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Alphubel: climbing the 'upturned pudding bowl'

Alphubel: climbing the 'upturned pudding bowl'

Postby Pointless Parasite » Wed Sep 11, 2019 9:40 pm

Date walked: 04/09/2019

Time taken: 8

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Alphubel is the 22nd highest major peak in the Alps and the 12th highest summit with over 300 m of height isolation. The sadly departed Martin Moran described Alphubel as resembling an upturned pudding bowl due to its flat top (in contrast to every other peak in the area). Still, it's a huge mountain with a number of good routes, some of which can be done as a day trip from a valley base with no need for a hut stay.

Alphubel as seen from the summit of the Mettelhorn in 2017:

Alphubel from Mettelhorn.JPG

From the Oberrothorn in 2014:

Alphubel from Oberrothorn.JPG

From Saas Fee:

Alphubel from Saas Fee.JPG

Alphubel is extremely crevassed, meaning climbing it solo was not a sensible option and I needed to hire a guide. I joined up with one other client, Hildegard, to make a team of three. Our guide was Thomas, who with his furry fleece, flat cap, moustache and rope over his shoulders looked like a cross between the classic Swiss bergfuhrer and Don Whillans. Neither was a bad thing!

There are two standard routes up Alphubel from Saas Fee. One is a pure snow/ice route going up the East face from Langflue. The other is a mixed snow/rock route which starts from Mittelallalin and climbs a peak called Feechopf before climbing Alphubel via the SE ridge. Our route was a combination of these two; we climbed over Feechopf then joined the Langflue route for the final ascent to the summit.

After taking the cable car from Saas Fee to Felskinn and then the underground railway to Mittelallalin, the route leads across the ski area to the lower slopes of Allalinhorn. We were joined by literally hundreds of Olympic skiers training on the remaining snow. High levels of seriousness were on display :lol:

Allalinhorn from Mittel Allalin.JPG

Alphubel from ski area.JPG

We followed the Allalinhorn route almost to the Feejoch before branching off to the right.

Allalinhorn crevasses.JPG
Huge crevasses on the Allalinhorn

Feechopf from mittel allalin.JPG

There was an awkward section, just after the point where route splitted off, in which Thomas needed to place a ice screw. Otherwise the going was easy. Up until now, I had little idea how we would get to the summit of Feechopf. As we approached the Feejoch, we had a clear view of the ridge leading NE:

Feechopf ridge 1.JPG

We needed to climb over the ridge, more or less right over the crest, with a couple of sections where it was easier to go slightly to one side. Richard Goedeker's guidebook rates the Feechopf climb as UIAA grade II. Thomas descibed the route as being an 'easy climb'. I remarked that it didn't look easy. He reassured me that it was easier than it looked. Thankfully, he was right. Indeed, the ridge traverse involved a series of excellent, handholds and footholds. Despite appearances, the rock was remarkably stable all the way.

Feechopf ridge 2.JPG

Ripfischorn from Feechopf.JPG
Strahlhorn and Rimpfishhorn

The final tower of the Feechopf ridge:

Feechopf ridge 3.JPG

Once this was climbed, the route led over a fairly flat but highly exposed section up to the summit of Feechopf (3888 m). From here, the vertigo inducing rock climbing was over and the way to Alphubel was entirely on snow and ice. Normally, people climbing Alphubel from the Feechopf side go along the obvious SE ridge, which leads over a rock band before climbing the 'Eisnase' (ice nose). Unfortunately, the Eisnase was out of condition and we needed to take the alternative route around the cliffs and seracs on the East face and join the standard route up from Langflue.

Alphubel from Feechopf.JPG

Alphubel lower slopes.JPG

Alphubel ascent 1.JPG

The ascent was a pretty tiring plod up snow slopes. I'm not conviced that climbing the Spechhorn (3189 m) the previous day was sufficient for acclimatisation purposes, but the altitude wasn't too bad.

Alphubel ascent 2.JPG

The summit was a huge plateau, larger than a football pitch:

Alphubel summit.JPG


Alphubel summit cross.JPG
Thomas, Me, Hildegard

Mischabel from Alphubel summit.JPG
The summit is not corniced, so you can walk right up to the top of the snow crest

Weisshorn from Alpubel.JPG

Matterhorn from Alphubel.JPG

On the descent:

Alphubel descent 1.JPG

The fun and games were not over yet. About halfway down the descent, the glacier become increasingly crevassed. At this time of the year (early September) the snow bridges were worryingly thin.

Alphubel descent 2.JPG

Another very dicey section in which we needed to walk over a snow bridge that was only a few cm thick:

Alphubel descent 3.JPG

I lost count of the number of apparently bottomless crevasses we jumped over. Towards the end, the glacier was bare ice with no snow cover, making it easier to see and avoid crevasses. The final few hundred metres were over slushy melting ice. Apparently the glacier was much further down the valley this time last year :(

Alphubel descent 4.JPG

Finally we made it back down to Langflue for a quick beer before catching the last cable car back down to Saas Fee. Overall, a tiring but highly rewarding day out on one of Europe's big peaks. I'd certainly recommend the Feehopf route of ascent over the glacier plod from Langflue.

Thanks to Thomas and Hildegard for a great day out :D
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Pointless Parasite
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