the forecast looked pretty gloomy for friday, but the hike was only supposed to be a couple hours long to the hut and we figured with saturday and sunday looking good we could have a pretty good chance at a weather window. we got to the first hut after getting some amazing views of the ice falls coming off of a receding glacier, and hiking right next to a very new hanging valley carved out by it. it's pretty impressive to see mother nature and glaciation in action, the way all that frozen ice can move that much land mass is astounding! once we got up to the hut, i left magdalena for a while to drink tea and try and shed some altitude sickness (we had ascended over 1400 meters already that day) and i went off to check out the first part of our route that we'd be heading up in the dark the next morning. when i came back, there was a small family of mountain goats right next to the hut hanging out and licking salt off the rocks! they didn't seem to mind at all that we were there, and the biggest one even seemed like he was posing for photographs as the little ones played with each other banging their horns together. it was getting cold and starting to snow.
i chatted with some of the other climbers and their guides about what routes they were doing, as well as current conditions. everyone was still hopeful on a good weather window for the next 48 hours, and conditions seemed a bit chilly, but overall dry. we woke up with everyone else the next day at about 2:30am to pack, eat a quick breakfast, rack up, and out the door at 3:30. once we got to the trail junction where our route began, everyone split off towards the lower glacier leading to the nadelhorn as we started working our way up to the ridge accessing the gr. bigerhorn.
we climbed up mostly talus fields till we gained the proper ridge. being alone in the higher elevation, the drop in temperature causing the snow to fall heavier and stick to the rocks, and seeing all those headlamps far below on the glacier really added to the sense of adventure for us. until we reached the summit we were pretty sheltered from the wind, but afterwards it was pretty brutal alpine territory. biting cold winds with snow all around, freezing our water, and cutting our visibility down to about 10 meters. we shortened the rope and donned our crampons so we wouldn't slip on the icy rock as we got onto the next ridgeline along our route.
the routefinding was a little tricky with the limited visibility, but we eventually made it to the little ice field below the second peak. luckily it wasn't completely iced over in a sheet, and we could get good traction going up. it was steep enough to really work us, but we flew up in pretty good time, mostly since it was so exposed we didn't dare to stop moving. we followed the snow and ice around rock croppings wherever we could, and before we knew it we had gained our second summit at 9:30. we stopped to take a quick picture and headed off again before we lost too much heat standing in the snowy wind. there's a great picture of magdalena with ice frozen in her eyelashes and hair. yeah, it was that cold.
as we headed down the ridge towards the saddle between us and the ulrichshorn, the storm started to subside a bit, and for the first time we were able to catch glimpses between the clouds of our surroundings. 4000 meter peaks seemed to just pop out of the clouds randomly as the clouds would split, forming windows that framed this beautiful landscape. we would have to stop in our tracks and marvel in it, it was so breathtaking. luckily we only got little glimpses at a time, or else we might have been completely overwhelmed as the clouds all cleared while we sat down near the saddle to take our first break since we started.
going up the last peak, the ulrichshorn, reminded me a lot of rainier. steep, relentless snow, and lots of step kicking. we approached the mountain by a different ridge than everyone else, so we had to forge our own trail up this beast. the day was beginning to take its toll on the both of us, as well as the ever increasing altitude. about 300 meters from the summit, we were both trying to suck in as much of the thin air as possible while fighting with the fresh powder that had just fallen, our batteries just about empty from climbing 8 straight hours. finally, we reached the top to be rewarded not only an amazing view of the two valleys and the surrounding peaks, but someone had also built a little wooden bench in a wind sheltered cove on the summit! needless to say, we took a much needed break as we thawed some water and tried to eat frozen candy bars.
we followed the trail down from the summit and were never happier to have footprints to follow. we descended down into the clouds and marched across and down the glacier to find the hut trail. following that, we reached the hut, safe and warm, to find our excited friends from the day before asking about how our trip was. after exchanging stories and pictures, i think we all split off into our rooms to pass out at about 7pm.
the next day, due to winter like conditions up high, it seemed like only the people with ice tools were heading out. all of the rest of us hung out and had a lazy breakfast and tried to get a little bit of sun to warm up. the temperature was still below freezing at the hut, and no one was really motivated to start heading down quite yet. finally, magdalena and i saddled up and got moving once the snow started to soften up, making the steep descent into saas fee a little safer. the descent was practically a climbing route in itself! equipped with steel cables and metal pegs drilled into the blank sections of rock, we scrambled down yet another exposed ridge for a few hours before we finally reached what a normal person might consider a trail.
i'll tell you what, though, the view at the bottom as we had our victory beer was almost as good as what we had at the top! i definitely feel like we earned our vacation down in croatia after that push!