the work of Cyril Ruegger (deceased).My sincere thanks to Cyril,a very fine mountaineer
who died doing what he loved most.
Altels:3629 metres,is another of those bergs where the term "easy" must be used very loosely.Its an impressive looking mountain even in summer when allmost devoid of snow on its face,except for the 300metre glacier that runs its centre.The normal route graded at PD+follows the NW-ridge up its imposing,multi layered north face.
The last of its firm consolidated upper icefield burned away in 1994.Leaving its entire north face a gravel strewn slab system of 40-48degrees,that is treacherous underfoot in summer,and prone to avalanche in winter.The dangers of a slip and fall are very real as there is little chance to place protection,and the rubble surface would have a horrific cheesegrater effect on the body if you did take a tumble.The original grade was given at a time when there was a permanent snow layer,and i think it now exceeds its PD+ in terms of overall difficulty and objective seasonal dangers.
I climbed it in july 2010 and again this year as a training route for Eiger,Austrian route,and West Flank.On the first occaision i met a local guide hurtling down the central glacier in the opposite direction who was less impressed than i was,having been turned back by sheet-verglass on the last 100metres of summit steps.(fortunaetly it had melted by the time i arrived)
It is not often climbed now due to the warmer conditions and is usually only used as a descent route from the Balmhorn-Altels summit saddle link.It does have its charms however in incredible views of the Berner-Valais region,and the sheer testing, bloody mindedness required to persist on this route.It is home to some amazing geological formations,herds of Ibex,and the odd Chamois.It allso provides a great "Cave Bivvy" complex with access to water and firewood,as a jump-off point for Obers Tatelishore:2965mtrs further west over the foothills .This same bivvy can be used before an ascent of Balmhorn via the old moraine route of the Schnarxgleitscher,up to the Zackengraat ridge.
When Peggy and i first found the caves,they had good overhead protection and well used fireplaces.A few had excavated shelves for candles etc,and ancient iron nails in the rock on which to hang gear and clothing.We even found old intact glass-stoppered bottles dating back to the Victorian-period.It is obvious they have been used by hunters,goatherds,and mountaineers,for many hundreds of years,and perhaps even longer.(Swisstopo,GEMMI-1267.!:25000,GR:143161)
Wild Camping is illegal in the Berner region but nobody minds too much if your climbing,acting responsibly,and leaving "No Trace" behind when you depart.The map for this are is the-"GEMMI(1267),1:25000.Landeskarte Der Schweiz.by Swisstopo".
The Kandertal can be a bit confusing to navigate around,as it is bang in the middle of the GEMMI,LOETSCHENTAL,MURREN,ANDELBODEN maps convergence.A quick visit to the Tourist Office in Kandersteg will avoid all this pain,and get you an excellent "local" Swisstopo map of 1:25000,that covers all the main bergs and walks in the entire area.Thus saving you a navigational nervous breakdown!
The gradient of the normal-route steepens as it narrows near the summit,and one is presented with a series of slab steps not unlike the lower section of Eiger,West Flank.It is prudent to place protection (Blade Pitons do the job) here and "Back-Rope" for the last 50metres,as the verglass patches are often very hard to spot.The summit cross is set-back from the summit on the saddle to Balmhorn,and comes as a welcome suprise.(in my case a great relief!) There is a SAC-Logbook in the box on the cross,if you can get it open that is?!
For the clinically insane who want to link Balmhorn,be warned,you will require two abseils of 20metres to protect yourselves and one and a half hours to reach it (perhaps two more hours to return if your not going on.)
The descent is very slippery and tiresome and one could consider a slow glissade down the central glacier if so inclined.This idea gets more attractive the further you descend!
If you dont want all the pain of Altels,or are just plain masochistic,you might want to consider Obers-Tatelishore:2965metres a bit further to the west.Its very much like Altels in gradient and condition and,what there is of a route,goes up its far left ridge in the form of multiple traverses.Its much less of an ordeal and gives incredible views into the hidden valley of Gasteratal.The summit is allso a great spot for lunch and Tai-Chi.The lower knoll of Unters-Tatelishore at 2497metres is an easier option to this,and can be walked too on the "Taterli" path (In summer,great wildflowers and maybe some Ibex.)
In winter the Unters is a Ski-Tour summit and allso could be made on snowshoes,a great view down to Sonnbuel and Kandersteg can be had from here.
I have not bothered putting route times in on this blog as i climbed from the Cave-Bivvy,and not from Sonnbuel SAC-Huts or Schwarenbach bunkhouse.I am happy to give them from the caves (on request), but suggest the huts be used unless you are a competant,and confident bivvy-freak.