Monday, 2 July 2012

Spaghetti Tour June 2012

So off to Zermatt for a spot of mountaineering. Plan is to head up the Klien Matterhorn cable car and then via 4/5 mountain huts traverse along the Swiss Italian border climbing a few 4000m peaks including the top of Monte Rosa (second highest in Europe).

Day 1: London to Zermatt
The trip doesn't start so well as while I set the time of my alarm I didn't turn it on.... Randomly woke in a panic at the same time as I was supposed to be leaving the house (thank ____). This starts mass swearing and running around akin to the start of Four Weddings. 2.5hrs til flight takes off...move Move MOVE!

Rushed to heathrow and in the end was there with time to spare even with a ten minute wait for a tube. Panini, water, coffee, headphones, books, high factor sun screen....found Jamie and relax, I'm on my way and on holiday!

Now for some come down chill out house on the flight....will soon be breathing mountain air and be able to see snow, ice and soaring peaks.

Easy (although expensive) train journey to Zermatt. Sun was beating down as we cruised around lake Geneva. Found the hostel and dumped bags before we walk around and grab some supplies. Returning to the hostel we spent a few hrs packing and playing with the rope before some quick food and bed.

Day 2: Zermatt to Val d'ayas hut (Breithorn West and Central)
Leisurely start at 7. Some breakfast and then the 5 min walk to the cable car. We the proceeded to gain over 2000m while sitting down, which was excellent. At the top of the Klien Matterhorn at c3900 we put our crampons on and roped up. Hopefully we get quicker as it took nearly 30 mins.

Then out onto the glacier. We turned left and. Followed the tracks and rope teams ahead of us up to the west summit (4165m) dropped down a fairly exposed knife edge ridge to the col and then climbed up to breithorn central (4160m). We returned to the col and then dropped down to the plateau. Taking a slightly steeper route than back to the breithorn pass. Not sure it helped as the snow was slushy and we were sinking a lot. That's what happens with a late start of c10am....

We rejoined the main route and then turned right to head down to the Val d'Ayas hut. Unfortunately we turned too early and the decent was too steep, with wet slushy snow and ceracs beneath. So back up to the proper route to the hut - could have done without that extra work. Dropped down to the hut along the correct route arriving at c15:50 so a total of c6hrs. Today was supposed to be an easy day but was harder than expected. Both Jamie and I are blaming it on the altitude. Feel like I will sleep well tonight, hoping the altitude is overcome by the tiredness.

Planning an easier day tomorrow c6 hrs again but over less distance but involving more climbing and rope work. So aim to take it slowly and practice.

Several lemon teas and lots of water to rehydrate. Repacked our bag taking out all the stuff we can leave in the hut. Have a four bed dorm with two Belgian guys. 3 course meal of pasta, roast beef and then some form of pudding and it's time for bed 9pm. Breaky from 4, gets light at 5.30.

Day 3: Pollux 4091m
The belgian's alarm went off at 4 so we got up at c4:15. Downstairs for breakfast of bread and chocolate spread/honey/jam etc and coffee. Brit of faffing around and we were ready to go. The weather was not as anticipated, clouds snow/rain and warm. A few people were hanging back and or changing plans.

Our plan was still good so we set off at 6. Over took a large group on way up and the turned left to skirt under the south west ridge. The snow was shit and had barely frozen let alone consolidated. So we were puncturing the surface and sinking to knees or deeper. We started the climb at 7 turning right and punching up a coulouir for 70/80 m. We then jumped onto the ridge and picked our way amongst the rock with a few swimming exercises in the shite snow. We gained the ridge again and found the chains (ropes). We pitched it in two, putting a few runners in on the way. 2nd belay above choke strong was a bit weak positioning wise but Jamie didn't slip... Popped out by a statue of virgin Mary and baby Jesus. Snow was firing in now and hands were cold after pulling on the wet ice laden rope. Brief snow climb and we were at the top 4092m PD+.

Returned to the statue and decided to down climb as opposed to ab'ing. Lowered Jamie and then unclipped and descended with maximum use of the rope. Bit of skirting around the rocks an we found the coulouir and descended the snow slop to the bottom.

Dropped back down to the hut total time 5:30mins. Went into the hut to find out england had lost to Italy on penalties the previous night. Now time for relaxing for rest of day.

Hoping weather better for tomorrow ie clearer and colder. Big toes are sore now as if I have pummelled them hope they hold up.

