Saas is a great venue for interesting and spectacular, yet not too technical, 4000m peaks. It’s a great introduction to Alpinism or follow up for those wanting to enjoy the high mountains. We will be in alpine glaciated terrain for much of the week, spending 4 nights in mountain huts – with a welcome night in a valley hotel in the middle!
This week is a great opportunity to climb three or four 4000m peaks and learn or refresh your essential mountaineering skills.
The mountains around Saas Grund are a great challenge and yet not quite as crowded as the more famous peaks such as the Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn. It is well worth visiting the area.
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The Saas valley is located in the canton of Valais in Switzerland and is known for its large concentration of 4000 metre peaks. We base our week in Saas Grund as it is the best positioned for access to the mountain. There is the possibility of using the Saas lift system to enable easier access, and the area allows for good options of alternative climbs if the weather is bad.
What's not included
Who is this for?
There is a good variety of climbing with glaciers, snow slopes, easy rocky scrambling and ridges…and stunning views.
There will be predawn starts on the climbing days, but this is balanced with relaxing in the sunny afternoons after the climb…
Accommodation and huts
We stay in the hotel Bergheimat on the main street in Saas Grund. It has a bus stop just outside and an ATM next door. Local shops include supermarkets and climbing shops (for purchasing or hiring equipment).
The hotel is comfortable (2 star) with a good bar and restaurant. You can leave items here during the week while we are staying in the mountain huts.
What to expect from mountain huts
They are basic but comfortable. They can cater for vegetarians. Food is usually on a set menu basis (3 courses in the evening, hot drink and bread/jam/cereal for breakfast). Often there is no running water and you have to buy water to drink and wash with (no showers). You can usually buy tea, coffee, wine, beer, soft drinks, chocolate bars and snacks.
Sleeping arrangements are normally dormitory style bunkbeds (eg 6 people on the bottom, 6 on the top) with blankets or duvets. No sleeping bags are needed, rather a ‘sheet sleeping bag’ should be brought. The huts provide slippers for wearing around the hut. On this course we ask the hut guardians to provide a packed lunch for the team each day.
You can expect a good atmosphere and a stunning view!
Saturday: We meet in the hotel in the evening to go through the weather/conditions and plan for the week.
Sunday: Final kit check/hire and any shopping. Walk up to the Brittania hut (3hrs) and crampon/ice axe training on the glacier below.
Monday: Climb the Allalinhorn (4027m) and return to the Brittania hut (6-7hrs). A predominantly snow/easy ice climb – a great start to the week.
Tuesday: Climb the Strahlhorn (4190m) and descend to Saas Grund (10hrs), overnight in hotel. Another snowy/easy ice climb with spectacular views and a great summit!
Wednesday: Walk up to the Almagella hut (4hrs). A very pleasant walk through alpine meadows and up steep mountain trails. Not too strenuous today.
Thursday: Traverse the Weissmiess (4023m). Overnight in the Weissmiess hut (8-9hrs). This is one of our favourite climbs in the Alps – a must for everyone! It has a bit of everything – rocky scrambling, glacier, snow ridges – but none of it too hard.
Friday: Today we climb the Jagihorn by its Via Ferrata – a stunning scramble up rock and exposed ladders and rope-bridges, it’s great fun and something different for our tired bodies. If for example we have missed out a previous 4000er (due to weather), we can climb the Lagginhorn (4010m)- another big hill in these parts. Descend to Saas Grund (8-9hrs) overnight in hotel.
Good fitness will make it more fun and you’ll get more out of your week! Although we will tailor the course to your ability, we definitely recommend getting as fit as possible before you start. The process of training for your goal will help you focus on your goal – and having a goal will help you focus on your training. So all in all training is good!
Mountaineering is all about being able to exercise at a moderate intensity for many hours (typically 5 to 12 hours) and your training should reflect this. Probably the best training is going on long days hill walking as this simulates the real thing as closely as possible and prepares the mind (exercising for long periods in poor weather requires mental strength!).
However not everyone has the opportunity to do this and so alternatives such as jogging, cycling and gym workouts are good.
The focus should be on training Cardiovascular Endurance for long days in the mountains.
For cardio cycling/running/rowing machines are much better than weight training. Try and exercise for up to a couple of hours at a time, 4 times a week. Remember to build up your workouts over time. If you are not used to exercising much, your muscles and joints need time to build up to avoid injury.
Try and choose an activity that you enjoy and keep a note of what you do and your times – this really helps with keeping the motivation up. If you are not used to training then your local gym will be able to advise you on a plan and schedule to help you achieve your goals.
Training does not work overnight! The fittest athletes train as part of their lifestyles and have been doing it for years. Consider training for a good couple of months before coming out to the Alps.
