UPDATE July 2015: Ken and Hannah are now running Scottish walking, mountaineering and climbing courses for West Coast Mountain Guides.
Better late than never, and hopefully the blog will go some way to explain the lack of blogging as of late! A couple of days after my last (at least I thought it would be) day of winter work back in April, Hannah and I were out in Châtel, in the French Alps, and caught up with our friend Tanya whilst bagging a few days of pisted skiing and ski touring. Conditions locally were reasonable, and allowed us to get back into the swing of moving around up and downhill on our planks.
From Châtel, we then headed over to Interlaken in the Bernese Oberland to meet Chris, Lucas, Steven and Emily. The following day, we jumped on the Jungfrau Railway, which whisked us up to 3500m, and deposited us right at the foot of the Mönch (4107m) at 9am. We decided to capitalise on our expensive uplift, and so having ditched our skis at the foot of the mountain’s SE Ridge, made a steady ascent up to the brilliantly exposed upper snow ridge and onto the summit. Our first ski descent, down to the Konkordia Hut, was punctuated by the odd patch of developing crust, but nothing which could detract from having just summited one of the finest peaks in the region.
The following day, we made an ascent of the Trugberg (3933m), via the Ewigschneefeld and up the SW Flank. The final ridge, which involved a bit of boot packing, gave us great views down the continuous 1100m south face, which was our planned descent and looked perfect. And it was.
With a deterioration in the weather the next day, we chose to not venture too far, and made a partial ascent of the Kranzberg, before complete whiteout conditions at 3400m sent us back the way we had come. The final steep slopes back to the Konkordiaplatz gave some of the best (if a little short-lived) skiing of the day. Unfortunately, this deterioration in the weather stayed with us for the next few days, and only occasionally let up. The following morning was one such occasion, as we made our way up to the Grünhornlücke. Fresh snow had fallen overnight, and so things were looking promising as we reached the col, and prepared ourselves for putting in some fresh tracks. Wrong! We must have managed a full 1 minute of enjoyable descent, before skiing into thick cloud, which not only reduced visibility down to about 50m, but also acted like a giant greenhouse, trapping the warmth of the sunshine against the glacier. So what should have been a fun descent, with the option of bagging the nearby Wyssnollen, turned into an exercise in poor visibility navigation and sticking close together through unknown terrain.
We were eventually spat out of the murk at the foot of the Finsteraarhorn Hut, and chose to call it a day. That night, Lucas took a turn for the worse, and woke up to a crackling/popping sound on his lungs. Although theoretically possible, the chances of it being a case of High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) seemed slim, with us only being at 3000m, and having spent a few days at that altitude, but sure enough, as the day wore on, and with the help of a group of medics who were also staying at the hut, HAPE seemed like the most likely diagnosis, and so that evening, just as a weather window presented itself, Lucas was whisked away by helicopter to a hospital in Visp, where he was diagnosed as suffering from HAPE. It proved to be a lesson for all of us, as whilst we had been to much higher altitudes before, and had read about altitude related illnesses, were caught out by how quickly symptoms developed, even at reasonably modest elevations.
The final leg of our tour took us all the way across the Grosser Aletschfirn, to the atmospheric Hollandia Hut, from where we made an ascent of the Mittaghorn (3892m) and the Äbeni Flue (3962m) on the same day, the latter of which gave a fantastic decent back to the hut, before enjoying the long and at times technical, descent down to Fafleralp, a day earlier than originally planned due to the weather closing in.
The trip was definitely tough at times, with mixed conditions, illness and feeling like we hadn’t necessarily played all of our cards at the right moments, but then again, if it was all plain sailing, where would the fun and challenge lie in that? Huge thanks to Chris for organising the trip and to the others for their company.