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Ultraviolence part 2: La Tournette and Säntis

Ultraviolence part 2: La Tournette and Säntis


Postby Pointless Parasite » Sun Jul 25, 2021 7:10 pm

Date walked: 25/07/2021

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There's a certain kind of route up mountains that just looks impossible, or at least very dangerous, when when seen from a distance, but somehow turns out to be relatively straightforward - often little more than a hike. Classic examples in the Lake District are Jack's Rake on Pavey Ark, and the West Wall Traverse on Scafell.

Recently, I climbed two fantastic peaks in the Alps, both ultras (>1500 m of prominence) and both with highly unlikely looking, but ulimately non-technical routes to the top.


La Tournette (2338 m)

La Tournette is a huge mountain East of Lake Annecy, South of Geneva. From a distance it looks like an impenetrable fortress with no obvious route up. Even up close, there are multiple sections that look unclimbable. Yet there's always a way, usually with only minimal scrambling.

La Tournette.jpg
La Tournette from Crêt de la Neige


La Tournette 0.jpg
La Tournette from Lac d'Annecy. Mont Baron is on the Left


I took the train to Annecy, then the 'water taxi' across the lake to the village of Talloires and stayed the night at a hotel in Agnon. The next morning, I set off at 6 am, mainly because the forcast was for rain in the afternoon. I figured I could potentially climb La Tournette in 4 hours, although this was a tad optimistic.

After climbing up through woodland, I reached the farm at Chalet d'Aulp. This is where the real climbing starts, beginning with a simple zig-zagging climb up beneath limestone crags:

La Tournette 1.jpg


The route then traverses to the Refuge de la Tournette:

La Tournette 2.jpg


After this, a path skirts around huge limestone cliffs:

La Tournette 3.jpg


La Tournette 4.jpg


Approaching the final wall of crags, there appears to be no way up. There is a possible weakness about halfway across, but can this be reached in the first place? The path leads up the left hand corner before traversing over a series of wide ledges with short sections of minor scrambling:

La Tournette 5.jpg


La Tournette 6.jpg


La Tournette 7.jpg


The snow patch seen in the photo above is the same as the one below. This section involves a slightly awkward scramble up wet rocks (old chain and a metal bar) then a traverse over a wide grassy ledge, then a further scramble up rocks to gain the summit ridge.

La Tournette 8.jpg


Now how the hell are you supposed to get up that?

La Tournette 9.jpg


The weak spot is on the East side. There is a short scramble with a chain for protection (which doesn't start until about 2 m up the climb), then one of two ladders.

La Tournette 10.jpg


Above the first ladder, there is a further chain protected climb, then the second ladder leads to the summit:

La Tournette 11.jpg


La Tournette 12.jpg


I was completely alone on the summit. Unusual for such a famous mountain. I had only met one group of three walkers coming down, otherwise I had the mountain all to myself. It had taken me about 4h 15m to reach the top.

La Tournette 13.jpg


La Tournette 14.jpg


La Tournette 15.jpg


On the way back down, I met many small groups on their way up. Several of these had minimal gear and some were what I call 'absolute zeros' - no gear at all, no rucksack, no trekking poles, not even water. How is that even possible on a warm day like this? I think I took about 3 litres with me. On a limestone mountain like this, there are no streams anywhere. And you can't just drink all the water you'll need at the beginning. That's not medically safe!

After about 4 hours of descent, I made it back to Talloires, thinking I could catch the water taxi back to Annecy. But the boats don't run on weekdays. No problem, I just caught the bus instead, but that's the last time I trust Google Maps for transport timetables :(


Säntis (2502 m)

Säntis is near the north edge of the Alps, close to Leichtenstein. Despite not being very high, it has extraordinary prominence thanks to being cut off from the surrounding peaks by deep valleys. It's not only an ultra, but a P2000 and the high point of two Swiss cantons (the only mountain with that distinction), making it peak bagging gold. It's also got an enormous building complex on it's summit, including a weather station, a weather museum, a couple of restaurants, a gift shop and a 123 m high radio antenna. Despite this, there are some very interesting climbing routes on Säntis. I was especially interested in the SE ridge known as the Lisengrat. Like Jack's Rake, it looks terrifying and dangerous, but somehow involves little more than very minor cable protected scrambling. All the routes up Säntis are rated as 'mountain hiking trials' (red and white trail markers), rather than the more difficult or exposed 'alpine hiking trails' with blue and white markers.

