Second ascent of the N face of the Grosshorn (Swiss Alps)

Search
Go

Discussion Topic

Return to Forum List
Post a Reply
Messages 1 - 20 of total 34 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
Guck

Trad climber
Santa Barbara, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - May 12, 2011 - 12:21pm PT
30 years ago, John S. and I put up a new ice route on the Grosshorn. It was a terrifying experience I would not repeat for the entire budget of the Pentagon. I often wonder if anyone ever repeated the route. Does anyone know?

http://www.summitpost.org/grosshorn-n-face-fanchon-shervais-route/710848
steve shea

climber
May 12, 2011 - 12:56pm PT
Looks like a cool route except for the hanging glacier and attendant serac avalanche danger. But it looks like you can get out of there safely with a good alpine start and an extremely low isotherme.
Guck

Trad climber
Santa Barbara, CA
Topic Author's Reply - May 12, 2011 - 01:07pm PT
The upper part is very intimidating, and I was certain I would die, especially after John took a 100+ foot leader fall, right after our bivouac. But what a beautiful place to die!
neebee

Social climber
calif/texas
May 12, 2011 - 01:15pm PT
hey there say, guck.... wow, thanks for the share...

wheww...

god bless...
(i will have to read more, later, though)...
:)
Gilwad

climber
Frozen In Somewhere
May 12, 2011 - 01:42pm PT
Tardivel skied the north face, not sure where relative to your and the '62 line that looks like it may share a lot with your line, cool photo in the link below with some good route descriptions:

http://7jj.org/vadim/books/Selected%20Climbs/128_129.htm

Nice looking face, there is an ice climb somewhere in the area that I did years ago that had a view of it, struck a chord in my memory.
Bruce Kay

Gym climber
BC
May 12, 2011 - 01:52pm PT
that thing looks awesome! even the direct to the left looks good if the seracs are stable. post some climbing shots if you have em
Guck

Trad climber
Santa Barbara, CA
Topic Author's Reply - May 12, 2011 - 02:03pm PT
There are great ice climbs on the W side of the upper Lauterbrunen valley, where you have a splendid view of the Mittaghorn and Grosshorn. Thanks for the URL info (I do not have a copy of the guidebook). Too bad our route is not in it. [photo
Welzenbach route 1932
Welzenbach route 1932
Credit: Guck
id=201806]
Fanchon Shervais route 1981
Fanchon Shervais route 1981
Credit: Guck
Ferretlegger

Trad climber
san Jose, CA
May 12, 2011 - 02:51pm PT
I received a letter from John Shervais, one of the FA on that route with Phillipe not too long after they did the ascent. I have been looking for it for years and if I ever find it I will publish it on ST, as it is one of the most amazing trip reports i have ever read. Phillipe is too modest to tell it, but here is the story as I remember reading it in John's letter. Perhaps Phillipe can fill in some detail and correct any errors.

John Shervais and Phillipe wanted to do a new route in the Alps. For some reason, they picked the North Face of the Grosshorn, and did the long approach to the hut. They started climbing the next day, and after several thousand feet of steep ice, found themselves at the bottom of a very steep, possibly overhanging dihedral, at the top of a 70 degree ice pitch. John started leading out and got quite high in the corner, putting in pro as he could. For some reason, he pitched off into space and took an epic whipper, ripping ALL THE PRO on the pitch and the entire fall was taken by Phil in a semi-hanging belay from a bad anchor. My recollection was that the fall was much longer than 100 feet. The anchor was a soft pin, and it partially pulled and bent 90 degrees. John was knocked unconscious in the fall, and his ice ax had pierced his nose. He was hanging upside down with the ice ax hanging off his nose, held in a hip belay by Phillipe, who was hanging from a single soft iron piton that was half out of the crack and bent. Eventually, John woke up, pulled the ice ax out of his nose (he still has a scar), and somehow climbed back to the belay.

Phil and John were discussing their options, and wondering how they could ever front point down the very steep ice they had climbed to get to the belay. Things were looking pretty grim, and they were really in a tough spot, when suddenly a rescue helicopter appeared and hovered 100 feet away. Apparently the fall had been seen by tourists in a telescope, and the rescue called in. There are a set of standard hand signals that allow rescuers in a helicopter to communicate with trapped or injured climbers, and the crew member on the helicopter started making the gestures (that later were decrypted) to ask if John and Phil needed a rescue. Such rescue would have been a short haul off the mountain. Both John and Phil were quite enthusiastic about this option, as they were both very beat up and stressed out from the fall, but not knowing the right hand signals, they started to wave their arms at the rescuers, who interpreted these gestures as an angry response of "F*#k OFF and leave us alone!!!". So the helicopter promptly turned around and flew away, leaving our horrified and crestfallen heroes stuck at the base of an awful, unclimbed corner, hanging from a dubious anchor above an El Capitan sized void of hard ice.

