Prior to my trip out to the alps I started doing some research into alternative plans due to the poor alpine conditions. During this research I stumbled across the Salbit, a peak in central Switzerland which has three major ridges which all provide excellent climbs of varying difficultly. In addition to the major ridges, there are numerous other multi pitch routes.
Due to a week of poor weather dumping a considerable amount of snow on the high alpine peaks, we decided to stay low and do some multi-pitch rock climbing instead. The obvious destination was to head to the Salbit and attempt the classic Sudgrat, a 600m long granite ridge, and top out on the summit needle. Due to the weather window we had we decided to walk up to the Salbit hut early in the morning before heading out to climb a 13 pitch ridge which is above the hut, called the Hüttengrat.
We competed the walk in very quickly, shaving an hour off the 2h30 book time. While we were walking in there were fantastic atmospheric views, unfortunately the atmospheric views did not continue and shortly after we arrived at the hut the cloud came in and other than a few short bursts of visibility we didn’t see much all day.
Despite the cloud we headed up to the Hüttengrat, an obvious line when you can see it, however when you don’t know the area and it is cloudy it becomes a little harder to locate. We made good progress up the climb, alternating leads all the way to the top. The climbing was never very difficult, but it was all very enjoyable and some of the positions were fantastic.
We had a few bursts of visibility, which seemed to become more frequent as we got higher on the route. By the time we topped out we were both feeling pretty cold due to the cloud and wind so make a hasty retreat back down to the hut in time for a beer before dinner.
The next day was the main event and reason for the trip, an ascent of the south ridge of the Salbit, the Sudgrat. The Sudgrat is a 580m long ridge which is graded at f5a with 1pt of aid with numerous abseils.
The morning was beautiful with a crystal clear sky, we set off just after it got light and made quick progress to the start of the route. Due to our later start we were behind the crowds on the standard Südgrat, but ahead of the teams doing the alternative Takala start.
Towards the start of the route were two of the harder pitches which were graded at 5a, and we soon got a lesson that some of the grades on the topo leave a little bit to be desired as I certainly had to try harder than I would expect to on 5a on them!
As we got to the top of the first tower we met up with some of the teams on Takala and caught up with another Sudgrat team, which meant that for a while there was a mixture of queueing and overtaking attempts. Thankfully this carnage didn’t go on for too long and we all split up and ended up going at our own pace.
The climbing remained fantastic with a mixture of slabs and fantastic layback cracks for the next few hours as we climbed a number of towers on the ridge. Unfortunately the clear sky from the morning had been replaced by cloud as the sun heated up the moisture in the valley from the previous few days rain.
We were soon at the crux, which was a fantastic pitch. It was a steep pitch with a fantastic layback up onto the arete which was then climbed to the top. I did use a point of aid on the pitch to keep us moving fast, but it does feel wrong… After the crux a few more outstanding pitches took us to the top of the final tower and last abseil.
The last few pitches went quickly and the final pitch was an enjoyable easy layback all the way to the top of the route, which was an excellent way to end the route.
The route doesn’t finish at the summit, so we made the quick walk over to the Gipfelnadel. This was a really enjoyable pitch which felt very exposed due to having to step out above it’s south face. A short layback took us to the top where we were treated with a break in the clouds.
A long descent took us back down to the hut just in time for dinner, and some celebratory drinks. We decided just to head down the next day and enjoy the last day of the holiday before we head back to the UK.
The ridge was absolutely fantastic, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants a challenge. The climb is a lot more sustained that the topo would suggest, as a number of the f4a pitches felt much harder than the given grade and had very spaced bolts. Overall the climb probably felt around HVS 5a in UK terms, although this could always be reduced by using more aid, as most other teams seemed to.
I am really looking forward to returning here to climb some of the harder multi pitch lines and the classic Westgrat in hopefully not to distant future.