I started out from the village of Wildhaus on the South side, through Heidi country:

saentis 1.jpg


saentis 2.jpg


The summit comes into view:

saentis 3.jpg


The incredible skyline of the Churfirsten ridge:

saentis 4.jpg


The other side features huge vertical cliffs and is a popular BASE jumping site (and frequent location for BASE jumping and wingsuit-related fatalities)

I followed a faint path for a while before getting lost and going off-piste, climbing easy limestone slabs:

saentis 5.jpg


I eventually found a path and followed it to the E ridge of Säntis. Here, a snow slope leads up a minor scramble leading to the North ridge. I was rather glad I'd brought my ice axe. It wasn't steep or dangerous, but I wouldn't want to slide back down and need to reclimb it.

saentis 6.jpg


The North Ridge:

saentis 7.jpg


The final cable protected climb up steep slabs:

saentis 8.jpg


Then everything becomes farcical:

saentis 9.jpg


:(

saentis 10.jpg


Somehow the neat red door seems even more out of place at the summit of a mountain than the weird troll thing:

saentis 11.jpg


Time to get out of here!

After descending over rocky slabs from the summit, the first part of the Lisengrat is reached. This involves a short climb up a rocky outcrop with cables either side, then a descent with just one cable. Technically just a walk, but a fall would be fatal.

saentis 12.jpg


After that, the Lisengrat widens out into a broad grassy ridge. There is a choice of routes here, an easy descent to the South, or a continuation of the Lisengrat over a narrow, exposed section. I'd seen plenty of photos of this so I knew what was coming. I was very hesitant at first and almost decided to go the easy way, but at the last moment (thankfully) changed my mind.

Although very difficult to make out from this photo, there is a narrow ledge, around 1 m wide, leading along the N side of the ridge, protected by a steel cable the whole way.

saentis 13.jpg


The narrow ledge continues. Still just a non-technical path, but with significant exposure.

saentis 14.jpg


We're in a full-on Jack's Rake situation here. A short climb up steps cut into the rock leads over the crest of the ridge through a narrow groove:

saentis 15.jpg


Looking back over the Lisengrat:

saentis 16.jpg


The photo above was taken from the very top of the thing on the left side of the photo below (the highest point of the ridge is hidden). A steep but non-exposed descent leads down to reach the end of the Lisengrat.

saentis 17.jpg


Looking back up towards the Lisengrat from the descent:

saentis 18.jpg


The blurry photos above really don't do the Lisengrat justice. These Google panoramas give a much better impression:
https://www.google.com/maps/@47.2441946,9.354402,3a,48.9y,276.57h,84.38t/data=!3m8!1e1!3m6!1sAF1QipP2QHhCfI4S88o9z25mhoilsRVeRz01HcaL8KzS!2e10!3e11!6shttps:%2F%2Flh5.googleusercontent.com%2Fp%2FAF1QipP2QHhCfI4S88o9z25mhoilsRVeRz01HcaL8KzS%3Dw203-h100-k-no-pi0-ya314.23837-ro-0-fo100!7i8704!8i4352!5m1!1e4

The first part of the Lisengrat:

https://www.google.com/maps/@47.248109,9.3434407,3a,75y,144.91h,96.68t/data=!3m8!1e1!3m6!1sAF1QipO5afKyBLZuu_e2enfxFDf_QydANxUpXHSPL8mG!2e10!3e11!6shttps:%2F%2Flh5.googleusercontent.com%2Fp%2FAF1QipO5afKyBLZuu_e2enfxFDf_QydANxUpXHSPL8mG%3Dw203-h100-k-no-pi0-ya312.05725-ro-0-fo100!7i11000!8i5500!5m1!1e4

