Petersgrat Glacier (3163m)
The Petersgrat Glacier is a huge plateau of ice a few hundred meters higher than the Mutthorn Hut (and around a mile or so to the south of it). It forms the end of the south west ridge of the Tschingelhorn. We hired crampons and harnesses in Wengen. We’d brought our own ropes, ice axes, slings, prussics and screw gate carabiners with us.
We took public transport from Wengen to Stechelberg (910m) and walked up into the high Lauterbrunnental via Trachsellauenen. We stopped for elevenses at the Obersteinberg Hut (1778m) with spectacular views of the Holdrifall waterfalls. We then continued to the Oberhornsee lake (2065m) . Here the path markings changed from the usual red and white stripes of a standard mountain walking path to the blue and white of a ‘mountaineering’ route.
Soon we were on thick moraine deposits burying the surface of the Tschingelfirn glacier below us. Finally the moraine and the marked route came to an abrupt end near a big open crevasse at around 2450m. We put on our harnesses and crampons (but didn’t rope up) as we stepped onto the thick bluish ice of a ‘dry’ glacier. ’Dry’ in the context of a glacier means not covered in snow, but also means extremely wet with surface water often forming a mirriad of little flowing rivers to step over.
We picked our way between surface rocks, rivers, slushy ponds and and crevasses for a few hundred meters more until the slope steepened significantly and we met thickening snow which obscured our view of the crevasses – here we roped together as is the only safe way to cross a ‘wet’ or snow covered glacier. There was still no sign of a route: no markings, no other crampon marks and no sign of the hut which was somewhere high above us perched on a big rock.
It was a hard slog up, but not as hot as many of the previous glaciers we have crossed. Finally we caught site of the Hut’s toilet block jutting out over the steep cliffs of the Mutthorn – we didn’t stop to think much about the bergschrund crevasse into which the sewage fell.
After zigging and zagging between crevassed convexities we topped out into the col between the Mutthorn and the Tschingelhorn and walked around the great wind scoop onto the rocks of the Mutthorn and the Mutthornhütte. The hut guardians came out and greeted us with hot tea. They were surprised to find we were Brits, some of the other residents were very impressed that we had done the trip in a single day from Stechelberg as they had overnighted at the Obersteinberg Hut to break their ascent.
Stats: Ascent: 2065m, Descent: 105m
Accommodation: Mutthorn Hut
As our plan was nothing particularly ambitious, we had a luxuriously late ‘lie-in’ by alpine standards and breakfasted at 6am. We roped up and stepped out onto the snow, which was now frozen quite hard over night. By 8am we had climbed the 300m to the Petersgrat plateau and walked around the deep wind scoop at the end of the Tschingelhorn ridge to take a final grade 1 tongue of ice up to our little peak at 3163m. Second breakfast was greedily consumed as we surveyed the phenomenal views.
We could also see great dark clouds building up fast, threatening a change in weather that we did not want to be caught in on the way back down the pathless Tschingelfirn. The descent was rapid only slowed to pick a safe route through the gnarly crevassed terrain.
Stats: Ascent: 310m, Descent: 2330m
(You can hire a local Guide for such a trip from the local Guides office, but it’s very easy for anyone with roped glacier crossing experience.)
Author: Phil Newby