|Date: July 2009
Submitted by: Anthony Feeney
The trials and tribulations of getting yourself plus gear to the Alps has been well documented; so it was with a great sense of relief that PJ, George, Mike and myself found ourselves ensconced in a plush Golf Estate cruising the Swiss motorways bound for Innertkirchen, mishap free. Not the most well signposted village but we found Meiringen easily enough and cruised on up the valley. Meiringen is where Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty duelled and simultaneously died at Reichbach Falls, only for Holmes to be resurrected in a later episode in a shower scene. Or was that Bobby Ewing? Also birthplace of the meringue apparently but I took that tongue in cheek as Keith was the source.
The rest of the troops were already at the campsite, Keith and Sandra doling out beers while Bonny introduced her Malcolm and Sandra K, Trish and Ursula lined up for hugs. Alan, Margaret and Raja were arriving later having travelled via Newcastle, Ostend and Lucerne in the campervan, soon to be dubbed “The Mothership” by PJ.
Starving we took ourselves off to the local Alpenrose hotel for rosti and had our first introduction to our culinary nemesis, the most evil waitress in Switzerland, nay the world! Actually she was just a wee chubby be-spectacled bossy boots but I heard the words “shallow grave, bag of lime” more than once that week. Still the beers took the edge off and the laughing conversation, which couldn’t get away from the topic of poo somehow, made the night pass quickly. She wasn’t the worst either, as George will testify when he tried to buy cake later in the week and discovered the frowning shop lady was not amused that he couldn’t tell there was no glass in the display!
Next morning a bunch of us geared up for a day above Rosenlaui. We followed the same path initially but Sandra K, PJ, Mike and I diverted for the Englehorn multi-pitch routes while George, Keith and Sandra M diverted for the much higher Dossen hut, a very decent steep scramble. We four had a time trying to find our route and faffed till PJ spotted a bolt glinting in the sun, 2 feet from where we’d first started looking. The rest of the route wasn’t much better and the hills rang to the sound of “Bernie Bolt, where are yooooou?” After 5 pitches of alternate leading we’d had enough searching and abseiled down, practising our quick changeovers that we expected to need on the bigger peaks. “What did ye call that route on the Engelhorn we did?” Sandra asked later. “Humperdinck” I drily replied.
That evening was Friday BBQ time so we stocked up on badly pronounced meat and beer at the local co-op, Mike’s schoolboy German coming in handy. The Mountaineering Ireland group was quite large and the BBQ had to be re-fired, leading to the impatient among us to have jelly chicken and / or charcoal beef. Still the beer, wine, craic and music made for a great evening. The hardcore CCC were there to the end as expected but were invited to the table of Ivan and Rose, the campsite caretakers, before we could take our leave.
Multiple bottles of wine and cigars later we were playing musical chairs in an “Uncle Andy Walk” style while Keith sang “All things bright and beautiful”. You’d think we’d have caught on that Keith would get a seat if he was making the music but no, we were too far gone for that. Funniest part of the evening was Ivan offering to read Sandra K’s lifeline, then tipping his cigar ash into the palm of her eagerly outstretched hand. Back at the tents I cried out “Party in my tent!” in the mistaken belief that that would somehow dull the noise of Keith’s laughter. I then tried to persuade Sandra M to join us so that I could claim 3 women had been in my tent at the same time. Sandra K had wisely gone to bed just before Alan arrived to scold us and send us to bed like errant children.
Saturday was a mass outing of the CCC to the Schwarzhorn, catching a bus (with a yodelling horn) just above Rosenlaui to Grosse Scheidegg. From there it’s a longish but very enjoyable walk up through the bovine and swine enhanced valley to the snowline where the path forks. Right takes you up the steep path for the walkers and the digitally handicapped, left requires harnesses and some kind of protection for the B&Q via ferrata. Mid point on this ferrata is a series of 3 aluminium ladders bolted to the rock, followed by a further 2. I was smiling from ear to ear on this route, such simple fun providing many’s a dramatic photo opportunity, especially for the snap-happy Raja.