The lads, having no other options and running out of daylight, chopped a tiny ledge in the ice and had a cold and stressful bivvy. The next morning, John sacked it up and re-led the pitch, but when the rope ran out there was nowhere to belay. Nothing but a lump of rock sticking out of the icy wall with a groove behind it. No place for a piton or ice screw. He tried to untie the rope, but the knot was welded from the fall, so he cut the rope off his harness, tied a big stopper knot in the end, laid the rope in the groove of the rock lump and sat on it. As soon as he called "Off Belay", Phillipe clipped on his jumars and started jumaring up the overhanging corner. When he got to John, he asked him to move so he could clip into the anchors. John pointed out that there WERE no anchors and that he was jumaring off a knot jammed under his butt. It was just one of those climbs, I guess. The lads somehow got that sorted out and retied into the rope, and kept climbing. Hours later, they tunneled through a cornice and arrived on the top, with an epic First Ascent to their credit.

But the fun was not over! They bivvied again and then got lost. Out of food, fuel, and water, they somehow descended the wrong ridge and ended up in Italy, instead of at the hut in Switzerland where they had left all their money, IDs, spare clothes, and so on. They descended for MILES to the nearest little town, where their strong similarity to meat grinder inspectors after a tragic accident alarmed the natives. Stinking, hungry, covered in blood and gore, and without money, they could not stay in a hostel or buy any food. They decided to take the train back to Switzerland. Phil had his Eurail pass around his neck, but John had nothing. None-the-less, they got on a train headed the right direction and John hid out in the bathroom. When the inspector came around looking for tickets, he would do a chimney move across the stall to prevent the inspector from seeing his feet. Apparently this worked, as they managed to get off in the little town at the base of the Grosshorn. Unfortunately, their stuff was all at the hut, so they had to re-do the entire approach to the hut to retrieve their wallets and extra gear.

The scars have now healed on John's nose. Phil builds houses and writes mathematical economics papers. John is a geology professor. All's well that ends well. I guess!
rrider

climber
Mckinleyville, Ca
May 12, 2011 - 03:04pm PT
Awesome tale, Ferret.
steve shea

climber
May 12, 2011 - 03:33pm PT
Great story, makes the route even better, nothing like an epic. On every one of my trips to the alps my first stop was the CAF, Club Alpin Francais, for rescue insurance. It used to be 80USD. But you still have to know the hand signals. Now in retrospect I'll bet you are glad you did not know. What a great memory.
damo62

Social climber
Brisbane
May 12, 2011 - 05:14pm PT
Wow!
tonesfrommars

Trad climber
California
May 12, 2011 - 06:01pm PT
Bump. Awesome.
Hawkeye

climber
State of Mine
May 12, 2011 - 06:29pm PT
great story and peak. but i thought this mountain was in the Bernese Oberland, far from the Italian Border? what the hell, makes a good story to end up in Italy...
Mungeclimber

Trad climber
sorry, just posting out loud.
May 12, 2011 - 06:38pm PT
jumaring on a knot under a butt

i have heard everything now.


amazing!
Guck

Trad climber
Santa Barbara, CA
Topic Author's Reply - May 12, 2011 - 06:54pm PT
Thanks Ferretlegger for the story. It is fairly accurate, except for the Italy bit; The other side of the Grosshorn is an easy slope in the Valais. It was still an epic as John had a sprained ankle and could not walk well. Besides, he looked like Dracula as we arrived at the little train station, and had to hide not only from the conductor, but also from all the tourists. In retrospect, I am glad we did not know the hand signals. I am still wondering if anyone repeated the climb (John named it appropriately the "Kamikase Couloir").
Ferretlegger

Trad climber
san Jose, CA
May 12, 2011 - 09:29pm PT
Hi Phillipe!
Sorry about getting the exit wrong. Glad I got the rest sort of OK. I had forgotten the sprained ankle part. Wasn't there some drama getting through the cornice also? I just remember reading the letter and being riveted! I can still see it- one of those special Par Avion onionskin things.

Good times!!

Michael
neebee

Social climber
calif/texas
May 12, 2011 - 11:02pm PT
hey there say, ferretlegger.... man oh man, what a story! :O
thanks for the share... whewwww.... :O


say, i used to be a san jose, gal, .... :)
*noticed your icon say, san jose...

course, i was a south texas gal, for a bit longer than the calif time...

wow, time has sure moved on....



nothing like a tremendous climbing story to start the night off right...
though, my necks been hurting a tad, since all this "scraping and painting" i been doing on this ol' place here, so:

my night of seeing trip reports and supertopo fun, seems to keep being a tad out of my reach, lately....

but--WONDERFUL to hear that they made it through that wild time...
thanks again, for the share--and most important, a SHARE OF VICTORY in staying alive.... :)
Ferretlegger

Trad climber
san Jose, CA
May 12, 2011 - 11:41pm PT
Hello Neebee!
Phillipe and John are two of my oldest friends. We had many adventures together way Back in the Day. For some reason, we sort of attracted epics. In retrospect, as Phillipe (Guck) notes, having lived through them, we are glad that we had them. I think that one of the reasons that old climbers (and probably younger ones also) relish the retelling of these epics is that they were a short period of our lives in which we were totally "in the moment", and alive in a way that only those who have had some sort of similar experience can appreciate. The clarity of the moments, the intensity, the spiritual purity all become apparent as time passes and we fall victims to the tedium of a "normal" existence. One cannot live "on the edge" very often without falling over the wrong side, but once experienced, it is something that calls out to one for the rest of one's life. Sharing those moments with someone else makes an unbreakable bond that also lasts a lifetime. It is profoundly satisfying.

