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


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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!

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


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
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
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

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!


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.

Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
May 19, 2013 - 10:24pm PT


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
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
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...

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.

Trad climber
Vienna, Virginia
Oct 13, 2015 - 11:05am PT
Woah, I'm working with John S. for my masters degree. He told me a little about this but to hear the whole thing is crazy. I'm gonna look for the scar on his nose when I go talk to him later today. What a bad ass.

Trad climber
Anchorage, AK
Feb 24, 2016 - 09:49am PT

Trad climber
Feb 24, 2016 - 10:02am PT
excellent bump.
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