Trip Report
Choss defies gravity - North Ridge of Tödi, Swiss Alps
Thursday February 14, 2019 1:03pm
Over a year ago I mentioned I’d post something about Tödi. It was on a picture in one of my other trip reports, and since Tödi is big, it’s high, it’s beautiful, it deserves more than a picture in a trip report, it deserves a trip report!
Tödi from North. N-Ridge is the line between sun and shade.
Tödi from North. N-Ridge is the line between sun and shade.
Credit: monti
This is the picture from my previous report. Tödi seen from the West s...
This is the picture from my previous report. Tödi seen from the West side in late winter.
Credit: monti

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.
Again, North ridge is the line between sun and shade
Again, North ridge is the line between sun and shade
Credit: monti
Tödi itself is 3614 m high, that’s about 11800 feet. It’s the highest, biggest and most massive mountain in the entire area and can be seen from pretty much all directions standing there, alone. It’s not really an elegant mountain, but it is massive. It has three summits, depending on which side you are looking from there’s a glacier plateau on top. The most common ascent routes are either from the West, via the West ridge as a summer tour, or from the East via the glacier, this can be done in summer or in winter as a skitour. The tough do Tödi from the valley floor in one push with skis, for a total of 9200 feet of vertical gain in one go. No matter which route you choose, Tödi is a serious and long alpine undertaking, not to be underestimated. There are some less visited routes, one of them being the North ridge, which towers above the valley floor like the prow of a gigantic ship. A striking line, hard to ignore. The north ridge consists of 5 distinct upswings. The first small one should be climbed on the ridge. The 2nd one is the tallest and is easiest climbed following a gully on its right side. Climbing directly on the ridge involves steep, exposed, difficult climbing on rotten rock, it is not recommended. The 3rd, 4th and 5th upswings are all climbed along the ridge, the 5th one being the technical crux of the climb with a traverse out to the left and to the other side of the ridge, which goes at around 4+. Finally at the end of the ridge comes an easy snowy arête to the main summit. Guidebooks indicate 10 to 12 hours to the summit.
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.
The red band. This can be followed through for around 1 km or more, sp...
The red band. This can be followed through for around 1 km or more, spectacular choss.
Credit: monti

Credit: monti

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.
North ridge in the background against the sky.
North ridge in the background against the sky.
Credit: monti
Relaxing is important!
Relaxing is important!
Credit: monti
Credit: monti
But it was a perfect day, we left the hut in the dark, climbed the first upswing and reached the bottom of the second as the sun was rising, perfect timing. There Klemens and I had different opinions on whether we were at the foot of the 2nd or 3rd upswing and after some heated discussions we agreed on this being the 3rd upswing. So I started belaying under the shelter of a small overhang and Klemens took off leading the first of what were supposed to be 3 pitches. He is clearly the boss when it comes to climbing exposed choss, so I generously left him the lead. As he went up rocks kept coming down, no surprise. I slowly payed out the rope and tried my best to stay out of the rockfall until at one point the noise was that of something bigger falling. Next thing I see is Klemens’ backpack flying by and then tumbling down the gully below. Followed by quite a few sh&ts and f%cks and other nerve-soothing expressions. Luckily, before dropping his pack Klemens managed to get his hammer off the pack, so he could at least put in a piton for me to lower him. And that was the end of our first try, July 1993, 8.30 in the morning. Done. Backpack was recovered, rest of the day was spent sunbathing and swimming in the river.

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.
Traversing the ledge under the 2nd upswing.
Traversing the ledge under the 2nd upswing.
Credit: monti
We reached the base of the evident gully to follow upwards around the 2nd upswing. You don’t want to be there in bad weather, it must be a bowling alley. In dry weather it’s ok, sort of; climbing choss in a narrow gully, how good can that be?
In the bottom part of the gully.
In the bottom part of the gully.
Credit: monti
Credit: monti
Looking back down,terrain flattens out towards the end of the gully.
Looking back down,terrain flattens out towards the end of the gully.
Credit: monti
Credit: monti

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.
After the 2nd upswing, finally some sun.
After the 2nd upswing, finally some sun.
Credit: monti
Looking North
Looking North
Credit: monti
Credit: monti

