Zinalrothorn – north ridge, 2013

Autor: dnia 2013.10.10

Zinalrothorn, 4221 m, Pennine Alps
Route: north ridge, AD, III (3b)
Date: 2013.07.26

We have been thinking about this route for the last two seasons. First there were no good climbing conditions, then there was no good weather. But this time we thought that everything suited us. It was dry and the weather was nice and we had a good acclimatization after two weeks in Alps. Yes, it was a good moment for the encounter with Zinalrothorn.

After descending Rimpfischhorn we were sitting at our camp and admiring our next target, which we could clearly see from here. The view of the sun disappearing in clouds reminded me of an angel that has spread its wings over our mountain. Incredible, magic landscape. Sign? Maybe. We have been in this valley so many times, but „Zinal” has never been so visible, so clear, so… approachable? Ho ho ho. The north ridge was beautifully painted on the horizon, you could almost feel its sharpness.



We go down to Randa and check the weather forecasts. We read descriptions and look at photos. Initially we wanted to do the normal route from Rothornhütte, but the snow conditions up there, above the valley (which we could experience just two days before) had caused some reluctance in us towards this route, on which in its lower part good stable snow is advised – not some riding-down snow pulp. Maybe it’s only an empty threat? Nonetheless we decide to change the direction. We go to Val d’Anniviers. We want to attack Zinalrothorn by its north ridge.

We arrive in picturesque Grimenz, which enchants us with its hospitality and beatiful French (not Swiss) climate. It’s only one valley further than last time, but it has nothing in common with the crowded, commercialized and impersonal Zermatt. Emptily, calm, friendly. These are the consequences of the lack of the local „icon”. Fortunately.

We prepare to our last target planned for this holiday. We decide to go on „light” and sleep in a mountain hut. The route and the mountain are demanding, we want to have a good sleep before we start and do it „as normal people do” 😉 Like everybody, who climbs here. I call the hut’s owner – it’s hard to have a conversation with him, because they are having some problems with the telephone. Finally I succeed. I ask about the conditions – verglas. We decide when is the best time to arrive at the hut and when to attack the mountain. I book lodgings for the day after tomorrow. Finally, the moment comes – we set out!

The route to Grand Mountet Hut, going through Val de Zinal has a unique charm. It is a wonderful route which is worth recommending in itself. It is also relatively long – 10,2km, 1200mH. We arrive there after 4,5h unhurried walk. The view delights us. Three glaciers merge into one – like a small Concordia. Around us there is silent Zinalrothorn, as well as Ober Gabelhorn and Dent Blanche with their north faces. Beautiful, dignified and dazzling.

Ober Gabelhorn

Ober Gabelhorn

We unpack our stuff into the baskets (each person has one, corresponding to his/her bed number), we assimilate a terrific vegetable soup with bread and a portion of fresh cheese and after a quick reconnaissance in the terrain and dose of mountain mysticism we go to our beds.

Next day we set off quickly and ably. After a quite tiresome approach through the glacier we arrive at the start of the north ridge just after 6a.m. The first rays of the rising sun cover the tops of Dent Blanche and Matterhorn, which from this point of view can be seen from its noble profile – the north face.

After a steep approach over a snow ridge to the arm of Zinalrothorn (l’Épaule‎) we leave our trekking poles, we team up and we start our adventure with the fameous „Zinal gneiss”. It is thought to be beautiful and solid. We will see. Igor goes first and I follow him – as a submissive convalescent (still having in mind memories of my knee surgery).

The start is easy. We approach the first gendarme, le Déjeuner (in French it means „dinner” – so I felt hungry…). All guides say that if you want to pass it you should do it from the left (that is from the east), but as far as we have found some tracks of our precedessors on the ridge, then here there are none; I try to go, but I fall in the snow to my waist. Retreat. So we go over the ridge. Interesting – after all, we have one hour delay. What was it with those descriptions?? After leaving „dinner” peak it starts to get sharper. The ridge is spiked with tooths and flakes, doable, however on both sides there is a wast abbys. We go in crampons. It has its advantages and disadvantages. Eventually, we arrive at the crux of the route: le Rasoir. The Razor. It is a several meters long flake (3b), quite exposed, airy you’d say, and after I have got on it I thought „How did he do it??”. „I tightened my tights” – I heard from Igor. Wonderful. I always thought it was women’s domain.

The descent isn’t any less exciting. Another team appears behind us: father and son (the first one is presumably at least 60). They have run along the „blade” – so of course we let them go first, we don’t want to be an obstacle. We go farther. The next stage is a traverse of a considerable crag called le Sphinx rated 3. Yes – it reminds the fameous one. Especially on the way back. The traverse is watchful, safety devices appear in key moments (two running bolts). Just after the Sphinx there is another interesing formation: a sharp ridge, la Bourrique (which means „donkey”). Apparently it can be nicely done with side cling. We try to show our skills, nonetheless it is easier to „mount the horse” while belaying . Finally we face – as we have firstly believed – the main difficulty in the route. Main because of its size. We are already above 4100m, and above our heads we can find a 40m high tower, rated as 3 – la Bosse. However it quickly appears that it is the most pleasant part of the route – really nice, rewarding climbing. Belay is good, on the start. in the half of the way and on the peak of the tower there are belay stances made of loops and cords, somewhere we can see a maillon. Here the passing of other climbers starts: several teams with guides who were doing a traverse of the mountain start to rappel down. We are surprised by their friendliness – greetings, help with disentangling ropes, making way for us, a good word. Is it really Switzerland!? Finally we arrive on the top of la Bosse, from where we go slightly down, then very cautiously on the unstable, melted snow, which slides down with the slightest bad move from the slabs just beneth the summit, on which there is… Finally: our desired summit!

Na szczycie

On the top of Zinalrothorn

We settle for a moment. An sms and an attempt to call us from Poland make me realize that today is my name day! Nice 🙂 Meanwhile other two teams (each with two climbers) reach us from the south-east ridge (Rothorngrat). From now on our lots will be bound together for a while. We don’t have too much time, we change the battery in GoPro, chew a chocolate bar, drink several gulps of water, take several photos and… it’s time to descend. The same route we have just got here. That is – the north ridge again.

The descent from the peak is very gentle, it’s warm and the snow slides down from under our feet. We use short rope. After reaching la Bosse we prepare for the abseil. It occurs that 50m rope is not enough in spite of a halfway stance, we need to live by our’s wits a little, but we succeed. We rush farther, passing la Bourrique and Sphinx, in order to arrive at Razor…

Le Rasoir

Le Rasoir

Climbing it from the south is technically easier than from the north, on our return we use a stance (loops and maillon). It is partly an abseil and partly a traverse – what a hassle, I start to feel tired. The other two teams are rushing after us, we often meet in „narrow throats” and we exchange different remarks, the international cooperation works quite well. Finally we arrive at le Déjeuner, which this time we surmount taking a bypass, but from the other side than it is suggested in the guides (two bolts!) – what’s encountered with a pretty big surprise of our companions, convinced of the rightness of the descriptions from the books. Here we bid them farewell – they rush farther and we, after a moment’s rest, continue our route. We arrive at the place where we have left our trekking poles, which we take and afterwards we descend a horrible, damnably melted snow ridge in order to reach the glacier. We arrive at the hut in the afternoon, where after short negociations with the staff we decide to stay for one more night given a chance to pay for the lodgings the next day in Zinal. We wanted to stay up here longer, to enjoy this place. Unfortunately, the morning comes. We say goodbye to beautiful Val de Zinal, it’s time to set off. It’s sad… But we will soon come back here! 🙂

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