Coming down from the peak we encountered a snow field that others had obviously glissaded down. Time for some fun! George, Sandra K, PJ, Mike and I variously glissaded and bum slid down the icy surface, though at times the going was a little fast. We started encouraging the others into it and Keith obliged with a series of power turns and a bum fall right at the end. Sandra M, Raja, Margaret and Alan wisely elected not to and walked down. Next up was Bonny however, who decided to bum slide from the top and was soon shooting along like a puck at a vigorous ice hockey match. The walking pole was never going to slow her and only Alan’s forethought and courageous leap prevented her slamming into rock at high speed. Malcolm almost fared as badly, a bump into the side gashing his leg and turning him upside down. By now George and Keith were more prepared for the rescue thankfully. The walk down the valley was full of light-hearted talk of massaging sore bums; no-one wanted to dwell on what could have been.
The last bus from Grosse-Scheidegg had left so we were faced with a 5.5km steep descending walk back to the car and it seemed to go on forever. There were some highlights like the views over to the Wetterhorn and Eiger improving greatly and also the spying of an eagle silently circling above us but the soles of the feet felt like they’d been battered by an Uzbekistan torturer with a very sturdy cricket bat by the time we got back. Poor Malcolm had a very bad time with his knees and almost had to be carried the last bit back to the car.
At camp the weather forecasts were predicting poor Tuesday weather which was going to scupper our Monch, Jungfrau, Eiger 3-day plan. We discussed just going straight to the Mitteleggi but a phone call to the hut let us know it was too snowed up. And so it was plan B – up at 6am on the Sunday; get provisioned and catch an early train. Do the Monch that afternoon then the Jungfrau on the Monday.
And so it was that we found ourselves weeping gently in Grindelwald-Grund station on Sunday morning as we handed over 157CHF (about £90) for the return journey to the Jungfraujoch. We were learning that nothing is cheap in Switzerland and if they could find a way to charge you for the fresh air they probably would! Still it was interesting to peer out the viewing windows onto the north face of the Eiger and the Eismeer and act all superior to the camera wielding Japanese who weren’t going to do any real climbing.
The Monchjoch hut is very decent and only about 45 mins hike from the station. Once we’d paid and geared up George, PJ, Sandra, Mike and myself left for the south-east ridge of the Monch, which we’d passed on the walk up. Raja was feeling the effects of jet-lag and a 4 day trip to get to Switzerland and opted for bed instead. It was 1pm by now and the wind was quite strong at the base of the climb. We tried to gauge the mood of the several finishing parties regarding conditions higher up but most were non-comittal. You could understand their reticence at putting unknown climbers into danger though. In the end it was a personal decision for each team member whether to go on and Sandra K decided to turn back.
George, PJ, Mike and I elected to go up some way, even if all we ended up doing was scout out the start of the route. However the higher we climbed the more the wind dropped (it seemed to just be blowing across the col below) and we soon found ourselves at the rain gauge putting on crampons. Nothing on this route was difficult for anyone who has previous Scottish winter or Alpine experience, though we took a hell of a lot of care on the narrow sections, once placing gear to get past a high rocky step. Higher up the ridge is a steep snow plod that is barely two footprints wide. Mike and I summited just as the other 2 were starting to descend and after a quick couple of snaps we were headed down ourselves. We were able to bypass the rock, especially lower down, and descend more quickly via the snow, finding ourselves back in the wind and heading for the hut shortly after 4pm.
We hung around the hut waiting for dinner and getting stung for the 2nd time that day, paying 13CHF (about £8!) for a 1.5L bottle of water. We decided not talking about it was best. The hut was crowded with Irish climbers that night and we got into discussion about the Jungfrau with a pair who certainly talked the talk and offered to lead ahead of us the next day. Brilliant! After dinner we were in bed by 8:30pm for a 3am breakfast and a 4am start, stocked up on marsh tea. The wind had been whistling around the hut all night and I was filled with trepidation about what lay ahead, not least because of the glacier crossing from the Jungfraujoch to the initial rock climbing. I was a glacier virgin but it turned out to be not much more than a well trodden snow plod so we stuck to the curving tracks and reached the rock step in just over an hour. On the way there Mike picked up a leather “Michael Jackson” fedora that must have blown onto the glacier and looked quite fetching as we started to climb.
At the rock step we made a major mistake: following the 2 guys from the hut who seemed to know where they were going. They didn’t. We should have gone left on easyish scrambling ground but instead went right onto something that felt more like Scottish grade VI. If you’re pulling the thick gloves off to enable you to layback on a thin crack or are dangling a few 100m up a crumbling face with your leg wedged into a traversing crack, you’re not on a PD+ line folks! Gorgeous George and Sandra were sent ahead to place gear for the rest of us to clip into and to scold the other lost party for kicking down copious lumps of rock. There were relieved faces all round when we 6 topped out onto the snow plod.
