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Breithorn -Triftjigrat Traverse (4164 m) 19 July 2008 Zermatt, Valais, Switzerland Guides: Rütschi Pollinger and Richard Lehner
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Zermatt’s Breithorn is the easiest 4000-meter peak in Switzerland, thanks to the Kleinmatter-horn lift station at 3820m. The normal route is popular and crowded. Our chosen route, the north face, is now not often done—but it has a venerable pre-ski lift history.
From Gandegg hut (red square, 3030m) descend and cross both the Theodul and the Triftji glaciers (lowest point: 2800m). Climb steep mixed snow/ice along the curve of the Triftji ridge and then under the corniced top of Breit-horn’s north face, to emerge on the summit ridge just below the west summit (4164m). Descend the Rosa glacier and loop around to the lift station (3820m).
We’ll have to come back to do this as a day hike.…
(Photo from the web)
An SMS from Rütschi Pollinger tells us the guides are on their way, and not 5 minutes later they trot into view, yakking away. This is our first tour with Richard Lehner (left), but he comes with good references, as the brother of a close friend of Ugi Zumtaugwald. Rütschi (right) on the other hand, has led us on climbs since 2002, and knows our skills—and foibles—inside out.
J and M are happy to get their own private room (!), with two bunkbeds and wobbly little wooden bedside cabinets. –Plus windows with a postcard view of Breithorn, Lyskamm and Monte Rosa.
Here’s Tuftern, our intrepid mascot, making sure the bunk is occupied.
Today marks one day past the full moon, which is a great assist to our headlamps in the initial two hours of the tour. Not that you can tell in this photo!
Still before dawn we cross from the Theodul to the Triftji glacier by descending a very steep chute of rocks and slick ice. We have to back down in sections, using our crampon toe points and our ice axes. The large rock slabs as well as the small pieces are very unstable, on their bed of ice and trickling water. Near the bottom of the chute, M loses her footing and knocks a big rock loose. It tumbles and slides down a couple of meters, coming to rest on J's foot! Luckily, he can extract himself and there are no injuries.After we leave the glacier comes an endless section of tacking back and forth up a slope of hardened snow, walking on one edge of our boot soles (and crampons) and then on the other to counter the steepness. This gait is the ultimate discomfort for folks with weak arches (ahem, M). A ridge of brown rock—the best name our guides come up with—is to our left. After some 300 meters of ascent, we finally take a break near the top of this snowfield, sitting on top of a giant boulder. We no longer need headlamps as we set off again, following the curve of the Triftjigrat. It is pure relief to be finished with the tacking on hard snow.
This photo (from the web) shows the relentless incline of the upper Triftjigrat, with a familiar landmark—Matterhorn—in the background.
Crossing a Bergschrund requires an enormous step up, with or without a snow bridge. In our case, the bridge is very narrow, and the snow looks extremely rotten. After we are safely across, J asks Richard how many more people will be able to cross before it gives way. R replies, “Oh, maybe two or three.” (!!!)
The worst thing is the sense of “two steps forward, one step back”, as we struggle to make foot holds in the deep and powdery snow.
The final steep, steep push is a guessing game for Jeff. Richard provideshimnocluewhether it willtakeanotherhour, or another 10 minutes, beforewereachthesummitridge. M is luckier: Rütschispeculatesaloud at a criticalpointthat it will be just another 15 minutes or so…
Rütschi lets out a gleeful whoop as he reaches the ridge track, and M makes it a double. J and Richard arrive 30 seconds later, and there are kisses all around. The sunlight, the views and the wide open spaces are exhilarating.
(People on the ridge track provide scale in this shot.)
The wind is strong on the ridge, so we don’t stay long. (photo from the web)
(photo from the web)
Our ascent was done in record time, one of the reasons for Rütschi’s summit whoop.
(In this shot we are sitting on a relatively flat surface. It’s amazing how your perspective changes.)
This shot is taken from Home Sweet Home, with the familiar view of the V from our kitchen window in Almagell.
Route and altitudes: From Gandegghütte (3030m) descend 230m to low point on Triftjigletscher at 2800m. Climb 1350m from there to Breithorn ridge, just below the west summit (4164m). Descend to Rosa glacier and then cross back up to Kleinmatterhorn lift station at 3820m.
Climb from the hut to summit took 5 hours 20 mins (3:45-8:55).
Descent from Breithorn to lift station at Kleinmatterhorn took a bit over 1 hour.
Estimated horizontal distance of ascent, 5.7 km.
Estimated horizontal distance of descent, 3.5 km.
Rütschi and Richard were VERY pleased with our RT total time: 6 hours 30 mins.