As part of our Way Up project in the summer of 2016, we climbed the central Swiss Alps Oberaarhorn, 3630 meters, from the Oberaarsee near Grimsel Pass. This is an absolute classic easy alpine summit, with great views of the Berner Oberland’s highest peak, the Finsteraarhorn, a hut for overnight or lunch, and what interested us most, all types of terrain, from alpine meadow, to glacier, to 3rd class scrambling for the summit.
While easily done in a day, many still opt for an overnight at the Oberaarjoch Hut (3256 meters), which sits dramatically right in the col splitting the Oberaargletscher and Studergletscher. From the hut, the summit is a pleasant 400 meter walk and very popular for sunrise. I’d go so far as to call this one of the best, easy, non-climbing, alpine summits in the Alps. Which also made it perfect for what we enjoy doing, moving fast and light to alpine peaks. But, this was a day we made a mistake.
Climbing the Oberaarhorn
We left the car at 6 am with light packs, running shoes, crampons, and ice axe. The trail along the Oberaarsee is absolutely perfect for running, from which we watched the sun hit our summit. At the end of the lake is a literal step up and on to the glacier. Here, segment two began and we were quickly forced to put on the crampons to move faster. The route pulls you to the north side of the glacier to avoid very obvious crevasses, and here you begin navigating the maze like passages of ramps and passages amongst crevasses and steeper sections. While never difficult, it is time consuming. Above this section, at about 2700 meters, it finally smoothed out and we could move faster. It was here where we realized that we’d made a mistake. There was more old snow on the glacier than we anticipated and the crevasses were only partially showing. We had no rope… this was a decision we made so as to travel light. In the morning, it was still mostly frozen, but we knew if we descended too late things would be soft and the potential for punching through and into a crevasse much higher. On we went, with a bit more speed.
At the Oberaarjoch, due to the glaciers dropping, ladders are in place to access the hut. The trail for the Oberaarhorn literally starts from the hut’s deck and quickly gains elevation up a rocky trail to the summit. As we neared the summit, clouds began building and our incredible view of the neighboring Finsteraarhorn was gone. So too motivation to stay on top, which was helpful because remember… we needed to boogie down to beat the heat.
Back on the glacier we passed roped parties and did feel the fools for being unroped, especially after spotting holes where people had punched in. With our crevasse radars on high alert, we managed to get through without incident and were soon back on dirt and the gentle trail back to the car.
In the end; 8 hours car to car, 23 km, 1500 meters vertical, one nap on trail side boulder. A classic day in the Alps – but, take a rope.
By Dan Patitucci