From there the plod went on for ages until we traversed beneath the Rottalsattel and had to make a steep 50m snow climb up onto the ridge. Once on the ridge the wind picked up considerably and there was a huge traffic jam by the numpties and their cohorts over the steep traverse to the metal stanchions. There was a lot of effing and blinding and name calling as they picked, panicked and sometimes froze on their way across. Frustrated, George and Raja climbed above them, bypassing a number of stanchions just to get away from them. The traverse is definitely steep and not a place to make mistakes, a huge fall not very far below you, but the going was good, each thunk of the ice axe burying itself deeply in solid snow so we were all comfortable enough.
Just past the traverse though the ground steepened again and the wind was blowing stinging ice particles into our faces. Our calves were burning from all the necessary front pointing and I for one couldn’t see a damn thing out of my sunglasses, as they had frozen over! I couldn’t take them off as I needed them to protect my eyes. After about 50m of blindly swinging the axe, testing it and moving up, peering out occasionally through a chink at the top of the glasses we found some shelter next to a stanchion. Finally clipped to something and able to clean the ice away I was much relieved for the 2nd time that day.
After that the steepness eased off a fair bit though the summit was still an hour away. We moved fairly well, not clipping every single post, more mindful of just keeping the momentum going and I was damn glad of the training I’d put in. The funny thing about summits is that you’ve this huge mass of rock and snow and the top turns out to be a spot about the size of a dinner table. George and Sandra were already descending but Raja, PJ, Mike and I arrived nearly together and crowded the small area. Raja pulled out a prayer flag for photos which we then buried under a rock, just like the sherpas do for the safe descent of the party.
Despite the whiteout, we were very soon back at the traverse, using the full 60m of the rope to alternately lower and abseil down the stanchions. Axe-belays on the ridge brought us all over safely to the down-climb where PJ managed to get her legs stuck in a small crevasse. Out of the wind we plodded back down, stripping layers off in the now warm sunshine and following tracks down to the rock section where we should have ascended. We met the same 2 guys at the rain gauge again and helped them abseil down before starting the long, long, LONG trek back across the glacier. It was uphill most the way and very stop-start till we finally arrived exhausted at the Jungfraujoch for the train down. Raja wanted to stay another night and do the Monch solo next day and had the trek back to the hut to face, poor man!
Keith and Sandra had left for Chamonix so we missed out on the usual hearty welcome home. Next day we all woke up with badly burnt cheeks, noses and lips and only then realised that yes, UV radiation can make it through cloud. More especially crossing a glacier in clear sunshine without sun cream is not a good idea. Ouch! The factor 50 was applied though it was a bit like the stable door being closed after the horse has fled. George, Mike and I went for an easy day’s bolted climbing at Meiringen while the girls went to collect Raja and do some shopping. There’s nothing much else to report apart from colourful flying biting bugs and some superb lines on occasionally polished limestone. Mike managed a 5c that I couldn’t get my fat ass started on, while George and I managed lines up to 5a.
We raved about the crag enough that next day we took 2 car loads up there, Trish and Ursula accompanying us, and found enough lines to keep us all occupied. Mike managed to wow us all on a 6c route, the rock being perfect for his light frame and small fingers. We sausage-fingered lumps had to make do with the mid-5 range, George ending the day on a 5b face and PJ and Sandra managing the same 5a line. I tried to claim a line myself which, according to my older guide, was 5b but the new guide described it as a 5a+. I mean what the hell is a 5a+ other than a 5b??? I shall be writing to the trade descriptions people. What’s next a 5a+.03? Bah! At least I had a + over PJ and Sandra; I’d have died of shame if I’d had to be “one of the girls” as Bonny put it.
We headed out to dinner at the Hotel “Huff and Puff” (Hof & Post) in Innertkirchen, studiously avoiding the Alpenrose, leaving Trish, Ursula and the newly arrived Hans supping a large bottle of rum. We returned after some huge portions to find them crying “God bless Norway!” (Hans is Norwegian) and laughing about Ursula having taken a photograph of Trish with my Calvin Klein’s on her head. They’d been hanging outside to dry and the girls were trying to rescue everyone’s clothes in a sudden downpour. The rum was handed round and we lasted another wee while until a “Shut up!” went up from a nearby tent and the giggling had to stop.