Sun came out in the afternoon so after a quick snooze after we came back all the wet gear went out in the sun to dry. Lunch of salami and cheese on bread and then an afternoon of reading and planning the next few days followed.

Just used the huts wifi to Skype message Em, which was awesome, missing you xx

Day 4: Val d'Ayas Hut to Quintino Sella Hut - Castor (4223m)
Up at 4:45, raining! Brilliant! Get ready slowly and have breakfast before heading out. Finally on move at 6:30. Nelson and Ignace, are just ahead of us and intending on doing the same route. No one else has left the hut...

Punch up towards the plateau and can't see much. Nelson has been breaking trail which was nice of him. We catch them and they are a bit concerned about the wind and the ridge at the top. Still can't see much. We are now heading up the north west flank a big snow slope. Nelson asks if we mind breaking trail to make the steps bigger for Ignace. Sure, we wind our way up the slope mainly through rubbish snow but some hardish ice too. Reach a ridge to our right and follow to the top. Dig out some snow buckets to get out of wind and have some food and marsh tea. The boys follow on up an we have cracked it. Now for a bit of a ridge traverse before dropping down to the hut. We are at the top in 2:20.

The ridge is pretty airy but good fun. Few undulations before we start turning up and NE. We need to find the south exit off the ridge but can't see much and no-one has yet come up from Quintino to show the route. We confer with the map and compass and get right to the edge in a hope to see something I spot what looks like a ridge and it agrees with the map so we descend into the unknown hoping we don't have to come back up. Soon becomes obvious that it is correct. It's an easy route down. We pass 3 Spanish guys on the way up and we are down at the hut by 10:40.... Smashed the timescales. Now we have almost a day to kill and funnily enough our bunks are directly above the Belgians again...

Spent most of day planning routes. Looked up the weather and looked rubbish so trying to plan outs. Had a snooze after lunch of salami and cheese. Then played board game and read and talked. Had a few beers too.

Got talking to an English guy and his guide during dinner and he reckoned that the weather was looking good again, excellent, because was looking at the route and really want to do it an all the tops but mainly stay in the huts.

Breakfast not til 5 so lie in tomorrow. Skype messaged Em and the alien again, so cool that the huts have wifi :-)

Day 5: Quintino Sella Hut to Gnefetti Hut - Traverse of Liskamm (4479m and 4527m) AD
Up at 5 and weather was clear. It had been a clear night when I went to the loo and got great vis of the Aosta Valley.

We were last to leave as usual but started to catch people up. But they all turned right and we were going straight on?? Nelson and Ignace were attempting the same route so we all went up together. We got back up to the col between Castor and Lyskamm and turned right and started heading up. I continued to lead but was shagged by one point so Nelson took over and made some nice steps up to the ridge and then up to the west summit. Lots of congratulations and then we were on with the traverse. But it looked spicey to say the least. Razor edge ridge with very steep and long drops and lots of rock to negotiate. To add to this there was so much snow up there. Half way cross the towers Nelson turned back, it was too much for Ignace (it was borderline too much for us too but going back seemed as bad as going on). So continued to lead the towers. It was super sketchy. We broke the back of it then traversed under another set of towers. (I hate traversing on really steep ground!). Bit more traversing on the north side of the ridge, back over to south side and it opened up. Rest stop before the final push and we were up the east summit. Now to get down.

Jesus this Is steep. Too much snow to get out in south ridge so had to continue the traverse. There was so much snow, we crept along and just below the razor sharp ridge. Moving from north to south and back again. Constantly trying not to slide down the c1000m drop. Whilst also being concerned about cornices and avalanches. Twice/three cornices fell off as we skirted past them. Where were all the tracks where were all the other people. Presumably elsewhere as there was too much snow!!!

The ridge went on forever, finally we managed to get on top of it but the snow was so sticky that needed to stop the balling to retain grip every step. Jamie did an amazing job on the way down. Great effort. Finally we found a slope that didn't end in a crevasse and dropped down into the bowl. All we need to do now is cross the bowl avoiding crevasses and we were home and dry. Here was where all the snow was our friend! Made it to the Gnifetti hut at 15:10 making it a 8:40 day. We are smashed (mainly mentally - the moves themselves were not that difficult it was the consequences of getting it wrong that puts the pressure on)and thankful that the weather was so good as it would have been sooooo bad if the weather had turned. Glad to be down as looking forward to seeing Em and my little girl when she comes alone. Priority number one make it home safe. Today was on the edge....

