Matterhorn: Winter approach

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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