Following some great routes but mixed weather in the Grimsel Pass, the perfect window presented itself for a much bigger mountain objective. The famous Sudgrat of the Salbitschijen was the ideal target, with its 16 pitches offering 600m of golden granite perfection.
We sweated up to the Salbithutte in blazing sunshine, dodging giant ticks and dehydration to arrive on the hut terrace, surrounded by alpine perfection. The dinner and banter with other guests was excellent but the views as the sun set were hard to beat!
We set off at a reasonable time the next morning, not needing head torches for the walk to the base of the approach gully. Chains provided easy passage past a chockstone before some disconcertingly steep gravel deposited us at the base of the ridge proper. We sped up the first four pitches, with only the second pitch putting up a fight, to arrive at the first abseil and a view of the monolithic task ahead.
It quickly became apparent that lay-backing was to be the order of the day and once we committed the pitches began to fly by, each one seemingly better than the last! The white and gold granite shone against the brilliant azure sky as we moved up the arete on the sun-shadow line. If the climbing on the Sudgrat was superlative, then the views across to the Westgrat were indescribable!
It’s rare for an alpine route to have such continuously high quality climbing for pitch after pitch, but just when we though it couldn’t get any better, we hit the money pitch. The crux entails a brilliant sequence up a white shield of granite, before a short, thin, corner provides a moment of desperation and leads to the sanctuary of jugs on the arete above.
The next few rope lengths went by in a blur, the flow only broken by the occasional abseil off another tottering gendarme. Looking over at the ant-like figures scuttling up the Westgrat, we could only imagine what it would feel like to stack another 16 pitches on top of this route.
The insidious creep of dehydration and fatigue couldn’t bring the psyche levels down and Ric put in a stellar effort to take us up the final headwall and onto the summit ridge. After much fist-bumping we dumped bags and scrambled up to the top to be met with an unusual sight – a queue of teams standing in line for the summit needle!
Not wanting to finish the day by queuing, we moved together down the loose northern flank of the mountain until we hit the scree slopes above the descent gully. Scampering down this we arrived at the hut exactly on time for dinner, cocktails and medals.
We were delighted with the route, but having seen the Westgrat up close we knew this wouldn’t be the end of our affair with the Salbit – we’ll be back!