We arrived just in time for food at a pub in the valley. Andy asked for the key to the lodge and was met with a reply,
what’s the password?
Andy stared blankly but somehow got the key anyway.
Burnmoor Lodge is managed by the Burnmoor Lodge Club, set up by the owner of the lodge in order to manage and restored the building. The Club comprises of a very select group of people of which Andy is one.
Armed with a bunch of keys and heavy packs we set off up the hillside into the fading light and the clag.
Jared joked that this was another team expedition across a muddy hill, and that up here the sheep grew bigger in the damp clag. By the time we reached Burnmoor Lodge the clag was so thick the sheep could be the size of elephants.
The fourth key tried opened the door and by torchlight we were greeted by a room full of DIY and smelling of paraffin. A row of shiny Tiley lamps sat on the shelf above the fire.
The previous occupant had left a note apologising for not tidying as he had been on a 10 day working party and was tired. His sleeping bag and power pack were still in one of the rooms.
We unpacked sleeping bags and fell asleep.
Despite its remote location between Wasdale and Eskdale high on the hill, the Lodge has three upstairs rooms with bunk beds enough for 18 people – with new mattresses and pillows, and repairs to the roof and plastering ongoing. With only the Club to restore it, it will take a while, but in the I could see the place could be alright when renovations have finished.
In the daylight the hut actually looks organised – dining area with books and games, kitchen with all the usual stuff and a shelf choked full of jars of pickles and herbs. And a living room full of DIY stuff.
Climbing on Scafell Crag
After breakfast and sorting kit we marched across the bog next to Burnmoor Tarn, watching a Duke of Edinburgh group misunderstand the point of pacing themselves up the hill. It was great to look back down the hill and see our rather large lodge.
We stashed our bags at the top of Lord’s Rake and kitted up before descending the shaly, loose gully to the bottom of the routes.
Jared had chosen Botterill’s Slab a VS 4c 3-pitch route, while Andy and Stuart headed off for Moss Ghyll Grooves.
Getting to the bottom of Botterill’s Slab involved a slimy shuffle up green slippy steps to reach the start. We had to wait a while for teams to move up before we could climb, so we had the pleasure of admiring the drippiness of the route. It also faced north, so while crowds headed up Scafell Pike in the glorious sunshine, it was pretty cold in the shade.
The first pitch I didn’t enjoy much as it was very 3D and off balance and I took ages to wriggle up trying to avoid my hands being wet and cold. At least the cold kept the midges at bay. There’s something British about putting your hand in a puddle as you climb.
The slab pitch was partly ok but the crux in the middle was a horrifying combination of tiny handholds and tiny footholds and Jared had a fair Eunice before he could place gear. I did whinge my way up that bit. There’s a reason I only lead really easy routes!
The 3rd pitch was more straight forward and much easier, although it did involve a squeeze into and a thrutch up a green slimy chimney – which was definitely aided by the fact I was climbing with a bag with our boots in it.
Despite being green it has good holds and leads to a lovely little ridge scramble with an Alpine feel before the end.
We had a quick plod to the summit of Scafell before descending to our bags, and a quick refuel stop before heading down.
After a simple dinner and a beer in the sunshine (yes we carried beers up to the Lodge!) we heated water for a complex washing up session.
As the light faded we tried to light a Tiley lamp for light and heat but instead set it alight, so we had to take it outside before we set the hut alight. Tiley lamps are not straight forward to light it seems!
The Lodge is in a beautiful location, perfect for wild swimming, and a great view of Scafell, especially at sunset. It felt like a privilege to stay at Burnmoor Lodge, and I’d love to return and see the progress the Club make in its restoration. I’d also love to see it used enough to keep it running, without the wildness of the place changing.
It will be especially exciting when the compost toilet proposed is installed – so the final days ritual of digging a pit is no longer required!
Opened in 1996 St Cuthbert’s Way is usually tackledin 4 – 6 days and to be honest that’s a really good idea. Over the course of three very long days Sharon, Ted and I tackled the route and discovered that pilgrimages don’t always have to be religious.
The St Cuthbert’s Way winds for 100km from the market town of Melrose in the Scottish Borders, to Lindisfarne Island on the North Sea coast. It crosses through the Cheviot hills in the Northumberland National Park, takes in Roman roads and endless woodlands, riverbanks and open moorland.