By Thursday George, Mike, PJ, Sandra and I were well rested enough to try for a bigger day and settled on the Kleine Furkahorn. It was a 13 pitch line ranging from 2b – 5c which would take us nearly to the peak with a scramble to finish. To get there requires driving through the stunning Grimsel Pass, up past a series of reservoirs and dams and then into the Furka Pass where the melting glacier produces a thunderous waterfall into the valley. Hotel Belvedere, where we parked up, actually tries to charge people to walk through their shop and view the glacier out back, but we cheated and climbed around the side. Bloody over-charging Swiss!
We tracked along the right side of the glacier hunting for Bernie Bolt again and the start of the climb. We spotted some climbers on the leftmost line and worked back to where we thought ours started. I set off eagerly up past a rock painted with a yellow 2 but 50m later still hadn’t found a bolt. It was easy grippy granite slab climbing though, much like Bearnagh in the Mournes. Mike came up and traversed to where George had found some bolts and from then on we all followed the same line. George had Sandra and PJ on two ropes and they generally climbed side by side on the wider sections. From above as they hunched over with big rucksacks on, Sandra in all red, and PJ in mostly blue, they looked for all the world like a pair of colourful giant snails nuzzling their way up the slope.
Higher up the climbing got a little more interesting and vertical, thankfully. I mean Mike had been walking straight up some of the lower sections! After about 10 pitches in the blazing sun though the multi-pitch novelty had worn off and we just wanted to finish the bugger. We found a couple of billy-can thingys bolted to the rock where people could sign their name and Mike duly obliged. The top was a jumbled up collection of massive boulders as if a massive explosion had accidentally placed them there. Typically we didn’t hang around the summit long and followed the ridge line back to the car park and a couple of welcome cold beers. The witty Bonny and genial Malcolm had left for home too by the time we got back and the campsite was suddenly quieter still.
Swiss shopkeepers seem to have no regard for climbers, who generally start off before the shops are open and arrive home after they’ve shut, so that we found ourselves eating out more often than we’d have liked to. Thursday evening and we were back at the Alpenrose for maybe the 3rd or 4th time that week to be greeted by the smiling harpy.
“You vant to eat, ja?”
“Yes, pizza!” we hungrily chorused.
“Sorry, is 9 o’clock, kitchen is closed!”
“I go see chef!”
“OK you can eat!”
Somewhere in the middle of the long wait for our pizzas arriving a poor vegetarian at the next table got his rosti. Mit ham. “Excuse me miss, there’s meat in my vegetarian rosti” Yer woman proceeded to scrape away the potatoes and cheese, lift out the meat and then proudly state “No meat! Is gut ja?” The veggie lowered his head and rightly ate his molested meal quietly. She approached our table. “Alle gut ja?” Amid mouthfuls of mediocre pizza we all nodded furiously lest she pick the offending morsels out of our plates.
It had been a long day on Thursday and a lie in was required. Indeed nearly every day had been long and full on so Friday was designated a calmer day with a gentle walk along the limestone gorge between Innertkirchen and Meiringen. Of course you had to pay! 7.50CHF or about £5. By early evening we were re-stocked on Fieerbiesplessiessenung and Bratspiesswurstfurgbenisnecken. Something meaty on a stick anyway. And copious beers and wine. Despite a warm afternoon the thunder and lightning was in full flow by 5pm and we helped Tim Orr set up some tarpaulins next to the MI office for a shelter for the BBQs. By 8pm the meat was burning nicely and George, Mike, PJ, Sandra and I had penned a little ditty for the Switzerland’s Got Talent show later.
Eric played the fiddle like a demon and various people sang, Alan getting up twice to perform some self-penned prose to thunderous applause. I recited our little verse and got a laugh or 2 especially at the waitress bit, and we all basked in the glow of success. Then someone had the bright idea of ceili dancing and we managed to squeeze in 2 lines with 4 pairs of boys and girls. If there were prizes for enthusiasm we’d have won gold. It would have been pointless giving out prizes for skill as we thumped, tripped, swung and generally hurled ourselves around in some semblance of confused order. I wouldn’t say I hadn’t laughed as loud as in ages because the mirth hadn’t stopped all week but this night definitely capped the whole lot off. 2am found us all in the pub across the way, Mike and I playing darts with Trish and Ursula with much cheating, tickling and general putting off going on.
