Ascent of Rimpfischhorn in 1971

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 was clear.

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. Rupture.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. Saas Fee morning view.
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 bring water.

Saas Fee.
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 for hours.

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 the night.



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 the climb.

Bergführer Werner Perren en route to the Rimpfischhorn

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" climb.

Rimpfischhorn and Strahlhorn.
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).
Monte Rosa with Lyskamm (still in shadow)
Matterhorn and Dent Blanche.
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.

View from Rimpfischhorn.
Looking back at a "Vorgipfel" on the summit ridge
Rimpfischhorn summit photo.
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.

Lyskamm with Castor and Pollux
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.


Rimpfischhorn ascent.

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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  Last edited or checked June 23, 2006.

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