23 August 2022, Aletschhorn 4194m & Furka Granite🇨🇭

The comment from friend and fellow mountain guide Jonny Baird when he heard we were going in to the Oberaletsch – Aletschhorn arena was ‘great area but everything is miles‘.  It’s good advice.  This is a beautiful and remote high mountain sanctuary on the Rhone side of the Bernese Oberland but, as the excellent guardian of the Oberaletsch Hut, Irene, said…the going gets blocky!  This is the summer kingdom of stones and it’s necessary to like, or at least to tolerate, long sections of walking & scrambling over ‘rocky & blocky’ terrain!

Rocky & Blocky…the road is long over the stones of the Aletschhorn.

The approach to the lovely Oberaletsch Hut however, is a pleasure.  We avoided the telecabine to Belalp and used the free parking at Egga with a pleasant path leading up through the Larch forests to an excellent cappuccino at the Hotel Belalp.  Italian quality, Swiss prices!  The feeling of heading in to big country starts right there with the views of the still remarkable Grosser Aletschgletscher ending it’s 20+ kms glacial journey just across the valley.  This is the longest glacier in the Alps and a journey that begins below the Hollandia Hut which we would look down on from the summit the next day.

Richard taking the superb ‘Panoramaweg’ path in to the Oberaletsch Hutte with the long and stony Oberaletschgletscher behind.

The Panoramaweg along the meadow terrace on the left bank of the Oberaletschgletscher is also a great walking journey with views across to the Nesthorn then Breithorn, but views of the Aletschhorn need to wait until the hut is reached.

Welcome to Oberaletschutte 2640m

And what a hut!  Oberaletschütte is an old style Swiss mountain hut and run with hospitality and style by Irene and her friendly team.

Oberaletschutte 2640m

We got a good after dinner briefing from Irene about conditions on the route.  The pre-dawn route finding is helped massively by a long series of reflective posts which light up with the merest glance of a head torch.  This is a massive help in negotiating the semi endless rocks which have a constant covering all along the hike up the glacier.

The reflective posts on the Oberaletsch glacier with the Aletschhorn behind on the right with the SW ridge leading down from the summit to the glacier in the direction of the reflected light.

There are not so many 4000m peaks which have a guide book time of 7-8 hours,  just for the ascent!   The journey comprises of numerous different sections, and they are all long.  On leaving the lower glacier an intricate marked route leads up through loose moraine to thread an enjoyable traverse over more exposed, and more solid paths and rocky slabs, often with bits of chain and rope along the way.

The long journey to Aletschhorn!  Hut topo with more snow than we had for our summit day. 

Above here the scrambling is easy, Richard and I moved unroped, but that word blocky keeps returning, and the road is long…

Dawn arrives on the Dom Monte Rosa and Lagginhorn, Weissmies Massifs across the Rhone Valley.

Eventually the upper glacier is reached and the cramponing on firm snow ice on the initially dry, then wet, glacier provides a welcome contrast in movement style.

Working through the crevasses on the upper glacier on the SW ridge of the Aletschhorn.

Conditions were fine with ice, snow ice and then snow leading through a slightly intricate dry lower section and then with a few crevasses to cross on the upper wet glacier.

Snowy upper glacier en route to the upper SW ridge proper.

There is a short section of unpleasantly loose rock between this upper glacier and the more solid ground on the upper SW Ridge and this is pretty much the only section of the route we pitched in both ascent and descent.

Loose rock on the newly exposed ‘choss’ between the glacier and upper SW ridge.  Unpleasant but very short.

After another long & physical walking section with some loose rock more accustomed to being covered in snow, it’s almost a relief to reach the more technical rocky upper section of the SW Ridge, which is pretty long as well!

Metal stakes for runners / anchors on the scrambling upper section of the SW Ridge.

The stakes are probably more appreciated with icy or mixed conditions but the ridge was almost completely dry apart from a few remnants of fresh snow from last Friday’s storm.  The scrambling is generally pleasant, a bit loose in places but easy compared to many other big ADs in these dry conditions.  We were feeling the altitude now with nearly a couple of hundred vertical metres of scrambling above 4000m.  Despite this, and the feeling have been on the way up for a long time, we reached the summit in less than guide book time, about 6.5 hours after leaving the hut.

