Glacier Napping – Oberaletschhütte (un)Tour

Let’s recap, get all the facts in place – establish the sequence of events that lead up to me deciding not to do anymore multiday hiking this year.

Early Saturday AM: Bought a ticket to Blatten, the plan is to hike up the Oberaletsch Glacier to a hut (Oberaletschhütte) and the next morning climb the Fusshorn, a somewhat secluded, somewhat taxing alpine rock climb.

Mid Saturday AM: Got to Blatten and found there’s not much there, no cable car to Belalp and nothing makes sense according to the map. I double check the bus stop; Blatten, it says Blatten. For sure I’m in Blatten. By chance I look at my guide book and note that there are actually two small Swiss towns that are essentially in the exact same part of the country but are separated by a few rather giant mountains and glaciers and are both called Blatten. As you might guess, I bought a ticket to the wrong one.

Early Afternoon: Get back on the bus and take a train to the town of Brig. Wait for an hour to get to Blatten (the one I want).

Late Afternoon: At Blatten, catch the cable car to Belalp and start to hike. Now it’s 2000m and 4pm and ETH to the hut is about 4.5 hours. I have a headlamp and the correct map so I’m not worried. 20 minutes into the hike it starts to rain, not hard but enough to soak through the very breathable non-waterproof jacket I’m wearing.

Pre-Dusk Saturday PM: Get to the glacier, it’s not the traditional wind swept inclined flatness you might expect. This is a block glacier. A glacier that is essentially dying, the rocks that were encased in ice that was flowing down to the valley is mostly gone. The rocks remain and the ice and snow have formed a rushing river at the end of the mass.

By rocks I mean pebbles, small bits of the mountain carried by the rivers. I also mean sand and sentiment. Unfortunately I also mean fist sized rocks, body sized, up to mid-sized sedan size and a couple of Hummer H2 sized behemoths balanced here and there. In short, it’s great god-damed blessed maze of rocks and ice canyons. IF you know the way it’s easy. I have a headlamp, I’m not worried.

Late Dusk Saturday PM: It’s getting dark and the sky is covered in clouds, which means I can barely make out the land marks I’m headed for. I have a headlamp but with the cloud cover and light absorbing terrain I have a visibility of maybe 30 ft in front of my nose. To make things better, I hiked up the left side of the glacier, and when I tried to cross and head towards the hut I notice a rather steep ice wall drop off in front of my path.

Early Evening Saturday: Backtrack, try to descend into the middle of the glacier, somehow find my way through the rivers of ice where the water has carved out fantastic canyons, canyons with 30 ft walls that i need to find a way around because they were impossible to see in the dark.

10pm Saturday: I might be on a rock plateau, and if I keep going I might find the hut, but it might be another ice drop off over the horizon of my visibility. There’s no guarantee I’ll even find the hut if I’m in the general area of it and I haven’t seen a trail indicator in over two hours.

I say fuck it and call it quits.

The rains are done with and I put on all my warm dry clothes, new socks, eat an array of power bars and a curry for dinner, and lay down next to a compact car sized rock for the night. the good news is: those emergency space blankets really do work. The bad news is they don’t replace 0 deg mountaineering sleeping bags. I only have a small foam pad and my backpack to sleep on. I get maybe two hours sleep and spend the rest of the night shivering and trying to induce adrenaline rushes by imagining falling from a cliff. On the plus side the clouds clear now and again and I get to see the stars and mountains.

Early Sunday AM: I have a mad craving for a coffee and a chocolate croissant. I skip the climb and start hiking to keep the uncontrollable shivers at bay. I get off the maze of rocks and eventually to the Zurich direct train at Brig. I sit down with some pastries and a coffee and am content. I resolve to spend no more nights in the mountains (this year).

That which does not kill us makes us stronger. (Like that validates my stupidity)