The day after I climbed Weissmies, I worked my arduous way up to Mischabel Hut more than 1500 meters above Saas Fee, to climb Nadelhorn. The Mischabel range is known for its harsh weather, especially the high winds on the ridge. When I arrived the hut, I heard that many climbers failed to reach the summit because of furious winds. I hoped the weather would improve on my summit day, and it did...
One would get no help from cable cars or ski lifts, when climbing in the Mischabel mountains in Switzerland. Hence 2 days will be the minimum to reach any of the summits in this area, and that applies for Nadelhorn as well. Nadelhorn is a moderate PD climb, and the difficulties on the north-east ridge do not exceed II. The Hohbalm glacier is also friendly, making Nadelhorn a relatively safe climb in settled weather.
A steep hut climb
I parked my car in Saas-Fee (1792m) and started the long ascent to Mischabel Hut (3340m). This is probably one of the steepest hut climbs in the entire Alps, and to make it easier for non-climbers to reach the hut, there are a lot of fixed ropes and even ladders along the route. Helmet is recommended on the steepest parts, because there is a certain risk that people above you will dislodge rocks.
I reached the Hut around 4 PM and sat down next to some other climbers to get more information about Nadelhorn. They told me that it had been very windy higher up, and they had cancelled the climb 300 meters below the summit. This was bad news for me. I had originally planned to do the Nadelgrat, a very long traverse of 4 peaks above 4000 meters the next day, but now I was more reserved. Settled weather is mandatory for this traverse.
The evening at the Mischabel Hut turned out to be a perfect one, with beautiful mountain panoramas. By coincidence I shared table with the three Belgium guys I met at the Almageller Hut two days ago. But this time I did not drink any beers, because of my bad experience with frequent toilet trips during the night at Almageller Hut.
Early wake-up call
We woke up at 3.30 AM, had breakfast and I left the hut as one of the first climbers. The trail above the Hut was well marked and rather easy to find even in darkness. It was also beneficial for me to follow the headlights from other climbers in front of me. Higher up the terrain switched between snow and rocks and I had to put on/off my crampons several times, which was time consuming and frustrating. In less than one hour I reached the Hohbalmgletscher, and I was relieved to see (even though it was quite dark) that it didn’t contain any serious crevasses. It’s always risky to walk solo on a glacier, but now I felt rather safe because of the hard and solid surface of snow and ice. I was much more concerned about the return, when the snow had softened in the sun.
It was steep up to the Windjoch pass at 3800m. From here I could see the remaining ridge of Nadelhorn and it looked quite easy from here, even though the snow cover probably would cause some tricky sections higher up. From Windjoch I could also see the large Riedgletscher, which one has to cross when doing the Nadelgrat traverse. I did not like all the huge crevasses, and I decided that the 2 hours it would take to cross Riedgletscher, would be too risky without a rope. It was probably safe to cross it early in the morning. The worst case scenario, however, would be to return over this glacier late in the day, if the attempt of the Nadelgrat traverse would fail because of bad weather etc. Hence I decided to forget about my Nadelgrat plans, and only opt for the Nadelhorn summit instead.
The north-east ridge of Nadelhorn
The first part of Nadelhorn’s northeast ridge was easy. Further up there were a couple of grade II sections, which I climbed carefully because of snow and ice. When the sun started to rise in the horizon, I had stunning views of Lenzspitze’s northeast face, entirely covered in snow and ice. I was amazed to see 4 climbers in the middle of this 500 meters wall, a serious route (D) of 55 degrees steepness. Maybe I will climb this face next summer, but not solo….
The last 100 meters to the summit, was on steep slabs covered by snow and fragile ice. To start a slide here would be fatal, and frankly speaking I would normally have preferred a rope here. However I continued without belays, and a few minutes later I summited Nadelhorn (4327m) in splendid weather, the last meters on exposed and slippery rocks covered by a thin layer of frost.
The view from the Nadelhorn summit was stunning, probably one of the most impressive in the entire Alps. The summit area would probably not have space for more than a few climbers, and I was glad to be alone up here, as the first summiter of the day. Bypassing other climbers up here would have been very unpleasant indeed.
I spent approx 15 minutes alone on the summit, before I started to descend. Some tricky sections were crowded by young and inexperienced peoples roped up in large teams. This created some bottlenecks on the descent, but only minor ones. When I reached Windjoch, I decided to take a short side trip to Ulrichshorn (3925m), only 75 meters above the pass. I was very well aware of that each additional minute I spent on Ulrichshorn, would soften the Hohbalmgletscher and increase the dangers. But as I’ve stated before, I could not see any real dangers on this glacier (though one can never be sure).
The descent from Nadelhorn to Saas Fee is a 2550 meters downhill, and I must admit that my legs were hurting a lot when I finally arrived the car parking in Saas Fee. Five days in a row in the mountains, and many thousands meters uphill and downhill, I was looking forward to a rest day.