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Salbit Westgrat - Alpine Training at its Best
19, Oct, 2018
Trainee Mountain Guide Tom Ripley goes for the 'best E1 in Europe'
Salbischjen, a very pointy 2900m granite mountain situated near Andermatt in the Swiss Alps.
I’m not sure when I first heard about the climbing there, but the West Ridge had long been on my radar as ‘the best E1 in Europe’ and I’d only heard good things about it from friends who’d climbed it. In July 2016 John Roberts (disruptor, innovator, the guy who took the lob of Gaia, and most recently VP of the BMC) and I drove over from Chamonix to see if it lived up to the hype.
We stopped in Andermatt to get some tea and to repack our hastily packed car into well ordered rucksacks. Our plan was to walk up to the Salbit Hütte that evening and stay the night. Disaster struck, I had left my harness in Chamonix. No matter, I thought I’ll just buy one, it’s only money after all. Unfortunately all the shops were closed. John and I racked our brains whilst I tried to work out if I could justify doing 30 pitches of E1, and half a dozen absiels with the ropes tied around my waist. Then John remembered that the girl he had been partnered with on the BMC international meet, the previous year, lived nearby. A quick phone call, Twenty minutes drive and we were sorted. Karen’s size XS women’s harness wasn’t the best fit on my 32” waist, but it was a heck of a lot more comfortable than a swarmi belt!
By the time we’d solved the harness saga it was far too late to walk up to the hut, so we dossed in the car park (strictly verboten - this is Switzerland after all) and set our alarms for some ungodly hour.
Thankfully the path through the forest was easy to follow and we arrived at the hut just after first light. Another hour and an Indiana Jones-esque suspension bridge later, we found ourselves at the bottom of the West Ridge. Twelve or so hours, and the best part of 40 pitches later, I was stood on top of the Salbitschijen’s summit Pinnacle feeling a mixture of dehydration and elation, but mainly dehydration. An hour later and John and I were back at the Hut, flabbergasted at how quick and pleasant the descent had been. Impressed by our efforts the guardian gave us a free bowl of soup, which we gratefully gulped down, before stumbling back down to my car for another illicit bivvy.
The Westgrat is one the best routes of its standard anywhere. If you are nearby go and climb it. You will not be disappointed. If this all sounds well and good but it’s perhaps a little bit beyond you currently there are fantastic routes of all grades at the Salbit. The equally good South Ridge is the VS climbers equivalent. It’s also worth remembering that the Salbit is relatively low and that it is often basked in sunshine while the more famous higher mountains of the Alps are in the clouds, definitely worth a punt if the forecasts dodgy in Cham...
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