Possible new route on Bernese Oberland's Monch

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 08/08/2011
North West Face of Monch. Ben Dare

New Zealander Ben Dare has climbed a possible partial new line on the c1,000m North West Face of the Monch (4,107m)

Dare started up the Nollen Route, but instead of descending to the glacier below the face, slanted up left to reach the Haston-Eistrup Couloir (Dougal Haston- Ole Eistrup, September 1976) well above its base.

He followed the couloir through the crux narrows, between the rocks of the North West Face to the left, and the large serac of the Nollen, and then branched left into a prominent gully, cutting through the rock of the face. This led to the upper section of the South West Ridge, just below the summit.

The gully featured ice at 60-75°, with a few short vertical sections and moderate mixed ground at the top. Dare assessed the line at New Zealand 4+ or 5-, and although not too familiar with European adjectival grades thinks this would roughly equate to TD.

His line does not appear in the most recent (2010) Swiss Alpine Club guidebook to the area, and a local guide has no knowledge of any prior ascent. Currently, responses from the SAC have been inconclusive.

In March 2007 Stefan Biggel and Korbinian Schmidtner climbed the Haston-Eistrup line to above the narrows, then took a more direct exit left up a steep ice hose through rocky ground (two pitches of 65° and a third of 85°, followed by 250m of more moderate 50-55° slopes to the ridge).

This appears to lie between the couloir followed by Dare and the original Haston-Eistrup finish.

The classic route on this side of the Monch is the North West Spur aka Nollen Route, approached directly from the Guggi Hut, It is generally straightforward snow/ice climbing except for one short section where it steepens through a large ice boss (the Nollen) formed by a large serac.

This crux section is generally short, but can be quite steep, raising the overall grade of the expedition to AD/AD+.

On the first ascent in 1866 Edmund von Fellenberg employed guides Peter Egger, Christian Gertsch and Christian Michel. Gertsch was to lead the climb and carry an eight-metre wooden ladder to surmount the bulge.

Not surprisingly the task proved too much and, according to Fellenberg, Gertsch 'fell to the ground unconscious'. Having been revived with homoeopathic remedies, he declared himself fit to continue, but failed to make much progress and was despatched, with ladder, back to Wenganalp.

The other three continued, obviously managed the Nollen perfectly well without the ladder, and reached the summit, where they ceremoniously raised the Swiss flag.

Still of classic status, but less often climbed is Hans Lauper and Max Liniger's North Rib, which demarcates the left side of the face.

A crux slabby limestone rock band low on the route (V) and steep ice/mixed higher on the rib, make this a challenging TD climb in any season. It was climbed in 1921, 11 years before Lauper made his famous ascent of the Eiger's North East Face.

The first route on the North West Face was a direct line climbed in August 1934 by Mrs Hutton-Rudolf guided by Adolf Rubi and Peter Inabnit. The rock is poor and the face exposed to stonefall in dry conditions. The lower part gave grade V climbing on limestone, while the upper grade III on granite at an overall grade of ED1.

It is rarely climbed and this face today is no longer a summer proposition.

The Haston-Eistrup line is TD+ with a section of 70-75° through the narrows. However, in if not perfectly iced at the base, it can give a short section of M5.

A few months after Haston and Eistrup made their ascent, the North West Face was visited in winter by Dick Renshaw and Dave Wilkinson. From the 23rd-26th December, this pair followed the most direct line to the summit, climbing a conspicuous depression between the face and the Lauper Rib that had defeated a number of parties.

There was steep ice in the lower section through rock barriers (sustained Scottish 5), but easier mixed terrain to finish. Belays were generally poor but the quality of climbing was excellent (ED2).

The photograph shows the North West Face of the Monch. The right skyline is the Nollen Route. Blue is the New Zealand line, red the Haston-Eistrup.



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