The Breithorn Traverse

For our final climb of the trip, Jon chose to take us over to Zermatt and climb the Breithorn.  This mountain is considered the easiest of the 4,000 meter peaks in Zermatt due to its location near the top of the cable car.  However, we would be taking a more challenging route to the summit and one that would expose us, again, to those techniques needed to climb the Eiger.  Mike would join us for this climb.

Jon drove us the 2 ½ hours from Chamonix to Zermatt and once in Zermatt we took the ski lift and cable car up to the top of the ridge.  We then trekked across the glacier to the Rifugio Guide Di Ayas hut on the Italian side of the mountain range at 11,220 feet.  Here we are just arriving, you can see the weather was a bit foggy.  The next photo of the hut was taken the morning we left.

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This hut is Jon’s favorite.  All the huts we stayed at had their own nice features, but this one really felt like you were in a ski lodge in “Anyplace USA.”  The guardians were really nice, like always, and the food was very good, like always.

The hut had a very nice gear room and dining room.

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It had flush toilets and running water, however the water was not drinkable.  That was the only downside.  The dorms consisted of two types.  An open dorm sleeping about 20 climbs or so (which is where we slept) and then eight (I believe) 4-bunk private rooms.  There was a second floor to the hut but it was closed off and not being used so I didn’t walk up there and see what it was like.

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We left Chamonix around 8:30 am and arrived at the hut around 4:00 pm.  We hung out in the dining room, as it was a bit blustery outside with fresh snow falling and wind.  This weather was scheduled to end over night.  We sat in the dining room with Jon and Mike and talked about independent climbing.  They discussed with us route finding and things to look for while climbing on a glacier to help avoid hazards.  We hung out for a few hours then Shelley and I went upstairs and laid down for some rest before dinner at 7:00 pm.

We were asleep by 9:00 pm with an early start the next morning at 5:45 am and breakfast at 6:00 am.  I have to say that the breakfasts were the only disappointing meals I had on this trip.  I could have really used some eggs and bacon or pancakes.  But, when in Europe, you get the classic European breakfasts of breads and jams.  By 7:00 am we were roped up and on our way.  The weather was perfect.  Hardly any wind and clear.  We could see Gran Paradiso to our south and we were surrounded by other peaks as we hiked to the start of our climb.

The Di Ayas hut is about 2 hours east of the Breithorn with a very slight up hill climb.  We made this in one move and it wasn’t too difficult.  It was nice to take a good break near the base of where our traverse was going to start.  This starting point was the steepest snowy terrain we climbed on our trip.  This was well over a 40 degree slope to get to the base of the rocks.  Unlike our traverse from the previous day, we wore crampons for this rock traverse due to the amount of snow on the rocks.

The weather that was hitting Grindelwald and dumping snow over there was also impacting the Zermatt area.  While on the glacier moving to the Breithorn, we were walking through 6” – 8” of fresh snow.  Most of the trail was well worn but in places it was quite deep.  This area wasn’t that busy with climbers and we were the first team to head for the Breithorn traverse so we had to break trail once we left the main trail between the cable car and the hut.  You could see that a good snow fall had occurred here in the last few days before we arrived.  It was easy to see why the Eiger trip was washed out for us.  I wouldn’t have wanted to climb there with 10” – 13” of fresh snow.

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Once at the eastern end of the Breithorn massif, we started up on the rocks.  Just like the traverse from the day before, this exposed us to a technical rock climb and skills we need more exposure to.  There was no rappelling done during this traverse, however, there were spots that were much more exposed then the previous day.  There were also parts that were quite a bit more difficult than the previous day as well.  Here are some photos of this rock traverse.

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Note the climbers ahead of us up on top of this portion.  This photo gives you some sense of scale.  Also in this photo is the Matterhorn being buffeted by high winds.  It was only visible for a few moments at a time throughout the day.

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Here is Shelley down climbing a short section to a snowy, knife edge ridge between peaks.  I like this one and the one below it as they both show just how steep and exposed the sides of this ridge could be.

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This next photo was taken higher up and looking down on the knife edge you see in the photo above as Jon and Shelley came across it.

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I enjoyed this rock climb better than the previous day because of the views and exposure.  We would get up on top of one of the tops of the ridge, with 1,000 – 2,000 foot cliffs on both sides, and you could look around the Zermatt valley at a dozen pyramid shaped 4,000 meter peaks.  It was just incredible.  Zermatt was under a bed of clouds, however, but we were so high, the peaks stuck up through the clouds all around us.

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After a few hours of rock climbing, we were back on the snowy ridge and on our way up to the summit of the Breithorn.  After this rock climbing, the summit ridge was anti-climatic.  Shortly after 1:00 pm we stood on top of our third summit for this vacation.

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