Summits and thunderstorms

“Maybe it’s some people higher on the glacier using a camera with a flash?”. It was a hopelessly far-fetched suggestion and I knew it, but it was the only alternative I could think of to what was increasingly obvious — there was a storm coming and we would have to turn back. Tanya and I had set an alarm for four in the morning, dutifully obeyed when it sounded, and were, an hour and a half later, roped up and traversing the glacier, in the early stages of our planned climb. It was still dark, and the occasional flashes across the sky had us rattled. My camera-flash theory was supported by the lack of thunder, but we managed to snatch a brief patch of mobile-phone signal and checked the radar images. Sure enough, there was a big cell heading our way, and we soon started to hear the rumbling approach of the storm. We high-tailed it back to the cabin, arriving just as the rain started whipping the windows.

We had walked to the cabin the previous day, in perfect sunshine. The cabin in question was the Cabane de Moiry, an old Swiss Alpine Club cabin made new again with a spiffy renovation. Perched above the glacier of the same name, the hut has the best dining room view you have ever seen. It’s not like there is a glacier off in the distance; the windows are completely filled with the steel-blue ice of it, giant seracs falling in slow-motion down a steep slope just a few hundred metres away. Tanya wondered aloud — would anyone believe glaciers existed if there were none left? Pictures of glacial decline in the hut were testament to the fact that, sadly, we may be closer than we think to finding out the answer to this question.

What a dining-room view!
The reading area in the Cabane de Moiry.
The hut and the Glacier de Moiry.

Our plan in coming to the hut was to climb the Pointes de Mourti, a summit of 3564 m, which is listed as an excellent climb for those who are “discovering the mountains”. To get to the top via its north-east ridge you have to do a bit of everything. You cross a glacier, climb a rocky arête, then cross a snowy ridge. Perfect, we thought. We took advantage of a weather window so our trip was timed just right, and everything was going swimmingly until the entirely un-forecast arrival of the thunderstorm. Just to rub our faces in it, the storm lasted a half hour and then cleared off, leaving a beautiful blue day, but us at the hut.

Our goal: the Pointes de Mourti. Seen from the path to the hut.
Pointes de Mourti from the cabin. The NE ridge is towards the camera.
Tanya shaking her ice-axe at the storm, from the safety of the cabin.

But all was not lost! We realised that if we moved fast, there was still time in the day to climb another nearby peak, the easier Pigne de la Lé. It is 3396 m high and has an appealing north-west ridge that leads to the summit, with a very easy descent down the glacier on the south-west side. Fuelled by fresh coffee, we set off again up the same track, the rocks now glistening wet but drying fast in the sun.

Pigne de la Lé (3396 m).

We soon reached the ridge and followed it to the summit, where the view of many of the Swiss 4000 m peaks was available piecewise as cloud billowed up from the valley.

On the NW ridge of Pigne de la Lé, the cabin centre-right.
Another party approaching the summit.
Tanya on the summit of Pigne de la Lé.
Ober Gabelhorn (4063 m).
Prayer flags on the summit.
On the descent.

We headed back to the cabin for lunch, very pleased to have bagged a peak. We spent the next hours hanging around at the hut, using the reading area, watching the glacier, admiring the views, and waiting keenly for an updated weather forecast for the next day. Tanya took the opportunity to practice some mountain yoga.

Yoga next to a glacier.

The weather forecast was unclear. Generally it looked fine for the morning, but there were to be very localised storms in some cases. We decided the only thing for it was to once again get up at four o’clock and to look outside. If it looked ok we would attempt the Pointes de Mourti after all, checking for the 5:30 am weather forecast and the radar on the way. If it didn’t look okay, we would get some more sleep. At four in the morning there were stars out above, so we headed up and, this time, got on to the glacier with no lightning in sight.

Tanya roping up in the morning gloaming.
On the Glacier de Moiry.

The weather held, the forecast was ok, and we decided to continue on to the ridge. Poking my nose over the top of the ridge was exhilarating: underneath us was the north face of the Pointes, with the glacier, the cabin, and Lac de Moiry far below. The clouds swirled around us and as we started to climb the rock ridge, it started to snow – lightly at first and then intensifying. The snow added considerably to both the ambiance and our nerves. We looked at the radar images once again and determined that the snow shower would soon pass, which thankfully it did. We continued onwards and upwards. The last part of the climb was across an exposed snow slope that lead directly to the summit, where a small statue of the madonna was waiting for us. The entire way back to the cabin I had the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” playing on repeat in my head.

View from the NW ridge of Pointes de Mourti.
Tanya on the summit!

In the end the long weekend entailed a pitch of rock climbing, two >3000 m summits, and a lesson in Swiss mountain weather. We walked out from the Cabane de Moiry, caught the train home, and immediately filled the house with wet gear hanging up to dry, which is fine by me because a house full of mountain gear is a great reminder of a fantastic weekend.

On the way to the mountains.
On the way back from the mountains.
August 4, 2014

Comments

  1. Wonderful write-up. Excitement and adventure and coffee and yoga! What a weekend!

  2. Andrea Ewing on

    Amazing Tim! Super jealous!!! Can’t wait to join you for some peak-bagging…

  3. […] huge panoramic view. We could see Bishorn, Weisshorn, The Matterhorn, Dent Blanche, Grand Cornier, Pigne de la Lé, Pointes de Mourti, Mont Blanc, Aiguille du Tour, and across the Rhône Valley the Bernese […]

  4. […] We went back down to the col and then continued on our walk into the next valley, the Val de Moiry. On our way to the giant dam that dominates the lower part of this valley, we took in the view from the Lac des Autannes, from where we could see the Pigne de la Lè, the Glacier de Moiry, and the Pointes de Moirti – all scenes of a trip we made last summer. […]

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