The route starts in Melrose, where St Cuthbert started his religious life in 650AD and ends in on Holy Island, at Lindisfarne Priory, his eventual resting place.
Planning your walk
There’s a plethora of companies willing to sherpa your bags around and book you accommodation, but its not difficult to sort out yourself. The official route website provides fantastic links to accommodation along the route, but popular accommodation search engines are also useful. Decide how far you want to walk each day and plan your accommodation accordingly.
Starting in Melrose we found accommodation easily as there is a range of pubs and B&Bs available, with plenty taking dogs. Ideal places to stay, depending on how many days you wish to complete the route in would be: St Boswells, Harestanes, Morebattle, Town Yetholm, Hethpool, Wooler, Fenwick and Beal.
Depending on your fitness its possibly to carry your own kit and not have your baggage transported. We packed light with little spare clothing, and bought food en-route in the variety of local shops. Sharon even managed to carry food for Ted and we both carried knitting for the evenings (albeit we never actually did any!)
The real planning challenge with this route is dealing with how you get from the start and finish. We decided to drive to Melrose and leave our car. When we finished we caught the bus back from Beal, via Berwick upon Tweed to Melrose. This is straight forward but takes about 2 hours depending if you make the bus connections (we didn’t and had to have lunch in Berwick!) Bus timetables can be searched for via traveline.
It’s important to carry maps, although the route is very well sign posted with way markers, so we didn’t struggle to find our way. As a rough guide the Scottish section of the walk is really dog friendly, with all of the fences cross through gates. Once in England Ted had to clamber or be picked up over stiles.
Day 1: Melrose to Morebattle 40km (25miles)
Melrose is a lovely market town and worth a visit in its own right. We arrived on Thursday evening and only saw the Abbey in the dark so we intended to spend some time there when we returned.
The route starts from the town centre and heads immediately uphill to the Eildon Hills. These hills would be a significant feature of our first day as despite our progress along the route they remained visible for most of the day. This is the high point of this section.
Crossing through Bowden and into St Boswells the route follow the path of Bowden Burn till it reaches the River Tweed. In hindsight St Boswells would have been a good place to get lunch as there’s a range of lovely cafes and bookshops. But we were on a mission to walk 25 miles so pressed on.
From here the route winds along the River Tweed till it reaches Maxton and meets the Dere Street Roman Road.
Dere Street was a surprise. I expected a surfaced track, perhaps suitable for bikes but this section of the Roman Road is given over to woodland and is a beautiful walk between fields and trees. Eventually the route meets woodland and Harestanes Visitors Centre. We had planned to get a (very) late lunch here. The cafe is advertised as open till 5pm, but stops serving food at 4pm – worth noting if, like us, you arrive late. We luckily managed to get left-over sandwiches from the fridge and had to keep dreaming of soup.
From Harestanes we continued on. If like us you stop at the visitors centre it does mean circling back around through the woodland north of the Monteviot House and Gardens in order to get back on to the river.
Here you cross a suspension bridge and follow the river before getting back on Dere Street Roman Road – here it is a stony track. Continuing to follow the route along through woodland and fields we continued on, the miles slowly making our feet tired. Despite the late hour the walk through the rapeseed fields and woodland was magical, with deer and badgers appearing in the dusk.
The route eventually ends up on country lanes as it leads to Morebattle, and passes the impressive Cessford Castle, a huge ruined tower.
We had called ahead to the Temple Hall Hotel to pre-order food and they obliged by providing hot pizza when we arrived.
Day 2: Morebattle to Wooler 32km (20miles)
After a great breakfast and a visit to the community shop to find lunch we left Morebattle a little later than intended. The route starts by walking along the lanes before heading uphill to Grubbit Law. Its worth noting that on the map it looks like you need to ford a river to head uphill but there is in fact a wooden bridge just beyond the ford, making crossing easy.
It was a hot day and while not high it was a pleasure to be done with uphill and walk along the top of the fell to Wideopen Hill summit. The summit at 368m is the highest point on the route and is marked as the halfway point on the St Cuthbert’s Way. It definitely provides fantastic views across the Borders.
Once in Kirk Yetholm we enjoyed the shade and had lunch where the route joins the end of the Pennine Way. It was interesting to find myself back here, having completed the Pennine Way in 2004 and not expected to find myself in the tiny village of Kirk Yetholm again.
