Ze Dreaded Steps - Concordia Hut
Once in a while its nice to take in a little luxury and this year the LMC ski tour excelled by visiting the Bernese Oberland of Switzerland………… say no more! The tour started with a sizable team rendezvousing at Interlaken to enjoy a comfortable overnight in the Backpackers Hostel. An early train the following day took us below the Eiger and the Monch and up to Jungfraujoch. My last visit here was a ‘few' years back and what was then just a tunnel has now been expanded to a full blown museum for the 2012 centenary of the Jungfraujoch railway ………wow. Escaping the tunnel of the Spinxstollen (3300m) and thus all the day trippers, we emerged into bright sunshine and world class views of the Jungfrau Glacier and its surrounding peaks ……... magnificent. A gentle skin across to the Monchjoch Hut (3627m) soon had the lungs working well and we were then able to ski down the Emigschneefald keeping well over to its the east side to avoid the crevassed areas on our way to Konkordia Hut (2850m). Surprises here for some of us as the hut is perched high on a rock buttress above the snows and is accessed via a steel staircase some 150m high. Leaving the skis at the base we ascended the stairs very slowly with lots of rest stops and celebrated our eventual ‘ascent' with a very welcome beer. The Konkordia hut is very comfortable and ……….. ‘has wonderful views comparable with Greenland or the Karakoram' ……..the views certainly impressed us.
The next day we set forth up the Gruneggfirn in fine weather, making good progress in tracks kindly put in by someone in front of me as yours truly was at the back. I eventually caught up with the others at the Grunhornlucke (3280m) and we all then enjoyed a super ski/traverse to the Fiescher Glacier to be in position for an ascent of Wyssnollen (3590m). I rested out at 3300m on this ascent, the others continuing to the summit from where they assure me, there are magnificent views of the surrounding 4000ers. A challenging ski down in softening snow and then a skin across the Fiescher Glacier to the Finsteraahorn Hut (3048m). Where ……oh no ……… we've a gully to climb up to the hut, not quite as challenging as yesterdays steps but still in need of a beer at the top! The hut is in a lovely spot with magnificent views of the Gross Grunhorn (4043m) the Gross Wannerhorn (3905m) and a multitude of surrounding peaks. Unfortunately the cloud came during the evening and in it started to snow which continued on and off all night so that by next morning the planned attempt of Finsteraahorn (4273m) had to be called off and an attempt on the Gross Fiescherhorn (4048m) was hatched instead.
Glacier Comb d'Aubon
The approach up the head of the Walliser Fiescherfirn needed the navigation skills of Nigel ably assisted by his Trek Sat Nav as we were constantly in and out of cloud until we arrived at 3440m by a buttress below the southern spur of Ochs od Klien Fischerhorn. This point gave us a clear view of the serac/bergshrund/crevasse field which lay ahead on the ascent route and just to add some excitement the initial approach was via frozen avalanche debris. Most of the front runners managed the frozen debris with some turning back at half way point with yours truly at the back deciding it was a no go area. Eventually everyone agreed that with a worsening weather forecast advancing and then having the prospect of skiing back down such complex terrain in cloud would not be a good idea. We turned and decided to spend an hour or two on improving our crevasse rescue technique before retreating safely (thanks to Nigel again) back to the Finsteraahorn Hut and another well deserved beer.
Nigel on the Wyssnoller
Today's the day we head back to the Konkordia Hut via the Grunhornlucke (3280m and we are in cloud all the way to the col. Just below which …..hey presto…the cloud disappears and we are faced with magnificent views of Konkordiaplatz and the Grosser Aletsch Firn ahead. There follows some good skiing down to a point where some decide to try for the summit of the Grunegghorn (3860m) whist the rest of us head for the hut. The weather is still changeable and the Grunegghorn party turn back just short of a steep gully which gives access to the upper snow fields. They report some excellent snow conditions on their decent (and some hairy traversing above crevasses) after which we all enjoyed another beer and a very pleasant evening at the Konkordia Hut.
Another day and away we go up the Grosser Aletschfirn this time heading for the Hollandia hut plus any summit that can be conveniently bagged along our way. The Kranzberg (3666m) and even the Gletscherhorn (3983m) being likely candidates. Frustration grows as the cloud comes and goes and we never get clear views of the summits to our North. A couple of other teams are heading the same way as us and we notice that they don't turn off for any summits. Eventually we reluctantly accept defeat and put our heads down for the Hollandia. As we arrive at the hut some teams are just setting out to go down to Fafleralp and others are heading up onto the Flue Glacier for what turns out to be some crevasse rescue practice. The afternoon is spent in the hut playing cards, drinking tea and sprinkling pine needles down the pleasantly smelling loo!
Our final day on tour and at last the morning is a clear one with beautiful blue skies, the Abeniflue (3962m) beckons! This mountain may just be short of the magic 4000m but it's a mighty fine mountain and well worthy of the effort on our final day. The eager beavers set off at a good pace but the cloud has come in during breakfast. I take my time and as I ascend the cloud clears to reveal fantastic views from the glacier and the surrounding mountains the Mittaghorn; Albeniflue; across to the Dreieckhorn and Aletschhorn, as far a field as the Gross Wannerhorn, and even Mont Blanc in the distance. Reckon I could even see Everest in the far distance (ok perhaps I exaggerate but it was an exceptionally good view).
Heli skiing drop offs are allowed on the Flue Glacier and sure enough one appeared and disgorged a team of skiers. As they passed me I honestly thought that, on such a beautiful day as today, I'd rather be going up hill! The eager beavers were ahead of me and making good progress towards the summit of Albeniflue having joined up with a team of Germans. I followed in their tracks as far as the 3600m contour and then turned back for the hut as they approached the summit. They report that the summit was easily gained and that views were fantastic with 4000ers all around. The Germans' advice, to follow them in decent, was taken and some great powder skiing was enjoyed by all; a truly magnificent morning.
Back to the hut for lunch and then a great afternoon skiing down the very long …… Langgletcher! The valley has a reputation for avalanche and as we were post lunch and the temperature was up so care was needed. Good snow in the upper part turning heavy in the middle and porridge lower down but thankfully ski-able all the way to the bus stop in Fafleralp. What a way to spend a day! This being Switzerland the bus arrived within ten minutes and eleven of us complete with skis, poles, boots, rucksacks, ice axes etc and various odours some being not too pleasant, were welcomed on board and booked through to Interlaken without so much as the bat of an eyelid.
The rest of the tale is just a pleasant bus and train journey.
All those in the team for another super tour, shame about the inclement weather; Bernard for booking the huts in advance which is not an easy task; the Swiss sausage manufacturing company; and finally the Jungfraujoch railway company for building the railway all the way to Spinxstollen, it was much appreciated by all the team.