Gredetschtal to Lötschental with Matthias

I first met the Nesthorn on a trailrun from Blatten to the Oberaletschhütte. With its three crazy south-east ribs, the view from the Oberaletschhütte had me dreaming of long alpine climbing routes and, as the SAC guide puts "One of the most beautiful rock-and-ice tours of the Alps". It wasn't until I started looking online that I discovered the crazy and violent northface, and the standard route over the Beich glacier.

I've been feeling a bit allergic to huts recently, and after Matthias and I had such a successful trip in the Simplon area, I suggested an "alternate" version of the standard west ridge climb on the Nesthorn. Namely, we would approach from the south via the long and lonely Gredetschtal (9km, +900m) and bivvy in a snow hole (location scouted last summer) around 2000m. The next day, the plan was to ascend to the Gredetschjoch at 3500m, ditch the skis, climb the Nesthorn west ridge to the summit (3820m), return to the skis, descend over the Beichgletscher to 2900m, re-ascend to the Beichpass at 3100m, and ski down into Lötschental, getting the bus in Blatten. Ambitious?

As it turns out, yes, it was a bit too ambitious, but we had a safe and beautiful tour anyway!

The first day I felt pretty nervous, and the weather was a bit worse than expected. We arrived in Mund at 13:00, and set a relaxed pace up into the valley. It was my first time in a snow-bivvy, and so the building process was exhausting and not exactly optimal. But by 18:30 we had a pretty comfy snow-bed nestled between two giant boulders. While not exactly air-tight, it was definitely windproof and warm enough. Cooking water took forever with my tiny stove - a Jetboil would definitely be a better option for such adventures. Bedtime was 20:00. I slept pretty darn well, considering how nervous I was.

Since navigation seemed like it might be tricky, we decided to wake up at 4:30 and start skinning by 5:30. Sunrise was scheduled for 6:30ish. The climb upto the Gredetschjoch was exhausting - neither Matthias nor I felt particularly strong, and a couple of avalanche debris fields slowed us down. Matthias broke a ski-crampon at 2500m, which slowed him down even more on the ice-crust. We had planned to arrive at the pass at 9:30, but it was 11:30 by the time we got estabished at the base of the westridge of the Nesthorn. It was pretty clear that we either had to give up the summit, or give up the Beich glacier and descent to Lötschental. Making the summit meant descending back via the south facing and ever-more dangerous slope into Gredetschtal, or descending via the Beichglacier and spending the night in the Oberaletsch hut. Neither were appealing, so we gave up on the Nesthorn and began the descent on the Beichgletscher.

It was the steep glacier descent that had me most nervous about this tour. The crevasse zone is substantial and we wouldn't have a chance to view it from above or below. Luckily, there was a very clear set of tracks leading up through the crevasse zone which had been made in the past day or two. Problem solved! By skiing down this track, we could be fairly sure we woudn't accidently end up in a hole. The seracs and crevasses were impressive - it was my first such experience, and I kept exclaiming "This is the coolest thing I've ever seen!"

At 2900m we exited the glacier to the north and took a nice long break to eat and cook some water. The time was now 12:45, and we had only 200m of climbing left to do. The track up to the Beichpass was clear and we were at the pass at 13:15. The last crux was the 40 degree north-facing slope just under the pass. If it was full of wind-slabs, we would have a bit of a problem and would have to retreat to the Oberaletschhut. Luckily, the wind blown snow was only a thin layer, and with clenched teeth (and another orifice) I managed to follow Matthias' line through the cliff bands and into the open bowl below the pass. Wow! 1000m of nice spring skiing led us down into Lötschental and homewards...