• Finsteraarhorn
  • 4274 m.
  • Primary factor 2280 m.
  • Location: Bernese Oberland, Switzerland
  • Location: North 46:32.241, East 008:07.566 (GPS on the summit)
  • Difficulty: YDS class 4, French PD.
  • Climbed september 19, 2004


How to get there: We came to Zürich Airport, then drove about 2.5 hours to Grindelwald. From there, take the train from the station Grund (ample parking) to Jungfraujoch.
There exist alternative approaches, but they are all long. In fact, Finsteraarhorn are among the most remote 4000 meter peaks in the Alps.
It is also worth pointing out that Finsteraarhorn is the mountain with the largest primary factor in Switzerland. It is in fact, number two in the Alps rated by this property, only Mont Blanc can claim a larger factor.
Route description: This route involves a very substantial amount of glacier and crevasse crossings and parties must have prior experience with this type of terrain.
Note that the description below refers to a climb on September 19th. 2004. This late in the fall, the snow on glaciers below 3400 meter was largely melted away. Earlier in the season, more (old) snow on the glaciers may be expected. There could also be new snow in September making the glacier hike very difficult. Similarly, the crevasse conditions are likely to change substantially with time.
  • From Jungfraujoch to Finsteraarhornhütte:
    The route follows the track towards Jungfrau initially, but soon forks left and heads down the big glacier towards Konkordia. The first part has a significant, but never steep downhill slope. There were many crevases that partially blocked for rapid progress, forcing us to make fairly long zig-zag manouvers in order to pass. Further down, the slope eases to almost flat and with no snow on the ice, the main trouble are hidden pools of water that are frozen over, but breaks if one inadventedly steps on them. Further down, there is also a significant "glacier river". When I hiked this route, the river flowed violently in a 4-5 meter deep trench. Fortunately, somebody had placed a wooden plank that spanned the ice gorge. A crossing where balance, but even more just a calm approach is required.
    There were a couple of more glacier creeks, but these could be crossed by keeping sufficiently to the left while heading towards the the outlet of the valley that runs east just north of the Konkordia hut. The valley comes out just in front of the quite distinct peak Chamm.
    Below the Konkordia hut, leave the main glacier, cross a couple of moraine heaps of rocks (elevation 2721 meter, coordinates: N46:30.248, E008:02.883) and head into the valley that climbs east. Fairly soon, you will notice an obvious saddle further in and above. This is indeed the final saddle. Hike up the valley, it gets steeper towards the end. With hard ice conditions, one should likely use crampons in this final section.
    You are now at elevation 3280 meter, coordinates: N46:30.817, E008:05.049, this nice saddle is called Grünhornlücke. For the first time Finsteraarhorn comes into view and the remaining part of the route to the Finsteraarhornhütte can be seen.
    Descend on the east side of the saddle, initially quite a bit on your right side, but then bear left and stay quite high as you traverse the upper glacier on the left (upper) side of a heavily crevassed area. Descend more steeply to the main glacier, the Fieschergletscher south of the distinct rock ridge that runs SE down from Grünhorn.
    All that remains is to cross the last glacier of the day, the Fieschergletscher. This glacier has quite a few crevasses, fortunately, they tend to run parallel to your course and this crossing is easier than it looks from a distance. This is a rough outline of the route from the saddle to the glacier below the hut. Well on the other side, descend from the glacier below the yellow Finsteraarhornhütte about 50 meter above you and follow the steep, but well marked (with paint) trail up to the hut. The main hut (that provides meals and accommodation) closes (at least in 2004) early in September, but there is a small self serve hut (sleeps 10-12) just below and in front of the main hut. This hut is well equipped with wood for heating, blankets and kitchenware. You will need to bring your own food.
