Färichhorn / Bigerhorn-Balfrin-Ulrichshorn / Nadelhorn

Published by Stijn , 31 July 2016, 19h21.

Region: World » Switzerland » Valais » Oberwallis
Date of the hike:23 July 2016
Hiking grading: T5 - Challenging High-level Alpine hike
Mountaineering grading: PD
Climbing grading: II (UIAA Grading System)
Via ferrata grading: F
Geo-Tags: CH-VS 
Time: 4 days

The Nadelhorn: not a bad goal for my first 4000m peak :).

Day 1

Gasenried - Bordierhütte
4h15, 1250m ascent, 50m descent, T4

The ascent from Gasenried to the Bordierhütte ("Bordier" pronounced in a French way) is relatively long but pleasantly varied. The path first goes up through the forrest, then through a fascinating moraine-landscape. The crossing of the Riedgletscher (marked with posts) is rather flat and normally doesn't require any special gear. The final ascent to the cosy Bordierhütte involves a few ladders and a short section secured with ropes.

Day 2

Bordierhütte - Klein Bigerhorn - Bordierhütte
2h, 300m ascent, 300m descent, T3+

Day two is a warm-up and acclimatisation day for us. The Klein Bigerhorn is a worthwhile easy summit, reached within one hour from the Bordierhütte. The path through the Klein Bigerhorn south face up to P. 3146 is also our ascent route for tomorrow morning, so it's good to explore this route in daylight. Starting at the hut, cairns and cat's eyes indicate the best way through a boulder field. After about 100m of ascent, a visible path appears again between the stones. The summit (with many cairns and a dry-stone shelter) is quickly reached along the ridge from P. 3146.

Bordierhütte - Färichhorn - Bordierhütte
3h30, 500m ascent, 500m descent, T5 / II

In contrast to the Klein Bigerhorn, the Färichhorn sees only very few visitors. Even the wardens of the hut can't give us any information on the ascent. As such, our only source of information is a 7 year old Hikr-report by Omega3, which (though concise) turns out to be very accurate and informative.

From the Bordierhütte, an old path with vague blue markings (sometimes easy to follow, sometimes completely vanished) heads north-east through a scree-slope. After a 50m descent, we can start going up again over grassy strip, soon reaching the stony Färichhorn-Bigerhorn cirque. At the steep Färichhorn south-west face, we pick a line aiming for the west ridge. This involves endless scrambling over (thankfully relatively stable) boulders, some of them as large as a minivan. After a lot of gymnastics, we reach the towering summit crag, which can be climbed surprisingly easily from the east (exposed, briefly grade II, the crux is a somewhat obstructed step across a small gap in the rock). The summit cross has been destroyed (lightning?): only one damaged post is still standing, with other bits of wood lying on the surrounding slopes.

For the descent, we follow Omega3's example and pick a more direct line back down into the cirque. This avoids the scrambling over huge boulders, in exchange for a steep slope covered by much looser rocks. It is not a very comfortable route, but certainly a quicker descent option compared to the west ridge.

It's quite understandable that the Färichhorn doesn't see many ascents. Though the terrain isn't quite as bad as it looks from the hut, it's still tough going. The difficulties don't exceed T5, but the grade of T4-T5 applies pretty much non-stop to the whole route, making the Färichhorn more demanding than the grade and the short length might suggest.

Day 3

Bordierhütte - Gross Bigerhorn - Balfrin - Ulrichshorn - Mischabelhütte
8h30, 1450m ascent, 1000m descent, PD / II

After a 3am breakfast, we say goodbye to the Bordierhütte. We climb the familiar Klein Bigerhorn path and continue along the rock-strewn Gross Bigerhorn west ridge. Close to the summit, the path gets rather steep and involves little bits of scrambling (T4). We reach the 3626m summit just before sunrise.

The section from Gross Bigerhorn to the Balfrin north summit is the crux of the route. The Bigerhorn south ridge involves a few bits of challenging scrambling (II). We then put on our crampons for the steep firn slope leading up to the Balfrin north summit. (Going in the other direction, a more rocky line might be preferable to descending the steep firn slope.)

