| Monch Guided Climb (Switzerland)
After a successful climb of the Breithorn near Zermatt, Switzerland on our honeymoon trip, Jordan and I were both super excited for our climb of the Monch near where we were staying in Grindelwald next. While I was excited, I was also VERY nervous because I had NO idea what to expect. I knew it would be mixed snow and rock, but the exact conditions were unknown. We also had hired a Swiss guide for this climb, which both made me feel a little more comfortable AND a little more nervous (I didn't want to look like an idiot in front of a guide!!). When we arrived in Grindelwald on the 5th, we called Freddy from our hotel room to check in and chat quickly about conditions. He said there was more snow on the route than usual for this time of year, but it made it a bit easier than if there was a lot of exposed rock. Awesome!
We woke up very early the morning of our climb, ate some Swiss grocery store bought food (much less preferred than the delicious meats, cheeses, jams and croissants the hotel provided), and headed out the door for our short walk to the Grindelwald train station. Once there, Jordan went inside to purchase our ridiculously-priced train tickets to Jungfraujoch (even with a 20% Swiss Pass discount) and we waited for the first train to make its way to the station.
Grindelwald Train Station
We boarded the train, and we were surprised how few people were on it. Wow - this was going to be a great ride to Jungfraujoch!! Aaaaand I was mistaken. Once we stopped at Grindelwald Grund station, a massive swarm of people flooded the train. We no longer had a nice comfy seat for ourselves. Bummer. The train ride went quickly to the Kleine Scheidegg train station, where we had to deboard and switch trains for our final ride up to the Jungfraujoch train station. It was chaos here as everyone from our multi-car train from town was dispersing to multiple smaller two-car trains. After some confusion, we finally boarded an open train and took our seats. It was full of tourists and a handful of other climbers. They had televisions in the cars to illustrate the route, the different stops, and to give more information. Jordan got out at one of the stops (Eigerwand) to look out the picture window. We were literally inside the Eiger, just under the North Face. Crazy that there is a train in this mountain!!!
Kleine Scheidegg train station
We arrived to Jungfraujoch about 50 minutes after leaving Kleine Scheidegg, where we met our guide, Freddy, at the coffee shop. We threw on our harnesses and chatted with Freddy a bit about the day. Then we were on our way out of the train station to set our eyes on the Monch for the first time (we had only been able to see the Eiger from our hotel room in Grindelwald). The staff at Jungfraujoch had a groomed path on the glacier for all of the tourists to walk, so we didn't rope up just yet. We walked about 15 minutes or so to the base of the Southeast Ridge, where we roped up and donned our crampons. Freddy put a long rope between him and I; and a short rope between Jordan and I. Short-roping is the preferred method of travel in Europe, we discovered. Freddy started the short walk across the glacier, stretching out the rope between him and I. There were no visible crevasses yet, but there were signs some were forming. Areas of sagging snow/dips will probably open up soon. Once we got across the glacier and to the ridge, Freddy coiled up the extra rope between him and I in his hand to make it more of a "short rope."
Stepping out of the Jungfraujoch station onto the groomed trail
At the base of the route
And now the fun begins!! We start making our way up, all the while Freddy is giving us tips and pointers. I had used my crampons once very briefly in a mixed climb here in Colorado but it took me a few steps to trust my crampon points ascending the bare rock. Once I got those first few steps out of the way, I was good to go. Freddy set a slow but steady pace, telling us this in advance. One water stop unless we absolutely needed more. We made our way up through some rock, snow, more rock and more snow. There were a few very narrow snow sections to cross with quite a bit of vertical drop on either side. No big deal - just walk slowly, take wide steps, don't get your crampons caught, and keep your axe on belay. We got to our water break area finally, where we had a little bit of a flat spot to take off our packs. The views were simply outstanding. It was a clear, sunny day. We could see the Matterhorn in Zermatt, as well as Mont Blanc in Chamonix, France, to name a view. Freddy was very knowledgeable and was rattling off peak after peak along the horizon - I couldn't keep up.
Water break - a look up the ridge
Matterhorn in the distance
After a very quick break, we were on our way again. We quickly arrived to what I considered the crux of the day: an airy class 4 rock section. A group was descending when we arrived. Freddy quickly ascended up the rock and set up a belay on a fixed metal rod at the top of this section. We probably would have been fine without the belay, but due to the other people around and wanting to get up and out of their way quickly, the belay was probably best. I started ascending first, a little nervous with crampons on my feet, but I quickly got (had to) get comfortable. Jordan followed closely behind me due to the short length of rope between us. Before we knew it, we were up! The other people now got rappelled down by their guide. And off we went. We quickly arrived to the final narrow knife edge, where we took a quick break for some photos and to take in the scenery. The knife edge didn't look as scary in person as I've seen it in photos.
Crux of the day. Traffic jam while our guide sets up a belay.
On the knife edge ridge
Final ridge push to the summit
Aletsch Glacier - largest glacier in Europe
We moved briskly across the knife edge and in about 10 minutes after our quick photo stop, we found ourselves shaking hands with others on the summit (a total of 2 hours from the start of the climb). People in Europe were very friendly. Everyone shook our hands and congratulated us when we summitted, and everyone who came up behind us also got their hands shaken and shook ours as well. It was a great sense of camaraderie and very refreshing. We stayed on the summit for 15-20 minutes, had a snack, and took some summit photos. We waited for a rope team to come across the knife edge and summit before throwing on our packs and making our way down.
A look back on the knife edge
Jordan on the summit
Me on the summit
The knife edge - with people descending for scale
A look down on the route
Jordan led on the way down, with Freddy following behind us. The snow was getting very soft and slushy at this time of day, so I was making purposeful steps on the descent to make sure my crampon tips sunk into the snow. I slipped a few times but was able to catch my balance and sort of just "ski" out of it. Once we arrived back to the crux section, Freddy set up a rappel and lowered us over it to save on time. Freddy ultimately had us descend a slightly different route than we ascended because we (mostly me) more comfortable on rock than on snow. Instead of going around the rocky areas and staying on the snow like we had on the ascent, Freddy had us just climb over and down the rocks. I thought that was much more fun
We got to the base of the route and just as we were getting to the groomed trail where it was safe to unrope, a huge rock slide came crashing down just to the right of the route. It lasted for about 30 seconds and luckily no one was in the slide or below it.
From the base, with people descending for scale
A crevasse forming, seen on our way back to the train station
Us with our guide, Freddy
We packed up all of our gear and headed back to catch a train before the mass amounts of tour groups decided to head back down. Jordan and I said our goodbyes to Freddy once we got to Kleine Scheidegg train station, where Freddy caught a train back to town and Jordan & I grabbed a bite to eat.
Delicious Swiss food at our stop in Kleine Scheidegg on our return trip
Originally, I was unsure about hiring a guide to climb the Monch mainly because of the cost. BUT, I am so glad we did and I'm so glad we chose Freddy. I'm not sure we would have made the summit if Freddy had not been there - not due to our capability, but due to mental blocks. Having Freddy there and knowing he had us if either of us slipped just put my mind at ease and really allowed me to stop worrying so much and focus on the task at hand. He was also VERY knowledgeable and pointed out so many peaks and towns to us, gave us great tips and advice and we just felt like we learned so much about mountaineering AND about the area. We would definitely hire him again if we ever return to the area! I'm so glad I did the Monch - it really gave me a huge sense of accomplishment to do something that worried me so much in the planning process. It's only opened the doors and my mind to many other peaks and has given me a HUGE confidence boost for our Rainier DC climb next month.
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