From Kirk Yetholm we walked along the road to head up the fell to the Scottish/English Border. Here the division in the countries follows the fell top ridge line, and while marked by a gate and a signpost, you’d be forgiven not realising there’s a border.
Crossing through the gate the landscape of the Northumberland National Park did seem different, as if the requirement to mark access land and the appearance of sheep somehow transformed the feel of the landscape.
We followed the route downhill through fields, a felled woodland and onto a long and tedious farm track guarded by sheep before reaching the quiet village of Hethpool. Ted hadn’t had that many opportunities to bark at sheep so far and so appeared to ignore the yank of the lead to keep him quiet.
From Hethpool the route heads East along the side of Wester Tor before briefly being redirected around the farm at Torleehouse, and heading uphill to grouse moorland and a landscape similar to our own Peak District. The moorland track continues for nearly 5km over Gains Law before finally dropping down towards the market town of Wooler.
We arrived late on Sunday in Wooler and the Black Bull Inn didn’t do food, but thankfully the Milan restaurant next door served food till 10pm so we had time to shower and make ourselves look tidy before we headed out for food.
Day 3: Wooler to Lindisfarne 29km (18 miles)
We managed to leave at 9am from Wooler and headed along the roads on to Weetwood Moor. I confess that I’d looked the map and decided it was entirely possible to miss this uphill and down hill diversion by walking on the road. However it is a lovely stretch of moorland with great views and provides a great aspect to see the Weetwood bridge from. The road is also quite busy and frankly this final day of walking has more than enough tarmac already in my opinion.
From Weetwood Hall the route takes in country lanes and track for around 8km, even when it crosses fields it’s still a stony track. In the hot sunshine this became a bit of a tedious walk with our tired feet. When we reached the woodland we sat in the shade to have lunch, a lovely spot for a break with a view across the fields.
Further on we came to St Cuthbert’s cave. The Cave is an impressive overhanging sandstone rock supported by a single piece of stone, making it look precarious. According to legend, monks carrying St Cuthbert’s body from Lindisfarne took refuge here.
From the top of the hill above the cave the path winds down through fields and the Sheillow woodland before it reaches the village of Fenwick and the busy A1 road.
We continued on from here, taking care to cross the mainline railway and wandering through fields the reach the end of the Lindisfarne Causeway. The traditional route follows the posts across the sands to reach Holy Island. We did follow them as we had a few hours before the tide started to come in, however the sand is really estuary mud and so is very sticky and unpleasant in places. Ted’s feet were also sore on the sand so we bailed off to walk the rest of the way on the causeway.
We’d luckily arranged a lift back from the lovely Fred at Brockmill Farmhouse where we were staying for the night, so we had an hour to have food in the Crown and Anchor before we had to leave and beat the incoming tide.
Reaching the priory, the end of the route, felt like a great place to end a tough 3 day walk, and we were pleased to arrive in Holy Island at the end of the day when it was quiet.
Finding our pilgrimage
Walking the St Cuthbert’s Way turned out to be a pilgrimage for us both after all, even if it wasn’t a religious one. It was a journey which tested our ability to walk long distances to reach our destination and provided opportunities for us to explore a new landscape, cross boundaries and see Roman and Christian history.
I’d definitely recommend this route – the variety of terrain as it winds through the Scottish Borders into Northumberland makes it worthwhile.
“Long, blue, spiky shadows crept out of the snow-fields, while a rosy glow, at first scarce discernible, gradually deepened and suffused every mountain-top… this was the alpenglow, to me one of the most impressive of all of the terrestrial manifestations of God”
I’d hoped that Christmas would have marked the start of the winter and provide me with the start of winter log book days for this season, ahead of me preparing for my Winter Mountain Leader Assessment in a few months.
Whilst there had been snow in December, by the time we arrived in Fort William we were in the middle of a thaw and the North Face of Ben Nevis was devoid of snow – except on the very upper reaches of the gullies.
Despite this we set off at 7.45am in the dark to do the Carn Mor Dearg arête and Ben Nevis, a challenge even in December’s ‘summer’ conditions.
The walk through the woodland from the North Face car park is straightforward even in the dark and takes about an hour to get to the fence which marks the open moorland and access to the North Face of Ben Nevis.
