Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Thursday, 18 August 2011

An Unexpected Visit to the UN

"We've laid on lunch for you" announced Alistair as he picked me up on schedule from the 11.33 at Geneva airport.

The offer was most welcome. Whilst breakfast in the Tannenhof had been more than adequate, I'd scrimped a bit last night, so was getting peckish. I'd enjoyed the scenic journey back to Geneva from Zermatt. The Breithorn was clear again and clung to the horizon for ages on another lovely sunny day, and the white helmet of Mont Blanc had shone like a beacon above the lower heights on the south side of Lake Geneva as we travelled along the lakeside.

It's a five minute journey from the airport to the United Nations buildings in Geneva. A pass had been organised and we lunched with Laurence, Alistair's French wife who works at the UN, and several of her relatives.

Then, whilst Laurence went back to her office to work (difficult, given the stunning views from the windows), Alistair gave me a tour of the site. The UN was originally the League of Nations or Societé des Nations, and the Art Deco architecture of the original 1930s buildings incorporates the 'LN' and 'SN' lettering in its logos on doorways and elsewhere.

The main 'Floor Zero' corridor leads all the way from the original building to newer ones at the other end of the site. Alistair reckons it must be nearly a kilometre in length. It's a bit like a very long hospital corridor!

But the resemblance to a hospital is limited to that corridor. The buildings are spacious and opulent. Several exhibitions, such as Dana Gluckstein's portraits, are on display.

The assembly rooms are magnificent. The Human Rights and Alliance of Civilisations Room, pictured above, was refurbished at the expense of the Spanish government and sports a magnificent ceiling by Miquel Barcelò.

(I could go on at length, but I won't!)

Thank you Alistair, and Laurence, for your hospitality, it was good to see you, and a great way to conclude the trip before nipping back to Timperley for tea.

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Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Tuesday 16 August 2011 - Ascent of the Wisshorn (2936 metres) from Zermatt

Approx 13 km, 1700 metres ascent, 8 hours.

Thanks for all the comments. Tony, I'm probably with the Alans and Gayle in wishing you well on the Matterhorn. We won't be joining you. I may reprint an article by Los and Sarah about their experience on it, for your edification / amusement.

I make no apology for posting a second picture of the mountain, a mirror image of which Paramount Pictures use in their logo. It has dominated my day. The photo was taken 1000 metres above Zermatt, from Höhbalmen, where the steep path from the Edelweiss hut pops out onto a flat area with fine views of the iconic mountain.

I'd started out at 8.30am after handshakes and goodbyes to my five trekking companions over the past week, who I'll probably never see again. I find such partings a little odd - sad in one way, but parting company enabled me to spend a day entirely on my own terms, stopping more frequently but spending longer on the hill. We will be in touch re photos etc, so it's not the last time we'll be in contact.

They were good company, and whilst at one level I felt I was in the company of men of far greater intellect than mine, on another level I felt as if I was on holiday with people like my children, who are a similar age to The Boys.

I should take this opportunity of wishing Andy well in his attempt in the next day or two to climb Mont Blanc.

I followed Dave's suggestion this morning and took a left turn at GramPi's, heading up the gorge in t-shirt and shorts to Edelweiss hut to enjoy a coffee overlooking the town.

Then up past nutcrackers, wheatears and several other small birds, to the fine viewpoint at Höhbalmen where I lingered a while before descending 350 metres on a fine belvedere path to Trift. This 45 minute section of path was very busy, but all the other paths I used today were virtually deserted.

This west side of the valley is free of ski rubbish and devoid of lifts. But it was noisy, with a helicopter delivering building supplies up and down the valley. Paragliders fluttered in the distance. Marmots played and a raven practised its acrobatics just above me.

I should have taken the route to the Rothornhutte shortly after passing the Trift Hotel, but I followed the signs to Wisshorn. The unsigned route via the path to the R hut would have been better, as it would have avoided the huge number of avalanche barriers I encountered on my ascent from about 2500 metres. Sheep with heavy permed coats were enjoying the shade of the barriers.

That was after a pleasant lunch stop overlooking Zermatt and with a fine view across the valley to the route of the Europaweg path, an idea that had not even been conceived at the time my map was published.

Once up the Wisshorn, the views were breathtaking, with no break in a 360 degree mountain panorama. As good as any views on the entire trip.

Today's weather was, in contrast to yesterday's, perfect. Blue skies, apart from a persistent afternoon cloud on the east face of the Matterhorn, made for very pleasant walking in t-shirt and shorts. It was a good move to gain height in the cool of the morning.