10am next morning was not a pretty sight. I woke badly hungover to pouring rain, after George had had about 3 goes at wakening me and was just about to resort to kicking the lumps in the tent. The plans for multi-pitching at Handegg were abandoned and George, Mike, PJ and I decided to up sticks to Chamonix, pitch forking the wet gear into the car. Sandra K had the proper idea of booking into a hotel to dry the gear the night before leaving but we were hoping for sunny French skies to do the job. Trish was off to Vietnam for a few years and Alan and Maragaret were dropping Raja off somewhere so there were multiple hugging sessions. It was drier (and cheaper!) in France and we had a lovely calm evening eating tartiflette and drinking bier blanche, marred only once by a heavily puking girl outside “The Pub”.
We were a little sombre on the drive to Geneva airport but managed some fun as we drove George demented with directions to Decathlon in Annemasse, Mike and I competing with rival Nokia and Google maps technology to get us there. Turned out it was Sunday and the place was closed. Oh how we laughed.
The airport was a manic repacking session as we weighed the wet gear and dried to adjust between hand and hold luggage. I had the bright idea of sticking my rope in hand luggage only for it to be confiscated by unsympathetic airport staff. Oh how I didn’t laugh.
Still it was an amazing trip. If only they could make the place cheaper, a bit friendlier, with slightly better weather and more accessible 4000m peaks. Listen to me moan... I think it’s just the holiday blues, cos right now I’d give my left arm to be back there.
22 Jul 2009
Any chance you could flesh this out a bit? Its a tad thin on detail :-) off to watch some paint dry now (kiddin of course)
23 Jul 2009
Well I'm all for it, Chris - the more words the merrier. You must have more pics for the webshite Tone?
23 Jul 2009
I do tend to waffle a bit but these are like diary entries for me - can't miss anything out. I intend to read them when I'm 65, pre-senile and unable to hobble further than the front door to shake my fist at the kids playing with their hover boards in the street. Ah memories!
23 Jul 2009
I suppose I'd better start making backups then...
23 Jul 2009
And I agree with you - I love looking through the old ones.
26 Jul 2009
Ã‚Â£8 for a bottle of water? I feel your pain! :-)
26 Jul 2009
I'm with chris, stop waffling feeney and get to the point! :) Can't tell if you've actually done any climbing or not!
02 Aug 2009
Do I detect a bit of the old green eye?
02 Aug 2009
Not sure who this comment alan is aimed at but my tonugue was firmly in cheek in case that wasn't obvious. I'm always happy to live vicariously through other peoples climbing tales so theres no green eyes here.
02 Aug 2009
Also I'm a bit confused by the suggestions of jealousy. I know I've been up to plenty my own little climbing adventures, nothing significant that I'd wish to publicise, but enough to keep me happy and I'm sure the crazy scottish boys(tongue in cheek here again ;)) have been up to allsorts of crazy stuff as per usual so I'm not sure why anyone would be jealous of this story. Again I'm not aure who the comment was aimed at but I'm certainly not jealous of anyone and hope anthony and the boys keep up the great climbing and stories. Peace out rodders.
03 Aug 2009
The jealous one is me I think. I wish I still had the level of enthusiasm that comes through so clearly in Anthony,s report.The CCC really entered into the spirit of the Alpine meet, and made many friends. My report will not be nearly as good
03 Aug 2009
No bother Alan. Agreed anthonys enthusiasm always comes through in his reports and it makes great reading. Hope o enjoyed the meet and the craic was good.
03 Aug 2009
Guys I love reading about other people's exploits. Even a line or two. Make it feel like there's more people in our wee club than waffly old me and Shir Iain Miller! So do tell about your trips. I'd love to hear about that E4 Rodders.
03 Aug 2009
Hey Ant. I'm guessing you mean ruthless people.I actually did that last year and put a report up. Wasn'nt an onsight or anything so theres nothing to write home about. Was down with stu and julie again this year and led it again for some video footage for a bit of craic. I decided to send some stills through for the webshite as its such a classic route and theres basically no pictures of it. Raymond also rolled back the years and romped up it again recently too, so basically anyone can do it :). I'll try and put some belated reports up of stuff i've been up too this maybe if i can remember. Don't expect anything too exciting though :)