A Travellerspoint blog

The Ascent of the Schilthorn

The walking route to a Bernese Oberland peak of almost 3000m


Surrounded by the lifting mists which had hung just above Murren I began the ascent. Almendhubel is situated in an area of cool damp woods and grassy alpine meadows at an altitude of about 1800 m and the path (signposted Schilthorn and Schilthorn hut) led up from the station to a small summit where an information board gave facts abut the Eiger which was hidden somewhere in the mist behind me.

The path led downhill slightly at first along a wide grassy ridge before beginning a steep and unrelenting ascent of the slope ahead. This is the course of the Inferno Ski Run from the Schilthorn’s summit down to Murren. Looking at the gradient it would appear that only a grisly death on the rocks below could result from skiing down here. Equally mad, a sign declared it to be the route of a half marathon! I’ll not be entering either race.

It was a peaceful rest stop. Silence apart from distant cowbells and the sound of an unseen stream somewhere. As I watched, the eternal snows of the Jungfrau emerged half seen across the valley. The contrast of the sunlit snow and dark rock hung like a mirage in a hole in the clouds before fading as the mist closed back in.

Now the path turned a sharp left up a wide gully before the angle at last eased and the country opened out. I walked for some time over cropped turf of alpine meadows climbing slowly but steadily. The mist surrounded everything but it didn’t rain and the path was clear to follow. Presently I started to spot patches of melting snow which became more frequent until ahead a seemingly endless snow slope emerged from the drifting cloud.

A group of hikers, who turned out to be English, took form from the fog and informed me that the hut wasn’t far, “just 5 minutes”. They’d taken the cable car to Birg at 2670m and walked down. The way at least that far was easy despite the snow, but they didn’t know what the route to the summit was like.

Up the snow I went and indeed reached a sign in a couple of minutes pointing to the hut just off to the left. From here the way was barred – apparently a rock fall had come down and made the main path hazardous. I followed the diversion to the left across more snow and all of a sudden a gap in the cloud opened up. The way ahead was seen up the snowfields in the middle.

Another steep haul, kicking steps as I went brought me back to the main path and the going at once became easier again. Here were 2 more people up ahead. I must say for a mountain that is accessible by cable car, I’d seen surprisingly few people. Maybe it was the weather or amount of snow but I’d have expected more walking downhill if not climbing the peak. They turned out to be an American couple who’d walked down from Birg, the middle station, which had been visible above as I climbed the valley.

“It’s just great to be without the car”, commented the guy, “not having to worry about parking and finding gas”. I agreed ad told them that I never bothered with one in Switzerland – you didn’t need a car here, the transport was so good. Totally different from being in the States, where buses and trains are few and far between away from the cities. I guess Britain’s about half way between the two.

We bade each other well for the rest of our walks and I headed on up, following a sign for the Schilthorn again. The main path led off around the slope to the left for Birg but my route kept on up to the ridge between the 2 peaks. I guessed it was unusual to find an American who disliked cars, but I just had.

My route now led past a mountain tarn below to the left, with the cloud revealing a variable amount of the snowy wilderness I headed into. Down beyond the tarn there were occasional glimpses of the Lauterbrunnen valley through the ragged clouds. It was a long, long way down and I was surprised how high I was. The air here was thin and cold and the snow was no longer melting. For a while the Jungfrau was visible again and there was blue sky as if I were emerging above the cloud but as I climbed the mist overtook me again.

The route was marked by red and white splotches of paint and small cairns here and there, so despite the snow cover, now 6 or more inches deep in places, the way was easy to find. Up and over rocks in short scrambles followed by plods through deep snow. I paused by a rock as I needed the loo, first listening out to see if the cable car was near by. I didn’t want to be caught with my pants down just as the cable car appeared out of the mist, its full load of tourists clicking away on their cameras. The thought of the cable car appearing amused me, it didn’t of course – I’d gone under its path some way back. I presently passed a memorial to Alice Arbuthnot who was killed up here by lightning in 1865. This served to remind me of the dangers and concentrate on the job in hand.

As the path steepened great care was needed on the snowy parts but soon sections of fixed rope appeared as the route began to follow the crest of the ridge. Beyond it was a misty white void. I reached a minor summit just as the sun came out. Beyond, the fixed rope led across a narrow section of ridge only a foot or two wide, the summit just beyond, with the famous Piz Gloria restaurant clearly visible on top.

I set off across the narrow section, it was a bit like Sharp Edge in the Lake District but the proximity of the cloud tops gave the sensation of walking in the sky. Just to add to the impression of height – as if it needed to – holes in the cloud revealed the Lauterbrunnen valley 7000 feet below while snow peaks floated dizzily on the fog banks like some great oceanic icebergs on the far side of the valley.

I was soon, however, across this rather exciting section and climbing the rocks on the far side by a series of stone steps hewn out of the rock itself. A last breathless climb brought me onto the summit structure where tourists milled about looking cold and the worse for the altitude. The Schilthorn is 2970m or 9745 feet so a rapid ascent from valley level on the cable car would quite literally take your breath away.

The views from here are famous and extend from the Black Forest in Germany to Mont Blanc but today they didn’t! We appeared to be level with the top of the cloud layer so sometimes the sun shone and some of the nearer mountains were visible then the mist would roll back over us hiding all but this cold airy platform.

I went inside for a minute but it was too warm and crowded so I amused myself by watching the tourists come dashing out for a view of the Eiger only for the cloud to come back in before they could get their cameras out of their bags. The simple things are always the best! Apparently there’s a cinema up here where you can watch James Bond in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” which was filmed here. They still mention this in the tourist blurb even though it was years ago. I’ve seen the film, so I didn’t bother on this occasion...