  • From Finsteraarhornhütte to the summit: The trail starts right next to the main hut and heads steeply up the rock. This picture shows an outline of the route. It is well marked by paint on the rock and the first section, to the top of the ridge is a pretty well developed trail. This ridge connects to the mountain, turn left and hike along the top of the ridge, the rock then continues uphill, this time with a trail that is less well marked (a few small cairns) and also much less clear. This, however, is not important, there are several easy ways and the best route climbs to the highest point of this rock sloping uphill. You will see the glacier above coming down on both sides. This, highest rock point is located at N46:31.536, E008:07.124, elevation 3313 meter.
    From here, continue straight up the glacier, this is the most gentle slope. The slope is icy (snow melted by September) and crampons and an ice axe are needed. Continue on an ascending traverse towards your left (north). You will soon see the very distinct (west) ridge that forms the northern boundary of the glacier, as it comes down from the peak. The glacier slope is even more gentle higher up and it extends with a clearly defined tounge, a bit higher onto the ridge in one area. This is the key to an easy traverse of the ridge. Therefore, head up in this direction, there may be a few quite significant crevasses just before this very upper end of the glacier.
    Once back on the rock, at location N46:31.820, E008:06.985, elevation 3559 meter, locate a very well developed trail that first climbs then crosses the ridge. The last part of this trail is pretty horizontal, the location has been given the name Frustückplatz, the breakfast place. (3616 m).
    The route now traverses about 20 meter across moderately steep snow, in order to reach the more gentle slopes of the upper part of the glacier that is located just north of the west ridge. Below, this glacier is steeper, turning into a pretty broken up ice fall. Thus, the route reaches this upper part in a rather elegant way. The snow covered glacier above has a natural flow with a couple of gentle curves. It is pretty clear how to pick a route upwards that takes advantage of this and therefore ascends in a few big curves in order to maintain quite a gentle uphill slope. The vertical gain on this snow slope is more than it looks, about 500 meter before you reach the Hugi saddle at N46:32.380, E008:07.411, elevation 4088 meter. The view east is impressive, this side of Finsteraarhorn is near vertical and the east (left) side of the ridge that continues to the summit looks intimidating.
    From here, the route to the summit continues on rock. The first few steps from the snow slope and onto the ridge may be slightly tricky, it may be reassuring that the continued climbing to the summit never gets any harder. After the first few steps, you are on the ridge, but then follows a section where it pays to stay well below the top ridge on the right (west) side. Still, it may be best to stay as high on the ridge as comfortable, since the slope is very loose lower down. Be aware of loose rocks and the danger of setting off local rock slides that (in the worst case) may reach the trail on the snow slopes below.
    The route continues along the ridge, often at the very edge above the steep slope to your left (east). The climbing is never hard, it is always easy to find good holds and steps, the route has some exposure whenever it runs along the edge of the ridge. Near the summit, there is a short section where one needs to descend slightly before the route takes on the very last pitch to the summit. Overall, this is a climb that can be done without a rope by reasonably experienced parties when the conditions are good.
    The summit is about a ten meter section of pretty horizontal ridge, not particularly narrow and with a solid metal cross bolted in place.
    The view (see below) from the summit covers most of the central Alps, this is definitely a summit to visit in clear weather. The descent route is a complete reversal of the climb.
    Comments (Trip report): I did this climb with my friend Jan-Frode Myklebust, age 29. I came directly from a meeting in Oslo, Friday evening. A new meeting started late Monday in Zurich. Jan-Frode left Bergen after work on Friday and returned to Bergen Monday evening. His tickets were purchased several weeks earlier and obviously, the weather was a big gamble.
    We came into Zürich as late as 2300, got our rental car and drove to the town of Zug where we stayed until Saturday morning. Up at 0700, a quick breakfast and we were on the way to Grindelwald. After a quick shopping for food we parked at the railway station of Grund, paid the parking meter until 1500 on Monday (way too much, but that was what a number of 5 Franc coins produced). The train ride to Jungfraujoch is always a nice experience, the famous north wall of Eiger can be studied up close, first from the outside, later from the inside as the train runs inside the wall and stops in order for passengers to have a look out. The only trouble with this train is the cost, 146 Swiss Francs per person as of 2004. We arrived at Jungfraujoch shortly before 1230.

    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.