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.
3rd upswing, choss sticks to the mountain, but gravity still pulls on ...
3rd upswing, choss sticks to the mountain, but gravity still pulls on the climber...
Credit: monti
Choss anchor, not out of a textbook...
Choss anchor, not out of a textbook...
Credit: monti
Between pitches of climbing the majority of the ridge can be done simul-climbing with just a few meters of rope between. So we finally reach the start of the crux pitch and just for this bit of climbing the rock is solid, well, more solid than before, unbelievable. Real holds and real protection. Sooooo much better to climb slightly harder stuff on good rock rather than easy stuff on crappy rock. We’re starting to get tired and are longing for the ridge to finally finish. This constant exposure and rock of bad quality are taking their toll on our nerves; at least on mine, Klemens doesn’t seem to mind, but he's a machine, he’s the boss.
The boss taking a break and reading some.
The boss taking a break and reading some.
Credit: monti

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.
Finally at the end of the ridge, summit in the background.
Finally at the end of the ridge, summit in the background.
Credit: monti
Credit: monti
Credit: monti
Main summit is in the back to the right.
Main summit is in the back to the right.
Credit: monti
Not much more to go, but we still need to get there.
Not much more to go, but we still need to get there.
Credit: monti

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.
Finally on the summit.
Finally on the summit.
Credit: monti

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.
Looking down towards where we came from.
Looking down towards where we came from.
Credit: monti
Looking up towards where we still need to go...
Looking up towards where we still need to go...
Credit: monti
Main summit on the left, normal route climbs the glacier from bottom r...
Main summit on the left, normal route climbs the glacier from bottom right.
Credit: monti
Now on the West side, almost down, looking back at our descent track.
Now on the West side, almost down, looking back at our descent track.
Credit: monti

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….

  Trip Report Views: 1,418
monti
About the Author
monti is a mountain climber from Basel, Switzerland, and likes having a beer after the climb.

Comments
fear

Ice climber
hartford, ct
  Feb 14, 2019 - 01:11pm PT
Great pictures... I've got to get over there.

To climb in such a chossy boulder filled gully you just need an ice-climbing mentality (limited mentality at best)!

Bad Climber

Trad climber
The Lawless Border Regions
  Feb 14, 2019 - 04:48pm PT
Fantastic. I think a lot of us have done climbs that we're glad we did/survived but would never repeat nor recommend. Thanks.

BAd
Gnome Ofthe Diabase

climber
Out Of Bed
  Feb 14, 2019 - 05:11pm PT
awe so fine of you to think of us. It is an elevated post.
Excellence pounded out on the keyboard after all those pounding steps'

And fast, continuous too!
A grueling amount of climbing some rubble (choss)
but your line looked fun.

All done with attention to the details and using gear that is at once recognizable & of an age to be proud of.

I think I liked that part best. Always happy to see this sort of mileage & from a person still happy to have his old figure eight in prominent view.

Thank You for taking us for a mega- climb up the flanks., choss is, and when it gets the right attention, some of us get jealous.
Reilly

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
  Feb 14, 2019 - 05:26pm PT
Very nicely written! Nothing like world class choss with world class scenery!
At first I thought the mountain was named Tod! 😬
healyje

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
  Feb 14, 2019 - 05:37pm PT
That just plain looks nasty.
Don Paul

Social climber
Washington DC
  Feb 14, 2019 - 06:12pm PT
Great pictures, felt like I was right there.
Fritz

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
  Feb 14, 2019 - 07:00pm PT
A wonderful trip report. Good writting, great photos, & awesome choss. Thank you!
neebee

Social climber
calif/texas
  Feb 14, 2019 - 10:12pm PT
hey there say, monti... man oh man... neat stuff here...

wheww... interesting rock...
(i am not a climber) ... so, i look at it, as art-work... :)


thanks for sharing...
great photos, too...

good to see you got the goal, reached...
and, done...
:)
capseeboy

Social climber
wandering star
  Feb 15, 2019 - 11:11am PT
Well done. Cheers!
ground_up

Trad climber
mt. hood /baja
  Feb 15, 2019 - 03:01pm PT
A chossfest of the highest order ! wow.
Ghost

climber
A long way from where I started
  Feb 15, 2019 - 07:46pm PT
Maybe I should go see a psychologist….

