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

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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!
scooby

Trad climber
portland
Jan 31, 2012 - 05:16pm PT
I had the priviledge of skiing with Tardivel on the first descent we skied more to the left of your photo. We skied down from the little pass and worked our way down to the skiers left pretty steep and exposed. His wife almost called the moutain rescue on us but we called just in time.
Good memories
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Jan 31, 2012 - 06:22pm PT
John pointed out that there WERE no anchors and that he was jumaring off a knot jammed under his butt.

One of the most epic stories I have ever heard. Thank all are alive today! And congrats on a great climb!
Gene

climber
Jan 31, 2012 - 06:42pm PT
One of the best threads ever!!!!

Thanks,
g
Frenchfree

Trad climber
Salt Lake Utah
Jan 31, 2012 - 07:55pm PT
Great looking route. My brother and I climbed a few routes in the Lauterbrunnen in '71 and '72 when there was ice still in summer. We climbed the left hand route on the Grosshorn that went to the steep step on the left shoulder. It was in early June and conditions were perfect with neve and a step kicked with one kick. We did it as the first route of the season as a training climb and were surprised it only took 4 hours. We never belayed even with the old style ice gear.

I think we got chouinard tools in '72 which made a huge difference although ice screws were still pretty primative.

Ice routes were scary back then and a fall was almost unthinkable even if you could get a good rock pin in. If the angle got steeper than 65 degrees, as in narrow gullies or seracs, we would cut a small nick at head height and crampon up into it.

Apparently the local Swiss boys would wait for early season perfect neve and run up everything. Big difference to climb those faces when green ice and sketchy rock.

cheers Al B
Crazy John

Trad climber
California
May 19, 2013 - 06:32pm PT
OK guys, John here; time for a reality check. Guck and Ferretlegger have it mostly right but some critical details missing.

For one thing, contrary to what Summit Post says, we did the route in 1980, not 1981; and the bivouac was much higher on the face -- just inside the rock band, up in the couloir. We bivied on two small ledges -- so small I had to hold the stove in my hands while Guck held the pot over it, and scooped snow out of a crack to make water.

The first pitch on day 2 was the crux, or the first crux i should say. I put in a tubular screw, and a warthog above that, then a tied-off 1" angle in a crack higher up. I tried to surmount the overhang by bridging between the rock and an icicle (i had good ice hammer but crumby ice axe), but that broke off and bombs away --- Guck says he ran out of rope so it was a good 200 foot - plus fall.

The fall was so long I had time say "Shit!" several times on the way. After I hit the end, I called up to Guck that I was OK -- then I saw the blood on the ice between my feet. Turns out the ice axe hanging from my wrist bounced around between the ice and my face much of the way down. Still have scars from that. The tied off angle disappeared, and the warthog popped out too (turns out there was layer of froth under the ice there). The tubular ice screw is what held the fall.

Went back up with Guck's axe and my hammer, got over the overhang, and set 3 screws all tied together. Then up to what look like great belay ledge. Turned out to be down-sloping boulder with a crack in it. No hardware left, ice too thin for screws anyway. So I cut the rope off my harness, and tied it around a fist-sized chunk of rock i pried from the ice. Since the top of the boulder sloped down, I wedge tied off rock on the underside of the boulder, ran the rope back up thru the crack and around the top -- then stood on it. Guck jumared up, and then led the second crux pitch -- a horizontal traverse into the next gully, over ice about 3 mm thick on shitty rock.

So despite what you have read before, this was actually MUCH WORSE than that. Two people died on this face the year before (not necessarily this route), and it could have easily been two more. Closest I have ever been to death on a climb. This climb was written up in AAJ but we put wrong length for fall -- and they left out our name "Kamikaze Kouloir" -- AAJ has[photo
Close up of bent screw. If you look close you can see dent from carabi...
Close up of bent screw. If you look close you can see dent from carabiner.
Credit: Crazy John
id=303639] no sense of humor.
Crazy John

Trad climber
California
May 19, 2013 - 06:35pm PT
Only one photo per post huh? Here is another pic of the ice screw.

Full pic of the ice screw that stopped the Fall. I always put the U-sh...
Full pic of the ice screw that stopped the Fall. I always put the U-shaped part up cause the tube is stronger, and sometimes you need everything you got.
Credit: Crazy John
SCseagoat

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
May 19, 2013 - 06:42pm PT
Well well Welcome John to the Taco! Love your profile avatar...thought I was seeing right, but had to enlarge it...yup...
We were just down at Phillipe and Elaine's house a few weeks ago going through slides...fascinating watching you guys evolve from boys to men! Crazy stuff...scary stuff...glad you're all still around, bent ice screws, bones and noses!

