This is a story about a trip I undertook to Switzerland and France back in 2005. The purpose of the trip was two-fold. A few years before that trip I moved to the Netherlands to study and I was meeting my parents on summer vacations in Europe, so we were to meet in Switzerland. Another goal was to climb the Mont Blanc. On the climbing trip I was accompanied by my friend Erik Ravenstein, who despite being only 22, was already then an experienced climber, havind ascended among others the Kilimajaro and the Akonkagua. This is part I of the story, about our ascend of the Weissmies, which we used as acclimatization and practice for the Mont Blanc. Part II, the story of our ascend of the Mont Blanc, has been published at http://streettrotter.com/.
Day 1 – arrival
Having met in Geneve, we transfer to the Arolla valley for altitude acclimatization. Me and Erik pitch our tent on Camping Arolla, at almost 2000 meters it claims to be the highest campsite in Europe. The parents prefer to go to a nearby hostel, run, like many hostels and campsites in Switzerland, by a Belgian couple.
Day 2 – acclimatization
After a light breakfast, we hike to the Cabane des Aiguilles Rouges hut, at 2607 m. The climb is a bit difficult, at the hut weather turns to the worse and fog closes in. We descend on the same route, and it becomes apparent that the younger (me and Erik) acclimatize much faster to the altitude.
Day 3 – further acclimatization
Despite warnings by the friendly Belgian hostel-owners (who rahter underestimate our fitness) we go to the Cabane de Bertol hut, at 3311 m. Weather is fair, about 200 m below the saddle there is a small snow field. The hut itself is on the ridge, about 50 m above the saddle, accessed via rock scramble with cables and a vertical ladder. The guide book promises an unforgettable view but all we see are clouds and some hail.
Day 4 – to the Weissmies
We move to the Saas-Fe valley, where I rent a helmet and crampons in Saas-Almagell and me and Erik start towards the Weissmies. The most common route to climb the Weissmies is through Hohsaas, and is little more than a glacier hike. The lift brings you there to 3100 m and with an early start you can be back in the valley for lunch. We take the slightly more challenging (and lengthier) approach via Zwischbergen Pass, and at the evening pitch our tent near a creek just above the Kreuzboden hut, at 2400 m.
Day 5 – Zwischbergen Pass
Through the Almageller hut, 2894 m, we reach the Zwischbergen Pass, 3268 m. By 15:00 we have already pitched our tent in one of the about 10 stone-built wind shelters on the pass. Right after we set camp, weather worsens, and until the evening its all wet snow, imtermitted with freezing rain. Erik unpacks his brand new crampons that immediately break. Its probably been a while since the Zwischbergen Pass has heard such language. We fix the break using duct tape and it seems to hold (another one for the duct tape!).
Day 6 – Weissmies – my first 4000’er!
We awake at 2:30 but the weather is not looking good – fog. Every half an hour we peek out again, but to no avail – the fog refuses to dissolve. Around 4:00 the first climber of the day passes (runs!) past our tent. Half an hour later 4 or five others pass and we decide to try – there are footsteps in the snow and other climbers on the mountain, so we should be OK.
We put our crampons on and start hiking through the snow fields. The first climber has left giant strides in the snow, he must have been flying upwards. Soon the fog lifts, around 3500 m we move from the snow onto the ridge and see that the clouds are driven by the wind to the pass and above us the sky is clear. The ridge is not difficult (PD) but some climbing skills are necessary and absolutely no fear of heigts! At 3850 m the ridge turns into a snow field, which we hike to the top of the Weissmies, 4023 m, for an excellent view on the Saas Fe valley and the Mischabel range. We reach the top at about 9:00, make a few photos and start our descend, which is quite more technical than the ascent and requires belaying in a few places. By 12:00 we are at the tent and by 18:00 down in the valley. We meet my parents and all settle down in a comfortable hut on the Mischabel camping and take rest for the next day, before boarding the Mont Blanc Express to Chamonix and the “main course” of our trip – the Mont Blanc itself.
To be continued…