Rimpfischhorn! Even the name is droll, non-threatening somehow, although
I am sure that the mountain has had its share of accidents. I do not
know the name's origin. It may have something to do with fish, or maybe
"rimpfisch" is an adjective, or the name might even have an
arabic root. I read somewhere that at one time the Saracens reached
the Saas valley, and that some of the names have an arabic origin, such
as Allalinhorn, Saas-Almagell or the Mischabel chain. (On the other
hand I have also seen Mischabel explained as "Mistgabel",
i.e. dung fork.). It is an easy climb, commonly used as an exercise
for tourists to prepare for the Matterhorn. My guide Werner Perren had
suggested it as a preliminary objective in 1970, but in the end we had
limited ourselves to the Riffelhorn to practice for the Matterhorn.
So once I decided to try to reach another summit in 1971, the objective
The decision to go on climbing in 1971 after the success of the previous
year was not a difficult one. I had already visited the Alps during
the past three summers. I was in peak physical condition following several
months of running exercises. Most of all, I had been "bitten by
the bug", and to climb another 4000-meter peak seemed a natural
"high point" of my alpine sojourn. There
must also have been an element of pride: I wanted to prove to myself
that the previous year's exploit had not just been a misguided attempt
to impress my friends and colleagues. No one achieves rock star status
by climbing the Rimpfischhorn!
So I took the usual two-day trip by car down to Switzerland as soon
as my summer vacation started. - A funny incident occurred while I was
travelling through Bern, the capital of Switzerland. Just as I was passing
through, the water mains ruptured, which resulted in a spectacular fountain.
I swear that I was not involved!
As usual, I wanted to spend a couple of weeks in the Alps before the
climb. This year, I decided to visit Saas-Fee for the first time. The
Saas valley is a parallel valley to the east of the Matter valley with
Zermatt and the Matterhorn. See the Valais
map. At the end of the Saas valley there are several small villages:
Saas-Grund, Saas-Balen, Saas-Almagell, Saas-Fee, of which Saas-Fee has
become a well-known resort both for alpinism and winter sports. It sits
on a plateau at an altitude of 1800 m. Its main claim to fame before
it became a tourist resort was that the German author Carl Zuckmayer
made it his home after he fled Nazi Germany.
Saas-Fee is smaller than Zermatt, and offers a closer contact with
the mountains. From Zermatt you can really only se the Matterhorn and
glimpse some of the other summits, while most of the mountains are blocked
from view by the intervening hills. From Saas-Fee you have a direct
view of several of the 4000-m mountains to the south and south-west,
while the glaciers end just a few hundred meters above the village.
Saas-Fee calls itself the "glacier village". - Just as in
Zermatt, motor vehicles are prohibited, although there is parking space
available just outside the village.
Saas-Fee with Alphubel, 4206 m.
Early morning view from my hotel window
The photo on the left shows the glacier as it looked in 1971. A century
ago, it almost reached the village. Today it has probably receded even
further due to global warming.
Saas-Fee sits on a plateau off the mountain
side at 1800 m altitude.
There are plenty of nice trails for hikers around the village. One
of the most charming is the Kapellenweg that leads down to Saas-Grund
lower in the valley. There are 15 small "chapels" along the
footpath, built 200 years ago.
On both sides of the Saas valley there are trails at about 2000 m altitude,
"Höhenwege". They run more or less at constant altitude,
so as you walk along these trails to the north, the valley gradually
drops until you find yourself at an impressive altitude although you
have really only walked more or less horizontally from the village.
The one on the left side of the valley (looking north) goes all the
way to Grächen in the Matter Valley. I spent one of my days on
that trail, which takes about 6 - 7 hours. There was a bus service back
from Grächen to Saas-Fee. There are two things to note: 1) It is
a long walk, and there is no convenient point to interrupt the journey,
so at mid-point you are committed to three hours of additional effort.
2) As you go north, the number of brooks decreases. The mountains there
are not high enough to maintain a snow cover in summer. You need to
On my way to the Mischabel hut at 3329 m. The
fixed steel wire at this point can be a confidence builder when
the rock is wet or icy.
One day I went up to the Mischabelhütte at 3329 m altitude, i.e.