It was a typical Scottish morning and the dark was accompanied by wind and rain. We soon found the barely noticeable footpath off the main track which heads up onto Carn Beag Dearg and beyond to the wide open ridge to the munro summit of Carn Mor Dearg.
It was noticeable how mild the conditions were as we immediately started wading through moorland bog as we trudged uphill.
Despite heading into the mist around 600m the route isn’t complicated as it heads south-east along the top. A cairn marks the first summit of Carn Dearg Meadhonach before reaching the summit of Carn Mor Dearg.
We had been here in March in the midst of the fantastic winter but were beaten back by strong winds; it was such a contrast to be here in mild damp conditions.
Beyond the summit, the CMD arête begins to head south before curving round the head of the valley south westwards, towards the col before Ben Nevis. At around 1.5km long it is certainly a committing ridge as you cannot escape once on it, without retreating.
Despite being a grade 1 scramble in summer conditions, it is not as complicated as Crib Goch or the Devil’s Ridge on the Ring of Steall, as there are no technical scramble sections which cannot be completely avoided. That said in winter conditions it would be a committing and slow undertaking.
From the col the route scrambles up between the rocks to reach the summit of Ben Nevis. Whilst the summit did still have snow, it wasn’t so significant that we had to use crampons or axes. The mist wasn’t even so low that we couldn’t see the large summit cairns marking the way.
That said its important to be prepared up here, as the summit plateau is treacherous in poor visibility. Gardyloo Gully is very close to the trig point, and requires navigation around to get back to the tourist path back to Glen Nevis.
Its useful to have the key information scribbled on the edge of your map to aid descent – a bearing of 231 degrees walked for 150m, then stay on 282 degrees to reach the zigzag path and the large cairns. Beware that if you stray too far on the first bearing its possible to mistakenly enter the top of Five Finger Gully. Be confident in your pacing in poor visibility.
If you want a detailed article on navigating on the summit check out UKHillwalking.
Despite it being December as we descended we met the ubiquitous idiot in shorts with no map, casually dragging his partner to the summit. I couldn’t help remarking to him that I hope he kept warm in the wind, and while he looked sheepish I doubt he’d make a different decision next time.
The zigzag path back down is easy to navigate once on it, although once at the ‘halfway loch’ (Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe) we headed off on the path northwards to more bog trotting as we headed back to the track to the North Face car park.
Having hiked in Asturias a few times before I was prepared for open trails and amazing views. The Camino Real del Puerto de la Mesa, high up in the mountains provides all this, along with an amazing insight into local history.
The GR-101 is a path that runs from south to north through Asturias, leaving Torrestío and ending at Las Cruces, after passing through Belmonte.The route follows the old Roman road of La Mesa, more commonly known as El Camín Real.This route linked the Castilian plateau with the town of Gijón.
The Roman road is around 45km long. This trail also has a variant, the GR-101.1 Camino Real de Cueiru to Villanueva, which is what we walked (in reverse).
For an Open Street Map view of the whole of the GR101.1 click here – we opted to walk as far as the old historical town of Bandujo / Banduxu.
Walking the GR 101.1
We started our walk along the trail from Castanedo del Monte, a small village in the hills above the old industrial town of Trubia and heading for the medieval town of Bandujo.
Should you wish to start the trail lower down the valley is possible to walk up the hill from Villanueva, along the old packhorse trail, following the signs for Cuevallagar. (We used this route to head down to Villanueva a few days later and I can confirm its easy to navigate and a lovely walk through the woods – although preferable downhill!)
From Castanedo del Monte the trail, signposted as the GR 101.1, heads out of the village on a small lane which hugs the side of the hill and looks out over the woodland and valley below.
The lane eventually turns into a dirt track and heads into the woodland towards the old local mines. The town of Trubia in the valley used to be a bustling industrial town with workers coming up the hill to work in the mines. Now the mines are abandoned and provide an interesting feature along the walk.
From the mines the path winds up the hillside to eventually reach the top and the village of Linares, where you can follow the road to reach a small car park where people come to sit and admire the view.
Here the Camino Real del Puerto de la Mesa, is at its peak. The track now heads across the top of the hill, giving amazing views to the mountains beyond as it winds along.
