Monday, July 22, 2013

Eiger: Day 1: Grindelwald to the Ostegg Hut

The Mitteleggi Ridge follows the left skyline - 10,000+ vertical feet from Grindelwald Grund

Having just arrived, we decided  that going 8000 vertical feet of unknown ground clear to the Mitteleggi Hut in one day wasn't advisable. This turned out to be a good call. Now that I know all the terrain, I could do it, but I'd leave a lot earlier. Instead we got a casual start. Sleeping in until past 7 and then having a leisurely and filling breakfast at the hostel. We then packed out gear, shouldered our packs and starting walking, up along the route we had reconnoitered the day before. We started hiking from the hostel in Grund, at 943 meters, at 9 a.m. Our destination for the day was the Ostegg Hut at 2300 meters. Getting there is actual a via ferrata route that is quite enjoyable in its own right. We hiked up to Alpiglen at 1615 meters where most parties embark from the train. We then headed left on a good, steep trail until we found the turn-off for the Ostegg Hut.

The weather was ideal and the views had us with continuous ear-to-ear grins. The trail is crazy steep at times and is traversing an even steeper slope. You don't want to fall off this trail. We soon spotted the hut atop of seemingly very technical wall. I was excited to see the route that would get us there.

Soon we hit the foot of the cliff and the start of the cables. I've done a few via ferratas now and still find them very enjoyable. They get you to incredible places, like rock climbing, but without all the gear and skill required of the latter. One of the really nice advantages is that you get to remain next to your climbing partner the whole time, instead of at the end of a 200-foot rope.

When we got to the hut we were a bit surprised to find it locked. No one had mentioned this to us at Grindelwald Sports, where we had made reservations for the Mitteleggi Hut. This hut is unmanned and I had hoped that we could just stay there for free. How naive! This is Switzerland, thank you, that will be 25 SF. We found a phone number in the bathroom with instructions to call it to get the lockbox combination. Luckily and not surprisingly, I had cell service, since I was looking down directly on Grindelwald. I left a message on the answering machine and wondered if we'd be hiking back down later today. A little later a man called back, got our information, and gave us the combination. This hut is on the honor system and you pay into a box at the hut. We were the only ones there and no one else was around. I had visions of a lonely adventure. How naive!

A bit later a solo woman showed up, but she was just doing the via ferrata and heading back down. She was definitely plump but had already done the Eiger via ferrata that day. Impressive. Just as we headed up to scope the route for the next morning a team of two Swiss climbers, Phillip and Sami, showed up. We went up just 20 minutes or so, finding the route marked via some cairns across steep, loose slopes. We had watched a couple of large rockslides sweep one of the gullies we had cross before heading up, so we moved quickly across that one. Further up some stones came whizzing down and Homie decided that was enough for today. I went a bit further to be sure of the route and cached my harness, rack, crampons, and two liters of water so that I didn't have to carry it again the next morning.

By the time I descending, the hut was bustling. Reno (pronounced Ray-no), his two "apprentice guides", Robert (a Swede who has lived the last three years in Switzerland) and Thome (very Aryan, never spoke to me, gave me dirty looks, Sheri would think he was an assassin or something), and their four British clients had arrived. It was Dave's birthday and he, Richard, a bald guy (never got his name), and Stella, a portly woman who had "done a lot of climbing in Wales". Soon a family of six - four boys arrived. They planned to spend the night, but would be heading down the via ferrata in the morning. Everyone else was going up the Eiger. In a country with a birthrate of about 1.5 kids per couple, this family was a huge anomaly, probably equivalent to a six-kid family in the US. Finally, the "rocking girls", Denise and Sigi, showed up. Reno knew them and looked with some disdain on us, or so I felt. I would come to find this attitude to be very common among the Swiss climbers, but I can't generalize to all Swiss, since the two girls that worked the desk at the hostel, Nicole and Claudia, were incredibly helpful, friendly, and talkative.
Earlier we had heard voices from above, but never picked out the climbers. Then, in the late afternoon, we heard them again and picked out the climbers at the top of the skyline, at the saddle we'd head for tomorrow. From reading the hut register, we figured it was the three Polish climbers aborting. The Rocking Girls went out scouting the route as well and they quickly climbed up to and past these descending climbers. The girls went clear to the saddle, solo, unroped, and then descended, passing the Poles once again. These chicks were fit and fast and the next day they'd go clear to the summit of the Eiger and off. The Poles took a very long time to get down to the hut and when they got there, they found the hut already over capacity. They had been descending in the rain and they continued down in it. The rest of us huddled inside the nice, but now cramped hut.

Reno, Homie, and the Ostegg Hut
Our dinner of Ramen noodles and mashed potatoes paled compared to the succulent meals prepared by our hut mates. The conversation flowed amongst them, all in German. They'd laugh at something funny and Homie and I would look at each other and shrug our shoulders. Reno was friendly and spoke English well, but the friendliest one by far was Robert, the ex-pat Swede, who spoke English like an American. We'd see a lot of these people over the next few days.

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