‘We’ve got pasta. Lots of pasta. Sardines, some emmental and three cloves of garlic.’
After being shut down on the Dru, Niels, Mike and I were lost.
The forecast predicted tropical temperatures in the mountains, and despite the high psyche, we couldn't find a suitable objective. Whilst cooking dinner, we talked about the next Plan Of Attack. Ideas popped up, each one debated or discarded. The haphazard - and frequently mad - suggestions matched our meal as it came to fruition.
Jorasses? Melting in the foehn. ‘Chuck in some tomatoes.’
Scotch on the Rocks? Buried in slush. ‘Are those chickpeas? Add them in!’
South face of the Midi? €52 for a rock route?! ‘Carrots look like they've gone off. Chop them extra-fine.’
Boiling water spat and bubbled. A blue gas flame spilled from the ring underneath the pot, hypnotising my tired eyes. ‘Salt, pepper, chilli powder, mayonnaise.’
This 'experimental' cooking style usually results in a nutritious meal, as long as it involves heaps of pasta and tomato sauce!
"How about the West Ridge of Salbitschijen," said Mike. Google showed a long, alpine-esque rock route in Switzerland, approximately 30 pitches long and, most importantly, full sunshine!
We drove through Schweiz that afternoon, laughing as we passed the villages of Bitsch, Binn and the Furka Pass. So mature...
We stayed in the Salbit bivi hut, which is unmanned and only 5 minutes walk from the start of the west ridge. The nearest water supply was in the approach couloir, before you climb up the ladders/cables.
Useful beta to reach the Salbit bivi hut:
Park on the road to Goscheneralp, just up from the village of Goschenen. I think the parking place is signposted ‘Voralpshputte’ or similar. From here, walk upstream for 1 hour until you reach Horrefelli (basic shepherds hut/walking refuge). Follow the guidebook description: head north up the mountain, into a chossy couloir and eventually turning right and using a ladder/cables to reach the upper flank of the mountain.
All of this is totally obvious if you walk in during good weather! We were totally clagged in and the guidebook didn't help much, so enjoy the beta.
Cooking over the Jetboil, the familiar purr of the stove complimenting the candlelight, the meal began to take shape. ‘Chorizo. Who brought the sausage? I thought you had it?!’
It was a pleasant evening as the alpenglow illuminated the skyline. The bivi hut is well furnished with blankets and great views.
The route involves 5 towers along a ridge, which roughly decrease in size as you go. The first has approximately seven pitches, and the last only four. The abseils off the back of each tower are easy to find and quick, and route reading is usually straightforward. Most of the climbing is around French 5/5+, with a few 6a+ pitches to maintain interest.
We climbed the route in 8 hours 30 minutes, as a three. We moved together a fair amount and were slick but didn't try to rush it.
The descent is easy: seven 50m abseils take you to ground, where a short walk brings you back to the bivi hut. Bring trainers, food, water and the camera! The guidebook's recommended rack was perfect, but we were glad of having a single rack of cams from 0.5 (BD purple) to 3 (BD blue).
The granite is immaculate and a real delight to climb on. The positions, particularly on the second and fifth towers, were incredible - laybacking a steep knife-edge arête for 40 metres is a rarity in the UK!
Although the west ridge is a 'traditional' route by European standards, there are plenty of bolts littering the climb. The south ridge is a popular, easier classic too.
If you're in Chamonix and wondering what to do with a rubbish forecast, you should check our the Salbitschijen, bitches!