Trip: Bernese Oberland - Eiger - Mittellegi
Life is full of trade-offs . . . you don't get something for nothing . . . insert some other droll cliché here.
Alpine climbing in Europe is no different.
The camping gear you don't carry is sometimes offset by some random dude snoring in your face at the hut.
The food you don't have to buy and pack is sometimes replaced by marginal soup, unidentifiable meat and a worthless breakfast. If you don't eat dairy you are kind of hosed. No gluten or carbs? Fully hosed!
That approach you float over in the tram, gondola, chairlift or train (or all four in the same trip)? - probably more expensive than driving your Honda Civic to the Valley from Portland, OR.
Oh yeah, and everybody over here climbs too so the idea of having some uber-classic, historical route all to yourself is as likely as . . something else that is not very likely.
That being said sometimes the hut is beautiful, modern and empty, the food awesome and the climbing fully inspiring and worth it - crowd or no crowd.
After five weeks of work in the Alps peppered with some climbing for fun here and there, I had two days to kill before my flight from Geneva. Two days of good weather were in the forecast and the Mittellegi was reputed to only take an afternoon and a morning (plus a two hour train ride on either side). Having made climbs of the Mont Blanc (White Mountain for the literal) and the Hornli on the Matterhorn (Meadow Mountain) in the proceeding weeks, the Alps Trilogy was within reach! But only if we could navigate our way to start of the climb . . .
Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau from Kliene Scheidegg
Step #1 - Get fully bitched out by the hotel desk attendant where my partners were staying because I didn’t say good morning to her – not kidding. Classic Swiss . . . but I will always say "Guten Morgen" from now on
Step #2 – Train from Interlaken Ost to Eismeer Station literally inside the South Ridge of the Eiger
Eismeer Station chaos
Step #3 – Find and descend tunnel to glacier. Feel for a moment like you are in some documentary style horror flick.
Tunnel exit and downclimb to glacier
Step #4 – Cross glacier, don’t get crushed by seracs
Step #5 – Climb a few pitches of 5.7 limestone with wet boots with 4 other teams at the same time
4 rope teams, 1 ring bolt anchor, no problem
Step #6 – Traverse ledges of uber choss to Mittellegi Hut
Step #7 – Eat soup, buy multiple ½ liter bottles of water at 5 francs a pop, force down rice with meat in gravy
Home is where the hut is
Evening cloud play
Step #8 – Sleep, kind of. Wake up in middle of night to take a leak off the ridge and realize that you could fall thousands of feet off the mountain wearing only boxers and socks.
Step #9 – Fake your way through 4am breakfast with instant coffee. Step out of hut, onto ridge and realize you will be climbing with thousands of feet of exposure from now through the rest of the day. Follow trail of crampon scratch marks and fixed ropes to summit.
Most of the route was non-descript limestone climbing by headlamp - anything over 5.6 has a fat fixed boat rope pinned to the rock with metal stanchions
Route finding clues for those who have problems following the obvious ridge
Crowd control is achieved by the fact the hut only sleeps 36 - or 40 in a pinch when folks with no reservation show up as we found out. The local Grindelwald guides have right of way, then the visiting guided teams, then everybody else. We got totally smoked by the local guides but found a nice pace about in the middle of the visiting guide peloton.
Though this system seems beyond comprehension by North American standards, it actually works pretty well. The local guides are going to cruise the route since they've done it countless times and they want to get home early. On the other hand some of the unguided teams were hours behind - probably because they were trying to place gear where there was none and simul-climb through terrain that was more swiftly managed with short pitches and terrain belays. The managed departure from the hut kind of sorts folks out before they get on route. It aids in preventing some of the on route bottlenecks and some frustrations as well.
Another team rapping from mid-ridge tower
It's kind of scenic up there
We reached the top in a about 4 hours through swirling clouds. Descent was by the South Ridge to the col between the Eiger and the Monch - followed by some glacier to the Jungfraujoch and the train back to the valley. Easy, right?
After and hour or so of downclimbing and about 5 raps we realized that the rest of the descent was actually a climb of the lower NE Ridge of the Monch.
The descent involved climbing the ridge past the last snowfield in the middle of the photo to reach glacier traverse
Pitched out climbing on the descent
After a few more hours of climbing we reached a spot to unrope - a snowcat packed tourist trail that lead across more glacier back to the Jungfraujoch. Oddly enough this trail passed within meters of large open crevasses and under some not insignificant seracs.
Foot prints wandered to the edges of the big cracks - so as to get better deep hole photos we suspected. Maybe the alpine version of putting your child on a bison at Yellowstone?
Full tourist action in the shadow of 4000m peaks
The Junk-frau-jock - "The Top of Europe" - has got to be the craziest spectacle of alpine tourism out there. The Midi's got nothing on this place. Tubbing, ziplines and a Disney style walking loop inside the mountain called "Alpine Splendor." There's also a hotel, an observatory and probably some duty free shopping as well. We had to ask for directions 3 times to find the train outta there.
Tuckered out from a big day in hills
Though definitely not memorable by virtue of the climbing itself, Alps objectives like the Mittellegi not only put a new spin on climbing but also put one in touch with the roots of Alpine history. And banging out a reasonably big climb in a wild setting without touching a foot to dirt or trail is an interesting departure from our North American climbing paradigm.
It's also just cool to climb a peak called the Eiger.
50m rope (the most needed for descent raps)
Few finger to thin hands cams
4-5 quickdraws to simul climb fixed rope sections
A few big lockers like the Petzl Williams are nice - they can clip on to any of the massive fixed ropes or stanchions around the Alps
Steel pons, axe, etc.
Train: Interlaken Ost > Eismeer Station tunnel + Jungfraujoch > Interlaken Ost - through Grindelwald is shorter I think
Total trip cost for train and hut + water ~225CHF