Switzerland Climbing- Zermatt and Saas Fee Valleys

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of spending a week climbing with Jane and Dan in Switzerland along with John Race from the Northwest Mountain School as another guide. After a great year of climbing and preparing, we were ready to go experience some of the classic climbing that Europe has to offer. We did the trip as a 1:1 climber to guide ratio to give us great flexibility in some of the climbs that we choose. I think we all agreed it was a great way to go.

The first day in Zermatt, we awoke to clear skies and stellar views. We settled on an ascent of the Rifflehorn for our warm up day. This climb would provide a bit of acclimatization and some great rock climbing in an amazing setting. Below Jane, Dan, and John are hiking out with the Breithorn in the background. The approach included a train ride up to a short hike. Now that is mountaineering.

The Swiss have their outdoor hiking trails and huts dialed in. Everywhere there are great signs listing distances and hiking times to various destinations.

On the way, we had a spectacular view of the Matterhorn. What a peak!

The route we chose was 6 to 7 pitches long with moves up to 5.6 or 5.7 in technical difficulty. This enabled Jane and Dan to shake off the jet lag and review all of our rope systems for the upcoming days.

You couldn’t beat the view up to Monte Rosa, the highest peak in the Swiss Alps.

The climbing was on really nice, solid rock and consisted of mainly face climbing on good holds.

Here is a typical belay set up- on giant ring to clip into.

Here is Jane at the top of pitch 3.

Below is Dan making some tricky and exposed moves around a corner while Monte Rosa looks on.


Here is Dan, Jane and I up on top of our first Swiss summit together.

It is so cool to ride the train right back to down to town! A lot of saving the knees and ankles in my case.


On the morning of Day 2, we packed up for a two day adventure where we would climb the Pollux on the first day, and descend to the Italian side to stay in the Val d’Ayas Hut. The next day, our plan was to rise early climb the Breithorn Half Traverse, and then descend back to Zermatt for the night. This day (of course), started with a tram ride on the Kleine Matterhorn to get up out of the valley and onto the glacier. Below is Dan coming through the tunnel exiting the tram.

Here is Jane and John heading out from the tram to get out to the glacier.

Here is a view out onto the glacier as we began our approach to the Pollux.

Below is a view down of the steep snow couloir that gave access to the shoulder on the Pollux. Definitely fun climbing.

Here is Dan making some of the initial rock moves in the mid-section of the route. There are huge fixed ropes to use for handholds. We kept our crampons on as we kept switching back and forth from rock to snow.


Below is Jane beginning the rock section. Good thing we put in quite a few rock days at Smith Rock this season!

The final rock pitch required some delicate crampon work on rock to ascend, despite the fixed rope.

Right on top of the rock section there was a magnificent statue.

Here is John and Dan on the summit of the Pollux.

Dan, Jane and I. T-shirt weather at 4000m!

After our descent of the Pollux, we dropped into Italy and stayed at the Val d’ Ayas hut. Its so great to come in and have a beer and an omelet in the afternoon!

The Val d’Ayas hut is on a fantastic perch above the glacier. We were able to enjoy some viewing time in the evening.

After a 4am breakfast, we roped up and headed up the glacier towards our next objective: The Breithorn Half Traverse.

Once on the ridge, the climbing alternated between snow and rock, and often both! This is classic European climbing in the mountains. It was never really hard, but the exposure made it seem pretty heads up!

Here is John leading one of the pure rock pitches on the route in crampons.

Here is a typical view on the ridge looking back towards Monte Rosa.

Jane exiting one of the steeper pitches to the snow.

Our team (minus John) on the summit.

Back in Zermatt, we celebrated our success with a drink and various appetizers. Three summits in three days, we were pretty happy at this point in the trip! As Jane said, “My climbing is at a whole new level!”

Day four on the trip: we decide to head to the Saas Fee Valley and spend two nights in the Weissmies Hutte. Our immediate goal: climb the Weissmies (a glacier climb), and then do a Via Ferrata on the Jagihorn. Again, we enjoyed the fruits of a well operating Swiss train system and headed out with our mountaineering packs…light and quick. Below we are at the train station at Stalden, which is down- valley from Zermatt. Here we are going to switch to a bus to go up to the Saas Fee valley.

After our commute, it was pouring down rain when we got out of the bus and headed towards the Hohsaas Tram. This is probably the only day that we had to wear gore-tex.

After the tram ride, we had a leisurely 1 hour hike to the hut. We needed an easy day after our climbing at the past few days.

Our tradition of afternoon lunch and drinks continued at the Weissmies Hutte.

On the morning of our Weissmies ascent, the view across the valley was amazing.

Here is a view across to the peak looking down the snow cat road. This is an amazing road the actually cuts right across the glacier ice.

The lower glacier had some crevasses we had to detour around. It wasn’t too tricky until we got up to the icefall and serac area.

Here is Dan and John approaching the icefall section.

These pictures don’t do it justice, but it was very wild! It felt like walking on big ice cubes!

Dan and John exiting the icefall to the Northwest Ridge of the peak.

Lucky for us the weather improved as the day progressed! Once up on the ridge we had sunny skies.

Jane enjoying the summit. What a view!

John  and Dan approaching the top.

Dan expressing his happiness on top!

Jane, Dan and I.

On the final day of the trip, we decided to try a via ferrata route on the Jagihorn. This type of climbing almost does not exist in the US, but it is really fun. Basically, ladders and cable are installed along in the mountain, and we clipped into these features and climbed up. It was simply a blast!

The exposure and the fog swirling around made for a Gothic experience on the Jagihorn.

Below Dan negotiates and anchor point.

This is one of my favorite pictures from the entire trip. Jane coming out of the fog.

Near the saddle, you have the option to cross this cable and get on a slightly different route.

Here is Jane approaching the first summit.

John contemplating the crossing. Hmmmm.

John and Dan made an attempt at the crossing, but it was very wobbly. Jane and I decided to go a different easier way.

Here is Dan and John trying to back out of the crossing in the fog. Even Scooby Doo would think this is pretty scary!

Dan and John breaking out to the summit above the clouds.

Jane, Dan and John on the top of the Jagihorn. What a great summit and great ending to an amazing trip.

The Zermatt area is a great destination for variety in climbing. The trams and trains provide great access to rock climbs as well as glaciated peaks, and there is something for everyone. Oh did I mention the rosti?

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