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.
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.
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 next three days of the Tour du Mont Blanc would take us from the pristine Alpine villages of Switzerland, over the Grand Col de Ferret the highest point of the TMB route, and into Italy – from the home of fantastic cheese and chocolate to the home of fantastic gelato and … chocolate.
Day 4 – Champex to La Fouly – 5 hours 50
Total distance 14.6km ascent 555m descent 440m
Today’s walk would take us through some gorgeous quiet villages as we headed for the end of the valley and our last campsite in Switzerland. It was a cooler day and having a relatively flat route it was also more relaxed.
The start of the walk from Champex takes you through the Santier de Champignons – route of the mushrooms; evident by the trees carved on the woodland trails.
At 105 miles the Tour du Mont Blanc is not the longest long distance route I’ve completed, but it was the first one overseas and the first completed in one go and not broken up over weekends like the Pennine Way.
Suggested by two friends who had completed the trail years ago, the thought of crossing through 3 countries, tackling Alpine passes and walking through sun, snow and probably rain, the TMB sounded just like my kind of trek.
Choosing to walk clockwise meant that we would be passing other walkers rather than catching them up, which for most of the route would enable us to have relative peace. Or as much as you can ever get in the Alps.