Susan
Bruce Kay

Gym climber
BC
May 19, 2013 - 08:30pm PT
best climbing yarn here in a while! I particularly like this:

So I cut the rope off my harness, and tied it around a fist-sized chunk of rock i pried from the ice. Since the top of the boulder sloped down, I wedge tied off rock on the underside of the boulder, ran the rope back up thru the crack and around the top -- then stood on it. Guck jumared up

takes a lickin and keeps on tickin'
Brokedownclimber

Trad climber
Douglas, WY
May 19, 2013 - 10:12pm PT
Holy Schizzle, Phillip! What an epic! We'll have to swap some tales this Facelift.

Rodger
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
May 19, 2013 - 10:24pm PT
http://c498469.r69.cf2.rackcdn.com/1981/241_euro_africa_nepal_1_aaj1981.pdf

EUROPE

Grosshorn, North Face, Berneroherland. On September 2 and 3 Phillip Fanchon and I climbed the north face of the Grosshorn by a new route. We followed the Welzenbach route through the first rock band and then, instead of traversing left toward the northeast ridge, continued straight up to the prominent col just west of the main summit. This season’s peculiar weather left most of the 3600-foot, 50º to 60º face above the bergschrund hard water ice, in places with a cover of rotten shingles. We approached the col via the first couloir west of the main summit, which contained 60º+ water ice, rotten near the top. The crux of the climb is a 25 foot-high vertical to overhanging “waterfall” which traverses a rock band halfway up the couloir. I took a 65 foot free leader fall on this pitch, which was just above our bivouac spot. I ripped out two pitons (a soft-iron one in rock and a wart-hog in rotten ice) and put a 40º bend in the end of a solidly placed 25cm tube screw. I suffered a sprained ankle, broken ribs, facial lacerations and a bruised psyche. The difficult mixed climbing of the crux led to a broken area. We then had to traverse right into the upper part of the adjacent couloir. From there a pitch and a half of steep ice led to the corniced west ridge. The last four pitches took seven hours to climb, including the fall.

John Shervais

American Alpine Journal, 1981 page 241
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
May 20, 2013 - 10:10am PT
Holy crap, what a story!

Surely one of the all-time greatest mountaineering epics. Takes you right back to the Glory Days of Mountain Mag.

You guys need to write this one up for a magazine as it really is THAT good.

Thanks for sharing. One wonders how long this route will go before a second ascent? These days the Alps look pretty devoid of snow.
Crazy John

Trad climber
California
May 21, 2013 - 11:44pm PT
As Ferretlegger noted, perhaps the most dangerous part of the whole experience was dodging Swiss train conductors while hiding in the toilet of a Swiss local zug. The Swiss do not look kindly on anyone who breaks the rules, especially on their trains. ESPECIALLY foreigners. No respect for the law!

One last tribulation: after getting thru the tunnel on the north side of the range (but still a couple valleys west of Kleine Scheidigg), we bivied in a field and used our last dehydrated dinner. Our stove ran out of fuel about half way thru cooking, so we finished cooking it with a plastic cigarette lighter, which started to melt before the meal was done.

The next day went to the bank to get some Swiss Francs for trip home. Not like a bank in America; it took an hour to get them to give me money from my account. Apparently in Switzerland, banks are for putting money in, not taking it out.
Crazy John

Trad climber
California
May 21, 2013 - 11:54pm PT
Further clarification: I was not knocked unconscious during the fall -- totally awake and aware the whole time. And I did not land upside down -- quite upright the whole time. Good thing, cause the seat harness absorbed the impact pretty well. I also had a chest harness - bad idea - that cracked my ribs. But I did bleed like a stuck pig. That's when I knew things were getting serious.

Also -- when the helicopter came, we were not signaling for a rescue. I had just gotten over the overhanging bulge, and there was no way anybody was going to drag us off that climb -- not after I spilled all that blood getting up it. Of course, if I had seen what the next belay looked like, I might have reconsidered.

Death or Glory, becomes, just another story...
bhilden

Trad climber
Mountain View, CA
May 22, 2013 - 12:54am PT
Also as bit of clarification, the bent screw is a Salewa tubular model and not a Chouinard screw. Chouinard might have been selling them as they were, at that time, the best ice protection available. The almond eye Chouinard ice screw was a year or two away.
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