Technical Alpine Climbing Week

My first guided trip in the Alps this summer was working for ISM – The International School of Mountaineering – based out of my home town Leysin in Switzerland. My Dad had worked from them back in the ’70s and I grew up surrounded by the guides who worked there and was mesmerized by them. It’s probably then that my secret desire of becoming of guide budded. And hence ISM seemed like one of the obvious companies I wanted to work with.

View on the Dent Blanche (4000m peak). The bivouac we are heading for is at the base of the left hand skyline

I would be working with Adrian Nelhams, as I had the previous year. Adrian is British, has a little son named Monty and is an examiner for the British Guides. I really enjoy working with him.

We met the day before the start of the course in Leysin to discuss the plan. We decided to climb the SW ridge of the Grand Cornier in the Valais and the west ridge of the Dent de Tsalion in Arolla, along with the nearby Aiguille de la Tsa.

Inside the round shaped bivouac

We hiked from Ferpecle up a rugged trail and then glacier to the Dent Blanche Bivouac. It was raining and snow conditions were completely isothermic, which made for difficult travel. But the beautiful little rounded shaped bivouac made it all worth it. After a night of heavy rain, we woke up to perfect blue bird skies and great views of the mighty Dent Blanche north face and of our climb, the SW ridge of the Grand Cornier.

Sunrise on the Dent Blanche North FaceBeatiful view on the SW ridge of the Grand Cornier, a long knife edge ridge
Our Climb: Beautiful view on the SW ridge of the Grand Cornier, a long knife edge ridge

At 3962m, The Grand Cornier is just shy of 4000m, but its surrounding giants have nothing on him. There is no easy way up or down it and the SW ridge offers amazing climbing up its sometime snowy or rocky but always knife edge arete. With the previous night’s rain, the snow was very punchy all the way up the climb, which made for strenous trailbreaking.

Caroline somewhere on the ridge
First couple meters from the hut

After many hours of breaking trail and climbing up the amazing SW ridge, we climbed down the normal route, which is just as hard and long. There were lots of precipitation in June and the snowpack hadn’t yet fully transformed, which made for hainous postholing down to the Moiry Hut, where we spent the night. The Moiry hut was just remodeled this year, so we got to enjoy this beautiful new facility! The following day, we hiked down from the hut and drove back to the Arolla valley.

View on the majestic Obergabelhorn: Arbengrat on the right hand skyline and the Wellkuppe to the left
Summit is in sight but lots of complicated/fun transitions all the way to the end
The newly remodeled Moiry Hut where we enjoyed a much deserved night of sleep

Day 4, we climbed a technical via ferrata right above the little pittoresque town Evolene. It was very steep to overhanging in many sections, which got some of the client’s hearts going!

Via Ferrata Evolene

That afternoon, he hiked to the beautiful Tsa Hut above Arolla, to climb the west ridge of the Dent de Tsalion and the Aigille de la Tsa.

The west ridge of the Dent de Tsalion to the left. The Aiguille de la Tsa is the pointy needle. From the summit of the Dent de Tsalion, an easy snow traverse took us to the base of the Aiguille de la Tsa. Four pitches on good rock took us to the summit.

We woke up in the early morning to hike up a boulder field to the base of the climb. The few first pitches instantly wake you up, climbing up steep and beautiful rock. The whole 600m. of ridge climbing is up perfect cracks and nice ridge features. A nice and long journey.

View from the summit of the Dent de Tsalion on the party below. The ridge climbs the sun/shade line

From the summit, we scrambled down to the glacier and joined the start of the Aiguille de la Tsa, a striking mini Matterhorn like peak.

One pitch left to the summit of the Aiguille de la Tsa
Bertol Hut

We then hiked up and over to the Bertol hut. The view from the Bertol Hut stretches to the Dent Blanche, the Tete Blanche and the Bouquetins to the south and over to the Pigne d’Arolla and the Aiguille Rouges d’Arolla to the north. Although this is a great hut, the toilets are the biggest shame. I thought I was going to pass out from the smell.

View on the well named Aiguilles Rouges (Red Needles) of Arolla

This was another great week with the International School of Mountaineering.

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