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!
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.
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.
And what a hut! Oberaletschütte is an old style Swiss mountain hut and run with hospitality and style by Irene and her friendly team.
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.
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.
Above here the scrambling is easy, Richard and I moved unroped, but that word blocky keeps returning, and the road is long…
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
The weather was much better the next day with fine dawn views of the Galenstock at dawn 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!
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.
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:
- 2 places on our Becoming An Alpinist course, 19-23 September in Chamonix
- 3 places – Climb Gran Paradiso 🇮🇹 Late September 2022
- 2 places – Climb Gran Paradiso 🇮🇹 Early October 2022
- 2 places – Climb Mont Blanc 🇫🇷 Early October 2022