I do want to make it clear that I was only retelling an adventure that John and Phillipe had, and which was communicated to me via a wonderful letter. Phillipe recently joined the Taco. I hope he will feel encouraged to share some of his other adventures, as he has had many!

All the best,
Michael
Gilwad

climber
Frozen In Somewhere
May 13, 2011 - 12:48am PT
Classic alpine out-there stories for sure, sounds like you got your Franc's worth and then some. That valley is just nuts, stupendous amount of ice climbing when the conditions are good. Here's the photo of the older route, the book pre-dates your climb by a fair amount (I think) so that's perhaps why your route is not shown.

from http://7jj.org/vadim/books/Selected%20Climbs/128_129.htm
from http://7jj.org/vadim/books/Selected%20Climbs/128_129.htm
Credit: Gilwad


The route description for the line 186 reads, "K Grater and F Villiger, 6 July 1962 The difficulties on the route depend mainly on the amount of ice build-up
on the rocks. In lean conditions the route is quite unsafe.
From the Schmadrihut follow Route 187 until at about half-height
on the N face. Now climb steep snow/ice and the rocks above fairly
directly to the summit. It is also possible to follow a line further to
the W. 10-15hr"

Tardivel's ski line is well left of all of all of this, but still intense: http://pierretardivel.aliceblogs.fr/blog/Premires/_archives/2000/6/8/4564284.html

Happy climbs!

Guck

Trad climber
Santa Barbara, CA
Topic Author's Reply - May 13, 2011 - 01:23pm PT
Hi Gilwad,

The route is indeed quite unsafe. John was the instigator of this climb. We felt hot after doing the Lauper route on the Eiger, and wanted a challenge. When we signed the climb register in the Schmadri hut John noticed that the last entry was from two local climbers who tried the same route. The cross and RIP after their name should have chilled our ambitions, but it did not. The first day was an endless tiptoeing on thin ice in the rock bands, and OK ice in the slope. We made it only to about 2/3 of the climb because it was tricky and we moved slowly, and because we had a late start from the hut.
John lead the first pitch the next morning, a steep (overhanging) gully. We were tired from the previous day and did not sleep much. I was hanging from a Cassin soft piton in a dubious crack, and John had the best spot; a rock the size of a dinner plate sticking out of the thin ice. After over one hour, John was quite a ways up when he fell. We were lucky John fell in the overhanging section as he was airborne the moment he slipped. His pro came out like a zipper as there is not mutch there for placements. I cannot imagine how badly hurt he would be had he slipped on the 80 degree ice/rock section. A real meat grinder! After the rescue chopper left, we did not have any options but to finish the climb to get out.
The conditions that year were quite peculiar. There was not much snow on the N face, but the S face was loaded. A few days before our climb, it rained, which created a thin sheet of ice over the rocks (about a quarter inch). The section above John's pitch was like being on a slate roof where the slates are not nailed. In places I could easily pick one of those thin flat rocks. The rocks were held to the mountain just because they were sort of cemented together by the ice. If it had not rained, the snow would have accumulated on top of the loose rocks, making the climb ultra dangerous. There is no way to put any kind of protection in that section, and I was over a hundred feet out before I could put my first piece. I still have chills when I think of that pitch. With a hand badly cut by the rope after catching John's fall, and with visions of him flying through mid air, I was certain I would die. It is quite a strong feeling and I had to find peace and accept my fate before I could lead that pitch. The remaining pitches are in a steep gully dominated by the cornice at the col. I was quite nervous going up to it, and had to dig a hole through it to get on top. I can see why the guide book mentions how unsafe the neighboring route, #186 on the picture, is. Our route goes where the "1" of "186" is printed. It was reported in the American Alpine Club journal of 1981, but was omitted in the SAC and Alpine guidebooks. I can understand why one would be hesitant to repeat the route. On the bright side, the whole experience gives me an occasion to celebrate the extra bit of life the Mountain Gods gave me that day. I celebrate often! Cheers!
Messages 1 - 20 of total 34 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
Return to Forum List
Post a Reply
 
Our Guidebooks
Check 'em out!
SuperTopo Guidebooks


Try a free sample topo!

 
SuperTopo on the Web

Review Categories
Recent Trip Report and Articles
Recent Route Beta
Recent Gear Reviews