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The South Pillar of the Schreckhorn, Bernese Oberland

~ Saturday, 7th August 2010

This summer has been a fairly mixed bag of weather and conditions so far. Early season saw a lot of rain and snow, then a ridiculously warm spell saw a lot of snow go and even the Gouter hut closed for a few days under orders from the Mayor of Saint Gervais. More recently however, cold conditions and regular frontal systems have brought a lot of snow back, coating the Alps in a glorious white blanket and helping top up the glaciers a little.
Fortunately for me this summer I had an opportunity to guide Jonathan Richards, a client of Martin Morans, up the South Pillar of the Schreckhorn before the real snows came.
We started the week with a warm up on the rocky pinnacle of La Maya de Bricola, a lovely gneiss peak high above the Ferpecle glacier in the Valais alps. This proved fun for both training in ascent and descent. The weather was looking better for the main event earlier in the week, so we drove to Grindlewald and walked up to the Schreckhorn hut on day two. What a lovely location, but clearly a long way from the base of our intended route, a good 3 ½ hours in fact. The flora and fauna en route was fantastic aswell., loads of saxifrages, campanulas and a Wallcreeper.
The day started at 1.30, with a standard alpine hut breakfast and stagger out of the door. Trying not to overheat we climbed steadily up the zig zag track towards the Schreckfirn glacier. We managed to time our arrival at the foot of the route with dawn, so once crampons were off we started moving up the lower rocks towards the bottom of the pillar. I was surprised to find that the pillar did not stretch from top to bottom of the face and we had to work the guidebook carefully to keep on track. At one point it seemed to be sending us out into rockfall territory, so I opted for a solid looking pillar on our left which led us safely to the bottom of the very prominent upper pillar. All the while the sun was coating the surrounding Oberland peaks in alpenglow, then warmth. The blue, black, white and orange of the world around us provided jaw dropping views.
The upper pillar is where the climbing gets harder, so we swapped big boots for rock boots and started to pitch things a bit more frequently. The odd peg at a belay was no surprise, but in all I think we saw 6 pegs and the odd wire in the whole route. The solid climbing up here was awesome and all too soon, the ground eased off and the summit was all too near. A col breeze met up on top, aswell as some great views. The south west ridge, the normal route, was our way down. AD in standard, plenty easier than the way up, but challenging and enjoyable enough to keep us on our toes, even right onto the glacier below. A brilliant day out, one that has been on my list for years and possibly one that won’t be beaten for a few years to come!!
The poorer weather did come, so we hit Saas later in the week for the little NE spur on the Allalinhorn. Another fine route, but pretty soft due to all the recent heat.
Many thanks go to Jonathan for being a brilliant client, totally steady on his feet, super fit and good fun to be around. All the best for more good routes.