Journeys in the hills and mountains
The first week of my trip to the Alps this summer was spent, once again, in the Saastal. With David, Simon and Alex we stayed at Camping Mischabel, as we had done in 2009, which has good facilities and friendly, helpful staff. I arrived first and Alex joined me on Saturday. Having set up camp and bought some food (the first of many pasta dishes) we did a little sport climbing on the crags behind the campsite. On Sunday we climbed Mällig, a small subsidiary peak off the Mischabel ridge. At 2700m it proved a good first acclimisation walk. David and Simon arrived that day, and on Monday we set off from Saas Almagel to climb up to the Monte Moro pass. This is an important crossing point between Switzerland and Italy and, at 2868m, it provided another good acclimitisation walk. It’s a pleasant, if not particularly interesting, walk from Saas Almagel to the Mattmark reservoir. From here the path becomes gradually steeper and more rocky until emerging next to a giant golden Madonna at the pass. On the descent back to Mattmark (from where we paid to get the bus back to Saas Grund) we were greeted by a nun who provided us with a prayer.
We aimed, on Tuesday, to do our first 4000m peak. Having failed to get up the Allalinhorn from the Britannia Hut in 2009, due to a misunderstanding of the symbols on Swiss maps (!), I was keen to go up again. Rather than stay in the hut, we this time paid the fare to take up to Mittalallalin station at 3456m. We crammed into the cable car and train with summer skiers. From Mittelallalin it was an easy snow plod (F) all the way to the summit ridge, though we were nevertheless rewarded with fantastic views, particularly of the Rimpfischorn. Our timing was perfect, and we reached the train station to descend as the cloud engulfed the mountainside.
We now faced two days of bad weather. The forecast itself was uncertain and changeable. Our aim was to finish the week with ascents of the Weissmies and the Lagginhorn making use of the Almageller Hut and the Weissmies Hut. We put off heading up to the Almageller Hut until Thursday, in the hope that the weather would improve. It did not look promising. As we set off for the Almageller Hut we were forced to put on waterproofs; having failed to reach the Almageller Hut in 2007 due to deep snow it was looking like I would once again fail to get up the Weissmies. We pushed on, however, and reached the Almageller hut which was in thick cloud. As we sat to eat our dinner, it began to snow.
We awoke at 4am to attempt the ascent. As we left the hut it was clear that there were stars in the sky and clouds in the valley and it was not long before the early morning twilight revealed the Mischabel ridge poking out above the clouds on the other side of the Saastal. It looked like we were in luck. The route from the Almageller Hut is good. After an easy ascent to a col we joined the south-south-east ridge (PD) before moving on to a snow slope, which proved hard going after the fresh snow. Rejoining the ridge was a lot more pleasant with some good scrambling which took us to the fore-summit, from where there was a short snow ridge to the summit (4017m). Stunning views greeted us in all directions, particularly off towards the Mischabel ridge and the Monte Rosa. The descent was less fun – we headed north-west which involved descending a soft, slushy snow slope to reach the Weissmies hut. As we reached the edge of the glacier we became temporary celebrities to some Austrian tourists who photographed us and asked us about our crossing.
Despite having heard bad things about the Weissmies Hut, it proved comfortable. With David leaving us to return home, we were reduced to three in number. We joined a Danish man for dinner who informed us that Danes go to Sweden for their climbing! We had some concerns about our aim to climb the Lagginhorn (4010m), particularly regarding the condition of the snow slope to the top, but we thought we’d try regardless. Another 4am start to the day. There is only a short walk from the hut to the glacier which cuts up to join the west ridge (PD). The scrambling on the ridge is easy and eventually we reached the snow slope. Although soft this was perfectly passable and, after a long slog up, we reached the summit in good time. The descent was a little harder but we nevertheless returned to the hut, and thence to Saas Grund where we rested our tired feet.