In this fourth in a series of articles on classic Alpine summer routes, Mike Pescod of the Jöttnar Pro Team guides us through what is often described as one of the most beautiful climbs in the entire Alps.
Beatrice welcomed us at the Salbithutte with a smile, some homemade fruit tea and the smell of home baking. “You must be Mike”, she said as I walked towards the hut. It was the perfect start to a magical couple of days climbing on Salbitschijen.
Paul, John and I had just come from the Valais where we’d been slightly hampered by poor weather and illness. We put our plans for bigger peaks on hold while we explored the lower peaks of Switzerland. Salbitschijen is just under 3000m, so it does not appear on the radar of a lot of alpinists. However, it is renowned for perfect granite, amazing, long rock climbs and three super-classic ridge climbs. The South Ridge is not the hardest of these but with 16 pitches ascending 550m it is no pushover.
After we had lunch at the hut, Beatrice suggested we could climb a route to get used to the rock. Huttengrat was the perfect warm up, at 14 pitches of great rock climbing at a friendly standard. It seemed like a big climb, but with excellent in-situ equipment it goes super smoothly and we got back down in plenty of time for dinner.
Hut life is good at Salbithutte. Beatrice is the perfect host, speaking in English and Dutch via French and Italian, she entertains all her guests and makes them feel completely at home. Climbers here are from right across Europe and beyond, enjoying a beer and sharing tall tales of amazing climbing on the faces and ridges in plain view behind the hut.
Along with a couple of other teams, John, Paul and I headed out early the next morning to climb the South Ridge. Much has been said about the high quality of the granite in the Chamonix range but the rock on Salbit could be even better! Pitch after pitch of solid, intricate rock demands concentration on every move and gives joy on every pitch. The fixed equipment does not diminish the climb, it just makes it flow and helps you reach the summit in a single day. You still need to read the route, place your own gear and climb well to reach the summit.
The crux pitch is a blank-looking wall which you climb by an equally blank-looking arête on its left side. It’s not all over after this pitch though; there is plenty more amazing climbing to come. Every pitch has some brilliant moves and positions and each one would be a classic route on a single pitch crag. But on the South Ridge you have 16 amazing pitches all in one route on this beautiful peak.
The Sudgrat is often and justifiably described as one of the best and most beautiful climbs in the whole of the Alps. There are many climbs described as the best in the Alps, but this one truly deserves it. But don’t go there just to climb this one route. Stay at Salbithutte for a while, soak up the atmosphere, get to know the place. This is not a smash-and-grab destination, so immerse yourself.
Valley Base – Göschenen, Switzerland
Start and finish – Salbithutte (2105m)
Salbitschijen South Ridge (Sudgrat) D, 5-/A0 or 6, 16 pitches, 550m