4153 m

Overnight the clouds disappeared and under absolutely clear skies we crept across the glacier into the sun. There was no wind, and no talk, so the only noise was the crunch crunch of our steps in the snow. A couple of hours later, Tanya and I were standing on the summit of our first 4000 m peak. The mountain is called the Bishorn; it’s known as one of the easiest 4000 m peaks in the alps, because apart from some glacier travel it is entirely non-technical. But a summit is a summit, and I’d never been remotely near this high before. Away from us the alps stretched in all directions and everyone in the group grinned at each other before we turned to descend. It has left me with a fierce hunger for more mountains.

To the mountains!

There’s Tanya studying the map on our way to Valais. The Bishorn sits near Zinal in the Val d’Anniviers, and it’s big country. There are glaciers creaking down most valleys with rocky peaks and spires all around. Zermatt and the Matterhorn are not that far away, and Bishorn’s bigger cousins the Weisshorn and Dent Blanche tower above. Here’s a better view of the map that Tanya was looking at:

The topo map of the area around the Bishorn.

This trip was organised by a group of people from Tanya’s work, some of whom are very experienced on mountains much larger than the Bishorn. For me this was an ideal opportunity to get into the hills, because although I have spent plenty of time climbing on rock I had never once walked on a glacier before. Tanya and I were very pleased and grateful to have the opportunity to join in! The group assembled in Zinal and from there we started walking the 1600 meter climb to the Cabane de Tracuit, which is at 3256 m and perched on a rock next to a glacier.

Walking above Zinal.
Somewhere around the 3000m mark.
This may or may not be a rock glacier.
Getting close to the cabin.

The Cabane de Tracuit is brand new this year. It is shiny and has all the mod-cons (wifi at 3250 m!). It really is recent, and just so you don’t forget it, it’s right next to the ruins of its predecessor. As is the custom for Swiss mountain huts, you pay a (large) sum of money to stay the night, but you’ve then also bought a hot dinner, breakfast, the use of a warm doona, and in this case, the use of crocs footwear for inside. The organisation of the hut is extreme. For example, as well as the crocs everyone picks up a plastic box, which you use to put your things in while you’re out walking with your pack. I’ve never seen anything like it before, but I hope to again.

The super-new hut, right next to a glacier.
This is part of what’s left of the old hut.
Roc de la Vache and Torrent du Barmé, seen from the cabin.

On Sunday morning, we were up early with the aim of getting to the summit and back again before the snow got too soft. Where there had been clouds on Saturday night, the morning was sparkling and clear, and we were walking at 6.15. We had 900 m vertical to gain, and it was a matter of just keeping going up the glacier. This was the highest I’ve ever walked, so I was interested to see how the altitude felt. I was pleased to discover that although it definitely made things harder, it wasn’t a problem.

A view worth waking up early for!
Weisshorn (4506 m), seen from the Bishorn (4153 m).

As we continued up the glacier it was awesome to see the rest of the landscape dropping away. Peaks that had looked tall next to the cabin were suddenly way below us, and the horizon stretched further into the hazy distance. At the summit we were treated to a very nice view of the Weisshorn, and many other peaks including even the Mont Blanc! So that was that! Elated, we walked back to the cabin – a lot faster on the way down – and ate a quick lunch before heading ever downwards to Zinal.

On the summit!
A summit panorama! (Scroll right for more).

In all, we descended about 2500 m on Sunday. The trip was fantastic. It was a first step into the mountains proper, and one that I plan to follow with many more. And, just to make matters a bit more awesome, we were back home in time to go to Montreux and see James Blake in concert that night. That, my friends, is the very definition of an amazing weekend.

Tanya heading down from the cabin.
Back in Zinal for a well-earned beer.

Bien sur il faut dire un grand merci aux gens qui ont organisé cette excursion magnifique! Donc merci à Robert, Mélina, David, Lucille, et Stefan, qui ont très généreusement donné leur experience en montagne, et à tous les autres qui ont fait un weekend à souvenir!

To see big-camera photos from the weekend, head this way.

July 18, 2013


  1. Andy on

    JEALOUS!!!! (except that I am coming to visit 🙂

  2. […] worth the effort when we got to the top and could take in the huge panoramic view. We could see Bishorn, Weisshorn, The Matterhorn, Dent Blanche, Grand Cornier, Pigne de la Lé, Pointes de Mourti, Mont […]

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