Obergabelhorn (4063 m)

Trip report
August 22-23, 1997

Some day we must succeed. Well, as our preceding attempts go through our mind, there were always "objective" and "subjective" reasons to turn back. The first time - only fifty meters below the summit - an unfortunate collision with the ice ax dangling from the wrist, the second time simply bad conditions at the Gendarme. Hard ice already below the Gendarme lets us expect nothing good further up. The third time, it was simply too warm to get up and down from Mountet well through all the snow...
But some day... We are talking about Obergabelhorn, this is not a really difficult 4000 m peak of the Alps. But it belongs to the more difficult 25%; all the normal routes are AD, and one every route there is rock of grade III and often also ice. The Coeur ridge from Mountet is no more a snow ascent. So the only reasonable ascent for ice-centered people like us is the route from Rothornhütte via Wellenkuppe and the Gendarme.
August 22, 1997
In the biggest heat of the day we do the ascent from Zermatt to Rothornhütte (3200 m). The height difference of 1600 meters is quite a bit, but fortunately there's some water along most of the way. Four and a half hours are not too bad considering the weather.
August 23, 1997
Having left the hut at 4:30, the snow saddle at Wellenkuppe is reached at six. From there on the route continues through scree, further up some "real" rock. The grade "PD" in the guidebook shouldn't be confused with a Bernese Alps "PD" - here you really have to hold on to the rock, and for the last part it's not the best idea to come without a rope. About an hour of climbing, and soon we are standing on the nice cornice crest of Wellenkuppe (3903 m). Elsewhere this would be a respectable summit, but here it's only a hillock on the way to the top. no large image available Only 160 meters of height difference to Obergabelhorn.
But first there's a descent of almost hundred meters, until the base of the Gendarme is reached. After a couple of meters of mixed climbing, the fixed ropes are reached which make the traverse of the Gendarme possible. Otherwise it would be much more than "rather difficult (AD)". On the rope, the difficulty reduces to a power-consuming gymnastics.
This time things are even easier, since from the point where the fixed rope becomes vertical, a good snowy band leaves to the right, avoiding the Gendarme summit and reaching the ridge again beyond.
no large image availableFrom here, the route continues on the nice snow crest, later through rocky slabs more or less on the ridge (III) towards the summit. The saddle where the crest meets the northeast face is a little delicate for the last meters, but beyond it is only 10 meters, somewhat exposed, to the main summit (4063 m). The rock is so kind to be solid and good everywhere.
The first clouds are rising from the valley, so we enjoy the remaining views from the top not too long. The descent takes about two hours to the Gendarme, and another hour to Wellenkuppe. Late - at five p.m. - we are back at Rothornhütte. Surely one can do it faster than in 13 hours, but still we are not the last ones to reach the hut in the evening returning from a tour.
The same evening we go down to Zermatt, we'd like to avoid another night in the hut where at four in the morning it would get noisy again. Back to Zermatt at eight, we can even do a part of the drive back home.
Staying overnight at Furka Pass, we can quite well escape the usual Sunday traffic and reach home without obstacles.

Practical hints

Ascent to the hut
From Zermatt railway station towards "downtown" until a steep and narrow "street" leaves to the right (the sign is mounted rather high at the house there). Steeply up for an hour to Alterhaupt (1960 m, restaurant) and another hour to (2337 m, restaurant).
From there, 2 - 2 1/2 hours to Rothornhütte SAC (3200 m). Due to the long ascent without any cable car, the hut is usually not very crowded.
From the hut on the flat glacier, making a long left turn up towards the rather striking shoulder on the left side of Wellenkuppe, in the end a little steeper. From here, one goes up the slope to the right. First keeping left, then a short pitch of II in the scree; later back almost onto the ridge (cairns). A beautiful terrain to miss the route on the descent... A notch is reached (remember the way back!), after which the crest consists of solid and compact big rock slabs (II). This part, about 70 m high, is taken directly; then to the summit cornice of Wellenkuppe (3903 m).
From here, follow the snow crest to the base of the prominent Gendarme. On the crest to the first fixed rope. The second fixed rope is vertical and an enormous gymnastics. If snow conditions are good, one can directly traverse to the right from the point where it becomes vertical. Otherwise do the gym to the top and follow the crest down behind the Gendarme.
The crest is snowy for a while, but soon the snow disappears giving way to solid and compact rock (III). Mostly on slabs, the route runs close to the crest. The last few meters to the summit are quite exposed.
The anchors at Obergabelhorn and at the Gendarme are sufficient for abseiling with a 50 m rope. In the upper pitches at Wellenkuppe, the anchors might require a closer inspection. Else, the descent route is the same as the ascent.
It's hard to give a generally valid schedule. We are usually not very fast in rock. Our times:
04.25Rothornhütte (3200)
06.00snow saddle at Wellenkuppe
07.25saddle before the slabs
07.50Wellenkuppe (3903)
09.10above Gendarme, snow crest
11.20Obergabelhorn (4063)
13.10above Gendarme
16.00snow saddle at Wellenkuppe
19.55Zermatt, railway station
Maps and guides
Guidebooks (in German): Maps: By the way, who is interested in this information: The trains from Zermatt to Täsch leave in the evening at
19.5020.1520.3021.1021.50 22.3023.10
(as of August 1997)
© 1997 Hartmut Bielefeldt

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