Monday, July 04, 2011

Up the Bluemlisalphorn

This week's tour gets off to a very civilized start: we take the train from Basel to Kandersteg at 9:30. From Kandersteg we follow the path up to Oeschinensee, with the Blüemlisalphorn towering over us. We did this before on snowshoes, but of course everything looks very different in the summertime. As one would expect on a beautiful summer day, there are plenty of people out and about. Oeschinensee itself has boats on it, and people all around the shore (and it's not covered in snow and ice!)... very idyllic. From Oeschinensee, the hut (our destination for the day) is clearly visible... it looks *so* close, but there are still 130om to climb.

Around Oeschinensee and onwards and upwards, past Underbärgli (where we have a lunch break in the shade), up past Oberb
ärgli, and then out of the world of green as we move onto the moraine of what was, long ago, the Blüemlisalp glacier. Ever upwards we go until we reach the Hohtürli and, shortly thereafter, the hut itself. The hut is super full (again, no big surprise), but they're very friendly and well organized, and the food is good, so we have a pleasant evening before turning in early.

Sunday starts considerably less civilized: we get up at 3:30 and are underway at 4:20. We're one of the later starting groups, so there's already a good number of chains of headlamps on the glacier in front of us. The path takes us down to the glacier where we put on the crampons, rope in, and then set off in three groups heading upwards around the left side of the Ufem Stock. After about 30 minutes of climbing, Andrea has to stop due to a bad headache (neither of us has had problems with altitude before, but this is a sure sign). After some negotiation about whether or not Greg will continue, Michael (our tour leader) takes Andrea back to the hut. The rest of us re-organize into two groups and head slowly up some more and then watch the sun come up on the Blüemlisalphorn, Wyssi Frau, and Morgenhorn while waiting for Michael to return. There are plenty of people heading up to the Morgenhorn and a couple of groups doing the Blüemlisalphorn north face (insane!).

When Michael gets back, we head around the Ufem Stock and then down a bit and across to the foot of the wall leading to the saddle between the Blüemlisalphorn and the Blüemlisalp Rothore. Up, up, up to the saddle (yay! <500m left to climb!) and then along the ridge towards the peak. After a bit of climbing on firn, we reach rocks and the first of the steel poles driven into the rocks that will take us safely up the next couple hundred meters. Since we are on rocks and will be for a while, the crampons come off (whew! crampons on rocks are no fun) and then we start climbing/scrambling from pole to pole with one person securing the others. It's not the fastest way forward (lots of sitting around and waiting), but it's definitely safe. :-) On this stretch we start getting passed by people heading downwards (yeah, we're late). At the end of the rocks we put the crampons back on and then head up the (at times narrow) firn ridge the last couple hundred vertical meters to the peak, passing more people heading down along the way. We're alone on the peak, which is lucky because there's not much space up there. Since we're late and it would be somewhat cramped, we only do a short break before heading down the way we came. The pole-to-pole movement here is even slower, but we eventually make it down to the saddle and do the descent on very soft snow (step, step, slide!) from there. We head back to the hut around the left side of the Ufem Stock, do a bit of bare-ice glacier, and have some fun jumping crevasses before getting to the hut at around 3:00.

After a shortish break to eat and drink something and reorganize the packs, we head back to the Hohtürli and the path down into the Kiental, which is even nicer under blue skies than it was last week under clouds. Of course, we're doing the quick-descent-after-the-hochtour thing, so there's not that much time to appreciate the landscape. 1400m of descent later we arrive at Griesalp, rejoin Andrea (yay!), and have time for a quick cold beverage before grabbing the last bus of the day back to Reichenbach and the train home.

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