|Ober Gabelhorn, Arbengrat|
The Arbengrat is one of the best routes in the Zermatt area. Climbing on the southwest side of the Obergabelhorn has a remote feel to it. The route faces into the wilderness, approaches are long and its position high above both the Zmutt glacier to the south and the Glacier de Zinal to the north feels aloof and far from the rest of the world.
The approach and climb both have some of the best views in the Alps. The forbidding North Face of the Matterhorn across the glacier, the Dent d'Hérens and the Dent Blanche, as well as remote peaks to the west and the Rothorn and Weisshorn to the north are a constant distraction. Thank God for the steeper ground on the route, where belays are necessary, which bring an opportunity to look around!
The Arbengrat is a long and high rock ridge route. the quality of the rock is generally excellent and the exposure and situations on the narrow crest are superb.
Another wonderful thing about his route is the hut. The Arben "bivouac" hut is used only by climbers on routes on this side of the Ober Gabelhorn, and consequently does not see much traffic. To call it a bivouac hut is a bit misleading. There is many comfortable bunks with blankets, a good gas stove, plates and cutlery, photovoltaic powered lights and an outhouse with an incredible view and a sit-down flush toilet!
Getting to it is a bit of a challenge however. From the Schwarzsee lift we descend to the Zmutt valley, cross to the north side and ascent the Arbenbach on a narrow climbers trail. As we reach the glacier, we climb a very steep rock buttress that has been equipped with ladders and other aids. This section is actually rather hard, and we always belay it. The hut is a short way above.
From the hut, easy climbing leads to the base of the South Face of the Ober Gabelhorn. We follow broken rock to reach the prominent slanting gully leading up and left to gain the ridge crest. Once on the crest, it is followed almost the entire way, with occasional detours on one side or the other avoid some of the many gendarmes. A final snow ridge leads easily to the small summit. Typically we descend the normal route on the ENE side to the Rothorn hut.
This is a big route, somewhat harder and longer than the Matterhorn, comparable to the Weisshorn further north, primarily on rock, but with considerable snow and ice on the descent. A good range of skills is required; rock climbing ability, snow and ice skills as well as ability to move well on exposed but more moderate ground.
Climbers need to be very fit, with good endurance, comfortable on steep icy slopes with french technique cramponing and be able to efficiently climb mid-5th class rock in crampons.
On the descent we pass (or even stay at) the Rothorn hut. The Zinal Rothorn is a logical objective from this hut and it is worth staying an extra day for it (though I'll admit that the two climbs back-to-back are quite a challenge).
|Kathy on the Arbengrat|
|Climbers arriving at the summit|
Kathy Cosley & Mark Houston
AMGA Certified • SNGM members
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