Days 52 & 53 – Of psychology and free rides

Tuesday 4th & Wednesday 5th September

As I said in my last posted blog we are off to climb the Allalinhorn, 4,027m via the East ridge or Hohlaubgrat, graded PD+.

We arrive at the Britannia Hütte, 3,030m in the early afternoon of Tuesday 4th September following a short 1.5 hr walk from the top of the Alpin Express chair lift which takes us from Saas Fee at 1,800m to 2,991m. “Ah,” I hear you think, “…just 39 metres up to the hut. Easy life” But, no dear reader. Did you not know that our mountains are falling down, our Glaciers receding?

The easy, once perennial, snow slope that used to lead to the hut from the lift is no longer a year round sight for tired legs. In its place is a jumble of tumbling rocks. The diversion simply avoids certain death. Always a good thing but, depressingly it takes us 200m down, round and away from the rock fall area and 239m back up to the hut.

ASIDE: A recent article in Le Monde entitled Dans les Alpes, le réchaufement climatique fait déviser les montagnes” describes the phenomenal rate at which the Alps are crumbling owing to the rapid melting of the permafrost binding the blocks of rock together. Of interest to mountaineers are the serious safety concerns this issue brings as well as the shocking fact that of the 100 Classic snow and ice routes in the Mont Blanc massif described by Gaston Rébuffat in 1973 there remain today but one because of the absence of both snow and ice the summer.

On arrival at the hut Mrs P takes herself off for a snooze while Mr P heads off to the glacier for a bit of a recce.

Mr P with the Allalinhorn in the background

Mountaineering grade AD- is about the limit of our capabilities as a team and this route is only 1/2 a grade easier. There is a short (30 metre) section of mixed (rock & snow/ice) climbing to contend with at 3,950m and the ridge is very steep and somewhat precipitous. I recce the first 45 mins or so of tomorrow’s route, the bit when we descend to the glacier, crossing over a boulder field, get on to the glacier in the right place, cross the flatish section (avoiding the crevasses) and start to ascend the mountain, all in the dark.

In the evening Mr P is suffering from an attack of ‘psychology‘. This sometimes happens. I know we are capable of this route but sometimes I get edgy. Concerns go through my head such as:

  • Can I climb rock in crampons? (Yes – done it loads – stop whining)
  • Should I have brought the longer rope? (No – stop whining)
  • Jeepers! It looks ridiculously steep from here (climbs always looks steep head on – stop whining)
  • Maybe we should go down. I have a [insert as appropriate] sore knee/cold/bad elbow/splinter/hang-nail (oh, do stop whining)
  • There is a coffee shop in the valley calling my name and it closes at 11am (we can’t afford coffee so this is not a valid excuse – stop whining)
  • And… STOP WHINING!
  • Sometimes I voice my concerns. Other times I just go quiet. Tonight is a quiet one. Darned psychology.
  • Despite any anxieties we wake in good spirits (it’s only a PD+ for Pete’s sake) at the ungodly hour of 03.30 and set off into the dark just over an hour later. My recce pays off and we hit the glacier in the right place. A group who set off an hour ahead of us are not so lucky and, as the morning progresses, we watch them hundreds of meters below us fighting through a jumble of ice, way off route.
  • The sun begins to rise about 1.5 hours into our climb
  • Good snow means the long ridge does in fact feel secure. This is good, because, if you slipped you would not be able to stop yourself and it is a looooong way down. It’s not particularly narrow but it does drop away to your right going from 50 degrees to ‘disappears over the edge‘, in the space of about 10 metres. At one particularly steep and narrow bit I point this fact out to Mrs P who responds by saying; “I know, that’s why I’m not looking that way.”
  • Mrs P steadfastly not looking right
  • We reach the 30m rock section after about 3.5 hours. This section actually takes us almost an hour. Initially our excuse is that we are stuck behind another group but we are not used to this kind of stuff so we slow down to ensure we do everything as safely as we can.
  • In order to avoid a crampons in the face we wait for the group ahead in the rock.
    Mrs P starting up the section of rock ( grade II)
    Careful now!
  • Looking back along the ridge from just above the rock and snow section
  • Above the rocky section there are a short few metres to the summit where we meet the crowds, and I do mean crowds, who have come up the easy route which can be done from the top of the funicular in 2.5 hours.
  • There is a bit of a queue to get to the summit cross via the quite narrow snow ridge.
  • Mrs P on the summit ridge
    Mr P clinging to the summit cross for dear life
    Mr P a little happier now that Mrs P is holding his hand
  • The descent, via the ‘normal‘ route down the other side of the mountain follows a veritable motorway of a trail and is short. Just 1 hour. It is uneventful but impressive passing by some HUGE crevasses and finally wending its way through the summer skiers on the lower glacier to the Mittelallalin where we plan to get the underground funicular back down where our free lift tickets are valid and on down to Saas Fee.
  • Mrs P on the descent
  • The funicular is going to cost us an eye watering CHF 56 (£44.73) each for the 5 minute, one way trip down! This is a bone of contention but the alternative is less appealing.
  • Good citizens that we are we press the buzzer to attract the attention of the man so we can pay. No-one comes. We try again. Still no response. We press 3 or 4 more times in quick succession. Nothing. Then, a man appears who says (according to Team P’s official translator) “I’m from the restaurant, I can’t take your money. Just climb over.” Result! Officially sanctioned free ride on the funicular saving us almost £90!
  • A rare mountain day indeed when the descent is quicker than the ascent and we are back in the valley by 12.30 for tea and medals. Well, Pringles and water to be more accurate.
  • In the evening we meet up with our old friend Steve R for dinner and have a rare old evening catching up.
  • All in all a rather splendid day and an exceptional route.
  • 4 thoughts on “Days 52 & 53 – Of psychology and free rides

    1. Loved reading this, rock sections would be well out of our league, picture amazing as usual. Pity there was so many on the summit.

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      1. Ah, the summit wasn’t so bad. Ridge too narrow so people had to take turns. Only about 4 at a time at the cross. There was a large snow balcony where people were hanging out. All very civilised. Glad you enjoyed reading it. What is next for you?

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