The 1300 metre descent to Zermatt was easy enough and took less than two and a half hours despite many stops. These were mainly to record some of the wonderful flowers that graced the path. I won't go into details now, but it was good to see a selection of orchids for the first time on this trip, including some very fragrant ones. There should be a slide show in due course.

It was good to reach the shade of the pines at around 2000 metres, though the path steepened as it descended through the woods.

It was hot in Zermatt when I got back soon after 4.30. I collected the gear not needed for today's walk from the expensive but luxurious Aristella Hotel and moved in to my 'cheap' (£47 B+B) room at the Tannenhof that I've used before.

Until now (luckily) our meals, apart from lunches, have been paid for by Jagged Globe. A wander around town revealed a cost of around £30-40 for a meal with a drink. For example, £20 for a basic pizza or rosti. So I spent a small amount in the Co-op on a fruity picnic and popped into GramPi's for a couple of beers (£8 for 66cl) where I wrote most of this whilst eating an ash tray full of peanuts.

It's an early start tomorrow - the 7.39 train takes about four hours to reach Geneva, where I hope to spend a few hours with cousin Alistair, who has recently set up home there, before returning to sunny Manchester for a shave.

And no nose bleeds on this trip! That's a blessing...

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The Matterhorn

From the centre of Zermatt - 8.30am this morning. It has made an appearance at last!

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Monday, 15 August 2011

Monday 15 August 2011 - The Haute Route - Jagged Globe's Encore - Ascent of the Breithorn (4164 metres)

Approx 4 km, 450 metres ascent, 2.5 hours, SF98 (£82)

My first Alpine 4000er. Sounds good, perhaps, but this was the easiest, and most expensive, day of the trip.

Jagged Globe sign off this course with the offer of taking participants up the Breithorn. Although the weather this morning was iffy - mizzly with no view of the Matterhorn since before we arrived in Zermatt yesterday afternoon - four of us took up the offer, leaving Michael and Tony to relax in the fleshpots of Zermatt.

We knew the cablecar would be expensive. £82! Ouch! Everything is expensive here. For example, a book about La Haute Route is SF79 and a 1:25000 map of the Zermatt area is SF25. Neither have been purchased. I'm relying on my 1:50000 Mischabel map, revised in 1968 and purchased by me for a trip in 1984 when the SF5.50 price tag probably equated to a couple of quid.

But we couldn't have achieved our objective today without using the cablecar system that whisked us up from 1600 metres in Zermatt to over 3700 metres at the top station on Kleine Matterhorn.

The five of us roped up as one unit, with Dave leading and me in my usual position at the back. Crampons were fastened and ice axes readied. Then we left the 190 metre tunnel that passes through the mountain from the top station.

Today's views were limited. I did my best with the camera but there's a limit to what can be achieved snap wise in a cloud. The picture taken on the summit, featuring, from left to right, Don, Grant, Andy, and Dave could be anywhere, I suppose.

But it was a 4000er, and very satisfying to be there. The route started off fairly level (even downhill!) and soft, but the gradient gradually steepened. Being acclimatised we swept past numerous 'ropes' toiling up the 400 or so metre ascent, pausing occasionally to snap snatched glimpses of distant mountains and trying to capture the ambience on film, with countless trails of connected ants winding their ways up and down the steep snow slopes.

There were no rocky gullies to shimmy or knock rocks down today, and we reached the busy summit - a large snowy platform - in an hour and twenty minutes. The weather looked ok, and standing on the summit was certainly not unpleasant, so we waited for fifteen minutes or so to see if it would clear. It wouldn't. So after Don had constructed Breithorn Bob (a Snowman) we came down and enjoyed coffees etc in the 'Restaurant At The End Of The Tunnel'.

A crowded cablecar full of arrogant children from some country or other's national elite training scheme took us a little way down before we could transfer to our own little 'bubble' car for the long flight back through the cloud that was trying its best to hide the vast amounts of ski paraphanalia that desecrate the mountain slopes above Zermatt.

Dave wandered off, his job complete for the time being, and the rest of us enjoyed a sunny afternoon in Zermatt. I visited the Matterhorn Museum for a couple of hours. Exhibits range from Edward Whymper's broken rope to some fascinating displays about a new 'space age' mountain hut on nearby Monte Rosa.