On a scorching hot day at the end of August it was beautiful, but also a shade free place to be at midday. We continued along the track as it wound around the hillside, past farm fields and small limestone escarpments above. Despite being a walking trail this is also farming country, with lots of cattle roaming, and the occasional farm truck whizzing past kicking up the dust.
Around lunchtime we reached Cuevallagar, a plateau with a perfect lunch spot near a tree.
After a feast of Asturias cheese and bread with cider we followed the GR101.1 towards Maraviu, turning off the track to head across the grassy plateau. Eventually the track re-emerges for a while and you start to wind downhill to a bend where you reach a junction and turn right to end up in another grassy field. Here you head across and uphill to reach a gate and the road.
We were met at the gate by an old farmer tending his cattle and a small yapping chihuahua. He offered his chilled CocaCola from a hidden freezer box, which Leah of course accepted in her fluent Spanish. He confirmed that we were on the road which headed down to Bandujo.
While the route was no longer the official trail and now a tarmac road it was still quiet and peaceful and on arriving near Bandujo I could see why Leah had insisted that this was our goal.
The church of St. Mary in the centre of Bandujo is of medieval origin and underwent restoration in the 18th century. The palace of Bandujo and its tower is one of the best preserved late medieval defensive towers in Asturias. This building also served as a prison and town hall.
Here we were lucky enough to be met by Dan, Leah’s husband for a lift back to Villanueva.
Crossing the 1 foot wide ridge of snow I was very aware of the snow melting under my feet and becoming unstable. I held my breath and walked confidently, eyes ahead.
We’d already lost half an hour on the ascent waiting for a team ahead of us to climb the snow to the ridge line, their guide leading the way and belaying them up. When we crossed the ridge we had to wait again for the guide to cross the couloir, digging a foot deep through the snow to place ice screws, securing the traverse to the metal stake and beyond to the rocks.
Waiting on a route is never ideal, especially when the snow under our feet was fresh and only had one night of freezing. And the sun was already high in the sky, melting it.
Our decision to have a go at the Jungfrau was borne out of our original goal to climb it and the Monch on our trip to Switzerland, and out of frustration at having our plans change due to wet weather for a few days. For 4 days it rained heavily on and off, a few of those times we had been caught out trail running or crag climbing, determined to make the most of the breaks between showers.
The weather had promised to be glorious on Saturday, the day before we went home, so after a long discussion about the likelihood of the snow higher up having had chance to consolidate, we gambled on a trip up high to try the Jungfrau. We also winced at the cost of the Jungfraujoch train, at £180 or so each this wasn’t a cheap gamble.
So Friday afternoon we headed up on the train, through the low cloud and drizzle. There’s no doubting that the Jungfraujoch is an amazing feat of engineering, but in the mist we were unable to really appreciate this, with no view to be had at the Eismeer station half way up the inside of the Eiger.
Despite the awful weather the summit station was busy with tourists, also unable to appreciate the landscape their were in from the panorama windows of the cafe.
We kitted up at the doorway and headed out along the snowy track to the Monchjoch hut, it what can best be described as typical Scottish conditions. Damp and foggy.
Waking up to clear skies
Waking at 3am to discover that it had been clear skies overnight and the ground had frozen was a great relief but we were aware that this wasn’t likely to last and the unconsolidated snow while frozen now would soon melt in the morning sun.
We were the second team out of the hut as we headed back along the track to the Jungfraujoch where we roped up and headed across the glacier as quick as we could to the bottom of the Rottersattel ridge.
The views down the glacier even at 4.30am were beautiful.
Before stepping on to the rock ridge we had to cross a crevasse bridge, I wondered how stable it would be as we descended later.
The rock ridge began with what we now realised was typical Swiss broken rock before we reached the bigger stable rocks. Climbing the ridge we moved quickly together, traversing round the east side and heading left before climbing up to the top.
Once up the rock we had a lovely snow plod across the broad ridge to the bottom of the ascent. The sun was already shining and we’d caught up the guided group ahead of us.
We had a snack and a drink waiting for the group to ascend and traverse the snow ridge, mindful that we were losing valuable time and the snow was melting. We were grateful to the guide for breaking trail, but his choice to belay his group one by one up the snow was taking time. I was particularly nervous when we traversed the narrow arete and onto the snow bank which looked down on the steep western side. The metal stakes were appreciated on the traverse.