The wide grassy part in the middle:

https://www.google.com/maps/@47.2473235,9.3445289,3a,75y,129.12h,75.48t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sAF1QipOPPsdQzodLF8RN26PvB_BCbNhc5pye0E-zpW7l!2e10!7i11000!8i5500!5m1!1e4
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Re: Ultraviolence part 2: La Tournette and Säntis

Postby past my sell by date » Sun Aug 08, 2021 11:42 am

Nice - these sub alpine limestone peaks are always interesting. Do you clip to the cables (via ferrata style) or just use them as handholds?
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Re: Ultraviolence part 2: La Tournette and Säntis

Postby Pointless Parasite » Sun Aug 08, 2021 1:18 pm

Personally, no, but I've seen photos of people using VF gear on the Lisengrat. It would certainly help people with a fear of heights. By the way, I've just come back from a trip to Saas Fee and I attempted the Stellihorn, which you mentioned in one of your reports. I considered your "I must have been mad" route direct up the W flank but climbed up the sub-summit of Stelli instead. From there, the route up to the summit of Stellihorn was along an exposed ridge, then up a very steep and loose looking climb. I was happy enough with Stelli, so turned back. I do concur with you though - you were completely mad to climb that route!
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Re: Ultraviolence part 2: La Tournette and Säntis

Postby past my sell by date » Tue Aug 10, 2021 5:02 pm

Pointless Parasite wrote:Personally, no, but I've seen photos of people using VF gear on the Lisengrat. It would certainly help people with a fear of heights. By the way, I've just come back from a trip to Saas Fee and I attempted the Stellihorn, which you mentioned in one of your reports. I considered your "I must have been mad" route direct up the W flank but climbed up the sub-summit of Stelli instead. From there, the route up to the summit of Stellihorn was along an exposed ridge, then up a very steep and loose looking climb. I was happy enough with Stelli, so turned back. I do concur with you though - you were completely mad to climb that route!


Glad to see you obviously enjoy the Saas valley as much as I did - great place for the adventurous scrambler :D As you come up the road from Stalden, the Stellihorn I think, sits in the middle of the view. When I was there there was a small glacier on the North side - The Noltengletcher: I guess that's probably gone now. :(
My route actually finished up the SW ridge on some overlapping slabs of very sound gneiss (where I disturbed the Steinbok) - I descended the scree slopes to the North of them. It turned out to be less mad than it could have been :lol: :lol:
4714a.jpg
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Re: Ultraviolence part 2: La Tournette and Säntis

Postby litljortindan » Fri Aug 13, 2021 9:53 am

Thank you, I enjoyed that vicarious adventure!
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Re: Ultraviolence part 2: La Tournette and Säntis

Postby Pointless Parasite » Fri Aug 13, 2021 5:44 pm

past my sell by date wrote: When I was there there was a small glacier on the North side - The Noltengletcher: I guess that's probably gone now. :(


Thankfully It's still there, although the state of most of the glaciers in the Alps is very worrying :(

Thanks for the route description BTW. I may need to have another go at it!
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Re: Ultraviolence part 2: La Tournette and Säntis

Postby past my sell by date » Wed Aug 25, 2021 10:52 pm

You should - It's a worthy peak and after the Barrhorner, I think one of the highest "subalpine" peaks in the Valais. Don't take my route too literally. I can't remember exactly where i got on to the slabs, but they proved a very good way of progressing. The overlaps - maybe 1-2m in height were easy in ascent, but i didn't fancy reversing them which is why I descended via the scree.
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Re: Ultraviolence part 2: La Tournette and Säntis

Postby uk-scrambler » Sat Oct 09, 2021 2:29 pm

Great report. I've spent many hours on the balcony at the chatlet we visit looking across at La Tournette, but I've never got round to having a go at it yet. Very good description of the route and great photos. I absolutely adore the feeling of being up over 2000 m in that part of the world. Am planning to be around in 2022 and aiming to give La Tournette a go. Pointe Percee is also on the list.

From your report it sounds as though you would advocate the use of head gear, I guess you never know who is above you on the ladders/cables!

Nice report of the scramble near Liechtenstein as well. I'm interested to hear you refer to it as a Jack's Rake type experience. It looks like quite a thrill.
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