Aletsch Massif
Paradise for ski touring

The excessiveness of the Aletsch Massif setting makes it an unmissable visit on skis. Welcome to the alpine ice shelf!

TEXT & PHOTOS : Stéphane Maire

Jungfraujoch station is the terminus for the train which helps cohorts of tourists each day to get up to 3,500 metres. The majority of them wisely remain behind the windows of the building hanging onto its high mountain ridge to admire the spectacle that includes legendary summits and gigantic glaciers. Some of them venture a little further and manage, at the end of a network of covered passages, to reach the eternal snow fields. To continue means entering straight into a hostile territory. Indeed barriers and banners warn even the most foolhardy: beyond this limit, you leave our sanitized world, for that of the mountain and its risks.

An interminable glacier
Access to the preserved paradise that is the Aletsch region has thus been greatly facilitated by the construction of the Grindelwald - Jungfraujoch railway line. Note that the wallet takes a bit of knock on the way through and there are other, considerably longer points of entry into the massif, but they offering a share of the adventure. We’ll convince the majority nevertheless. From the Col which dominates the Sphinx Observatory, a vast white carpet unravels itself on a gentle slope stretching as far as the Place Concordia. Four glacial arms are located here and give rise to the Aletsch Glacier, the tongue of which remains the longest in the Alps. You don’t need to have very profound knowledge of this mountain chain to be aware of the enormity of the place. All you need do is to search for one of these glaciers in summer or an uphill slope in winter... endless, this would seem to be a suitable term. Let yourself slide along on both ski tips then, especially as entirely skiable summits are not uncommon.

Several mountain refuges enable you to discover the region. At the heart of the massif, the Konkordiahütten can serve as a base from which to set out for the Kranzberg, the Trugberg the Fiescherhörner, the Grünhörner or the Kleines Wannenhorn. When you decide to go to the Finsteraarhornhütten via the Grünhornlücke, you discover another part of the glacial expanse, which is no less beautiful or impressive: the Finsteraarhorn, the 4,200 metre apex of the Bern Oberland, dominates the Fieschergletscher tongue. From the top the whole of the Grimsel region unfolds before you. Here again, there is glacier after glacier, endless once again. It’s evident that the area will find it difficult to satisfy the needs of fans of sandy beaches and coconut palms! From the refuge located at the foot of the giant, you can also easily pay the Gross Wannenhörner a visit: skiing from the summit with a magnificent view across the entire Aletsch glacier. A great classic…

Two grandiose cirques
Whoever reaches the Jungfraujoch in the afternoon may opt for a break at the Mönchsjochhütte, nice and close to the col. The next day, a passage via the summit of the Jungfrau is on the menu, if conditions allow. It’s worth noting in passing that these are generally best in spring: glaciers are better covered, the snowy mantle is less erratic and the temperatures are more bearable. However, the heart of winter is in no way automatically ruled out. The glaciers really gather pace like a desert ice flow. Added to this the refuges don’t yet have to endure the spring crowds and you feel a sense of solitude which has become rare in our Alps. Climbing the Aletschhorn via one of its normal routes involves spending a night in a bivouac at Mittelaletsch, or in the Oberaletsch refuge. Both shelters give you a chance to discover the "tributaries" of the great Aletsch Glacier, whose source is two cirques, both with grandiose proportions once again.

Exiting the massif comprises an entirely different effort to that with which you enter. To the south, you have to go down the Aletsch Glacier, which though fairly debonair compared to certain loathsome areas of ice, has just as many crevasses along the left bank, which we adopt to head towards the skiable domains of Fiesch or Bettmeralp-Riederalp. Climbing up to the Jungfraujoch is not a very attractive prospect for the skier, but in case of bad weather, it may be considered. To the west, a much more appealing option is the ascent of the Mittaghorn with a drop down into the Lötschental and one of the finest ways to return to civilization. The long gentle climb to the area surrounding Lötschenlücke may even be performed the day prior to the summit if you decide to spend the night at the Hollandiahütte. A more original and hence less popular option, whilst ensuring a superb downhill section, is to leave the massif via the east from the Finsteraarhornhütten or the Oberaarjochhütte and head into the Conches valley.

In short, the possibilities seem endless, and everyone can find something to suit their aspirations. One thing is certain however: you’d better prepare for some big journeys in what is an extraordinary region of our Alps and schedule in a few days for discovery. Here, space and time appear to expand...

Read the rest of the article in the Mountain Report magazine - Where to find ?