From here we had a rocky ridge to ascend to the summit, but with the sun beating down and the snow turning to slush beneath our feet, within 100m of the summit at 9am we decided to turn around. The route we had come up had required considerable front pointing to ascend.
With quick discussion and much disappointment, we decided to turn around in order to descend safely – to reach the summit might have taken an hour to get up and back to where we were and it was a chance we didn’t want to take.
Retreating from a route is always disappointing. The team ahead summited and thanks to their guide who knew an alternative way to descend they did so quickly. However, without this knowledge we saw the giant serrac as an impenetrable obstacle to descend, and so we had to retreat the way we came, down the mushy snow, carefully.
As we reached the bottom of the rocky Rottersattel ridge we realised that the crevasse bridge was now too soft to walk on and to walk above it on the slope too risky to try – the snow too soft to hold an arrest if one of us slipped. So we had to head down the other side of the ridge and descend much further on shale to reach the glacier.
The trek back to the Jungfraujoch station was incredible slow and tiring in the midday sunshine.
Towering over Grindelwald town the Wetterhorn is captivating, its ridges and high glacier catch the eye. Its also less likely to be shroud in cloud than the Eiger so looks seriously impressive.
The route up the Wetterhorn from Grindelwald takes in the Wilsgratli ridge up to the Wettersattel and then snow or rock to the summit. It’s not immediately obvious from the town as it is a narrow ridge in the centre of the Crinnen glacier.
Knowing the ridge was AD- there was a long discussion about its complexity, and whether I was going to be able to haul myself up it without too much whinging.
In hindsight, we should have also had a discussion about coming back down.
The walk in to the Gleckstein Hut
The route starts at a large car park near the Wetterhorn hotel and follows a track through the woodland which then heads steeply northeast to pick up a path which contours around the side of the mountain.
The walk in to the Gleckstein hut was also only 3 and half hours which was quite attractive after the slog we had to get to the Mutthorn hut a few days earlier.
It was lovely, a pleasant meander around the mountain heading slowly uphill and around towards the Oberer Grindelwald glacier to reach the hut.
The Gleckstein hut is popular with guides for teaching alpine skills and for hikers walking into see the glaciers, and you can see why. When we arrived we sat looking out across the valley watching the sunset.
We left the hut at 4am, the first out, but this left us route finding to find the Willsgrati ridge to reach the Wettersattel. While there is an obvious path which runs up to the Chrinnen glacier, there are also a number of paths which branch off from it.
Once on the glacier we roped up and headed uphill to find the snow gully which provides access to the route, described in the guide book as ‘climb up unpleasantly for 200m’ before crossing a couloir before getting to the Willsgratli ridge.
Once off the glacier it became clear that the rock on the Wetterhorn is not at all stable, even when frozen. We crossed the couloir to head onto the ridge where we stuck to the ridge top to ascent.
Once on the ridge it was mostly scrambling to reach the Wettersattel col. Roped up we weren’t quick, but then I knew I would find this tricky, given the exposure and loose rock. Despite some whinging from me, we kept to guidebook time to reach the col and onto the snow.
The snow was the quickest way to reach the summit so we headed up to a glorious view.
We were also lucky to get a selfie with the Eiger!!
Descending is always the hardest
The sun was already hot and melting the snow as we descended from the Wetterhorn. We decided to use the stakes on the rock, which in hindsight was slow albeit safer than the snow.
We were the last of the three groups that has ascended that morning to get back on to the ridge and descend. As the ridge is well known for rock fall this meant that we weren’t going to have anything fall on us, but we had to be safe to prevent dropping rock on others.
Despite the AD- grade not being the hardest alpine route I’ve done, the descent back to the hut was definitely the scariest I’ve completed. Teetering on the rock and trying to place gear to protect ourselves I can admit I was scared for the full 6 hours or so it took us to get back down from the summit to the hut.
This was made much worse when a couple who were being guided were airlifted from the ridge in front of us. The helicopter came close to the ridge and picked up someone before heading down to the Gleckstein hut. Later we passed a blood splattered rock.
Back at the hut I asked how they were and was pleased to find out the female had slipped and suffered only a leg injury, but this hadn’t stopped us from imagining the worst as we had descended – being aware that they had been climbing without helmets.
