Climb high, stay high – take advantage of mountain huts
In the mountains altitude is a hard won currency and wasting your climbing gains, by returning to the valley after each and every peak, will seriously impact how much climbing you get done over the course of a holiday.
Fortunately the Alps offer a superb network of mountain huts
With a bit of judicious planning, staying in climbers’ huts will allow you to remain high and not fritter away time going back and forth to the valley. Clearly you need to make an allowance for a balanced acclimatisation and stick to the old adage ‘climb high, sleep low’ but once you’ve got over the initial day or so this can be achieved by using huts.
Mountain huts are no longer a last resort
To the uninitiated, staying in mountain huts can seem a bit like ‘slumming it’... This is no doubt based on old stories of overcrowding and grim facilities, but it is just that - old stories! Nowadays, modern huts are extremely comfortable, well organised and the perfect base for high Alpine adventures. It’s true, you’ll have to muck along and be sociable, but by being organised and embracing the fact that you can’t plunge into a bubble bath after a long day, huts will give you more than enough to keep body and soul together. You’ll be fed, basically but well, you’ll be warm and have drying facilities. You have the chance to wash and brush up, and more importantly you’ll have, through the guardian, access to up-to-the-minute route information.
One hut or two?
You have two basic options to maximise your stay high up; either to stay at one hut and climb individual summits, or to string a series of huts together by traversing peaks in-between. The individual hut allows you to settle in and become familiar with the area, whist the hut-to-hut routes spread the load, giving you extra options should conditions not be ideal at one hut. As with any climbing trip in the Alps you’ll have to be flexible with your plans as weather and snow conditions can close things down completely and you may be forced to return to the valley and move elsewhere.
- The Britannia Hut above Saas-Fee is a classic example of a one-stop hut. It’s easily accessible from the Felskinn lift station and from it ascents of classics like the Allalinhorn, Rimpfiscchhorn and the Strahlhorn can be made. For those with Matterhorn dreams the Rimpfiscchhorn is an ideal training peak.
- For an ideal first hut-to-hut option the combination of the Almageller Hut and the Weissmies Hut in the Swiss Valaise works really well. First day you make the valley to Almageller Hut walk which works well for acclimatization. The following day a classic traverse of the Weissmies up the South-southeast Ridge and down the West-northwest Flank delivers you to the creature comforts of the Weissmies Hut. From here you can then either make an attempt on either of three ridges on the Lagginhorn or opt for the mind blowing Via Ferrata on the near by Jegihorn.
Once you have settled into using huts to stay high you can then embark upon truly amazing expeditions and make ascents in wild and remote settings that are often off limits if you restrict yourself to a valley base. Your guide will be able to work through all the options with you but to start the ball rolling good areas to look at could include the hut network around Konkordia Platz south of Grindlewald behind the Eiger, around the Mer de Glace in Chamonix and on the south and west sides of Monte Rosa. At all of these locations you could easily escape into the hills for a week and come back with a fist full of world-class summits.