After our ascent of the Weissmies, my wife Glenys, my son Craig and I drove to Saas Fe and booked into a small hotel near to the Hannig cable car. The next day we rested, walking around the town and gently exercising our tired legs preparing for an attempt on the Nadelhorn, which is one of the dramatic 4000 metre mountain peaks dominating the Saas Fe valley. (View Location)
20 July 2006 – Walk to Michabel Hut
We dragged ourselves down to breakfast at half past eight and then walked to the Hannig cable car, which whisked us 500 metres up the mountain - we had prevaricated about paying the fare, but it was worth it, sitting comfortably looking down at the path winding up the steep slope below us.
From the cable car station, we walked along a path roughly following the 2,200 metre contour for two kilometres before starting the steep grind up the ridge to the Michabel hut. It wasn't as bad as I had imagined and has fabulous views of the Saas Fee village and valley. You also get great views of the Weissmies and Lagginhorn across the Saas Grund valley.
The path eventually became a scrambling route, marked very clearly with white & blue painted markers. This route is kitted out with “Via Ferrata” style safety cables (and a ladder) and is good fun to climb. We arrived at the hut 3.5 hours later and ate our lunch of bread, cheese and salami outside in the sunshine.
The hut has two buildings, the original and a newer one with a large dining room. We were put into the older building, which had sleeping spaces that are a lot tighter than the Almageller hut. We sat around all afternoon reading and playing games. I had a short walk up the path/scramble towards the Nadelhorn. It looked okay and should be easy enough to follow in the dark.
The hut doesn't have drinking water available “on tap”, so I bought a bottle of mineral war. I nearly fainted when the guardian asked for £5. We had to buy 4 litres of boiled water at £1.75/l to give us enough water for tomorrow. Dinner was at six o'clock and was great – pork, mash and green beans with lashings of gravy. We went to bed at half past eight.
21 July 2006 – Ascent Day
I didn't sleep very well - very nervous about the route up the mountain. Some 20-year old lads came in at nine o'clock and then lay there talking and giggling until someone “shushed” them. I was then woken at midnight by torrential rain. I fell asleep worrying about the weather, the route, my ability, my stamina …
The guardian had said that breakfast was at half past three, so my alarm was set for ten past. The guardian woke us at quarter to three, saying in German that it was “gut” and “varm”, so I got up with the everyone else. Glenys was still asleep, so I woke her – she was irritated because she thought breakfast was at half past three - I told her to get up anyway. I walked into the dining room and mentioned to the guardian that he had told us that breakfast would be at 0330. He confirmed this and insisted that he hadn't woken us - he'd only woken the people who were doing the Leinspitze. Oh bugger, Glenys was not happy having missed out on 20 minutes kip.
We ate breakfast and then hung around killing time, eventually setting off at four o'clock while it was still dark. Learning from my mistake on the Weissmies, I set off at a much slower pace, but it must have still been a little quick because we kept having to wait for Glenys to catch up. Several fitter parties passed us, but we made good time up the initial ridge above the hut, which was 30 minutes of simple scrambling.
Having arrived at the glacier, we put on crampons, harnesses, roped up and started plodding along a path made by the people before us, following the contour to the bottom of the Windjoch. The snow was surprisingly soft – I guess because of the rain during the night. We crossed the glacier roped up with 10-15 metres between us - we'd practised this and crevasse rescue on our front lawn the weekend before we came away. There were no problems apart from a slight diversion off the main path because someone in front had punched through a snow bridge into a crevasse.
We started the grind up the 30°-40° slope up to the Windjoch. We shortened the ropes between us to about 5 metres and Craig and I held coils in our hands, shortening the rope to about 2 metres. It was a hard slog especially because the snow was so soft and we kept punching through the surface. We reached the top of the Windjoch at ten past six. It was a fantastic view down the other side with a long sweeping glacier and the Hohberg Horn in the distance. (I originally wanted to climb the north face of the Hohberg Horn, but seeing it and the extra distance, I'm glad we didn't attempt it).
After a brief rest, we started up the snow ridge, which was an impressively sharp arête. Our route was just on the right hand side on a slope that was 50° at times. It was hard work on the calves because we were having to place our crampons at an angle most of the time. I wasn't too out of breath, so our acclimatisation must be working. For the last 200 metres, we scrambled up rock and mixed ground, reaching the top at quarter past eight – that’s 4¼ hours. The guide book time is 4 hours, so we didn't do too bad.
The view from the top is fabulous. We had a fantastic view of the Zermatt valley including the Matterhorn – it was very exciting to catch a glimpse of my next objective. The top of the Nadelhorn is tiny – literally about one square metre with a metal cross on top, so everyone was taking turns to have their photograph taken on the summit.
A big party of twenty people was trying to come up as we tried to go down. A young Italian lady stopped everyone and let us go first – what an organiser. Then we had to queue on the rock parts going down. Some people obviously didn't like down climbing and in frustration, I took us off-route and we scrambled past the slowest group. It was a walk down the snow arête with our burning thighs and knees. The snow because softer as we descended and just like on the Weissmies and we ended up sliding with each footstep, which makes it even harder on the thighs.
As we descended down the 30° slope from the Windjoch, we saw 2 guys glissading down the slope. I asked Craig if he wanted to do it – Oh Yes! We had a go, still roped as three with five metres of rope between us. I explained how to slow down by using the ice axe, but to no avail – as soon as we started off Glenys couldn't slow herself down enough and we ended up sliding out of control down the slope in a mass of rope, flashing crampons and ice axes.
We all flipped over into the arrest position and used our ice axes to stop ourselves in a tangled mess. Glenys scraped her right elbow and had a sense of humour failure, especially when she saw the bergschrung below us. Once we'd recovered, I cut a path across the slope to the main path - I was not popular...
Back on the level glacier, we extended our ropes to 15 metres between us and walked across without incident. There was just a short scramble back to the hut arriving at half past eleven. We had planned on staying another night, but as it was before lunch and last night had been hell, we decided to go down to Saas Grund and find a hotel. So we had lunch at the hut and arrived at the Hannig cable car at three o'clock. By five o'clock, I was asleep in a hotel after having had a nice hot bath, dreaming of climbing the Matterhorn in a few days time