Clariden from the Claridenhütte

Published by Stijn , 30 July 2013, 20h46.

Region: World » Switzerland » Uri
Date of the hike:27 July 2013
Mountaineering grading: PD
Geo-Tags: CH-GL   CH-UR   Claridengruppe   Ortstockgruppe 
Time: 2 days

"A Dutchman, a Chilean, two Irishmen and a Belgian went to climb a mountain." It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but this was actually the composition of our team for a two-day hike with the objective of Clariden (3267m) in the Glarner Alpen.
On Saturday we took the Klausenpass Postbus up to the Klus/Chlus bus stop above Urnerboden, where we walked up to the Fisetengrat for lunch, and then towards the Claridenhütte, where we would stay the night. What a heat, even at 2000m altitude! It must have been unbearable in Zürich.
At the hut, we had a brief practice roping up for the glacier and doing crevasse rescue. I was the only person in the group who had never been on a glacier before, but on the other hand my Scottish winter experience seemed to make me the most competent person on how to properly use an ice axe...
I was awake during most of the night, listening to the howling winds, worrying if they would be a problem in the morning. We were at the breakfast table at the earliest possible time (5am in the Claridenhütte), but a lot of faff meant that we didn't start walking until after 6am. And then the most experienced person in our group noticed that he had forgotten his camelbak at the hut and had to run back for it...
Meanwhile, one of the most beautiful sunrises of my life! Not that I've seen that many, not generally being an early riser when there are no mountains to be climbed, but still. The sun coming out sideways from behind the pyramid of Gross Chärpf, magnificent!
The Claridenfirn glacier then. Still with a decent snow cover, and very easy going until the final steeper slopes of Clariden itself. And then the summit is right there already. The clouds had just about lifted to the level of the summit, providing wonderful views towards the Klausenpass and further north. To the south, however, Tödi and most other mountains where still shrouded in clouds. Meanwhile, a föhnwind was blowing like a four letter expletive of your choice. We didn't even dare to take out the summit log book, because with near certainty it would have blown out of our hands and ended up in shreds somewhere in Braunwald or thereabouts.

Weird how very different the two days were. Green trails on Saturday with a hot summer sun suffocating us. White clouds and glaciers on Sunday, with much cooler temperatures and wind.
Then the descent, and here the sh** hit the fan a little bit...
Originally, or main idea for the descent was to descend down the Iswändli. One of the wardens of the Claridenhut had however described that as dangerous and recommended the Chämmlilücke as an alternative. The west ridge of Clariden (the direct route to the Iswändli) looked absolutely lethal anyway with raging winds blowing across it, so we descended back onto the Claridenfirn, out of the worst of the wind. The clouds thankfully kept the sun off the glacier for most of the time, so we still had pretty easy going on the glacier, going around the Claridenhorn and the Chammlihoren.
The descent through the Chämmlilücke followed. Why on earth this was recommended to us, I'll never know. (In retrospect, I can only imagine that they did not in fact recommend the Chämmlilücke, but instead recommended to loop around Clariden to the Iswändli, instead of following the west ridge directly, which we must have misunderstood.) Bloody steep, difficult route finding, a stones falling down everywhere... Most of our group (including myself) were definitely out of our comfort zone here. We even narrowly avoided a major accident when the number two on our rope slipped on a steep snow slope, and pulled number three and four (me) along. Ice axe arrest and pray for the best... Luckily a combination of myself sliding onto some stony ground and the number five being able to hold himself, stopped the slide before any harm was done. That was definitely the worst close call to a major mountain accident that I've ever had. The first time I had to ice axe arrest in a serious situation as well. Not a pleasant experience, and obviously our whole group was pretty shaken now, with the difficulties of the descent far from over... I certainly had to rely on all of my mountain experience to keep my calm and confidence. Keep on assessing the dangers, keep on looking for the best route, and keep on working our way down. A few of the people in our group had lost the confidence to do so, and were already thinking about calling a helicopter.
Eventually, we made it down without any further accident. Well, except for me stumbling over a rock with my crampons and crushing my thumb between the ground and my ice axe as a result. But that had nothing to do with the difficulty of the descent, that was just my own stupidity. What was supposed to a quick descent, had turned out into an epic, and we only just made it down to the Klausenpass in time for the last bus at 17:50.
We talked to a farmer down at Chammli and he confirmed that ever fewer mountaineers use the Chämmlilücke, and then mostly only for ascending in the morning. It certainly put us through more than we were prepared for. Probably we should have planned the descent better in advance, and maybe we should have been more critical of suggestions of the warden at the Claridenhütte (but I wasn't present at that conversation, so I can't judge that). In any case, I certainly got a increased respect for the mountains here in Switzerland. In the UK you can pretty much always find an alternative if your planned route runs into obstacles. But the Alps are so massive that once committed to a route, there often are no more alternatives. This definitely makes advance planning even more important; a lesson learnt the hard way.

Hike partners: Stijn

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