Θ CW Loop
This is not our typical tour. The trail isn't perfect, there's loose rock on the ridge, and the descent is very overgrown in places. As we climbed to the summit we decided it would not even be going on the site. Still want to run it? Good, because after we arrived to the car and discussed it with our friends, we all decided it was actually very worthy. As a whole, it's a great run. It just needs some explaining.
The run kicks off with a 300 meter descent, which is odd given that the day includes 2200 meters of vertical gain. But with this routing, you'll get to run an exquisite 3km of bisse trail (silky smooth trail alongside ancient water channels) to the base of the climb - the first 5.5 km of your 23km day are done very quickly.
When we crossed the river at Ze Steinu, deep in the Baltschiedertal, Hillary Gerardi spoke up, "So, if I looked at the map correctly, we're about to climb 1800 meters without a break".
That's right! As you climb, the trail gets fainter and fainter, but it's always there thanks to what seems to be an old road to the cirque beneath the Alpjuhorn itself. An old mining operation is still evident in the cirque. The trail follows what must have been access to this mine, but now it has faded into the hillside. It's obvious if you pay attention, but you do have to keep an eye out for the many switchbacks.
Once in the cirque at about point 2772, and directly beneath the west ridge of the Alpjuhorn, you have the choice between two gulleys to the ridge. We chose the eastern gulley which proved to be loose scree and just steep enough to require extra caution. Definitely ascend tight as a group to avoid knocking rocks onto each other. Once on the ridge, we discovered the west ridge to the summit of the Alpjuhorn wasn't nearly what we'd hoped for. The term choss pile came to mind, which for the non-climbers reading this translates to "pain in the ass rubble," and best avoided. With optimism fading, we carried on to have a closer look.
It turned out to be a little better than we expected. Keeping to the north side, and just below the ridge, there are passages that allow you to gain elevation. Then, directly beneath the summit, it got worse. The last 50 meters is not something we're going to recommend. In descent, we stayed primarily right on top of the ridge where we discovered the rock to actually be most solid. Check what you grab and negotiate all this at your own risk!
Once we arrived back to the top of the gulley, we'd already vetoed the route for the site. Scratch that one off the list. Then, we spotted the summit cross just west of us on a lower peak with a nice ridgeline leading right to it. Up we went. Fast and on good rock. The 2951 meter Rothorn saved the day. It seems a great view is never enough reward, for whatever reason that view needs to be from a summit. And so, from the summit of the Rothorn, we finally took in our surroundings- a massive alpine arena with the 3934 meter Bietschhorn as hero. We were also surrounded by thunderstorms and visible sheets of rain headed right for us. Down we went.
The descent is part of what saves this run. Once down from the gulley, a 1500 meter, mostly runnable descent awaits. You'll descend the same faint trail to point 2311, just past an old stone structure. There, you stay left and instead of continuing to drop steeply, you'll traverse into the back of the canyon which wraps around to a couple of small shepherd houses at 2205 meters (water fountains here). From this point, the trail is on and off through high grass and shin burning stinging nettle, but it's always visible and gets you quickly to Honalpa (1983m) from where the trail is fast and big back to the starting point in Finnen.
What made us change our minds about including this on the site is that it's the best kind of day for a certain kind of runner. We saw no other people, had to pay attention to the route, used our mountain experience to stay safe on the ridge, and then were rewarded with a runnable 1500 meter descent. The area felt remote and got us to a highpoint with stunning alpine scenery. Sure, the summit was chossy, but that's how it goes sometimes.
You don't need to tag the Alpjuhorn, you can much more easily enjoy the view from the Rothorn and have the same day minus the choss.
While you're in the neighborhood, that big peak west of the Rothorn is the Wiwannihorn. We hoped the Alpjuhorn would be like it for rock quality, but while the Wiwannihorn is busy, the Alpjuhorn is a solitary experience. Both great, but very different.
Top Image: Hillary Gerardi on the last meters to the summit of the Rothorn, the much easier alternative to the Alpjuhorn.
Start: 46.314290, 7.895724
- There are numerous water sources on the way up, but unless you're cool with stream water, carry a filter.
- Mountain savvy is necessary for the gulley that gains the ridge. The rock is loose and steep.
- There are zero huts with any food on the route, a rarity in the Alps. Carry what you need!
Rising above the Baltschiedertal on good trails with a view of the Bietschhorn.
Good trails fade to an overgrown grassy path, but always visible and easy to follow. Above the runners, the obvious peak is the Alpjuhorn while in the shadow of the cloud left is the Rothorn. The gulleys climb the red rock between the two peaks.
High on the grassy climb that follows old mining paths.
Hillary Gerardi and Alister Bignell starting up the gulley.
Hillary Gerardi on some of the better rock while climbing the ridge to the Alpjuhorn.
Snacks with a view.
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