Gwätchenhorn normal route on Steingletscher – Turned around 3’000m on Friday the 18th of September 2020

We set off from the parking lot at 5am under a sky full of stars. In the 2 hours it took us to hike the 700m elevation gain up to the mountain hut where we would access the glacier, the sky turned from pitch black to shades of orange and pink. We settled in a comfortable rhythm, the light of our headlamps dancing in the shadows. We could make out the shape of the peaks and glaciers surrounding us. Sunsets are beautiful but there is something to be said for sunrises in the mountain. Enjoying the stillness of the world and watching the light of a new day take over the darkness.

On the way to the Tierberglihütte. © 2020, Nevin McCallum.
Sunrise in the Berner Oberland. © 2020, Justine Le Cam.

A few moments after we turned our headlamps off, we arrived at the rocky ridge leading to the hut. And suddenly we could see the glacier. A sea of broken ice with some rare patches of snow. Clouds were obscuring the surrounding peaks and we started to second guess our plan for the day, the ascension of Gwätchenhorn, an easy 3‘400m peak. As visibility was good on the lower part of the glacier, we started to gear up and to re-assess the situation once we would be a bit farther. I went through a mental checklist and the movements, many times repeated, were mechanical: harness, crevasse rescue kit clipped, figure-eight knot, coiling the rope, crampons, ice axe…

Tierberglihütte. © 2020, Justine Le Cam.
Nevin in front of the Steingletscher. © 2020, Justine Le Cam.
Nevin on the Steingletscher. © 2020, Justine Le Cam.

My first steps on the glacier were awkward, as I got used to the hard frozen ice but after a few minutes I relaxed and started to enjoy the walk. As we crossed the lower part of the glacier, we were in awe at the views of the morning light on distant mountains. First the glacier was only ice, leaving crevasses visible, but as soon as snow patches started to appear on the way, we roped up. As we got higher on the glacier, the fog got thicker and a suspicious snow bridge made us turn around. So we didn’t got to the summit we had our views on, but by 10am the day had already treated us to many wonders. Plus it feels good to be slowly but surely building up glacier skills and to have felt confident on the glacier the whole time.

Nevin on the Steingletscher. © 2020, Justine Le Cam.
Going back down. © 2020, Nevin McCallum.

As soon as we turned around and started back down, the thick fog completely cleared and all the surrounding peaks revealed themselves. I’m amazed how fast the weather can change in the mountains and it’s a good reminder to keep alert but also that sometimes all you need is to wait it out. We went fast through a section exposed to what appeared to be constant rockfall, and then we took our time to cross the snow free part of the glacier, marveling at the little streams and pools brought to life by the sun hammering the ice. Back at the hut, we lingered for a couple hours, letting our equipment dry and soaking up the sun and the view. There is a special feeling coming from standing in front of a glacier on a bluebird day. I don’t know if it is the magnificence of all this suspended and broken up ice, but it always brings me absolute peace of mind. Nothing else seems really important at that point.

Vorder Tierberg. © 2020, Justine Le Cam.
View on the Steinsee. © 2020, Justine Le Cam.