Alone in a group of 19 men
The seven-hour car ride behind us, we ascended in the evening light up to the Täsch hut at 2700 metres; we, that was the three Gore employees: Andi Frei, Luca Cerrutti, Lewis Grundy, and me. You could say we were the international vanguard of the whole Mammut/Gore troop – where, as I was going to find out, I would be the only woman among 19 men. Well, just another challenge I suppose. We used the time to start acclimatising: on Saturday in the early morning, at 4.15 to be exact, we would be heading up, equipped with the best GORE-TEX clothing and GORE-TEX high-altitude mountain boots from Mammut.
Sleeping in a hut at high altitude is one of those things – just not one of my things. When a polite, Swiss German “Guete Morge” from one of the guides of the Mammut Alpine School woke us just after 3 o’clock, the pros around me jumped up as if at the push of a button and quickly put their things together. I needed slightly more time though, as I had hardly slept and felt pretty knackered. We headed out at a slow pace at just after four.
The night was clear, and the snow mantle was frozen solid and held our weight perfectly. The first rays of the sun illuminated the mountains in breath-taking beauty. At the centre of the picture: the Matterhorn, the mother of all Swiss mountains. One of those moments that touch your soul. By then we had put on crampons, and in rope teams of four we continued upwards, over the wide snowfields towards the Alphubeljoch.
The sun came up over the ridge from the east. It didn’t take us long to reach the Alphubeljoch, where we had a break and stashed our snowshoes. Everything had been going perfectly, and motivation was just as high as when we set out. Not surprising, when you’re lucky enough to be in the first rope team directly behind Stephan Siegrist, one of the best mountaineers in the world and also a trained mountain guide. Behind me were Rolf Schmid, back then the CEO of Mammut Sports Group AG, and Andreas Frei from Gore. The day was bright and clear, and the view from up here was incredible. To our west we could see the impressive 4000-metre panorama of Breithorn, Matterhorn and Co. in full splendour.
Ways to the top
The Alphubel itself has many faces. On its eastern side it stretches out as a massive, glaciated hump with an extended summit plateau. This side is an easy climb. From the west, the mountain is a 700-metre-high rock face with several ribs and two significant ridges. Because of the good conditions, we approached the summit over the southern ridge via the ice nose, which presented itself as a more than 40-degree-steep flank. As Stephan short-roped us and hacked small steps into the ice with his pick the feeling was of pure adrenaline. I had to concentrate so the rope wouldn’t keep getting between my legs. Step for step we worked our way up, and as the air slowly became thinner, our heads and legs grew wearier. Finally we reached the long summit plateau of the Alphubel, but the summit cross was still nowhere in sight.
Summit and descent
After 4 hours and 51 minutes, and a cumulative elevation gain of 1895 metres, our team was the first to reach the almost completely snow-covered summit cross of the Alphubel. Awaiting us there: a bright blue sky, zero wind and an unbelievable view – and added to that, a grin on every face, and endorphins pumping through the blood of those who climbed their first 4000-metre peak that day.