Richard on the summit of the Aletschorn, 6.5hours after leaving the hut.

The summit views are expansive – panoramic – fascinating.  Lots of familiar peaks on the skyline, Mont Blanc to the right of the cross above, and the Matterhorn just to the left of Richard.

The view north from Aletschhorn in to the northern Oberland – Monch – Eiger on the L. Schreckhorn centre right and Finsteraarhorn on the Right.

Looking north we could see in to the almost Arctic like northern Oberland with the huge glaciers and famous 4000m peaks with only the Finsteraarhorn being higher than our current vantage point.  Richard’s recent climb on the Mittellegi Ridge on the Eiger was also visible and had served as one of the reasons he was able to climb this big peak in good style too.

Summit panorama from the Aletschhorn.  Matterhorn – Weisshorn – Dent Blanche in the centre. Mont Blanc to the centre right and Monte Rosa centre left.

The way down took nearly as long as the way up.  We stopped more and enjoyed the grandeur of this remarkable high mountain arena, and marvelled at how far we had come that morning!  After a big summit we generally walk back out from the hut to the valley on the same day.   Jonny had also advised spending a 2nd night at the hut after the ascent.  Again, very good advice!

Rob & Richard on the summit of the Aletschhorn, a good team effort. Lots of effort required for this one!

To provide a contrast with the rather physical and not very technical Aletschhorn we carried on up the Furka Pass and deep in to granite rock climbing country.

Granite base camp at Sidenelhutte 2708m

As another contrast with much of this summer, the rain then arrived but the base camp of Sidenelhutte provides cragging options right on the door step and the opportunity to nip out for even half an hour in a quick dry spell, or to dash back if it starts chucking it down!

Richard going well on thin granite slabs by the Sidenelhutte

As part of our journey over to the Albert Heim hut via the brilliant ‘Nepali Highway’ we visited the visually striking Sud Wand on the Chli Bielenhorn.

A myriad of steep granite routes weaving intricate and mainly quite hard lines up the Bielenhorn Sud Wand. Perrenoud, 6a, is a real Schweiz Plaisir classic taking a series of grooves up the wall L of all the interlocking overlaps.

There is a classic 6a highly recommend by the guide book Schweiz Plaisir Ost on the South Face of the Bielenhorn just around the corner from the Sidelenhutte.  This looks great but we will have to go back another time to finish it as the rain approached after the first pitch so we carried on the rocky journey round to Albert Heim where there is also some very rapidly accessed hut side cragging.

Richard on Perrenoud on the Bielenhorn Sud Wand…as the rain comes in…or does it?
The Himalayan feel of the Nepali Highway with peaks soaring through the clouds, glaciers and a stranded bit of old glacier ice calving in to the lake giving some mini icebergs

The weather was much better the next day with fine dawn views of the Galenstock at dawn from Albert Heim Hut:

The Galenstock 3586m from Albert Heim Hut.

We headed up on to the SW face of the Lochberg but gravity was feeling a bit stronger than usual on this last day of our week and the last day of Richard’s near 3 week ‘alpine semester’.   Colds had been endured through some of the hut trips and the Aletschhorn was possibly still making its legacy felt on the legs.  As the french mountain saying goes, sometimes it’s important to Sachez renoncer, and today, was one of those days!

Sometimes it’s necessary to change plan! In this case a lovely mountain walk and paddle in a sphagnum bog stream instead of climbing the SW face of Lochberg.

Instead of climbing a big granite face, we paddled in the sphagnum bog streams and enjoyed a relaxed journey back over the remarkable Furka Pass.  A place with a lot of geography going on including the watershed between the Rhone and the Rhine rivers.  Rain on one side of the pass flows in to Mediterranean and on t’other side, the North Sea.   You can also see the Eiger and Aletschhorn summits from here and it felt like a very fitting place to end our journey.

The East Oberland from Furka Pass. The highest peak is Finsteraarhorn with the Eiger on the right and Aletschorn as the snowy peak on the left. Journey ends. But it would be great to return…

If you’d like to climb the Aletschhorn…or rock climb around the Furka pass, please get in touch to discuss and we also have the following course places available for the remainder of summer and autumn 2022:

Serried ranks…with the Swiss Italian border lost amongst the ridge lines. Great views en route to the Aletschhorn