Our intrepid guide has a day off tomorrow before his next assignment, and his family is in town. He and Sophie still found time to join us for a beer and say cheerio before the rest of us tucked into our final evening meal at the expense of Jagged Globe. The Aristella Hotel provided that (excellent food btw), though a spate of rich Japanese tourists has filled all their rooms, leaving the six of us in some rather nice apartments nearby, and Dave (if he wasn't with his family) in a room near the station that Jagged Globe rent for the season.

A 'pub crawl' with The Boys culminated with a walk around town. Window shopping - the only sort of shopping we can afford. There's a bottle of champagne for SF600; the cowbells are cheaper, but fortunately for my five single companions who aspire to purchase them for their loved ones they are still outside the budget for presents.

So ends the Haute Route Trek.

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Sunday, 14 August 2011

Sunday 14 August 2011 - The Haute Route - Day 7 - Cabane de Bertol to Zermatt

Approx 18 km, 500 metres ascent, 9.5 hours. (We earned our beer today!)

It was dark at 4.15 when we rose to the glare of head torches in a confined space. It can be hard to keep control over one's possessions in such places, especially when the space outside comprises a thin verandah with a metal grid and a drafty patio where choughs and snow finches search for scraps.

Sleeping in the huts is fine, Shirley, you get used to it. This trip's mountaineering huts are a little different to those we stayed in recently in the Maritime Alps, and they vary from region to region. Maybe I'll write a bit more about them one day. The piglet was alone but happy btw, and I'll contact you about walks when I'm back.

Alan, you have to remember we just walked up the equivalent of The Ben yesterday, not back down. Our wallets were of course much lighter for today's walk!

After a good breakfast and a South African faff, we were all roped up (yes, before leaving the mountain hut!) and ready to go by 5.30am.

Unfortunately a small party in front of us were blocking the stairs. It was dark. Headtorches were needed. The stairs were steep. Actually, they were near vertical ladder rungs. That's how you get to and from this hut. This morning we eventually found our way down the eastern ladders, at the foot of which we donned crampons in preparation for the next 3-4 hours.

The big group of 28 had (unluckily for Dave as their Swiss German guides didn't understand hut etiquette) risen at 3.30 and left well before us. Their head torches could be seen bobbing along the Miné glacier, gradually being extinguished as daylight strengthened.

We were soon able to douse our own lights, and the faffers from the ladders were passed. This nearly backfired on us as etiquette demands that if you pass someone on a crevassed glacier you don't immediately stop in front of them. Not even to admire a spectacular sunrise in which the overtaken party shows no interest! So we hastened along, taking photos whilst walking, until we had established a gap big enough to enable us to pause for our whole group to extract their cameras.

Sunrise from a high glacier certainly makes the early rising worthwhile. Moonset was also impressive this morning.

It took us a couple of hours to rise 450 metres or so to a 2650 metre col just below Tête Blanche. We managed to overtake the ridiculously large group, as they had diverted to a minor summit. This would pay dividends later.

The Matterhorn and Dent d'Herens filled our view to the east. Magnificent. As was the view north, pictured above as we descended Stochjigletscher, towards a plethora of peaks.

This last, seriously crevassed, glacier proved quite tricky to get off. Dave zigzagged down efficiently but I have some way to go before being able to front point down hard steep ice with any degree of confidence.

Then we spent an hour or so on rocky paths that tested our freedom from vertigo. This was perhaps the trickiest section of the whole route and included a 20 metre descent down a gully whilst hanging on to a rope.

Then we endured (I enjoyed) a cairned but pathless route across a 'field' full of big boulders.

Lunch was taken at a grassy spot (we hadn't seen grass for nearly 24 hours) at 11.30, just below a mountain hut that some of the other groups would be using.

After that good paths led down to Zermatt by 3pm, via a perfectly positioned coffee shop, in the shadow of a now cloud laden Matterhorn, though spots of rain came to nothing. The town is full. Our hotel is full. So much so that we've been 'annexed' into a couple of nice apartments. There are various festivities on the go, including a 'Folklore Festival'.

Beer/wine and a good meal has taken its toll, so we are all pretty sleepy. More on Zermatt and anything else I may have missed tomorrow, perhaps...

All good fun, but quite a stressful day for Dave, our Mountain Guide:
• Rudely woken at 3.30am
• Faffing groups blocking our departure
• I stood on his hand on the ladder section
• His rope slew to a halt just after overtaking another group on a glacier
• Someone South African dislodged a rock that just missed him
• He had to coax us down over tricky terrain
• His 'rope' wasn't very good at staying tight
• His feet are sore
• He's tired...

So that's it. We've completed one of many variants of the Haute Route. But there may be more to come...

Goodnight.

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