Alpine Summer Conditions - What? No Heatwave?

~ Wednesday 3rd November 2021

Summer 2021 was unusual for a few reasons(!), not least that whilst the rest of Europe saw record temperatures the Alps seemed to escape the usual heatwave. In recent years we've had at least one spell of unbearably hot weather each year - I remember driving down from Saas Fee once, watching the van thermometer rise from 22 to 38.5 degrees in Sion - but this year it seemed to stay reasonably cool all summer. Lucky, because the van air conditioning broke...

Anyway, here are a few pictures of an Alpine "summer". A good reminder to always take warm gloves! First off, the 10th August on the Zinal Rothorn North Ridge. Mid-summer, freezing cold and a lot of fairly Scottish sweeping to clear the way.

And later, still wearing everything as we descend.

Only a few days later (14th August) we were sweeping the snow off the West ridge of Lyskamm!

10 days later and we traversed Lyskamm in lovely warm weather to stay at the Margherita hut. Overnight it snowed and we found ourselves on top of the Zumsteinspitze with 10cm of fresh powder. After a very polite "no, no, after you!" session we found ourselves front of the line descending to the col, then everyone else turned back and we were the line!

It's amazing to have a route like this to yourself on a spectacular day, but not to be underestimated either. It's slower in snowy conditions, much harder to spot loose rock, and many of the bolts and belays that litter the popular Alpine routes are hidden by a few cm of new snow. Crampon scratches - a good sign that you're on route - are also quickly hidden, so route-finding can be harder.

It must have been quiet at Monte Rosa hut because there were only a handful of teams on the normal route, including one team who had helicoptered in to the saddle at 4000m! Anyway, no bottlenecks or queuing to descend, but the thin dusting had hidden some nasty bare ice patches on the steep slopes below the summit. Another problem with overnight snow.

And of course the walk up to the train hadn't got any shorter.

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