Best of the West

A quick presentation of some of the best ice climbing venues in the Western Alps.
Kandersteg -CH

This place is just so rad! A paradise for any ice-climber, it has it all? long routes, very long routes,sick lines that eventually forms most years: Rubezahl,Blue Magic,Crack Baby,also,some of the sickest routes you can find anywhere in the Alps( if you're lucky enough to find 'em formed off course) BetaBlock,NIN,Almendudler. There's some potential for new routes, but for that there's enough of devoted activists in the person of climbers like Markus Stofer or Nicolas Jacquet. When it comes to hit Kandersteg, in my mind i figure myself climbing massive pillars of blue ice in a setting that remind me a little bit the Canadian Rockies.Here's a description of a journey in to this little piece of paradise. Most climbers will choose the odd not too late start (way too late) then having a look around to find a route that is not getting gangbanged by the odd storm of  big-harmed, German speaking ,ice destroying climbers  to get a taste of Kandersteg climbing (mixed with blood as obviously there's no route untraveled when you arrive late). I generally start somewhere around 4am from Chamonix and off course not the weekend! Driving at such an early hour is pleasant (and very recommandable if you have not payed yet the mandatory Suisse Autoroute Vignette). To get to Kandersteg coming from the Rhone valley, the lucky climbers that we are, have to put the car on a train and obviously paying for it some 20 frS ,if you hope have a chance to buy a two way ticket and save money, or pay with a credit card for that matter, you're dead wrong. In the other hand, if you don't mind consider yours Euros worth a 1/1 rate exchange you can pay in Euros.The good point is that you'll be able to take a little nap on the train . The bad point ( generally happening to me) is that the liter coffee usually drank, start showing some negative effects, but you know peeing in the tunnel is just cool. Choosing when going there is fundamental. After a long period of Fohn Wind or anytime before the early january Ice Fest event, expect...
expect nothing is better...(is not always like that). In my humble opinion Kandersteg is a reliable pick for the second part of the winter. When is good condition down there, getting out the tunnel at the very first light is a rewarding experience as you're mind will be blowed away by the sight of Kander full potential  freestanding stuff. If you mind doing something at the Breitwangfluhe on your second day, better waste some 20 min driving down the valley to the first village you encounter (Mitholz) to give it a quick look. Breitwangfluhe is quite high in altitude and it takes a while for the ice to form on most winters, from Mitholz you can have a  glance at the wall. Days are short and if you're stoked enuff like me you will spend the day climbing. At some point you may want to find a place where to stay for the night.If you want to do more climbing in a day staying in the van is not a good option unless you're carrying double set of any single piece of clothing and other stuff that get wet during an ice-climb.The best option is  the Gemmi hotel that is kinda the cheapest accomodation to be found in town, unfortunately is generally packed up with massive teams of Snowshoers,Nordic Skiers,Sledge aficionados and other tribes you'll not even acknowledge the existance. Book as soon as possible cause the place is very popular. If you want to do anything else than ice-climbing , two thinks: pack a lot of money, quit this blog...ok, is a joke. The sledge think, there, seems to be super fun ,really. There are pistes in the woods only for sledges and those thinks are fast, very fast, and scary!  When in the Chamonix valley you see everybody carrying skis or snowboard ,there you see sledges everywhere! If money is an issue for you don't even consider buy anything else than the fundamental Urs Odermatt topo.
Enjoy it
For our first foray in Kandersteg we obviously choose to climb the classics stuff, my partner for those two days is my friend PJ.
PJ is a very cool guy, i took him climbing his first ice route a few years ago since then and he's always keen to follow me.PJ is very  comfortable on ice the three routes we'd climb those two days where his third to fifth waterfall he ever done.
We started in a cold morning by climbing Blue Magic,a perfect 200 plus meters of blue ice!
Back down my PJ suggested  a plan of Rosti and Beer,unfurtunately for him it was only 12 AM, hard to call it a day.
Instead we headed to the neighbour Rubezahl ,definetely one of my favourites waterfall. A mushroom collection  200mt. high.
A party was struggling partway up the crux pitch but there is plenty of room on this waterfall.                                           

 We choose the left side of Rubezahl and his big overhang, so that we will be protected  by falling ice and not to mess with the two Brits engaged on the opposite side of the building.
 L2 of Rubezahl, it was a dream of  good overhanging ice.
The Blue Sky behind made this first day in Kandersteg one
that i will treasure for longtime.
The top part is less steep but really worthwhile Pj will lead fis first ice pitch on L3
L4 is awesome on a goulotte stuck in a deep wall.
After all this good stuff, we stroll down the piste in the fading daylight our mind set on the well deserved after-climbing of Rosti and Beer.
The following day i somewhat managed to convince
PJ not only to get another 4AM start but also to climb Crack Baby the super classic 400mt monster
first climbed by the late Xavier Bongard and co.
This route is only one of the many jewel  of the
Breitwangfluhe a Suisse version of the Stanley Headwall in Canada. The setting is quite alpine because of the 2h approach and the character and size of those routes where bolted belays are rare.
Crack Baby is maybe the most famous one, but many other are must-do lines for any ice climber.

