Day 2: An ascent of the Trugberg
After our first night on the Bernese Oberland tour we awoke early to tackle the first ski major mountaineering objective: the Trugberg (12,903 ft). Situated just across from the hut, we had a great view of it approaching the day before and from the deck that evening.
Though we couldn’t see the initial way up, the side that was recommended to descend was in plain view. This didn’t necessarily make it any easier, as we could see a maze of bergschrunds and crevasses littering the way down. Falling into one of these skiing would be rather unfortunate, and we were worried if we’d be able to see them from above, as well as whether there we some we couldn’t see (hidden under the snow).
We groggily awoke at 4am after a terrible nights sleep, packed like sardines (and smelling worse than fish) into tiny rooms rocked by snoring. I cursed myself for forgetting the essential sleep kit of ear plugs and an eye mask, swearing I’d find something to stuff into my ears the next night even if it was cheese.
Stuffing ourselves (and our pockets) with the traditional hut breakfast of cardboard-like bread and hard cheese (I skipped the muesli, could never get into that mush) it was time to leave the relative comfort of the hut and begin changing back into our cold, smelly gear. The gear rooms of these huts always develop an almost indescribable smell, the result of thousands of damp, smelly ski boots constantly cycling through. It must soak into the walls or something, permeating every molecule of the air while you’re in there. It’s actually a relief to leave the warmth of that room in the morning into the crisp outside air if only for a relief from the smell.
The first crux of the day was getting back down those 460-something odd stairs. If walking up them in ski boots was exhausting, at least it was less awkward than walking down them. At one point we had to pass someone who was being belayed down on a rope by his guide, obviously too sketched out to make it down on his own for fear of slipping off a side without a handrail and plummeting to his death on the glacier or rocks below. We wondered if anyone had actually died on those stairs, it was certainly possible? European insurance and legal systems place much more importance on personal responsibility, you’d never see anything like this in the comparatively over-litigious United States.
Out from the hut, we made our way to the base of a large ice fall, which is essentially the leading edge of a glacier. The tall wall of ice is cracking and leaning out, which makes for dramatic landscape, and treacherous navigation. We rope up for crevasse safety, traveling in the early morning in the hopes of finding more solid snow bridges. Luckily the ascent is uneventful (minus some gastrointestinal issues that I’ll leave out of here, though Sean will never let me forget them haha), and we soon find ourselves on the expansive upper plateau of this glacier.
While we trudged across the glacier there was plenty of time to scope and scheme an ascent path. We could see a couple of different options, as well as some rather large crevasses that would be nice to avoid. Everything in the mountains is about risk assessment and mitigation. You’re not trying to be completely safe nor completely reckless, but rather strike a balance of safety, speed, efficiency, and fun. One path up might be more direct, but traverse closer to a crevasse, while another path might take a safer path away from crevasses but expose us to potential avalanche danger. We spend a lot of time talking through these decisions, continuously reevaluating as we move and new information comes into play.
Eventually we find a path up the face that’s fairly straightforward and get to a nice spot to rest for a snack break. (Sidenote: you’d be amazed at just how many calories you burn doing this, I cannot possibly bring enough food on these types of trips. I’m especially fond of candy for the quick energy boost on uphill sections, adhering to the old adage “if you burn the furnace hot enough anything is fuel”).
Here we begin to discuss options for the descent as well: the snow we’re going up is in great condition due to a nice refreeze the night before, and would make for fun corn skiing soon. The route per the guidebook actually goes off the other side of the ridge we can’t see yet (but was the face we could see from the hut). Our initial scoping of this left us a little hesitant given the large bergschrunds and crevasses we could see (and other surely under the snow we couldn’t see). While that way was supposed to be the better ski, we weren’t sure about snow quality and we had the advantage of knowing the route/snow quality on this side we’d just come up.
(Sidestory: Sean was on a previous trip in the Alps with some French friends who absolutely ripped into him for bring Babybell cheese, stating that it wasn’t “real cheese” and instead was what they “gave to little children”. They’re super handy and delicious out there, so we cracked up the whole time about eating “the cheese for little children” always said in a mocking french accent.)
After a calorie replenishment we continued up the ridge towards the south summit until the pitch steepened enough for us to stash the skis and switch to crampons. Our route up was straightforward and well traveled (always a plus), heading up a snow ridge that eventually turned to rock. It didn’t turn out to be as hard as it looked from below, and besides some poor rock quality (mostly just a big loose pile of scree) it was an easy romp to the summit.
While the climb may not have been the most epic, our views from the summit of the Trugberg were spectacular. 360 degree views let us see everything from the station and our path yesterday, the hut, numerous glaciers, and amazing 4000m peaks in every direction. While the mountains in the Alps aren’t as high as many that we have in the States, they more than make up for this in their steepness and relief. It’s hard to describe the enormity of this landscape, and we were reminded how humbling it can be, this is an extreme place in the truest sense of the word.
After hanging about on the summit having our minds absolutely blown by every direction we looked, (“dude look that’s the Matterhorn out there” “omg check out that huge hanging glacier” “woah I can’t believe that Swiss dude skied that line last time! rowdy!”) it was time to head down and make a decision. Peering over the edge onto the face the guidebook suggested, we had our doubts about snow quality, and to be honest it looked a little gnarlier than we wanted to get. Instead we opted for the known way down, retracing our steps back to the glacier and ice fall.
Our decision turned out to be a pretty good one: we found high quality snow most of the way down and didn’t have to worry about unknown terrain hazards. The only sketchy bit came navigating out of the final section of the icefall: somehow I led us into a section that forced us either down a treacherously icy and steep face, or over a large crevasse that was baking in the sun. Neither option was great, and we weighed the potential of each, eventually deciding on trying to get over the crevasse with as much speed as possible. I went first, having put us in the situation, and while it only took a few seconds at Mach 1 speed those were some of the most terrifying of the trip. The crevasse was wide enough (5ft+) to completely swallow a person, and only a small snow bridge connected each side, you could peer in the abyss through holes as you went across. We just lined up as much speed as we could and tried to think “light thoughts” hoping it was a low-gravity day.
Luck was on our side, and soon after that we tackling the real crux of the day: those 467 metal stairs back up to the Konkordiahutte and all the beer/rösti that awaited us (for those not in the know, rösti is basically hashbrowns but waaaay better, covered often in cheese, butter, bacon, fired eggs, and onions. Not something you’d want to eat everyday, but there’s nothing better on a deck in the Alps after a long day in the mountains).