Jungfraujoch is a pretty interesting place in itself, two impressive 4000 meter peaks, right
there, Jungfrau 4158m and Moench 4107m.
We did not waste much time and were on our way down the glacier by 1230.
The initial descent went smoothly, big crevasses were circumvented or jumped, the flatter part
towards Konkordiaplatz was however, rather wet this late in the day. The sun was really hot
and I was quite concerned when the distinct trench of a glacier river appeared to block
further progress. The river was violently flowing at the bottom of a trench about 4-5 meter
deep. Fortunately, we were close to a wooden plank that had been put in place in order to
facilitate crossing. This primitive bridge was a bit unsteady and it took focus and good
nerves to cross above the raging water.
A few, somewhat smaller glacier creeks remained to be crossed, then we quickly approached the outlet of the valley that connects this largest glacier in Switzerland with the Fieschergletscher further east. We rested there among the broken moraines and were happy that we did not have to climb more than 100 vertical meters of ladders to reach the Konkordia hut. The view back up along the glacier with Jungfrau at the top provided an excellent backdrop.
The next leg went smoothly as we gained about 550 meter to reach the Grünhornlücke saddle. What an impressive view! After almost 5 hours of hiking, we now had our goal, Finsteraarhorn right across the valley. Boy, this looked like a giant. The peak rose much higher than anything nearby, and seeing the ascent route head on, it looked steep.
We continued down towards the Fieschergletscher, keeping left. The final descent was on hard ice and steep enough to require crampons for the first time on the trip. We curved across the Fieschergletscher partially following the tracks of a party that was ahead of us, however, I made a mental note that a more direct crossing might be better for our return hike. We arrived at the hut after 6 hours of hiking. A party of 4 and a party of 2 had just arrived about 30 minutes ahead of us. Dinner (pasta) tasted very good, a small expedition in darkness to supplement the water supply, then sleep.
The two guys left for the summit shortly after 0200, the other 4 did not intend to climb and were due to leave in the morning. I realized that Jan-Frode would take considerable time to climb the 1200 meter vertical from the hut, especially with extremely limited acclimatization, having arrived from sea level in Norway late Friday evening. Climbing the first rock section with lights and then welcome the daylight as we ascended the first glacier seemed like a good plan, this dictated departure at 0530, assuming that we would receive some morning light by 0630.
Up at 0445 and on our way according to plan. Everything worked out as planned, it was useful to have some light on the glacier. It turned out that the party that left much earlier had gotten somewhat lost on the glacier and needed to wait for better light before they could complete that part. We made reasonably good progress to the "breakfast place", where we came upon two climbers that had spent the night there. They told us that they had summited Finsteraarhorn the day before, but not until around 1900. Darkness came about one hour later and decided the location of camp for them.
Jan-Frode felt the effort and the limited air supply and indicated that he was uncertain of the challenge ahead. I strongly urged him to go on and he pushed himself strongly in the next several hours. The good news was that the weather showed no sign of getting worse. From this slope we had a tremendous view across to Aletschhorn, 4193m. Our speed of ascent slowed to a crawl, morale was likely not boosted by meeting one of the two climbers ahead descending. He referred to AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) and a correspondingly bad headache. We carried on and finally Jan-Frode joined me at the Hugi Saddle. This saddle got its name, somewhat similarly to the famous Mohns Saddle in Norway. Both gentlemen gave up their respective summits at those locations while a companion carried on and made the first ascent. We were now close to 4100 meter, less than 200 vertical meter to go. The east side of Finsteraarhorn is shear vertical, the ridge looked pretty jagged with local blocks and spires. I figured that the rock climb/scramble would brake the monotone uphill walk from the glacier and provide new motivation and energy for Jan-Frode. Not knowing the difficulties ahead, but seeing a somewhat spooky first move from a pretty steep snow slope to a short pitch of pretty steep rock, it seemed reasonable to proceed using the rope, but moving with running belays in order to keep progress about as fast as if we had proceeded unroped.
The climbing quickly brought easier terrain where I met the other climber ahead of us. He had made the summit, said he was exhausted and worried about the loose rocks on this side of the ridge. I wished him well and told him to continue down with care. Higher up, the rock got better as we could stay on or much closer to the ridge itself. The rest of the way was fun, a mix of (YDS) class 3 and class 4 terrain, sometimes with phenomenal exposure down the left side. Always good rock and good holds. Near the summit, there was a short downclimb section before the final stretch to the summit. I turned a block on the right and a very solid metal cross came into view. No higher ground and a fantastic scenery. Monte Rosa and Matterhorn, via Mont Blanc to Jungfrau and Eiger, then more distant peaks to the east. The view fully matches our expectations from the second most prominent peak in the Alps. Looking more down, impressive glaciers making their way down the local valleys. It was sunny, quite warm and not the slightest trace of wind. I anchored the rope to the cross and started pulling in, soon the happy face of Jan-Frode appeared around the corner. The climb had taken us 7 hours from the hut and a well deserved rest was called for. Under similar conditions a party in good shape with no altitude problems, should do this climb in about 4 hours, that is with an average rate of ascend at 300 meter per hour.
We rested for 30 minutes, taking in the view and enjoying the warm weather. The descent along the same route went without incident, aside from the surprise triggering of a rock slide in the loose section. The rocks shot down the slope in giant leaps and scattered on the glacier below, which incidentally, is part of the route. We proceeded down the glacier and arrived at the hut 3 hours after leaving the summit. A full day, any thoughts on making it half way back, say to the Konkordia hut, had long been only theory. A good dinner and quiet sleep, we were they only two in the hut this night, laid the right conditions for yet another early start. I needed to be back in Zurich before 1700.
Monday, September 20, we got up at 0500, breakfast and cleaning and closing the hut. The initial downclimb in the dark, starting at 0600, with daylight coming as we were on the glacier with rope and crampons. A more direct crossing proved to be a better route, and before long we were back in the Grünhornlücke saddle. Descending down to Konkordia was easy, a solid rest there before starting the long uphill hike along our final glacier. There was much less water in the glacier river this early in the morning, overall, the glacier was much more pleasant to walk on at this time of day. Things looked good, but this long hill gets gradually steeper and towards the end our speed of ascent again slowed to a crawl. We still hit Jungfraujoch before 1300, the first train departing closer to 1330. To my surprise, this train took longer than I remembered and we stepped off the train and across to the car just 10 minutes before the parking meter expired!
The drive back to Zurich went fine and Jan-Frode returned to Bergen - a long day at the end of a pretty active weekend. I made the reception for my meeting, similarly just on time and reflected a bit on how much fantastic mountaineering can be squeezed into a three day weekend if one has luck with the weather and just decide to try it.