Weissmies: Possibly the Best Way Up of Them All
Θ Out & Back
For pure fun, quality, and the absolute definition of perfect running peaks, the Weissmies is quite possibly the best Way Up of them all. And, it's a 4000 peak, making it extra special... by the numbers.
We had done the peak before in classic, Euro-climbing style (walk to hut, sleep in hut, get up in the dark, climb mountain, descend mountain, drink beer), and knew the south ridge (PD) to be an ideal route for a quick ascent.
The route starts at 1670 meters in Saas Almagell with a beautiful trail run to the Almageller Hut. After the hut, the trail turns a bit rockier and steeper until the Zwischbergenpass at 3270 meters. At this point, you have about 1600 meters in your legs. Another 700 meters of ridge looms above.
Our good friend, and 2018 Sky Running World Champion, Hillary Gerardi, would join us this time up. Extra incentive to get the best possible photos from the day.
As we began considering the strategy, I agonized over what time to start to be able to shoot in the best possible light. If we wanted to be high on the ridge for sunrise, we'd have to leave Saas Almagell at around 4 am. While this is something we're used to, it doesn't mean we like it. In the case of the Weissmies, we weren't upset about the annoyance of getting up early, but instead about doing so much of the great trail, and ridge, in the dark.
Then Janine opened our minds, "Why don't we do it for sunset?"
Why hadn't I thought of that? This is a classic case of getting lured into one way of thinking, the standard way... the way it is always done in the Alps. Early. But why not late? In September, when we did it, the weather is far more stable with less thunderstorm activity. Our forecast was for 100% sun and dry weather. Why not do it late? We'd run up in the afternoon, be on the ridge for sunset, and still be able to do some of the descent before dark.
Sure enough, we arrived at the Almageller Hut just in time for happy hour on the hut deck where many climbers sat around enjoying the early evening. With running shoes on our feet and ice axes on our BD Distance 15 liter packs, it was clear we were the subject of all the whispering and stares. I went in to get a bite to eat and was asked if we intended to climb something.
The Weissmies was not what they expected to hear, and our timeframe, that same evening, served as the final blow.
"But it's much too late to go up, especially without climbing gear."
About an hour later, in perfectly still, warm weather, with Kimbo still in running shorts, we stood on top of the Weissmies. Alone.
Our descent was quick, back the way we came, and we managed to make the Zwischbergenpass before complete darkness. We hit the trails with headlamps on and ran all the way down to Saas Almagell where we still made last call at the hotel bar.
There are a couple of lessons here, and both center around not just doing things the way everyone does them.
For a route like this - with no glacier crossing, and quality rock scrambling to a final, short snowy (could be icy) summit ridge - why not go in the evening?
Given the conditions we had, an early morning start and heavy alpine boots were simply not necessary. This is a route ideal for an approach type shoe where you have far more comfort, mobility and traction. Yes, if the route is not in dry condition, wear appropriate gear. But again, you don't have to do what is standard practice. Consider what will be best for you in the given conditions, or wait for the conditions you want to match the style you prefer. This is what we did, we waited for dry September conditions so we could run in, scramble up & down, and run out.
Our own strategy taught us a lesson about keeping our minds open and not adhering to the standard way of doing things in the Alps.
- The south ridge of the Weissmies is a moderately exposed UIAA I rock scramble to a final summit ridge on snow (sometimes ice).
- We took ice axes and lightweight crampons while Hillary used Black Diamond's new ultralight Distance Traction Device.
- We took no rope but are all comfortable on this style of route. Be warned, the final summit ridge is exposed, a slip would be fatal, and conditions are not always an easy trench through the snow. Understand your abilities for the given conditions and take the appropriate gear.
Start: 46.094213, 7.957545
Town: Saas Almagell
With the strategically located Almageller Hut, you don't have to carry much food. Instead, take advantage of the offerings to keep your pack light.
- The final section to the summit is exposed. Head's up in icy, or snowy conditions. Call ahead to the hut to find out what conditions are.
- If you choose to go light & fast, be certain that conditions allow for your gear, and style, choice.
From Saas Almagell, the trail to the Almageller Hut is worthy of a trip all on its own.
Hillary and Kim just above the Zwischbergenpass where the trail will soon turn to steeper rock scrambling.
Near the base of the 700 meter climb to the Weissmies summit.
Solid rock and entertaining views.
Hillary Gerardi enjoying solid gold granite.
Hillary on the Weissmies summit.
With the Weissmies summit just behind, Hillary begins the descent of the summit's south ridge.
A solid snow trench and good traction along the summit ridge allowed for a quick descent.
Hillary and Kim descending the rocky south ridge.
The curtain drops on a great day in the Alps. Sunlight switches to headlamps for our run back to Saas Almagell.
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