A friend referred to this as the “Horny Tour”. Starting from Rosenlaui, between Meiringen and Grindelwald, it’s a ski mountaineering tour that links up ascents of the Wetterhorn (3692 meters), Mittelhorn (3703 meters) and Rosenhorn (3688 meters). In the world of ski mountaineering, this one has a bit more mountaineering than ski. In fact, word has it that it’s an endurance exam for Swiss mountain guides and has a sub 12 hour time requirement.
It takes a certain type to want to do a tour like this because it really is about the entire experience, and much less about any skiing. So, I asked myself if this is one for people’s tick lists, or even to post about. The answer is a resounding, “yes.” This is an absolute classic for the ski mountaineer masochist seeking a big day full of vertical and mixed terrain. The guides examiners have it figured out, this really is an ideal endurance test piece. Better, you are going to have a full day in a very beautiful piece of the Alps.
Once back to the car, after 8 hours out, my partner for the day, Christoph Moser, summed it up, “That was one of the best ski tours I have ever done”. And Chris knows what’s up when it comes to Alp’s ski touring. His site CHMOSER is a key mountain sport resource from decades of time in the Alps and beyond. My vote, after 16 years ski touring in the Alps, was for full agreement.
The day started at 6 am in Rosenlaui, which the town sign calls the smallest village in Switzerland. There, at 1350 meters, just on the east side of the Grosse Scheidegg Pass, we started skinning steeply through the forest. Rosenlaui sits in what is unarguably one of the most dramatic landscapes in all of the Alps. Rising more than 2000 meters straight above with their hanging glaciers and imposing walls are the giant north faces of the Wellhorn and Wetterhorn. Also, the Engelhörner, a series of sharp limestone towers nearly 1500 meters above. This backdrop also serves as a wall to the massive glacier system to the south. But, one passage does goes through, the Rosenlauigletscher.
In summer, above the Rosenlauigletscher, there is a trail to the Dossen Hut, but even this requires chains, cables and ladders to reach. The place is steep. Come winter, when there’s enough snow to fill the crevasses and smooth out the seracs, there is a passage that goes through the glacier to access the south side of the Wetterhorn. This was the doorway that we set out to do. Once we climbed to the level of the glacier’s rollover, the lane west and across the glacier became obvious. Through this we traversed until we hit a large, flattish plateau below the Wellhornsattel which marked the entry to the glacier accessing the Wetterhorn’s south side.
Once at the Wettersattel it was skis off and stashed, then a quick 30 minute snow climb to the summit of the Wetterhorn. Views from this mountain are some of the best in the Bernese Oberland. Towering above Grindelwald, views stretch from the flatlands of Switzerland to the surrounding Jungfrau Region and all it’s glaciers and 4000 meter peaks. But, for us it was windy… very windy! Down we went.
Back at the Wettersattel we immediately started up the south slopes of the neighboring Mittelhorn. After boot cramponing a steep headwall, we gained the 3703 meter summit and just kept on moving. The skis on our back were serving as rudders who’s steering we didn’t want swerving us off the narrow ridge we had to down climb. Again, this was a descent on foot. At this point, we’d climbed almost 3000 meters and descended 600 meters. We had yet to make a ski turn.
My body was beginning to hurt, but one peak remained and Christoph, fit from skimo racing, was clearly unfazed by the effort. I’d spent the last three weeks shooting easy ski touring in Crete and Bulgaria followed by a lifestyle shoot at sea level in Spain. Moving quickly at well over 3000 meters, with so much vertical, was kicking my butt. But this is what I signed up for. Rosenhorn time!
The last climb was again on foot in a narrow couloir. After boot packing up we gained the south ridge of the Rosenhorn where Christoph took off for the long rocky ridge climb to the summit. Behind, I was blown to the ground at one point and actually slid on my edges out of control, not down, but sideways, in the direction of the wind. I’d never fallen sideways before.
Finally, after an easy rock scramble on a mostly flattish ridge, I reached Christoph on the summit of our last peak, the Rosenhorn. It was time to actually ski, not up, but down, although for me on shaky legs.
After almost three kilometers of mostly flattish glacier skiing on wind board, we arrived at the base of the west side of the Dossen. There we discovered a long, and quite steep, glacier ramp with perfect wind buff for almost 700 meters. The joy of finally moving down quickly, in perfect snow, overrode all pain sensation in my legs. After navigating the glacier’s exit we followed other ski tracks to the base of the east face of the Wellhorn and all the way back to Rosenlaui. Bottom to three tops and back down – 8 hours.
For me it was tough, I had to hang in there to get it done. Looking back on the day, one moment doesn’t stand out over any other, it’s a package deal, and I’ve always found these make for the best experiences.
By Dan Patitucci
To see the track, visit my Suunto Movescount Page.