Ascent of Aletschhorn on 2020-09-14

Climber: Jörn Fiege

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Monday, September 14, 2020
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
    Elevation:13757 ft / 4193 m

Ascent Trip Report

Clearly my alpinistic highlight 2020, in particular as it came so unexpected - a mountain guide who I had been climbing with in previous years suddenly had a free time slot as clients' of his had to cancel their trip. Luckily I happened to be in Switzerland precisely at this time, so we agreed on trying to summit mighty Aletschhorn.

This peak, sometimes referred to as the coldest mountain of the Alps due to being surrounded by glaciers all around, is not visible from any public road. Actually, the only vantage point of this mountain that can be reached by public transport is at Jungfraujoch in the North. The remoteness of this mountain invariably makes this a longer undertaking.

Usually, climbers take the gondola from Blatten bei Naters to Belalpe (approx. 2'100m high) and make their way to Oberaletschhütte for the overnight stay prior to summit day, however, my guide suggested to start at Gibidum reservoir so that we would really climb the mountain by fair means. In terms of elevation gain this is obviously more than the standard route, yet probably not by that much though as the ascent from Belalpe involves an additional 200m reascent out and back.

Instead, we donned our via ferrata set right at the parking lot at Gibidum reservoir. The ferrata itself is easy (grade A) but quite exposed and right above the reservoir. A really interesting approach! If you only intended to test the via ferrata you could cross the suspension bridge and return along the East of the reservoir, however, our way led us uphill to join the Panoramaweg ("panorama trail") from Belalpe to Oberaletschhütte.

This trail is rather long, involving frequent ups and downs. After crossing the Lochegga ravine the trail makes a sharp turn left (West) and runs above the lower end of the Oberaletschgletscher until finally reaching Oberaletschhütte, which is beautifully located right above the glacier. After a really good dinner we were lucky enough to share the entire room just between the two of us...

Early breakfast next morning and immediately, by use of plenty of ladders, down to the glacier. My guide had suggested that we should summit within 6 hours, which to me seemed a bit ambituous given the commonly mentioned 7 to 8 hours and the little acclimatisation I have had.

Anyway, it was easy going at first, having made it down to the gravel covered glacier. No need to rope up yet. Navigation is also straightforward due to some reflector stripes on the rocks - very welcome indeed. Crossing towards the foot of Aletschhorn took its time but eventually we got there. The initial wall has very loose ground and an installed rope was much appreciated.

We would rope up soon afterwards and climb the rocks until eventually reaching the small but quite crevassed glacier further up. Apparently we were only a tad behind the 6 hour target my guide had set for us, plus the weather proved excellent that day, so we happily continued our climb.

After having donned our crampons we navigated across the glacier, luckily not experiencing any major issues while crossing it. The excellent weather meant that we could take our crampons off and continue the rest of the climb without. Generally, climbing was straightfoward, no more than UIAA grade II, if at all.

And then there we were, on top of Aletschhorn, a mere 5:30 after having started at Oberaletschhütte. A truly wonderful vantage point with unobstructed views in all directions and all the prominent mountains (Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, Monte Rosa, Finsteraarhorn, Jungfrau, etc.) out there. Also, it was not cold at all, quite contrary to what is commonly reported from this mountain we only needed a shirt on the summit.

Still, this is a long climb and there is always the return, so after half an hour we got going again. Precisely the same route as for our ascent. Crossing the glacier down in the valley felt so much longer than on ascent but eventually we got to the ladders bringing us right up to Oberaletschhütte again. Back in 4:30 but it certainly felt longer than the ascent. Still, a 10:30 hour day, and this is only from and to Oberaletschhütte.

We enjoyed a well deserved beer and a quick jump into the outdoor bath tub - "quick" in so far as the water temperature was correctly described as "refreshing". But it came with a rubber duck for entertainment! ;)

Rather than slog out the same afternoon we spent a second night at the wonderful hut and its very nice team. Next morning we walked back out all the way back to Gibidum reservoir. This is a long climb but the experience was just great and I would not want to miss it. Much will depend on the conditions though; in adverse weather this mountain can certainly turn pretty dangerous quickly.

NB: the Mittelaletschbiwak (i.e. Middle Aletsch bivouac in English) got swept away by an avalanche early in 2019. Should you intend to use this route make sure to check if it got rebuild!
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:11329 ft / 3452 m
    Extra Gain:1148 ft / 349 m
    Round-Trip Distance:19.9 mi / 32 km
    Trailhead:Gibidum reservoir  4724 ft / 1439 m
    Grade/Class:UIAA II
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Scramble, Glacier Climb, Aid Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope, Headlamp, Guide, Hut Camp
    Nights Spent:2 nights away from roads
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear

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