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.