The Effects of Altitude
As one climbs higher the air gets thinner and so there is less oxygen in each breath we take. The higher we go the less oxygen there is. This makes exercising much harder work than at sea level and so we have to slow down to help compensate. Because we have slowed down, we may feel colder.
Because there is less oxygen in the air as we get higher, this can lead to ‘altitude sickness’ or Acute Mountain Sickness which is like the worst hangover you have ever had (headache, nausea, weakness, fatigue, dizziness) and can develop into a very serious and even fatal (in extreme cases) problem.
To avoid these problems, enjoy the climbing and increase our chances of summiting we need to acclimatise by spending several days and nights at progressively higher altitudes, so our bodies can adapt. This is a very important part of our preparation.
Unfortunately we can’t recommend a specific brand and model for each item on the kit list, as what is available is constantly changing and, of course, different people are different shapes and sizes with different budgets! However, in general, we use and endorse Sherpa and Black Diamond products because in our experience they are excellent…
If you go to a good retailer such as Snow & Rock, explain to them you will be climbing Mont Blanc and they will be able to advise you on what is best for you. Bring this list with you…
Lastly, if necessary it is possible to rent most hardware items in Saas (ice axe, crampons, harness, helmet). You can hire boots too, but this is a last resort (no one likes uncomfortable boots).
1. Ice axe – for general mountaineering (at least 60cm long)
2. Crampons – 12 point crampons for general mountaineering with anti-balling plates. Whether strap on or clip on models they must fit your boots well. When buying crampons bring your boots to the shop so they can fit them for you – that way you can avoid buying incompatible ones!
3. Helmet – standard hard plastic climbing helmet.
4. Trekking Poles – optional
5. Boots – these must fit and be comfortable. We feel it is best not to rent boots. Rather buy some and have them fitted professionally – this will make your week much more comfortable, fun and blister free! Try and make sure they are broken in before the week. They should either be ‘plastic’ or high-end insulated leather (not fabric) and must be compatible with your crampons. Your boots should be stiff-soled (also known as B2 or B3 grade boots in the retail world). If your boots are not stiff enough not only will it compromise your comfort when walking/kicking steps in hard snow but also compromise your safety as crampons are more likely to fall off or even break. When buying boots bring your crampons to the shop to make sure they fit well.
6. Rucksack – 40-50L
7. Waterbottle 1L – not platypus type – they freeze and leak.
8. Harness (adjustable so that it is comfortable over all your layers), 2 screw gate karabiners, belay device, 1 8-foot sling
9. 2 pairs sunglasses (cat 4), goggles, sunhat, sunscreen, lip salve/block
10. 3 sets socks and light coloured thermal tops
11. Lightweight goretex hooded top & bottoms – make sure pockets are accessible even when wearing a harness
12. warm hat, thick gloves (eg ski gloves), thin gloves
13. Insulating layers. I use a thin ‘100’ weight fleece and a synthetic duvet jacket. I think a synthetic or down duvet jacket is perfect because you can put it over all your other layers (including goretex) when taking a break or if it is really cold without taking anything off. This is very quick and very warm and practical. If you don’t have a duvet jacket/can’t afford one then make sure you have 1 or 2 thick fleece layers instead.
14. Trousers – there are many brands of fairly windproof/shower resistant trousers for hillwalking/mountaineering.
‘Schoeller’ fabric garments are great but there lots of other good ones too. Bring a pair of lightweight thermal leggings (long johns) too – it can be chilly on summit days!
15. Personal first aid – blister kit, ibuprofen.
16. Head torch and gaiters
17. Book/iPod for spare time in huts and earplugs (there is always someone snoring at night!)
18. Sleeping bag liner for huts
19. Cash (swiss francs) for drinks and snacks in huts/ uplifts
Remember kit should be lightweight but functional – you have to carry it! Most climbing equipment is available to hire in Saas Grund if you prefer not to buy.
To find out more about our course, availability, or to ask any questions, please get in touch through the website or by phone on +33 (0)845 527 58 12.
We take a £400 deposit to secure your place on one of our courses, and we ask for the balance to be paid 6 weeks before the course start date.
We strongly recommend getting specialist travel insurance that covers cancellation, medical and mountain rescue.
Make sure that it covers glaciated mountaineering and climbing. We recommend the Dogtag (www.dogtag.co.uk) – they have comprehensive policies and a good reputation.
Getting to Saas Grund
The best airports for Saas Grund are Zurich or Geneva. Easyjet (www.easyjet.com) have regular flights from many UK airports. Also try British Airways or Swiss.com. From the airport, you can either hire a car, or take public transport (very reliable in Switzerland!). Getting to Saas Grund is easy by rail and bus as well as by car. There is a direct rail service from Geneva airport to Visp (the nearest mainline railway station), and buses from Visp to Saas Grun run every 50 minutes. From Zurich, you can take the train to Brig, then a connecting bus to Saas Grund. See www.sbb.ch for train and bus timetables and booking.