Pete Buckley July 2007

Here are the photos from this trip

Posted by PeteB 08:46 Archived in Switzerland Tagged mountains walking hiking vacation holidays Comments (2)

The Oberrothorn

Switzerland's highest trekking peak


I awoke to the sound of the river right outside the open window of my hotel room. I'd arrived in Zermatt the previous evening after a flight from Liverpool and a train journey up the Rhone valley from Geneva. The first thing I'd noticed about Zermatt was that you can't actually see the Matterhorn from the centre of town, I'd always thought that you could, but a short walk up to the far end of the main street had revealed the particular big grey clouds that hid the national symbol of Switzerland! This morning however had dawned fine and sunny so the views should be good.

The plan today was to climb the Oberrothorn which rises to the East of Zermatt and at 3415m or 11204 feet, is apparently Switzerland's highest peak with a marked path to it. The path known as the Weg zur Freiheit leaves the top station of the Rothorn cableway and climbs to the higher peak of the Oberrothorn. Having arrived the previous day and not yet being used to the altitude, I opted to do the route from there. This would save me the hike up from Blauherd or Sunnegga which would have made a better full day outing though I did intend to walk down to one of these stations from the top. Incidently, if your name's Clarke and you work for "The Daily Planet" then the ascent can be made from Zermatt using neither train nor cablecar but I wasn't up for a climb of over 1800m today!

Leaving the hotel I made my way along the road following the river down to the Rothorn/Sunegga station. The Japanese were out in force though not too many other tourists this early in the season. The weather had cleared up quite well and the digital indicator showed that it was 17c in the valley.

The Sunnegga underground funicular was rather like being on a London Tube Train going steeply uphill. It seemed fast compared to other funiculars I'd been on before and in a few minutes brought me to the Sunnegga station at 2288m. Leaving the underground station I was hit firstly by the light and secondly by the amazing view which greeted me on walking out into the sunlit Alpine pastures. The Matterhorn towered on the opposite side of the valley, its true size now apparent from this high vantage point while further to the right, the Ober Gabelhorn and Zinal Rothorn rose in sharp outline amongst the drifting clouds. South across the immediate valley was the Gornergrat with the line of the railway visibleon its side.

Lingering to take a few photos I then made my way up to the cableway. This section took me to the next station at Blauherd at just over 2500m. From the high pastures of Blauherd, a second, larger cablecar whisked me in a few minutes up to the Unter Rothorn. Up here at over 10000 feet the air was chilly (+3c on the station thermometer) and thinner too. Having come up so quickly, the altitude was pretty noticeable but I didn't feel ill or have a headache so I decided to rest here for half an hour before continuing. If I felt worse then I could walk down from the col to one of the lower stations and still have a good walk.

The view from here was more extensive than from Sunnegga. Zermatt appeared far below in its valley. It figured that I'd be able to see my hotel from here but couldn't make it out for sure. Around the viewing area were pictures and descriptions of all the 4000m peaks which are visible from here. We were now level with the Gornergrat, the silver dome visible on its top and could also see over the ridge to the massive, ice clad peaks of Monte Rosa, Lyskamm and the Breithorn.

After a look at the map I set off. The trail was fairly obvious, heading in a roughly Easterly direction towards the bulky peak of the Ober Rotorn a mile or so distant. The trail led down towards the col separating the 2 peaks, at first over rough stony terrain and then down an easy angled snowfield bringing me to the col at just over 2900m.

"500m to climb - about 1600 feet - should be OK" I thought. The track turned right and led on down in the direction of Blauherd. My route led off up to the left of the main track over a large drift of snow. This narrower path was easily visible leading across the mountainside above climbing steadily.

The summit was up to the left above a line of cliffs and the path seemed to be heading around the peak to avoid these cliffs and go up around the far side of the mountain. There was no difficulty at all so far but as the trail steepened, I began to notice the altitude again. Passing one of the eye shaped monuments, on the route (these describe plant, animal, human and spiritual life as one progresses higher) the route turned around more to the North East towards the icy Strahlhorn and spikey rocks of the Rimpfischhorn and now zig-zagged up to become level with the cliffs on the left. The path turned above these on the ridgeline in front.

Here was the steepest section - easy today but in ice or snow, care would be needed at this point. I was soon however on the ridge, my map showing me to be at 3270m. Below was the ice of the Findelgletcher with a hut by its side, the Berghutte Fluhalp I think.

The route now headed round this easterly side of the peak before doubling back roughly westwards and still going up. I tried working out the height of the mountain in feet from the metres shown on my map but only managed to figure that it was over 11000 which probably accounted for not being able to add up properly! Don't do this route on your first day here!

When it seemed that the air would run out before I made the top, I was suddenly greeted with the view of my starting point, the Unter Rothorn, well below and in front of me, the Matterhorn rising beyond across the valley. Over to the South I was above the Gornergrat almost level with the snowy Stockhorn. Behind, a pinaccled rock ridge ran across and up towards the Rimpfischhorn.

In front the ground fell away leaving the only way up obvious to the right. I turned and walked up the snowfield for maybe 5 minutes where I was faced with a sheer drop off to the North and East and a view to the previously hidden Mischabel Range and the final monument marking the summit of Switzerland's highest trekking peak.

Pete Buckley June 2006 Zermatt

Some photos of the Oberrothorn are available here

Posted by PeteB 08:29 Archived in Switzerland Tagged mountains walking hiking vacation holidays Comments (0)

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