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Mountaineering in Saas Fee

Posted in mountaineering, switzerland

First published as an LMC trip report

It started with an idea from Jarred. Jarred called Rob with a plan to go to Saas Fee in August, but then his boss vetoed his annual leave. By this point, Rob had the idea in his head, and called Zaheer. Zaheer called Anna, and before we knew it, we had a meet on our hands. Throwing it open to the rest of the LMC, Roderick and Barney signed up too.

After a hot drive through the Swiss countryside, preparing ourselves for the cold ahead via the medium of ice cream, we arrived at our campsite in Saas Grund in the middle of a thunderstorm. We set up our tents in the damp grass, taking care to position The Snorer on the far side of the car to everyone else’s tents, and whiled away some happy hours poring over our various maps and guidebooks, plotting the next few days’ adventures.

In the morning we set out for our warm-up, climbing the Jegihorn. We all agreed that it would be silly not to use our free lift passes to knock off the first few hundred metres, and felt rather smug as we sailed up to the first station in a merrily swinging cable car. A couple of hours later we were munching on our sandwiches and taking snaps of each other at the summit cross before we realised that if we were to repeat the smug cable car ride back down the mountain we’d need to leave immediately, and at top speed. Our newly aching legs debated with us briefly the pros and cons of a slow descent of 2000m versus a fast descent of 1000m, and we started running. We arrived back at the lift station with easily four or five minutes to spare, much to the amusement of the lift operators. Dinner that evening was well earned.

Weissmies

We next turned our sights to the snowy peak of the Weissmies. Heading up to the hut after lunch, we spent the afternoon practising crevasse rescue and pulley systems, and getting used to walking in crampons. A pleasant evening was spent eating mountains of pasta and watching the chamois pass by the hut windows without a care in the world, followed by a night of little sleep, due to a combination of altitude, nerves, and snoring. Still, it didn’t matter too much as we got up at 5am anyway, shovelling down breakfast before stumbling outside to gear up. We picked our way between the crevasse field, following the footsteps and the headtorches of the teams ahead of us. Up the base of the mountain proper; across some patches of ice; between more crevasses and up onto the ridge; a few tense minutes up some ice steps and then we were there, at the summit, suddenly able to look up and appreciate the astonishing view. We took a few minutes to enjoy the moment before the driving wind became too much, and we set off back down the mountain.

Summit of Weissmies

A couple of days later we were heading back out again, this time to spend the night at the Mischabel Hut on the way up to the Nadelhorn. Getting to the hut is a day in itself; a stroll up to Saas Fee becomes a hike up the valley, which becomes a scramble up a ridge, which eventually relents by offering fixed protection for the sketchier sections. The approach did have the advantage of making sure we were tired enough to sleep this time, and we set off the next day feeling surprisingly energetic. Dawn rose as we crossed the first glacier, lighting up the surrounding peaks for us whilst the valley was still shrouded in cloud. The gentle peace was shattered when we arrived the well-named Windjoch and began climbing the ridge under assault from sideways-blown hail. The hours slipped by as we kept our heads down and minds closed, falling into the comfortable rhythm of left foot, right foot, axe, breathing in and out being sufficiently difficult that little space for worry was left. The final section was a mixed scramble, leading to a peak that was impressive in its pointyness, if a little uncomfortable for it. The descent had a few more surprises in store for us, the wind having totally erased our footprints along the ridge. The route was obvious enough, but the footing was treacherous, and all the time we spent practising ice-axe arrests proved useful. Arriving back at the glacier in one piece, we swapped the biting wind for pea-soup fog, and moved steadily in muffled silence back to the hut where we stopped for a quick lunch, and then back down the valley to the campsite, where we ate as much as possible before passing out in our tents.

View from the Nadelhorn

Our final days in the Saas valley were spent doing a variety of fun and rather less taxing activities. We explored Saas Almagell along the bridges across the gorges, boggling at a traditional-style wooden house covered with animal skulls. Another day was spent doing the Mittaghorn by way of via ferrata - this time we did actually miss the cable car back down again, but decided that giggling as we ran out of control down the snow-free ski run was definitely the best alternative. On the last day we took the underground funicular to the revolving restaurant at 3,500m to have the highest-altitude coffee possible, and for one last gaze at the mountains. We drove back to the airport exhausted but happy, each doing mental calculations of how long it would be until we can get back here for more adventures.


Anna spends all of her free time exploring the outdoors, including winter climbing, trad climbing, mountaineering, skiing, and hiking. If it's an adventure, she's happy.