly loose rock. The climbing isn't steep or technical (3a or so), but we really need to concentrate on making sure that every handhold and foothold is stable. This ends up setting the tone for the much of the rest of the ridge.
The ridge, Gaeltehore in the background

Andrea! Don't step backwards!

Once past the step and on the ridge again the views are really fantastic (great weather!) and the Gältehore is beckoning from far away along the ridge. Off we go! The ridge is a mixed experience: when we're up top it's the usual narrow (sometimes quite narrow) ridge fun, but when we need to move off to the North face to either get around a bit that's too sharp or to descend a bit, the loose rock makes things fairly demanding, particularly for Andrea (who is leading). By the time we get off the ridge for the last bit of ascent to the Gältehore (hitting the tracks of the third couple, who had taken the glacier route and who we had seen on the Gältehore while we were still on the ridge) we are both happy to be moving normally again.

At the peak we have a good rest, enjoy the views, eat, take some pictures, etc.  While we're up there, the third couple returns to the saddle below us from the ridge towards the Arpelistock (they decided it was too hard? they were too tired?) and heads down the glacier towards the hut. During the rest we manage to mis-communicate and end up each thinking that the other would rather skip the next bit of ridge, so we bid the peak and its views farewell, switch back to "glacier rope", and descend along the tracks where the third couple came up. Back at the edge of the glacier we pack the gear away and then head back to the hut along more or less the same route we came up (getting the bottom bit of the wall right this time).
Heading down into the lovely Rottal
A break at the hut, a quick walk down (45 minutes instead of 70), and then a long bus, train, train trip later and we're at home. In an odd coincidence, we run into the couple who had gone to the Wildhorn on the platform in Zweisimmen (lots of people on that platform!); they are pretty positive about the tour they did; definitely something to keep in mind.
Looking back from the bus
The weather played along beautifullym but we're somewhat ambivalent about the tour itself. We're both glad we did the tour, but neither of us is quite sure if we'd do it again or recommend it to others. The true ridge bits were great, but there was perhaps too much nerve-wracking time in the loose rock on the face.


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