6 May 2023, Ski Bernese Oberland 4000m Peaks, Monte Rosa & Gran Paradiso

The Jungfraujoch railway, tunneling its route through the heart of the Eiger, is both a wonder of early 20th century Swiss engineering and a remarkable springboard into ski mountaineering in the high altitude Bernese Oberland…where superlatives run out.  But it’s also a bit of a busy and expensive tourist honey pot and, whilst the massive bump start is appreciated, it’s great to head out in to the wide open space of the Jungfrau Glacier.  This, is big country indeed….

Busting out of the Jungfrau Railway on to the wide open space of the Jungfrau Glacier. Note the south face of the Monch behind, before the avalanche that would release about 1hr later covering the track to the Monchsjoch hut.  The ‘Sphynx’ of the Jungfrau Station can be seen above left of Simon.

It was brilliant to see the mountains looking properly snowy again with April storms having both plastered the faces and added significant snow volume to the already decent levels on the high glaciers.   On the other hand, there was still a considerable risk and an unneeded reminder of this was spectacularly demonstrated to us during our ascent of the Louwihorn (3778m) as a sun warmed slab released from just under the summit ridge on the Monch and plunged down the face, engulfing the tourists walking up to the Monchsjoch Hutte, fortunately by then, just with a surging snow dust cloud.  But it must have caused quite a scare nonetheless!

The ascent of the north side of the Louwihorn with the next days route on the West Face of the Gros Grunhorn and continuation over the Grungehorn behind, upper left.

We were ok with our choice of a more gentle approach day today and enjoyed the descent of the south face despite the rather mushy snow on the slightly steeper sections with some lovely juicy spring snow on the easier angled slopes as we joined the mighty Aletsch, the biggest glacier in the Alps.

Nice spring snow skiing, already, after the big snow falls, on the lower Kranzberg Glacier and on to the mighty Aletsch Glacier.

This led us across the expansive Konkordia Plateau to the base of the crag with one of the most superbly situated huts in the Alps.  Konkordia Hutte….but the steps must be climbed first, and there are quite a lot of them!   Konkordia Hutte gave us a friendly welcome and would provide an inspiring base camp for the next 3 nights and opportunity to explore this remarkable ski mountaineering country.

Konkorida. A remarkable base camp for exploring the inspiring central Bernese Oberland and ski mountaineering Mecca.

After a good overnight re-freeze conditions were good for our skinning ascent up the west face of the Gros Grunhorn where there is some impressive glacier – crevasse – serac country to be negotiated / avoided.  Both snow volume and quality were good, for going up at least as the breakable crust higher up, whilst fine for skinning through did not provide much inspiration for the descent, hence our plan to also traverse the Gruneghorn and descend south facing slopes to make a satisfying circular route from Konkordia.

Big crevasse country…on the ski ascent of the West Face of the Gros Grunhorn
Big serac country…on the ski ascent of the West Face of the Gros Grunhorn

The SW summit ridge of the Grunhorn provides a fun scrambling ascent, not quite as short as you might think and whilst the snowy descent track just under the ridge provided a direct and relatively swift descent, the rocks below are not far away and concentration is required all the way back to the ski depot and crusty slopes across to the base of the Gruneghorn.

Simon enjoying the expansive views and good scrambling on the SW Ridge of the Grunhorn.
Tracks on the impressive SW face of the Finsterarrhorn, viewed from the Grunhorn.

The NE ridge of the Grunegghorn looks rather steep from it’s neighbour but infact provides a lovely sustained scramble.  Firstly and rapidly up to the summit then with another ‘not super short’ continuation across the enjoyable mixed ground to the ski depot on the SW side of the summit.  It was along this section where we had a ‘little incident!’….

Our ‘little incident’ on the traverse of the Grunegghorn…

It’s a good useful skill as an alpinist to be able to swiftly stow and take your ice axe from a secure position behind your rucksack shoulder straps.  Simon has done plenty of climbing and mountaineering and deftly swapped in-between using his axe for the snowy ridge sections and temporarily stowing it away on the rocky scrambling bits.  However, on one removal of the axe the adze got stuck on something….a little second tug and, BOOM!  The airbag was deployed…we had 5 seconds of shock, before we both cracked up!  We now had a 3rd member of the team in the form of an orange rubber dinghy on Simon’s back, much to the amusement of the Swiss team also on the ridge!

