UK Mountains Walking, Mountaineering and Equipment Reviews
Peaks Bagged
Konkordia Hut2,850m
Hollandia Hut3,250m
High point on the Kranzberg3,300m

The destination was the Interlaken area and the plan was to drive down through France over two days, spend a couple of days acclimatising, then get out and do some high altitude routes.

It seemed that the optimum route from Calais to Interlaken is through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, back to France again, just touch Germany and into Switzerland across the Col du Bonhomme. The first day saw us cross from Dover to Calais and drive to Lille before stopping for the night. The next morning, we set off at a leisurely 10:30 from the hotel after a good night's sleep. We drove all day, taking regular stops for food, drink and calls of nature, finally arriving in Interlaken at about 8:00pm. The hotel, we were to discover, had the most amazing view of the Jungfrau-Eiger range, but we arrived tired, hungry and in need of a shower - the view, like the mountain would be there in the morning - and it was!

Another leisurely day saw us drive over the pass to the south side of the Jungfrau area to camp near Fiesch. From here we would be making various assaults on mountains.

Generally, campsites in Switzerland are basic, but clean and tidy. Our first one fitted the bill. The day was spent checking cable-car times, hut availability and general kit admin for the days to come.

Our first acclimatisation route was the Sparrhorn at 3020m. It is quite an easy walk, with no technical difficulties, mostly across the type of terrain one would expect in North Wales. So it was that three hours after leaving the cable car, we were sat on the summit. Unfortunately for us, the weather and consequent view was also reminiscent of North Wales - it was raining and cloudy, so our view became non-existent. We donned waterproofs and decided to descend. About 100m below the summit, the clouds cleared and the views opened up. We sat around enjoying the view and allowing our bodies to become accustomed to thinner air at this altitude. The walk down was easy and we were soon back at the campsite enjoying a well-earned dinner.

Our next objective was the Konkordia hut on the Aletsch Glacier at 2850m. The cable car takes you from 1050m to 2212m, but there is a two-hour walk to the glacier itself where the altitude is 2300m at the point at which the glacier is joined. One of our team had never walked on a glacier before, so I gave a brief on how to behave and what to expect. We donned crampons carefully, roped up and began the long slog up to the hut. About 4 1/2 hours and umpteen crevasses later, we arrived at the bottom of the climb up to the hut. From this side it is about 100 vertical metres to the hut, achieved by walking, scrambling and generally heading up for over an hour before the hut is finally reached. It is well worth the effort though, with superb views of the south side of the Jungrau, the Sphinx and Monch all visible to the North and the Aletschhorn and Hollandia hut to the West.

The following morning we left the hut at about 7:00am with the intention of climbing the Kranzberg (3666m) and arrived at the base by about 8:30am having crossed the glacier from the hut. The first part of the climb was a tough scramble up very loose scree and it was very tired climbers that eventually reached the snow line. We donned crampons, replaced our poles with an axe, roped up and began the long climb towards the summit. On the way, I began to notice that one of our team was slowing considerably to the point at which I realised that we were in serious danger of over-running the time.

It was 11:30am, the sun was hot, the snow beginning to become very soft. We had to make a decision. I decided that we would not achieve the summit with enough time to safely descend. We had already exceeded the guide time and were still over 300m vertically from the summit.

There was nothing for it, but to go down. This was where the first problem became apparent. My plan was to summit and descend the far side to walk to the Hollandia Hut. From our position, we could not traverse the mountain to gain the descent route, as the crevasses were just too big, we could not go high enough to avoid them in the time available. Sadly we had to descend via our route up, which would mean abandoning plans to walk to Hollandia - it was simply too far in the time available. A very careful descent, which took over an hour, bought us back to the scree and 45 minutes later we were safely back on the glacier. 90 minutes after that saw us at the base of the climb back to Konkordia, this time at the North side, which is a monster steel ladder. We began the climb again. Since it was safe enough, I carried on and was ready with very large beers for the arrivals.

Our next day saw us descend to Fiesch along the glacier, but not before a detour to the Eggishorn (2926m) where we had a superb view of the Matterhorn.

We decided to take some rest, so spent the next couple of days lazing around a campsite back at Interlaken, doing the touristy bit in a very disappointing Interlaken and Grindlwald.

We were soon keen to get up high again, so we decided we would find a mountain that we could do in a day. The Schilthorn (2970m) is just such a mountain. This involved a 30-minute drive to Lauterbrunnen, leaving the car and catching the train/cable car to Murren (a traffic-free village). From here it is about 3 1/2 hours to the summit along good paths. The summit views are superb all round and it is possible to obtain refreshments in the restaurant. The mountain was featured in the James Bond film 'On Her Majesties Secret Service' so has lots of souvenirs available. The descent route we chose took a different (longer) path, taking us another 3 1/2 hours to descend.

Our final outing was a two-day trip to climb the Abeni Flue (3960m) via the Hollandia Hut. To do this, it is necessary to drive up to Falferalp, passing the road to Tasch on the way. This is the staging post for visitors to Zermatt and reminded us of a few years ago when we did just that on our way to the Matterhorn. We camped at the end of the Falferalp road at a very poor campsite, then next morning set off on the 7-hour walk up to the hut.

The walk up involves pleasant trails, deteriorating into frozen scree and finally onto the glacier itself. We had some troubles here as the existing guide is clearly out of date. Eventually we negotiated our way around the crevasses and arrived at the final climb to the hut. Again some were suffering with the altitude. It seems that up to 3000m there are no problems, but above that, we noticed a rapid deterioration. It was a long final few hundred metres to the hut, stopping every 10 or 15 steps for a rest. We eventually arrived at the hut (3250m). The guardian met us with a welcome drink and we soon forgot the efforts of the day. Tomorrow would be easy, only another 700m to go. We were advised that it was a steady 3-hour walk with no technical problems to worry about. We were in good spirits. Unfortunately for us, the weather had other ideas. In the night, we had the worst storm we had had all holiday (and one of the worst I have known). The alarm call at 4:45am was greeted with rain, thunder and lightening. Back to bed! 6:30am was not much better, so we had no choice but to descend. It was a sad end to a superb holiday, but that is life in the alps. As they say, the mountains will be there next year, make sure you are too.

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