Shortly after I started ski mountaineering in 2008 Kevin, a friend from Val d'illiez, told me about a trip he had made skiing from the top of the Jungfrau railway, climbing peaks from the Hollandia and Konkordia huts, before skiing back down to the Goms valley. This caught my imagination – with many of Europe’s 4000m peaks and longest glaciers this sounded like a fantastic place to go touring. Tours in Switzerland and Iceland followed but then four years in Singapore took me away from the mountains so that it was not until 2017 that I got a chance for a five day trip with old friend David and our guide Daniel Coquoz.
Daniel asks us to meet at the bottom of the mountain railway in Grindelwald. David and I are early and amused by a Chinese tourist and his friend taking photos with us posing with my ice axe. At the end of March there are few skiers on the train to Kleine Scheidegg – mostly Chinese and Japanese tourists heading up to the famous Jungfraujoch, at 3454m the highest train station in Europe. We get out and admire the view from the Eismeer window (above) before heading to the top and walking along a long tunnel, very similar to the top of the Kleine Matterhorn cable car in Zermatt, to reach our starting point at the top of the Jungfrau Glacier - the Sphinxstollen.
More tourists are admiring the views over the glaciers and peaks as we put on harnesses, skis and (too heavy) rucksacks. Daniel’s sack is smaller than mine and he is carrying 50m of rope. Learning for next time: fewer clothes, food and washing kit as there is no water to wash with in the huts in winter! After checking our avalanche bleepers we are off, skiing down to the foot of the Kranzberg, across crusty snow in brilliant sunshine. From here we skin up about 450m to the col (above). There are tracks already, zigzagging up the mountain, so it is just a case of sliding one foot in front of another, but with our heavy packs and the altitude we are soon puffing and sweating. We are hoping that we can get a bit fitter as we have 1100m climbs planned for later in the week.
Tougher tourers are climbing another 300m to the Kranzberg summit but we head off down the Kranzberg glacier, finding some nice spring snow, until we meet the long trail up the Aletsch Glacier heading towards the Hollandia hut. The views are spectacular with the Aletschhorn (above) and Dreieckhorn towering over this huge expanse of white. Another group of skiers are just heading off while two lads sit eating their picnic lunch and enjoying the view. The skin to the hut is pretty steady until the last few hundred metres as we climb and skirt a drop down towards the Lötschen pass (below). The hut itself is very comfortable, perched above the pass with amazing views from its balcony down towards Lötschental. There is a large gaststube and bunkrooms above. As the hut is fairly empty we have a room to ourselves.
The next morning we climb our first peak. At 3962m the Abeni Flue towers above the Lauterbrunnen valley. The ascent itself is not so steep but it still feels tough on our unseasoned legs. We are also staying in another hut tonight so have to take all our gear with us on our backs. The route follows a snowfield above the hut, skirting big crevasses before climbing more steeply (below) to a ridge which we follow to the summit. It is perfect weather and we have fantastic views in all directions. To the North is the Jungfrau, just 10m higher than us, while to the west we can see Interlaken and the lakes, and to the south west there are great views of Mont Blanc and the Aiguille Vert.
The snow for the ski down is great and we carve wiggles as we ski carefully between the crevasses. Instead of skiing directly to the Konkordiaplatz Daniel has suggested that we climb a gully for a more interesting decent. We traverse the mountain and skin for another 40 minutes to get to the start. By now it is late morning and the snow is mushy. With ice axe and crampons and our skis tied to our sacks it is heavy going. I am following Daniel's steps but they frequently collapse on me and I am pretty tired before I realise that it is easier to make my own steps. Not, unfortunately, before I have also spiked my leg with a crampon!
At last we reach the top and rest, trying to eat the dry sandwiches we brought from the hut. We are then cheered by a magnificent ski down followed by poling most of the way to the Konkordia Hut. This famous hut was built before the glaciers started receding. In 1877, when the hut was first built it was about 50m above the glacier. Since then the glacier has fallen by 100m and there are now 467 steps bolted to a vertiginous rock face to reach the hut (below left). An exhausting way to end the day but at least we can relax with other climbers as we dry our gear in the sun. Click here or on the menu above for the second part of our trip.