Hmmm. I think the answer to that depends on whether you decide to get on some of the other choss lines that are there in your mind, or whether you decide to get you fix some other way.

We've all done it. Most of the regulars around here probably have more than one choss story to tell. But most of us eventually realized that there were alternatives. King lines that didn't come apart under our hands and feet.

But still, great TR. Thanks for posting it.
monti

Mountain climber
Basel, Switzerland
Author's Reply  Feb 17, 2019 - 10:17pm PT
Thanks for all the comments! Yes, choss is definitively a part of alpinism, some mountains just don‘t come without it.
Reilly, I did some research on the name. Tödi in this case does not relate to Tod, death, although that‘s not far fetched. Here it relates to the pastures and the area under the mountain, which back in the years were difficult to reach, desolate and inhospitable. Desolate is Öde in German and from Öde the mountain got the name Tödi. So it‘s only desolte and inhospitable, but not deadly. Quite a thing, you can get on there not worry and be happy; just bring some company.
Mike.

climber
  Feb 18, 2019 - 03:31am PT
Fantastic! Thanks for the share.
Don Paul

Social climber
Washington DC
  Feb 18, 2019 - 09:55am PT
^ He's right, the tops of the rocky mtn's are made of choss too. It's not something you have to seek out lol. Sometimes more solid in the winter when frozen.
Marlow

Sport climber
OSLO
  Feb 18, 2019 - 10:02am PT

Thanks for a great TR. One of the first ice axe models of Hupfauf in Einsiedeln, Switzerland, got it's name from this mountain - Hupfauf's Marke Tödi.
Cellinski

climber
  Feb 22, 2019 - 06:25am PT
Awesome report, many thanks!

Despite (or maybe even because of) your TR, I might climb Tödi North Ridge somewhen in the future. Considered this route for a long time already... never materialized so far. One point was definitely the uncertainty with respect to difficulty and objective risks. But considering your writing and especially the pictures, it actually looks and sounds quite a lot better than I had feared.

Do you have any chance to compare it to other routes in Switzerland which are in similar style?!? That would be very valuable because it might result in a common point of reference. I for example climbed Ruchen Glärnisch Nordpfeiler last summer (trip report with many pictures but German text [with option of auto-translate...] here: https://mdettling.blogspot.com/2018/09/glarnisch-ruchen-nordpfeiler-td-5c6a.html); last summer.

It seems to me that the hardest climbing on Ruchenpfeiler is clearly more difficult than Tödi North Ridge (it is in the French 5c/6a, resp. UIAA 6/6+ or 5.9/.10a range). But these sections are mostly on ok rock, some are even nice to climb. On the other hand there is also a fair amount of choss, plus some steep grass that is also fairly delicate. Last, routefinding on Ruchenpfeiler is a major issue, Tödi seems easier in this regard as well.

But what do I know... at least your TR encourages me to try.
FRUMY

Trad climber
Bishop,CA
  Feb 22, 2019 - 07:49am PT
TFPU
monti

Mountain climber
Basel, Switzerland
Author's Reply  Feb 23, 2019 - 01:19am PT
Cellinsky, if you did Ruchen Nordpfeiler, Tödi will not be an issue. It‘s technically easier and routefinding is rather straightforward. Just make sure to go around the second upswing rather than over it. Then again, it seems you‘re a better climber than I am, so you will have to give it a look, it certainly goes but it‘s choss. No T6 terrain as far as I can remember and crazy views along the whole ridge.

Comparing to other climbs in Switzerland: tougher than Guppengrat on Glärnisch or than Rotgrat on Alphibel, both technically and mentally. Technically easier than cresta Rey, Signalgrat and Dent Blanche (normal route), but I found it more challenging mentally.

Let me know how it goes, enjoy it and stay safe!
JEleazarian

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Feb 23, 2019 - 01:58am PT
Very nice! That's the way I've always imagined real alpinism -- snow, ice, choss, length and lots of exposure. Thank you much.


John
Go