Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hochtour to the Vordere Galmihorn

After a very early start (6:18 from Basel) and 4.5+ hours of travel we started our hike in perfect weather (as forecast, but we had some doubts when we were sitting in clouds and cold on the Grimselpass) from the Oberaarsee. A nice walk along the lake with green, and flowers, and great views. Dead ahead we could see the glacier and the saddle under the Oberaarhorn that was our destination. Since there wasn't really anything to give a sense of scale, this led to a funny "we're almost there" feeling throughout most of the 5 hour hike. :-)

At the end of the lake we had a lunch break and then set off across the glacier. Since the first couple kilometers were free from snow, we had the luxury of being able to do the hike without being roped in. Really nice walking along the ice with all of its streams and little cracks and holes and the Oberaarhorn towering ahead.
Across the glacier to the Oberaarhornjoch

The conditions were such that each step made a nice "crunch" (Knuspergletscher!) so we had sound effects as well as views. :-) When it started to get steep and the glacier was covered with snow we roped in (three groups of four) and continued on to the saddle and the hut.

The hut is in a remarkable setting that requires some scrambling and a ladder climb to reach. We get there too late to do the climb to the Oberaarhorn (too bad!), so instead we just get settled in and enjoy the views out over the Studergletscher and the Finsteraarhorn and most of the Walliser 4000ers. Unfortunately we can't see the Galmihorn (the Oberaarrothorn is in the way). The hut is relatively small (sleeps ~60) but well organized and comfortable, the warden is friendly, it's a nice evening.

Sunday morning starts early (but not as early as the folks who get up at 3:30 to catch the sunrise from the Oberaarhorn) and we're underway by 6. With the crampons and on the rope we head down onto the Studergletscher. There's another set of great sounds while walking down the slope as we crunch through the thin top layer and send little bits of ice down in front of us, kind of sounds like a rain storm. From the bottom we get our first view of the Galmihorn (with morning sun!). Around into the bowl under the peak and then some ascent to the ridge that leads to the peak. The last bit of ascent is a climb up a steep face that's easy but still quite fun.

From there it's along the top to the peak itself and a break with a breathtaking 360 degree panorama.
Last bit to the Vorder Galmihorn, Finsteraarhorn in the background

In complete contrast to the Bishorn tour, our group was completely alone on the mountain. Another group started from the hut at the same time as us, but they took another route across the glacier. It was nice to not be in a giant mass of people. Well, no more giant than our twelve at least. :-)

From the peak we continue along the ridge down to the Bächilicke. Here there's another steep face (mainly snow this time) to descend with some nice crevasses (the bergschrund) at the bottom. This takes a bit to get across (one at a time, abseiled from above, ropes taut), and then it's across the Bächigletscher to the Firehornlicke. In the saddle we cross over to the ridge leading to the Firehorn, take off the crampons, and begin the second stage of the day: the ridge hike.

On the short rope we ascend over rocks and around spires to the Firehorn then down a bit to a relatively flat area where we make our lunch break. This section is difficult to describe but it was absolutely fantastic to do. Scrambling from rock to rock, using the rocks as temporary anchoring points for the rope, steep drops to one side or the other, amazing views all around, just great. This was certainly the highlight of the tour. From the lunch spot we again have excellent views over the Wallis; this time with hundreds(!) of paragliders flying around.
Looking back along the Firehorn ridge towards the Vordere Galmihorn and Bächilicke

Onwards along the ridge with more great scrambling until we reach the Heji Zwächte and a standard mountain trail. Unrope and then follow the path down. Some nice sliding on a bit of firn, across rocks, then into green (green!). A quite enjoyable trail down, down, down to the Galmihornhütte, where we have a break with coffee and kuchen.

After the break it's the nice direttisima path down through the woods into Münster. Along the way we encounter loads of blueberries, but we need to make reasonable time in order to catch the train, so unfortunately we can't stop to seriously pick... ah well.

From Münster we start the long train ride home with our heads and eyes full of wonderful things. :-)

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