Alpine Climbing & Skiing: Frost Guiding Blog

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.

Bishorn East Ridge

~ Monday 1st November 2021

The Bishorn is well known as a technically easy 4000m peak and even referred to (still in 2021!) as the "4000 des Dames". Casual sexism repeated in the name of the nearby Diablon des Dames. Anyway, it's a great peak with a long and tiring hut walk-in from Zinal, a glacier that demands respect and stunning views from the summit. Nowadays the lifts in Zermatt and Saas Fee mean there are much easier 4000m peaks to climb - the Bishorn is proper alpinism with no lift-access short-cuts! It's a good ski-tour too.

We decided to climb the East ridge, hoping to find a more technical route to the summit. This starts from the lovely little Turtmann hut at the head of the peaceful Turtmanntal. There's a new carpark with a Pay-in-Dismay machine which only takes coins...or smartphone app payment but there's no 4g usual once you manage to actually leave the valley life gets much more straightforward.

The first challenge is getting to the ridge - the Bisjoch is a long 3 hours away, never steep but quite tedious in the dark! It's a relief when the sun comes up and you see the mountain. The classic North face route is now blocked by a line of seracs so the East ridge is really the best way up from here.

Once you're on the ridge the climbing gets more interesting in an "easy-but-loose" way. Don't pull on the holds! It's actually probably best when plastered with snow to hold things together.

Great positions and fantastic views down into the Mattertal.

The rocky bit goes quite quickly and soon turns into a snow ridge. The top seems not too far away...but as snow ridges often do, this one goes on for a while. No track, calf deep in places with a suspicious cornice and much steeper than it looks in the photos!

From there it's a short descent and a short climb up to the true summit. The Tracuit normal route crowds had already left so we had it to ourselves. An "easy" AD ridge? Certainly no technical difficulty but it's quite long (1600m ascent), loose and in firm condition the snow ridge would be serious, but overall a great way up the mountain.

Now of course we had to get down. The normal route in good conditions is quick and easy to descend. Just off the top we passed 2 women who'd climbed it from Turtmann hut, which as we were about to find out is a really long way. 4000 des Dames indeed!

You could of course stay at Tracuit or descend to Zinal from there which would be long but easy, followed by some head-scratching about how to get back to the car! We decided to go back via Turtmann hut, so first had to leave the Tracuit track and swim through some horrible soft snow on the lower glacier, thigh deep at times next to early-morning crampon tracks on the surface, then slog back up to pt2913 in search of the new via ferrata. This short-cuts the old route which made a circuitous loop up the Brunegg glacier and gets longer every year as the glacier retreats, but it's not for the faint-hearted! Early season the top is banked out with snow and not easy to find, and the route itself is impressively steep.

A few more ups and downs finally lead to Turtmann and a pleasantly short path down to the car!

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