The lower part of the ridge is tricky to find the exit route, once you’ve passed the three stakes look for a way off to the right. If you’re lucky you might find the stakes across the couloir to get back to the more solid rock and eventually the glacier.
We were slow, possibly dehydrated and hungry when we finally got off the glacier and down to the hut where we had lunch and fluid before descending back to the Wetterhorn hotel. It was a long 18 hour day!
Acclimatizing well is at the core of a successful mountaineering trip to the Alps. So starting low and working our way up the altitudes was a sensible approach to our plans in Switzerland. It’s easy to do when you’re somewhere like Chamonix where you can reach high altitudes with relative ease on the cable cars, but the Bernese Oberland proved to be a different beast entirely.
We chose the Tschingelhorn due to it being a low alpine summit at 3562m and having a straightforward summit route, graded PD (French for a little difficult) so we knew it was achievable. Having to walk in also meant that we would be able to acclimatize as we went.
What we hadn’t banked on was a mammoth walk to reach the Mutthorn hut at the base of the Mutthorn ridge, almost in the middle of the glacier, and 2000m of ascent from the start at Stechelberg. It didn’t look that far on the map, but when you add in the ascent to get there, and the hot sunshine, it was a hard slog.
The walk in to the Mutthorn hut
Starting at the end of the Lauterbrunnen valley in the tiny village of Stechelberg, we parked up and followed the signs to Obersteinberg, a 6km walk gaining around 800m height.
Whilst an endless slog uphill on narrow woodland tracks, the path provides a fantastic opportunity to see the changes in the landscape and walk through a pristine UNESCO Word Heritage landscape. Much of the Jungfrau region achieves this designation but as we found out later in our trip, this also brings bus loads of tourists so the solitude we found on our walk into the Mutthorn hut can’t be easily found elsewhere.
It took about 3 hours walking through the woodland forest trails and up to the pastures to reach Obersteinberg, where a hut provided a refreshment stop and a chance to check the map before heading across the glacier beyond.
From here we followed signs to Oberhoresee, a little glacial lake and a popular destination for hikers exploring the valley. We stopped briefly in the baking sun and contemplated cooling off there on our descent.
From there the path becomes less distinct as it turns from a walkers path marked by red and white striped marks, to an alpinist track marked by blue and white marks. It winds through the moraine, scree and eventually out on to the glacier itself.
From looking at our map it became clear that while it was still very early in the season and lots of fresh snow was still around, the glacier itself had receded considerably from what was marked on the map.
This also meant that a direct approach wasn’t possible due to the crevasses and seracs now present. So we had to loop around to be able to ascend up the glacier towards the hut. The snow conditions weren’t great either as the glacier was covered in a foot of snow which had melted to create a surface like the moon.
The Mutthorn hut
The Mutthorn hut perches on the end of the Mutthorn, a shaly rock ridge which rises out of the glacier. To reach the hut required circling around the crevasse to access the door.
Despite its isolated location, or perhaps because of it, the Mutthorn guardians provide a very warm welcome – a hot drink and chocolate to all of their guests. Run by the Swiss Alpine Club, members get a good discount, as do reciprocal clubs.
The evening meal was basic – soup followed by cheese, potatoes and salad and then fruit salad – but considering our location I was surprised to get anything fresh.
Ascending the Tschingelhorn
We left the hut at 4am to ensure we had enough time before the sun rose and started to melt the snow. Crossing the moon like glacier was much easier when it was frozen from a night under clear skies.
The ascent is fairly straight forward, we had to circle around the Tshingelhorn ridge to the South side and ascent the gully to the col and follow the ridge to the summit. At about 45 degrees the 300m gully was long and steep but in a solid condition and well trodden so was easy-going (although at 3000m altitude it was hard work!)
The view from the summit was fantastic, looking over to the Breithorn and further beyond to the Aletschhorn.
Had we properly considered how challenging it would be to get to the Mutthorn hut we would have budgeted for staying more nights and doing other peaks in the area, but as we hadn’t we descended back to the hut and after a quick lunch continued back down to the valley – a very long 17 hour day mountaineering.
Who doesn’t love a book which inspires adventures? I was lucky enough to receive a copy of The Adventurer’s Guide to Britain from fellow OS Champions Jen and Sim Benson. Having travelled to a lot of places in Britain I was interested to see if this book could really provide someone like me with inspiration.