We were both smashed so decided on a quieter day the next day. So we decided to stick to our plan to traverse the 4 summits to the Margherita Hut. Is that quieter...???

Dinner was interesting, proper cutlery and plates and helpings of soup, pasta, chicken and veg to divide between the table. The ibex also kept things interesting.

Day 6 Traverse of tops to Margherita Hut (4554m)

This route was a PD and would take in Corno Nero, Ludwigshohe, Parrotspitz and finish on Signalkuppe (where the hut was built on top of).

We set alarm for 4:20, got up at half past and were on the road at 6. The weather was perfect with some cloud in the valley but up where we were was cloudless. With the sun not up yet the snow was hard and we slogged our way up for over an hour to the start of our first proper climb before the sun struck and the snow would begin to soften.

A quick blast up to the summit of Corno Nero ridge a few photos and down again. Didn't touch the statue as there were c8 people there already.

Down and then up the next one, bit of a zig zag and a a quick ridge to the top. Photos and back down the same way again before the rest arrived. Ludwigshohe done.

Quick pad across the col and more zigzags and another ridge to the top of Parrotspitz. This time we continued on over and down. Some fantastic views from the top back to Liskamm and over to our destination the Margherita hut.

We descended to the col and started the long trudge up to the hut. Tried to think of it as a summit rather than a hut but was still a trudge. We arrived at the hut at c11:30. More hut time. The weather was still good so our stuff stayed outside to dry.

The hut stands at over 4500m so tried to drink lots of water but we still got headaches. We decided to just descend the next day and not take on any more peaks. Starting to get a bit worn down and hoping for some sleep tonight. Unfortunately that didn't happen, bad sleeping, can't breath cold is really causing problems. Although on the plus side means I can't smell how bad we smell after no showers or changes in the last 5 days.

Ben (the english guy) and Stephan (his guide) were in the hut so we spoke to then a fair bit.

We also witness the amazing quote of "Are you the guys that crossed Liskamm yesterday? What were the conditions like, how was the route". We told him.....he didn't go....We also mentally high fived each other......

Day 7 - the descent

Woke late and had a leisurely breakfast and didn't leave until 7:20. After another rubbish nights sleep we were definitely just going down and not climbing.

The weather was a bit patchy to begin with but cleared as we went down the glacier. The descent took us down the Monte Rosa glacier down underneath Liskamm and then Castor, Pollux and the Briethorn to the Gornergrat Railway.

We made quick progress down to the Monte Rosa hut c2hr15min. Then struggled to find how to leave the hut. The cook's suggestion of just find your own way, lead to a 30 minute detour as we did just this, before backtracking to find the path we should have found. We did indeed find the path and luckliy so, as it had ladders and ropes to help the steep decent back to the glacier.

We got down to the glacier, now a dry glacier, so no rope or crampons and folllowed the flags through the crevasses. Using a birdge to negotaite the biggest. We then had ladders to regain the path on the far side and leave the glacier.

The track then meandered through alpine medow like flora and fauna up to the railway line. We couldn't help but turn every so often to look back at the mountains we had climbed and the massive glacier that we had descended and continued to flow (very very slowly) below us.

We made the station at 13:20 with only 15 mins to buy our tkts and wait for the next train to Zermatt. I took off my boots, they were done.

Back in Zermatt (in my socks) we bought some water and headed to the hostel for a shower. However, we found that the reception was shut for an further hour. So we snuck in and showered, but in order to not re-wear dirty clothes we had to wear what clean clothes we had carried with us. This meant for some very strange outfits - well mine anyway. This didn't stop us crossing the road to Bar55 and having a couple of relaxing beers whilst waiting for the reception to open. And then fingers crossed give us a room for the night.

Turned out they did have a room (6 beds) so we took it for two nights, unpacked and repacked our bags and headed out to get some food. It was nearly six and we hadn't had lunch yet. Off to the Brown Cow we went. Sat at one of the high tables in the front and ordered the first jug. 4 jusgs later and two brugers later we were calling it quits. We had been joined during the evening by Ben (3 times) and Stephan (once).

It was a nice way to round off the trip

Day 8 - Chilled in Zermatt, bought flip flops, searched for good coffee (failed), watch the prologue of the Tour, ate in the Brown Cow again (watching Andy Murray) and had a night cap in Bar55.

Day 9 - Returned home

Matterhorn from Zermatt
Jamie on his bunk in the Ayas hut
the view from our beds (Ayas Hut)
The dinning area
my bed

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