Aletschorn Dawn
First Light over the Aletschorn

Lying, waiting for the early alarm to go off in the Mönchsjochhütte, I was like a kid before Christmas. The previous night’s sunset had been pretty special and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, just a seemingly endless sea of stars meeting the Alps somewhere behind the Aletschhorn. The forecast looked good for the day ahead and we knew of only one other team from the hut who were heading up the Monch. The anticipation was palpable between us. It was something I had wanted to do from the start of the season. Although the climbing from the hut is very straightforward, the skiing was a step up for me. From below you can easily trace the line of least resistance and you can also see how steep the top section is. Add to this the amazing surroundings and views we were sure to get if the weather forecast held true and we were going to be in for a pretty awesome day. It didn’t disappoint.

As much Birchermüesli as we could manage and three cups of hot chocolate later found us at the base of the SE Ridge. Crampons on, skis on packs and axes out, we had lots of time and so started to make steady progress breaking trail up the ridge.

DSC01216
Monch SE Ridge

It was hot, slow work and further up, the snow quality deteriorated. We got the rope out and opted to circumnavigate the rock bands rather than scratch around in the rapidly warming, thin snow cover on the ridge proper. Sticking to the west side, we found shade and better snow and made good progress until back on the ridge.

DSC01217
Heading around the first of the rock bands

We followed the precariously thin ridge til we met the slope to the summit ridge. Here we found brilliant ice and made quick work to of it. Once on the ridge, we were blown away by how narrow it was and were back to slow progress, sticking to the south side and for the most part, sidestepping save for the odd section where we could walk, Occasionally putting the axe through the cornice and watching as it tumbled away down the beautiful, sickeningly steep North side. With a few last whacks of the axe and a few more steps kicked, we were both sitting on top of the small summit plateau, smiling but equally looking nervous about the skiing to come.

DSC01223
All smiles on the summit of the Monch (4107m)

Having already decided that I would go first, we carefully removed crampons and donned skis and then, with little more than 15 minutes of enjoying the summit views, I was off. To ski something this steep was a completely new experience to me and gave me the same feeling of commitment that I get as I decide to jump in my more familiar environment of base jumping. Still tied in and with Fi providing a belay from the north side of the summit ridge, I side slipped and put one turn in before my 40m of rope was up. Crafting a makeshift belay, Fi made her way down the 50° slope turned under me and continued traversing west so we could get above the snow slope proper. From here we dispensed with the rope and began to make turns down the face. As the snow quality changed from icy to heavy, sun affected snow, so too the angle changed. Several avalanches had recently ravaged the face and so the snow changed from heavy to scoured and back to heavy which made for hard work and demanded a bunch of concentration. Once down at the first bergschrund, we crossed this and traversed back to the east through unforgiving avalanche debris and eventually to above the second bergschrund. A straight line from here crossed the ‘schrund and had us screaming through virgin snow on the way back to the Jungfraujoch station, but not before we shed some kit and sat in the sun looking back up the face and feeling thoroughly pleased with ourselves. It was a great day, ticking off something I have wanted to do for a while, and getting to do it with Fi as company. Drinks were had back at the ranch and it was a smug me who sat on the plane to Aberdeen on Monday heading to work.

Monch route
The Monch South Face. South East ridge ascent line in blue. Line of South face descent in red.