Cornice jump! On the descent of the Grunegghorn. Freeride Ski Mountaineering!

Packing the air bag away took us a little beyond our planned descent time on the full south facing slopes off the Grunegghorn and the snow was a bit soft on the steeper sections but nicely softened for the exciting little key passage through the cornice to access the lower Grunhornli which still had some very good juicy spring snow skiing (at around 1400) before we reached the cruisy, but sticky slopes leading down….to the final ascent up the steps to Konkordia.

Simon enjoying the magic carpet ride…lovely spring snow on the south facing descent of the Grünhörnli.

Another good clear night, hard re-freeze and good forecast meant another big peak and this time, after a wonderful full moonlit transition on the Konkordiaplatz, we set off again up the lower Ewiggschnee Glacier bound for the Fiescherhorn.

Magic moon setting as the ski mountaineering day gets going…on Konkordiaplatz.

After an enjoyable long steady skinning ascent, with good conditions on the glacier, we swapped skis for crampons and booted up to the Fieschersattel which, at nearly 4000m already, provides an excellent advanced base camp and ski depot for attacking the SW Ridge of the Fiescherhorn above.

Good snow conditions for a rapid and enjoyable boot up to the Fieschersattel at 3923m.

Whilst there is a direct start to the ridge, this looks quite tricky and is easily walked round to a short tricky mixed pitch from an upper ski depot to the ridge itself, where there is a fixed anchor so this can be easily abseiled in descent (with a 40m rope).

Simon on the techy mixed moves! A tough little start to the base of the SW Ridge of the Grosse Fiescherhorn 4049m

Whilst this section is harder than anything on the Grunhorn or Grunneghorn traverse, the continuation up the SW Ridge to the summit is shorter and was a real pleasure in snowy conditions but with a good stiff track today, and wonderful panoramic views across to the Eiger and around the Oberland, and Alps in general.

Simon on the summit of the Fiescherhorn. A beautiful position in the heart of the Eastern Oberland, with the huge Finsteraarhorn on the left and Grunhorn centre right.

We swapped the plan of also doing the Kleiner Fiescherhorn for a lunch stop on the descent at the Finsteraarhorn Hut which provided a welcome target whilst negotiating some crusty east facing high altitude slopes before the key passage under the well known seracs which briefly threaten this descent.

Some tricky skiing conditions through the debris and under the seracs of the Walliser Fiescher Glacier. But a stunning glacier journey and a few fun turns here and there!

Re-frozen debris and crust provided a punchy combination but there were enough smoother fresh tracks to be had for the odd fun turn and overall a magnificent mini Vallee Blanche à l’Oberland descent with some magnificent glacier terrain negotiated before the lovely cruisy false flat glacier below, with some magic juicy turns to reach the hut for Simon’s first rösti:

Simon enjoying the hut Rösti and brilliant views from the terrace at Finsteraarhorn Hutte.

As the Finsterarrhorn Hutte is generally full – note it’s worth booking well in advance – we got to burn a few of the Rosti calories off on another 300m ascent to the Grunhornlucke before completing this fine 2000m D+ loop back to Konkordia Hut…not forgetting the final climb up the 100+ steps!

The last ascent of our trip, and a steady and scenic one, up the source of the biggest glacier in the Alps. The upper Aletsch to Lotschenlucke, below Hollandia Hutte.

For this last morning of our trip in to the Oberland, there had been a shift in the weather with a cloudy night, a few snowflakes and poor overnight freeze.  The snow quality would not be so good today but this was fine for our atmospheric but easy angled journey up the remarkably big upper Aletsch Glacier, over the Lötschenlucke and down the long and impressive Lötschental.

Atmospheric light, and snow conditions to go with it! On the superb long ski out via the Lötschental.

