The climb was almost back in the dark ages, in 2008. With my good friend and climbing machine Klemens we climbed the North ridge of Tödi.
But there is a downside to the mountain, the rock is choss as choss can be, rockfall is frequent and dangerous, one wonders what keeps Tödi together. I’m pretty sure there’s no geological or physical law describing why Tödi still is where it is and hasn’t fallen apart yet. That’s probably the main reason why the North ridge doesn’t see more than a handful of ascents a year, if at all. I’m sure geologists love this mountain and the whole area, there are impressive stratifications of different colors and it’s really easy to take samples home, they’re all there on the floor. Not really what climbers like, we don’t like it when the holds come off the mountain.
Anyway, let’s get to the climb, which for me has a rather long story too. Klemens first mentioned this to me long before the dark ages, it must have been in the early 90’s, and we gave it a try around 1993. We slept at the Fridolin hut, the usual starting point for all climbs coming from the North. The guardian was a bit concerned as the last party who had tried the ridge had to be flown out with one fatality, not exactly encouraging and not what we wanted to hear.
Klemens tried a few years later alone, not a good idea in my humble opinion, but he never made it to the mountain because he crashed and trashed his car against a roundabout because he was looking at the ridge instead of the road…. Bad Karma.
And so the years went by, we both had the climb in our heads but none dared mentioning it. Until in 2008 I did. It was a great summer, I was in good shape, Klemens always is, I called him and we didn’t hesitate a second. Clearly, we both still had an issue to settle up there.
This time we reached the base of the mountain without crashing the car and walked up to the hut on yet another gorgeous day.
Next morning we started again in the dark and this time no mistakes, we learned to count from 1 to 5 without messing up.
The 1st upswing goes without any problems or issues, one can follow the ridge or also climb one of several gullies to the right. It’s not too steep yet, it’s not too exposed. The first spicy bit is a traverse along the base of the 2nd upswing which required two steps of downclimbing since the ledge we were following had collapsed, bits and pieces of it could be seen further down on the scree slope underneath.
The 3rd upswing goes without problems. Between each of the upswings there are flat bits of ridge, which allow to relax a bit and eat a bite. The views are breathtaking, the bottom of the valley lies at one’s feet and all around are huge walls, gullies, slopes of scree. It is a wild place.
The 4th upswing was the scariest one, more than in any other place it was important to belay a few meters away from the climbing line, in order to keep the belayer out of the falling rocks. The first pitch there really is vertical choss, not really hard, probably 4-. But it’s exposed like crazy and hardly any protection can be placed, and anything placed is really more psychological than real. I don’t think it would have held a fall. It didn’t have to, luckily.
Finally, we reach the end of the ridge and know that we will make it, from here it’s an easy snow arete to the summit and the descent is long but easy. While I didn’t feel the doubt during the climb, I realized then that somewhere in the back of my head was some anxiety hidden, ready to come out at the slightest crack in confidence. The relief we felt when we changed from steep choss to fairly flat snow was huge.
And then we finally reached the summit, just under 12 hours after having left the hut. Perfect warm weather, not a cloud in the sky, not a breeze and not a person around. The late afternoon light was fantastic and we finally took a real break, ate something and were just happy to be there. If the mountain can be seen from far away, then the views from the summit are just as spectacular. And they were.
The descent along the South side of the mountain was still long. Glacier, steep snow and scree, more rotten rock, some downclimbing, but all in all it was uneventful and about 4.5 hours later we finally reached another hut where we spent the night.
This was certainly one of my bigger climbs and adventures in the mountains, a fantastic day. Would I recommend this climb to anyone? Not really. Yes, it is a striking line, yes the exposure is crazy, but there are safer climbs with equal exposure, equally striking lines, but (more) good climbing on good rock. Do those, don’t bother with choss. But why did we do it? Why did I bring it up again after more than 10 years knowing perfectly well what we were going to find? No idea really, because it’s a striking line, because we had failed before, because the solitude and wilderness of a line climbed no more than a few times a year are unique, because to me it’s the king line up this mountain, because of the strong feeling of friendship and mutual dependence and reliance during such a climb. Whatever drove us there, I’m glad we did it. I won’t do it again, not this line at least, there are still a few more striking choss lines I know of. Maybe I should go see a psychologist….