Self reliance is a fundamental principle of mountaineering. By participating we accept this and take responsibility for the decisions we make. These Conditions Reports are intended to help you make good decisions. They do not remove the need for you to make your own judgements when out in the hills.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Douves Blanches Arete

Modern life moves at a frenetic pace and climbing mountains suffers in the same way. As a mountain guide I often feel the need to go from one climb to the next with no break in between, to deliver as much climbing as possible in the time available. In some ways, value for money can be measured by the number of routes done in an Alpine trip. However the concept of slow adventure is gaining momentum and the trip I just came back from with John shows that there is more to a quality experience than the route count.

Douves Blanches Arete

When we met in Sion we had a two day weather window of mediocre conditions so we went to Arolla with the intention of climbing the Douves Blanches Arete. This is a dramatic rock ridge at reasonable altitude with very fine climbing up to about 5a and a quick and easy descent. Everything you want in a warm up route especially with a night being looked after at the Bertol Hut. A dinner of lasagna set us up perfectly and the altitude of the hut started the process of acclimatisation. On the route the rocks were a bit icy and the clouds a bit threatening so after traversing La Quille and Crete de Coq we traversed the scary looking slabs back around the side to our starting point. Despite not completing the route it was a very fine day out and got us in the mood for more top quality rock climbing.


Baltschiederklause is five hours of spectacular walking up from Auserberg near Visp. All the climbing there is quite long as well so you want a spell of settled weather for several days to make it worthwhile the effort of getting there. This was promised us so John and I walked up in the clouds to the very warm reception from Jolanda the guardian. If you want to leave behind the hustle of Chamonix and Zermatt this is a great choice with several excellent ridge climbs and lots of multi-pitch rock climbs with only a small handful of people there to share them with.

Blanchetgrad, Breithorn

Our first morning there turned out misty and damp so, even though we knew the sun would burn away the clouds, we decided to take a day of preparation and reconnoitring. The Blanchet Ridge on the Breithorn has an approach across a dry glacier covered in rocks and, with no snow, it is important to establish the best way to the start of the climbing. We spent a very useful day learning the way across the glacier and getting to know the area better. Simply being surrounded by such large, clean, rocky peaks was a great experience and time very well spent.

Blanchetgrad crux pitch

Next morning in perfect conditions but with no moon to help we found the start of the climb directly. The guide book description understates the length and difficulty of the climb, something we had established in advance as well. We found the climbing to be excellent and in a fantastic position.

Top of Blanchetgrad, Bietschhorn East face in the background

The rock is nearly all solid and if this route was above the Chamonix valley it would be a well established classic. We had it to ourselves and made a new trail in the snow on the glacier back to Baltschiederlicke. With no snow in this gully we were entertained with loose mush to climb down, a medium that some of us cope with better than others! It was a 13 hour day but another excellent dinner at the hut set us up for another climb the following day.

Bietschhorn East Spur

As you drive down from Zermatt towards Visp there is a beautiful pointed peak right in front of you on the far side of the Rhône Valley. This is the Bietschhorn and at just under 4000m it is not on most people's radar. We had dreams of climbing its SE Ridge but getting to it seems impractical with the state of the glacier at the moment. A good cover of spring snow would be required. So John and I decided on the East Spur which does get a handful of ascents. As it was there were three other teams climbing it along with us. The East Spur has lots and lots of very nice climbing on it as long as you stick to the crest of the spur. In some places this looks quite improbable but it all goes and the rock to each side is certainly less than perfect.

Swiss mountain rescue
Unfortunately one team just above us discovered this to their cost and they took a fall of about 40m while moving together. Luckily they fell either side of a small shoulder which caught the rope. Unfortunately one of them had sustained a seriously broken ankle by this time. Twenty minutes later they were being lifted off the ridge along with their friends to a hospital. No doubt he got the surgery he needed within a few hours of the fall. Swiss efficiency is quite reassuring sometimes.

Mountain rescue in action

So after a delay of nearly an hour John and I continued to the top, checking and double checking every hand and foot hold. The view from the top is amazing and the impression on us was made even more profound by the accident on the way up.

Climbing after the rescue

The descent was delicate under half a metre of fresh snow with no track so it was another 13 hour round trip back to the hut. Jolanda held a wee soirée for us to hear about the rescue we were caught up in and to tell us of another one near the Stockhorn. We toasted helicopter day and were grateful everyone got back down and would climb again, all be it some sooner than others.

Delicate snowy conditions on the descent of Bietschhorn

We walked down the next day and the flowers looked even prettier than on the way up. The Baltschiederklause is certainly recommended as a place for very good quality rock ridges with a much more adventurous feel than anything around the regular Alpine hotspots. If you combine the Stockhorn South Ridge on the way to the hut with the Blanchet Ridge, Jagihorn South Ridge and Bietschhorn East Spur you will have a very successful trip. There are also a couple of easier snow peaks such as Breitlauihorn to enjoy along with the rock climbs both big and small right behind the hut.

The next day was a well timed rainy day so we took it as a cue to have a rest looking up at the Zermatt 4000m peaks, our objectives for the next trip.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I was lucky much to climb Kilimanjaro last year. It was such an incredible experience. I would love to climb more peaks in the future. I love to do these things and thanks to share your experience with us.