Matterhorn: Winter Approaching

In January we had a plan of ice climbing in the Alps with Teppo. It didn’t go quite as planned, though. The foehn wind kicked in just before our departure and trashed our ideas of ice climbing. The forecast had very warm air with isotherme at 3000m and ice climbing was out of question. Instead, we decided to have a go on the Matterhorn. We figured with the foehn there would be a little wind but no problems with the moisture or the lack of sun.

Matterhorn: Hike up to the Hörnli Hut – January 4th to 5th, 2013

On the morning of January 5th we woke up in Gondo. While pitching up the tent we had noticed there was not much snow but with the morning light the reality really hit us. In Gondo there was no snow at all. In February 2012 the locals complained about a bad winter but this year it was even worse. For ice climbing anything below 2000m was clearly out of question. Thus, we headed for Zermatt.

Vising Zermatt is always nice. Although I’m not a big fan of the village the scenery is superb with Matterhorn dominating everything. There’s also good, nice and affortable Döner kebab there.

In 2006 we climbed the north face of Matterhorn with Lauri. The trip was a bit of an epic but ever since I’ve always wanted to do the Hörnli route in winter. It’s one of those routes I think every mountaineer should climb at least once in a lifetime. Since I don’t fancy the crowds I think it’s much more interesting as a winter objective. In winter the crowds won’t be much of a problem and the route is more interesting with no tracks.

It turned out we didn’t climb the route this year but I will keep it on on my list of things to do. While sleeping at the Hörnli hut we figured the wind was slightly too high but not a definite no-go. Teppo was having a minor headache which was normal considering we came directly from sea level. Both these combined we figured the climbing wouldn’t be much fun and decided to go and check out Mauvoisin. Mauvoisin had the highest altitude in our guidebook of ice climbing. If there was ice anywhere Mauvoisin was the best bet.

Mauvoisin: Ice climbing – January 6th, 2013

Mauvoisin is situated in Bagnes near Verbier in Switzerland. There’s a dam and a reservoir lake there. The surface elevation of the lake is 1961 meters. We had no previous knowledge of the site but we hoped for the best and drove our car (it had summer tires) as high as we could. It was untill Fionnay at 1490 meters. From there on there was a snow mobile track up to the dam. It looked it’s like this every winter. The dam is 250 meters high on its own so the altitude difference to the bottom of the climbs is less than 250 vertical meters which is not that bad. Horizontal meters don’t count. =)

If you wish to climb anything near the dam you better start early. The terrain above the climbs is very avalanche prone and the climbing is not advisable if the sun is shining there. Anything falling from above will funnel down the couloirs. Of course, we understood this not untill the bottom of the climbs. Logically this was after we had done the approach. But it was no big problem since we had a new plan B. We had seen some very good single pitch ice climbing during the approach and we had an alternative. After climbing few of those routes we headed for plan A which was afterski in Verbier.

All in all this trip was guide a lot approching, some afterski and very little climbing. These days I’ve learned to like approaching, though, and hiking seems to be almost as much fun as climbing! Maybe one of these years I’ll be fit enough for the approaches in Patagonia…

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Wadi Rum part 5: Logistics and tips

I decided to make this article series quite comprehensive since I had quite a lot of trouble finding information before our departure.

The general map of the area. The red “A” is Wadi Rum,

Wadi Rum is located in southern Jordan. We had our flights to Amman and took a minibus from there but it’s also possible to fly to Aqaba. In my opinion Amman is more convenient since the flight connections are cheaper and better. From Amman it’s a 4 hour drive to Wadi Rum and from Aqaba about 30+ minutes.

In Wadi Rum there’s no need for a regular car. The jeeps used on the desert are with special tyres they are not good on a normal road. Arranging a private taxi is very easy so I wouldn’t bother with rental cars on a longer stay. For a short of trip less than a week it might be an option, though. The minibus from Amman to Wadi Rum was 125 JOD one way. A regular taxi will be cheaper than that. The prices for rental cars are online. The petrol and diesel costs were about 1 JOD per liter in October 2012.

The rain and temperature charts for Wadi Rum.

Most people say the best season is autumn or spring but I would say winter is best for climbing. The rain is usually quite heavy and short once it comes. In my opinion +15C is optimal climbing weather but it’s, of course, a matter of preference.

In Jordan the credit cards are more or less useless. You get cash from an ATM in the big cities but that’s just about it. You’ll need some cash already at the airport for paying the visa stamps for the passport. The cost of the visa was 20 JOD each person. There’s one ATM machine at the airport on the exit hall but I would suggest getting the cash from your home country. There is no ATM in Wadi Rum. The exchange was about 1,15 including the money transfer costs. For 115 €uros you get 100 JOD.

The life is very relaxed in Jordan and people are happy, helpful and hospitable. We were invited into many private houses and Beduin tea was served many times a day. Someone always knew a cousin who could help with the transportation problems.

Images of the main climbing attractions and the life in general.