1500 m. above the village. This took me three hours. In general, I was
able to achieve 500 m of altitude gain per hour, at least below 3000
m altitude. - I once clocked 60 minutes from Zermatt (1620 m) to the
Trift hotel (2337 m), but that pace would not have been sustainable
The trail to the Mischabel hut is straight and uniform. It is exposed
to the sun all the way, so it may be a good idea to start early while
the morning is fresh. There are fixed wires in some moderately exposed
spots, probably more to reassure people with a tendency to vertigo than
out of necessity.
On another day, I walked to the Britannia hut. This was largely a traverse
over a glacier that was supposed to be quite safe, but as the picture
below demonstrates, crevices are not the only danger to be considered.
A harmless looking slope may turn into a deadly threat. Wet snow probably
has a specific weight similar to pure water, i.e. one ton per cubic
meter, and we have seen from the December 2004 tsunami disaster what
that means. - If you are pinned under the snow, you had better pray
for quick assistance!
But I digress. The purpose of my visit to Saas-Fee was to build stamina
and to get acclimatized to the thin air at 2000-3000 m altitude, but
first and foremost just to enjoy the scenery and to measure my strength.
After a very pleasant stay at Saas-Fee, a village where I have returned
several times since then, both in summer and in winter, it was time
to move to Zermatt, where Werner Perren was pleased to welcome me back
and to accept to guide me on the Rimpfischhorn.
Although the Rimpfischhorn is technically easy, it is an enjoyable
target due to the spectacular views during the long approach and
return, and the combination of snow, ice and rock climbing. The
fun starts in the afternoon before the climb, when you take the
cable car to Blauherd and walk from there to the Fluhalp hotel
with a splendid view of the Monte Rosa massif. A purist might
prefer to walk all the way from Zermatt to Fluhalp, but professional
guides do not believe in exertion for its own sake, so we went
together to Blauherd and on to the Fluhalp hotel, where we spent
We started the climb in darkness very early the next morning. Werner
used a candle lantern for the first rocky part until we reached
the glacier. Here he politely shut me up when I tried to strike
up a conversation. I was invited to literally save my breath during
Bergführer Werner Perren en route to the
The long march over the glacier ended when we reached a rocky band
that had to be climbed. We then again found ourselves on a stretch of
snow and ice. After a steep slope we reached the base of the "real"
Rimpfischhorn and Strahlhorn.
At daybreak we had an impressive view of Monte Rosa, the second highest
mountain in the Alps, and the whole chain to the south: Lyskamm, Castor
and Pollux, Breithorn, and further west the Matterhorn and Dent Blanche:
Monte Rosa with Lyskamm (still in shadow)
Matterhorn and Dent Blanche
As we had set out early and had overtaken all the parties that had
started before us, Werner had to use his ice axe to cut fresh steps
in the couloir leading to the summit ridge.
Once we exited from the couloir, there only remained a short airy path
to the summit.
The obligatory summit photo. "Da haben
Sie noch das Matterhorn darauf."
We met several ascending teams during our descent.
After enjoying the summit view and refreshing ourselves with tea, we
started the descent. In the couloir that led down to the snow slope,
we encountered several parties on their way up.
A guide on his way up. Lyskamm with Castor
and Pollux in the background.
A tourist following his guide.
As we looked back after descending the snow slope, we could
see several parties still zigzagging their way up the slope.
The two climbers at the bottom in the photo (right) probably
started from the Täsch hut. This is where they join
the route coming up from the Fluhalp.
We now still had to descend the rocky band that leads up
to this slope from the right side.
Once down on the lower glacier, we still met tourists on
their way up.
When we got off the glacier and back on rocky terrain, Werner retrieved
his lantern which he had hidden behind a rock. He complimented me on
my good training: "Sie sind ja wahnsinnig wohl trainiert!".
This was something that I appreciated all the more as he had been groaning
and muttering a lot under his breath the previous year when I grew tired
and overheated during our descent of the Matterhorn. And it is true
that I probably have never been as physically fit as that summer.
When we reached the Fluhalp hotel, I overheard the manager commiserating
with Werner that we had been forced to turn back prematurely. It seems
that we must have set some kind of record, for he could not believe
that we could already be back if we had really reached the summit. -
From the hotel we hitched a ride on some kind of small flatbed truck
used to transport supplies to the hotel. It was a bumpy ride! We then
took the cable car down to Zermatt, where Werner's wife was glad to
have him back so early.
All in all it had been a pleasant, relaxed rounding off of a most enjoyable
season in the Alps.
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