Thursday, August 09, 2012

HT Woche Berner Alpen Day 4: Finsteraarhornhuette -> Oberaarjochhuette via the Studerhorn

We leave the hut shortly after 5:30 on another beautifully clear morning. Down on the ice we put on the crampons and rope in before heading down the Fieschergletscher. Following the Hüttenwart's tips, we stick to the left-hand side of the glacier as we head down. More fun with puzzling our way through crevasses, more nice light play as the sun rises on the mountains, walking past a group who had camped in the middle of the glacier ("interesting" idea). Down at the Rotloch, where the Galmigletscher hits the Fieschergletscher, we take a short break and rearrange into a group of five led by Greg and a group of three led by Peter.

We head up the Galmigletscher, swinging around the right side of the stone formation in the middle (the left side is a visually interesting ice fall that would be no fun at all to walk through), gently but steadily climbing until we reach the broad bowl underneath the Oberaarjoch. Nice surprise along the way of a view backwards to the Weisshorn, Matterhorn, and Mischabel group.
Matterhorn, Weisshorn, and Bishorn in the distance. A bit of the Mischabel group peeking through  at the left.
Across the egg-carton snow on the Studergletscher. Finsteraarhorn in the center, Studerhorn to the right of center. 

Now it's more or less straight up the Studergletscher with the only diversions being to swing around large areas of crevasses. About halfway up the valley, we run into a set of tracks leading up the glacier and the going gets even easier. From here on the biggest struggle is to keep the pace low enough that no-one gets overly out-of-breath as we gently climb to the Obers Studerjoch.
At the pass (if that's the right word when the other side is a cliff) we enjoy the views and survey the situation before stopping for a lunch break. We had been expecting a snow face that we'd have to ascend to a broad, snowy ridge that we'd follow to the top of the Studerhorn. What we see can see is a snow ridge that's about a meter wide leading to a stretch of rock that goes up about 50m and then seems to be topped with snow. The last bit to the peak is also visible; it looks ok: steep on one side and a massive snow cornice on the other.
The route to the Studerhorn
The rock section is really unexpected. During the lunch break we talk it through and make sure everyone is still ok with continuing; fat chance of anyone sitting out the last 200m after the events of the last couple days. We leave the packs behind and set out.

The snow ridge is broad and not particularly steep; easy. The rock stretch is definitely less than optimal: the rock is quite loose and crumbly. Fortunately for us and our hopes of making it to the top, it's neither particularly steep nor massively exposed. The toughest part is expected: coordinating five roped-in people through an ascent: "wait!", "ok, go on", "slow down for a second", "give me a bit more rope", etc. Greg remains surprised by the fact that getting through rock with crampons on really isn't a problem, though he really shouldn't be. On the other side of the rock we're back onto a broad snow ridge, there's a vertical drop to the left and a steep fall off to the right. We continue our ascent slowly to the top. It's steep at times and the footing is varied but not particularly bad: sometimes corn snow, sometimes normal snow, sometimes gravelly ice (the least pleasant by far). Once up top (staying well right to avoid the cornice) we congratulate each other, appreciate the views (unfortunately obscured to the South by some clouds), have a photo session, and do a group picture (nice bit of engineering here from Andrea to build a stand out of two ice axes and a glove for the camera).
The happy gang atop the Studerhorn. Finsteraarhorn in the background.
It's getting late, so we keep the break fairly short. The way down is the same as the way up. Andrea sets a good pace down and we make it back to the packs without incident.
Back down through the rocks.
After another short break we head back down the Studergletscher the way we came. Heading down the valley is much easier than heading up... imagine that. ;-)

The plan is to head off to the left at the bottom of the valley and then more or less follow the contour line around to the Oberaarjoch. We change this plan pretty quickly after hitting a maze of big crevasses on a steep slope -- getting through that would be slow and dangerous. We backtrack a bit, descend to about 3100m, and then traverse the slope to underneath the pass. Slowly up to the pass, waving to Peter  on the hut terrace above us, where we unrope, take off the crampons, and head up the steep path and ladder to the hut. The rest of our group are waiting up top with a big pitcher of tea (yay!) and lots of questions.

The Oberaarjochhütte is somewhat old school, so it's not as comfortable as the other two we stayed in, but it's friendly and welcoming. We drink the required cool beverages (well, Andrea drinks more tea), talk about the day and enjoy that "yeah! we made it up a mountain!" feeling. After a good meal we do a bit of planning for the next day. One of the classic activities from the  Oberaarjochhütte is to climb the Oberaarhorn early enough to see the sun rise, then to come back down to the hut for breakfast. One of our smaller group proposes that we do the climb to see the sun rise. We're not quite sure whether nor not she's joking and none of us wants to do even a short 400m climb without eating something, but we do some quick calculating anyway. Fortunately it turns out that sunrise is at around 6:15. That's late enough that we can make it up with plenty of time if we leave around 4:30. That means breakfast at 4:00. We all agree this sounds reasonable (for some definition of the term), confirm that no one is joking, then head off to bed to be ready for an early start the next morning.

This was a first for us: having one of us lead a rope team and a climb. There was nothing technically challenging (otherwise we wouldn't have agreed to do it), but it is still a very different experience to do the "navigation" across the glacier, and pick the route up the mountain than it is to be a participant. Greg spent a lot of time on the descent from the Studerhorn with one of his all-time favorite warning phrases running through his head: "Der Seilschaftsführer darf in keinem Falle ausrutschen, weil er sonst die ganze Seilschaft mitreissen wird." (loosely translated: "The leader of the rope team must not, under any circumstances, slip, because he would then take then entire rope team with him.")

The track:

The bits of this around the ascent and descent of the Studerhorn are screwed up because we left our packs at the bottom and the GPS tracker was on Andrea's pack.

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