We stayed in at Mohammed Domayan’s house ( He rented us a room with electricity and wifi for 5 JOD per person per day. The cost of the room was 25 JOD per day in total. Compared to staying in a tent the room was luxury although it might not meet the western luxury standards. You can contact Mohammed via email if you wish to rent a room.

The fixed tents at the Rest House were mentioned in Tony Howard’s book. In my opinion they are no option but you can camp in your own tent if you wish. It can get quite sandy, though. The sand can be a problem if you have cameras or other electric devices.

Showers were available only at the Rest House. They charged 2 JOD for a shower which was a rip-off in my opinion. The showers were just about as dirty as it can get. There was no other option, though.

Bottled drink water was readily available at the local shops. The main course of the day we cooked mostly ourselves but we also ate quite many falafel rolls at Ali’s place. The cost of the food and water was like it’s everywhere. Not cheap but not expensive either. A camping stove which takes petrol is handy if you want to camp out on the desert. I didn’t see any MSR type gas cylinders during the trip but petrol you could buy everywhere.

The climbing is on sandstone. The most popular climbs have fixed anchors and some intermediate pro. You’ll need a full rack with nuts and cams. Double ropes are the thing and a single rope is more or less useless.

Images for other activities we did in Jordan. Besides climbing that is.

A trip to Wadi Rum is an adventure not to miss. Enjoy your stay!

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Wadi Rum part 4: Barrah Canyon

Once we had done the Hammad’s Route on Jebel Rum we were running out of days. We decided we wanted to see the Barrah Canyon. According to the guidebook there were supposed to be superb routes of around 100m to 250m and the area was supposed to be a must on anyone’s agenda in Wadi Rum.

Barrah Canyon: Merlin’s Wand (6a+, 150m) – October 20th, 2012

We arrived in the canyon some hours before noon. We had plenty of daylight left so we decided to climb “the route” in the area first. The Merlin’s Wand is also known as the Super Crack of Rum.

The guidebook says the climbing is magic, sustained and superb. I would agree on the “sustained” and the “superb” but I think “magic” is a bit of an overstatement. Magic is a nice word for the Hammad’s route, for example, but in my opinion a short sport route with good pro and ending in the middle of the wall can’t be magic. There are many more magic routes in Verdon, for example.

If not counting the magic issue I really think the Barrah Canyon is highly recommended for anyone visiting Wadi Rum. We had bad luck with the weather so we couldn’t explore the canyon in depth which was a shame. The next day we were thinking about doing the Ocean Slabs or the Hunter’s Slabs. Combined with the Abu Iglakhat Canyon adventure one of those two probably would have been magic. Maybe next time!

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Simond Fox Carving review

Besides the new shoes I’m really psyched about my new axes. This spring I bought one of these for testing and now I’ve bought a second one to make them a pair.

The axe in question is Simond Fox Carving. It’s a small and very lightweight ice axe with a technical steel pick. The axe weights only 290 grams each which is about half of your proper axe. Simond says it’s ideal for ski-touring, mixed and high altitude routes but I use it for summer alpine. It’s, of course, not the best axe for pure ice routes but it’s a very good tool for mixed routes with some moderate ice climbing. During the summer I used it on both the Traverse of the Meije and the Traverse of the Jorasses.

Simond Fox Carving product picture.

Compared to a proper axe the Fox is much lighter and a little bit shorter (43cm vs. 50cm). Both are very good qualities if you have to carry it in the pack on harder rock pitches. On ice it’s good enough for anything up to WI4 maximum. On harder pitches or if the ice is really hard you’ll notice the lightness since the penetration is not as good. In real life this translates to hitting a couple of times more to get good purchase. Since the axe is very light this is easy work and no problem, though.

I’ve modified my ices with a fang. They don’t have it out of the box but it’s easily installed. Simond sells the trigger kit as an accessory. The kit has self drilling screws but if you want to make it really professional you’ll need a drill and some rivets. The fang is slightly too wide out of the box but a gentle tap with a hammer will make it more narrow. I used 4mm rivets on mine and the installing took less than half an hour.

Detail on the installed trigger. The cord is for clipping in the harness leash.

In the future I plan on using these axes a lot on certain type of routes. I’ve bought the second axe for routes with more easy ice climbing. Such routes are, for example, the Frendo Spur and the Peuterey Integrale. With these axes I’ll shave off 600 grams of weight compared to a pair of my regular ice axes but I don’t loose any climbing ability. My regular axes, Simond Anacondas, weight 610 grams each with a hammer. For comparison, a Petzl Quark weights 550 grams each and a Black Diamond Viper weights 620 grams each.

– Lightweight and compact.
– Technical steel pick.
– Price (79 euros each).

– No hammer head for hammering in pitons.
– There’s no trigger out of the box.

Further information:
Simond Fox Carving product page
Simond Trigger kit

Crossing the bergschrund on La Meije with the Fox. If this is about as hard as it gets the Fox is a very good choice.

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