Happy PJ on Crack Baby

Happy me!

This long route  was a very good effort
for my partner. I just could not wait for my next trip to

The following year together with my homie Eric Jamet we choose to hit Kandersteg for a couple of days.
The dude is not the kind of fella that come for belaying, the most delicate will be not to fight for the nicest pitches.
It was the second day of hot wind and we hoped it was not too late. It  looked gloomy and the ice was kinda white ,so we decided to avoid all but the most solid structures. The ice was so soft and the many holes  in the ice allowed for some fast progress
We started by climbing Barettrit, Eric made is best to fit this 70 meter pillar in one pitch. Some 30 minutes later we were both back down to the packs.People waiting at the base for us to finish the route barely had the time to drink a cup of tea.
Then we headed down to the Oeschinenwald
home of classics Reise ins der reich der Eiszwerge,
Grimm Haizahne and a bunch of sweet mixed lines
We went for Grimm Haizahne and climbed it in one and half pitches for 200 meters climbing.
After that, for a change we decided to do something
mixed, but afraid of falling ice we choosed a line  with little in the way if hanging ice.

Eric and our last route, on the right side.The dihedral end the top
roof visible on the right of the picture.

 L2 was very nice on a dihedral,then a little roof then another dihedral with some disintegrating ice.



On the last pitch was a awesome roof. Eric sent the pitch onsight,
a very good effort for this M9 pitch.
After this route, even tough it was only 2pm we decided to call it quit.
It was just too hot to keep climbing, so we went back to Chamonix.

It looked like the season was over and then ,surprise!
Cold weather was back two weeks later.
Why not to give a close look to the Breitwangfluhe?

March 8th me and my friend Thomas Mueller are walking
up the approach trail to the Breitwagfluhe, there's no snow left
and we are quite concerned we choose the wrong season,
but against all odds the ice is there and quite a lot of ice actually.
It looks like the rarely doable Mach 3 could be in, so we choose to give
it a try.
Mach 3 is a awesome mixed line from
Robert Jasper.
On the Left is Mach 3
on the right Metro, only the last pitchs is visible
and no is not a rock route wait and see



This pitch is a really wild one a very good challenge onsight, i managed to do it with a rest.
I was quite concerned about the ice part. Stepping on the first on the first Tomahawk i was sure it would have collapsed and sent me in outer space, it was 60 cm wide on the middle  but the part attached to the overhanging rock was only maybe 20 cm of diameter. The ice dagger was very hollow and the whole think 
so overhanging  that i felt like climbing on a cloud.Some spanish guys spent some days cleaning and trying
to free the route, that explained the end of the dagger chopped away, we met them on the way down and understanded they were going to gave the route a proper try .After climbing the pitch i considered descending to try a  redpoint but because of the pitch traversing and overhanging nature it was simply out of question.
Matter of facts Thomas following the pitch went for a big ride in the air after the dagger collapsed under his weight.Sorry to the Spanish dudes...

The following morning we were back at the Breitwangfluhe to climb Metro an amazing route in amazing good shape.First climbed by the  Anthamattens brothers. This route follow a strange vertical tunnel inside the mountain. is not visible until you really enter inside the tunnel .Then out the tunnel is another long nice pillar.
on the last pitch.

After ten straight days guiding the Vallée Blanche i had quite a urge to do some ice climbing. It's hard to refuse to work a day because is not like i can work whenever i want...would i miss a day of guiding only to climb a waterfall? well...maybe if i can climb a few of them then it would be justified, and if it allow us our unavoidable season foray to Kandersteg , why not! It took a few seconds to organize the trip,i call Jeff,
"we'll leave at 5AM " take the ERGO"" i take the ropes "see ya tomorrow,easy !
Unbeknown to me,he didn't found a better way to spend the evening than drinking a considerable amount of beer. The radio was blasting S.O.A.D and my poor partner begged me to put something else.

We choose to begin by climbing Reise 

Our second route was just aside,
a very cool mixed line,with a nice ice pitch on the top, a fine test for a hangover! 

After this nice mixed line we decided it was better to do something not too complicated,and for Jeff hangover,and for my wasted we went on the neighbour Haizahne.Thanks to our 70mt ropes 
we did it in one pitch. A run for each, because following is not really something we are fond of
It's almost 4pm and we are back on the trail,and we want some more so we walk up to the base of Finderlohn, the route is quite long 200 mt and we better move fast...thanks to the 70mt ropes we could manage the route in three pitches.

 Finderlohn is on the right ,Blue Magic is on the left.
The mixed part was easier than expected,however the long  65 meters dead vertical featureless clean ice provided a painful sting-in-the-tail. When we where back to the packs it was dark,too bad we would have liked to do some more!

2 commentaires:

  1. Rock climbing is often considered an extreme sport by most people except, probably, those doing it. Ice climbing, however, is undisputedly an extreme sport.

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