Snow volume in the Lötschental is good this year and, despite the soft snow, we really enjoyed the lower tracks in to the sparse upper woods, hearing the sounds of streams running again and generally the feeling of being back out of the high mountains and cruising down in to the valley with the snow lasting all the way to Fafleralp.

Simon in the mushy peas snow conditions lower down the Lötschental, with the Lötschenlucke and Hollandia Hutte at the head of the valley beyond.

From there a short ride in a communal mini bus taxi leads to Blatten, the post bus and impressive integrated Swiss public transport system which provided an efficient return to Interlaken and nice journey feel to the end of a brilliant visit to this unique and inspiring heavily glaciated high altitude alpine arena.  We’ll be back!

The ski journey out of the high mountains and back in to the valley, and what a valley…The Lötschental.

If you’d like to ski mountaineer in the Bernese Oberland, we’d recommend either joining our group Ski Bernese Oberland course in April 2024 or private guiding for the more technical ski 4000m peaks in May.

Prior to this trip, in late April and early May, we also had a couple of brilliant trips to the high mountain areas of the Gran Paradiso National Park and Monte Rosa Massif. 

Fine spring snow conditions on the ascent of the Glacier below the North Face of Gran Paradiso. Photo Kev Avery

We had several teams ski the Gran Paradiso in decent conditions but with some exacting weather and well done to all guests and guides who made this fine journey from the Rifugio Chabod, over the summit and down to Vittorio Emanuelle as per our classic Ski Gran Paradiso course.

Rowan and Rasmus ski mountaineering high on Gran Paradiso.  Photo Dave Sharpe

The Chabod hut remains open into May and conditions were fine for our classic spring style of walking to 2200m in trainers with skis on the packs and touring in from there.  High on the mountain it was pretty quiet and pretty wintery with some challenging weather and frosty conditions on the fun scrambling on the summit ridge.

The final steps – up the steep ladder! To the summit of Gran Paradiso. Photo Dave Sharpe

Our Spring Ski Summits course team had a fantastic trip to the Monte Rosa Massif and accessed the stunning new Monte Rosa Hut via a good ski down the Unter Theodul Glacier from the lifts at Kleine Matterhorn above Zermatt.

Dawn departure from the superbly situated Monte Rosa Hut, with the Matterhorn beyond. Photo Kev Avery

Next morning they had perfect weather and good conditions for the very long traverse over to the Brittania Hutte above Saas Fee taking in the technical passage en route to the Stockhorn Pass, a slightly icy Adler Pass, the long and tiring ascent of the Strahlhorn 4190m and the also long, but fortunately descending, journey down the Allalin Glacier to a welcome rest at Brittania.

Our Spring Ski Summits team setting off on the technical passage linking Monte Rosa Hut with the Stockhorn Pass. Photo Kev Avery

We just have 1 more big ski trip left for our 2023 season, Ski Mont Blanc, with a ski mountaineering peak as a warm up and acclimatisation.  Snow volume and conditions are generally good so we’re hoping for some stable weather and a fine finalé to the season.  Stay in touch about conditions for that and your ski mountaineering plans for the 2024 season.  We will have our Spring Ski Summits programme running again then as well as our Ski Gran Paradiso, Ski Bernese Oberland, lots of Chamonix and alpine ski touring weekends and our Chamonix Off Piste Coaching and Ski Touring courses.  Dates will be up for all those in the coming weeks so book early to ensure your place for next year.

A weary but happy and satisfied Spring Ski Summits team arriving in Taschalp after the big descent from Allalin Pass linking the Brittania Hutte with the journeys end, back in Tasch. Photo Kev Avery

In the meantime, we still have a few places available for summer alpine mountaineering courses, so please have a good browse through this inspiring range of alpine training and summit courses and get in touch if you would like to join any of them.

Thanks to all our brilliant guests and guides for another action packed ski season in 2023 and we hope to climb with you soon and ski with you next year.  Bonne route and good training in the meantime, Rob. 

Alpine Summer 2023 Mountaineering & Training Courses

Castor Guide
James & Scott high on the superb narrow snow ridge of Castor. Part of the superb 4000er Zermatt Skyline Club! Weisshorn beyond on the left.