Mönch: 4107m

Beatriz and I left Stäfa on Saturday morning in early November with the van fully loaded and drove to Lauterbrunnen in the Jungfrau region. We had until Tuesday to relax and play in the Swiss alps, after which we both had to get back to work. For once, the Swiss weather decided to cooperate, and it was sunny and warmer than usual for so late in the year.

Once to Lauterbrunnen, we began reducing the piles of stuff we had brought to the minimum we expected to need to climb the Mönch and stay on the glacier for a few days. Being unsure of the weather and conditions in general, we'd packed for snow, rock, or snowboarding to give us the flexibility to change our minds at any point. We also were still not sure what we'd find at the Mönchjochshütte. We knew the hut was closed, and that the winterlager was open, but we didn't know what the facilities were like.

In the end, we carried tent, sleeping bags and mats, plus food and our climbing gear. The packs were heavy, but manageable. Having reorganized, we shouldered our packs and took the Jungfraubahn up to the Jungfraujoch station. We stopped there and took a look at the mountain.

We left the the Jungfraujoch station by the door underneath the Sphinx observatory which opens onto the glacier and followed the well-trodden path around south side of the Mönch to the Mönchjochshütte. The walk took a bit less than an hour.

We arrived at the hut shortly before sunset. The hut and the Mönchjoch were already in shadow and the the mountains around were lit by alpenglow as the sun droped below the horizon. We found the hut empty. For our entire stay, we had the hut to ourselves.

The lager sleeps eight and has a wood stove for heating. The bathrooms were closed and there is no water in the lager, so we melted snow on the woodstove for dinner, drinks, etc. The beds had nice, thick wool blankets and with the heat from the woodstove, the lager was quite comfortable.

The next morning, we woke up and ate a quick breakfast of Müesli and walked back around to the base of the climb. We took the Southeast ridgeline, the normal route. The route starts on a spur of rock projecing south from the mountain into the Aletch glacier. The initial climbing is mostly rock, and is easy, with only a few sections that are more difficult than a normal hike.

About midway up the ridgeline, it became somewhat exposed, steeper and switched to mostly snow. Then the way meets up with the main ridgeline and turns west. There are poles at this point to belay from.

At this point, either we'd climbed above the protection of the main ridgeline or it was simply late enough in the day, but in any case, the wind picked up and it became much colder. Switching headbands to one which would keep my ears warm, I managed to drop my sunglasses off the mountain. I had a good 30 seconds to watch as they tumbled and bounced down the snow to the edge of the rock cliff below and then disappeared out of sight.

By now, it was close to midday, and the rest of the world was awake. We could see tiny dots scurrying around on the glacier out near the Sphinx observatory. Tour planes and helicopters skimmed over the glacier below us.

When we reached the main ridge, we saw that it had a large cornice running the entire way up. We decided to climb low along the ridge, hopefully below the base of the cornice, and to place some protection as we went. At each rope length, Bea would place an ice screw, and we'd leave the rope running through it. I collected the screws as I got to them, and we'd meet together again when Bea would run out of screws. It took us about 8-10 rope lengths to reach the summit.

At the summit, it wasn't clear whether we were looking at the backside of more cornice, or at snow over the firm rock of the peak. Bea placed a separate anchor and belayed me as I probed and climbed the last 2 meters to find out. As if it were planned, just as I rose over the edge and could see the summit clearly a tour plane buzzed the top of the mountain, about 10 meters above our heads.

We spent a few minutes enjoying the view and taking pictures, and then turned to go back down. We decended much more quickly, and got back to the hut just after sunset.

We spent the next few days playing around on the glacier and basically relaxing. We practiced self arrest and had a look into a crevasse. On Tuesday, we packed up, cleaned the hut, took the train back down the mountain, and went home.