The ridge between the two Balfrin summits is more of the same (a scrambling descent and an ascent over snow), only shorter and a little easier than before.

The Balfrin south ridge is a longer rocky descent without major difficulties. At the Riedpass, we rope up for the ascent of the Ulrichshorn over the glacier. The 400m ascent is uncomplicated, but can be quite testing at this altitude and with already 1000m of ascent in the legs. The Ulrichshorn summit (my highest so far at 3925m) has a nice bench with views over the Saastal.

The descend via the Windjoch (briefly rather steep) bring us relatively quickly to the Mischabelhütte (fairly modern but not quite as cosy as the Bordierhütte).

All in all, this was a fantastic high-alpine traverse with four summits between 3500m and 4000m. We came across two roped parties going in the other directions, otherwise we had the whole route from the Bordierhütte to the Windjoch to ourselves.

Day 4

Mischabelhütte - Nadelhorn (Normalroute) - Mischabelhütte
6h, 1000m ascent, 1000m descent, PD / II

After an uncomfortable night in a badly ventilated snorers' room, we have our breakfast at 4am. The weather forecast was best for today, but when we head out, we find ourselves in fog an drizzle. The cloudy night has been mild, so that even at 4000m, the snow has not frozen over and is soft and wet from the start. Not the most promising start, but as we reach the Windjoch again, the skies start clearing up.

The Nadelhorn normal route goes along the snowy north-east ridge. The snow slope drops off quite steeply to the Riedgletscher, but usually there is a well-trodden path, making the majority of the ascent rather straight-forward. But "het venijn zit 'm in de staart"; there's a sting in the tail. The steep climb to the summit is the crux of the route. To complicate matters, it's really busy and even chaotic at this spot. We find ourselves a little blocked by two parties trying to descend in parallel. As we try to figure out how to get safely past, another party behind us finds this a good moment to overtake... We find ourselves pushed out into the north face a little, steep terrain with not much opportunity for using the rope for protection. It's exactly these kind of situations, caused by the disproportionate attraction of 4000m summits, that I've been afraid off. Luckily, the situation resolves itself without further problems, and soon the joy of reaching my first 4000m+ summit takes over.

On the descent, we avoid being pushed out into the north face and we mostly stay on the ridge instead. This is a better route, that involves scrambling in crampons over small jagged rocks. The crux is grade II and can be secured quite well by wrapping the rope around some of the jags.

The rest of the descent is along the ascent route. The snow is getting quite soft. As the lower bits of the Hohbalmgletscher are starting to become snow-free, some crevasses are starting to appear, so careful there.

Mischabelhütte - Hannig
2h15, 50m ascent, 1050m descent, T4 / K1

After a freshening up at the Mischabelhütte, we start the descent towards the Hannig cable car above Saas-Fee. The first half of the descent is along the notorious via ferrata-style Mischabel-Hüttenweg. Some might say that it's a little excessive how much the path has been secured, but after climbing a 4000m peak and with heavy backpacks, it's quite nice to have plenty of cables and iron rungs available.

Picking a 4327m summit for my first 4000'er might seem ambitious, but (apart from the brief stressful situation just before the summit) everything worked out perfectly. Acclimatising at the Bordierhütte and including the great Balfrin-Ulrichshorn traverse has really paid off. Throughout our trip, the mountains presented themselves as in a picture-book... or as in a dream!

Hike partners: madu, Stijn

Click to draw, click on the last point to end drawing

 31046.gpx Gasenried - Bordierhütte
 31047.gpx Kleines Bigerhorn
 31048.gpx Färichhorn
 31049.gpx Balfrien - Ulrichshorn
 31050.gpx Nadelhorn
 31051.gpx Mischabelhütte - Hannig


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Comments (2)

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Mistermai says: Congratulations
Sent 31 July 2016, 21h55
Congratulations to this great tour! The Riedglacier-area is definietly a beautiful place to climb your first 4000m-summit!

Stijn says: RE:Congratulations
Sent 1 August 2016, 10h27

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