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Balmhorn ⇑

Climbing the Balmhorn, Kandersteg, Swiss Alps, Switzerland

Balmhorn: Easy mountaineering makes for hard running

A big day out that demands perfect conditions and steel tips   

→ 22km     

↑ 2400m

Δ 3698M 

⇑ Difficult

Θ Out & Back

Climbing the Balmhorn

I hoped that someone might ask what we were doing today, just so I could point up to the Balmhorn. We spent all day without seeing anyone though. Today the mountain was ours. Bounding through the tall grass and yellow butterballs wearing tank tops and shorts, out for a typical summer run, but with ice axes curiously on the outside of our packs and weighted with crampons. We must have looked loopy. No one was around to witness our feat until we returned to a grassy meadow where people strolled after riding the lift up to Sunnbüel. And then, no one gave a second look to our tools completely out of place in the green, flower filled fields.

The alarm nagged us out of deep car-camping slumber at 3am. We chugged instant coffee, brushed our teeth, and fumbled for shoes and sunglasses in the dark. From Waldhaus, the steep forest climb was a rude awakening. While the night critters were still slinking around the trails, we shuffled up the first meters of what would be a big day, careful not to step on inky black salamanders or lazy frogs caught in the spot light of our headlamps. A cow's eyes sparkled suspiciously as we passed.

We wouldn't feel sunshine until we reached the Zackengrat, and that required trudging over a steep moraine and front-pointing up the Schwarzgletscher. With each jab upward, I dreaded coming back down. Once on the rocky ridge, we could run a narrow paving of mostly flat slabs until meeting the glacier again and back to stabbing our way up the ice and snow. In fact, we covered a solid 6km wearing crampons. On one side of the snowy ramp, a shear cliff drop off, and on the other, an almost equally steep slide into a white abyss. It's not the place to practice a self-arrest.

By the time we turned around to retrace the route back, the morning had warmed enough to let our steps sink slightly into the icy surface. Skreeing and glissading, we dropped down from the alpine world and back to green in no time. Down to the river to soak tired feet and a much needed nap.

If this was your kind of day, you might consider the Lagginhorn next.

Learn more about the skills necessary to run Way Ups with ALPSinsight's Education pages for Mountain Running and Mountain Sport Fitness.

LOCATION
Start:  46.467844, 7.662348
Town:  Kandersteg
Canton:  Bern
Country:  Switzerland

TIPS
  • Crampons and ice axe are mandatory.
  • Do not underestimate this route. While it can be done in running shoes (with crampons), the trick is to know when it can be done in running shoes. Time of day and seasonal conditions make a drastic difference in this route's safety. Just the right amount of snow on the Schwarzgletscher makes for easier passage compared to the loose scree beneath.
  • Mountaineering experience is a must. If you aren't sure that you are ready, don't go. While possible in running shoes, it is a mountaineering route.

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Heading up the moraine on the approach.

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On the lower section of the Schwarzgletscher in June.

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After gaining the Zackengrat from the Schmarxgletscher, a long section of clean rock and trail allows you to open it up.

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The Zackengrat.

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The Zackengrat with views down to Leukerbad.

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On the summit snowfield with views to the Wallis, including (l-r) Lagginhorn, Weissmies, Monte Rosa, Weisshorn, Matterhorn, Zinalrothorn, Dent Blanche.

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After a false summit, the last bit of up. In the distance is the Jungfrau Region.

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Kim on the summit of the Balmhorn with the Walliser Alps behind.

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Descending the Zackengrat.

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Out of the alpine zone and into the friendly world of flowers and the color green. Downward bound.

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Comments 3

  1. What kind of crampons was Kim using? It doesn’t look like micro spikes nor regular mountaineering/glacier travel ones.

    1. Theo, She’s got Kahtoola crampons on… they are a great set up for running shoes on steeper hard snow.

  2. Climbed Balmhorn on 30.08.2019 from Winteregghutte. The glacier has become too unstable in summer for the old “normal route” up the glacier itself towards the grat. Serious, dangerous rockfall occurred every few minutes. Rocks hurtling down the valley. Stay away from the right wall (the Rinderhorn side). As you near the steep glacier, note the long boulder outcrop/column – ascend on the boulders. Very little scree. It’s good footing (when dry) and avoids the rocks coming down that couloir/gully on the right. At the top of the boulder outcrop section, a new scree trail continues up and joins the old “normal route” trail. On descent, watch for the right hand turn to head back to the boulder outcrop, avoiding the gully/couloir. The grat was dry, as expected. There is plenty of ice towards the vorgipfel (crampons essential) and crevasses between the vorgipfel and gipfel with lots more snow there. There are also plenty of crevasses down low and the “snow bridges” are impossible to see with the black scree as a “bridge”. I punched through into one, thigh deep. Magnificent day. Took RAD kit, but didn’t feel a need to rope up. But glad to have the option. Used a pole to probe snow bridges. Carried ice axe to approach the vorgipfel and used one pole.

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