Today we climbed the South West Ridge of Pollux, the lower of the ‘Twins’ (we climbed its sibling, Castor, last year via the West Face). The route is good fun! After a familiar glacier journey over to the Zwillingsjoch, we began to climb the ridge proper. It begins up a steep couloir of snow. Unfortunately there had been some new snowfall overnight, caking the mountains in several inches of powder, making progress a little difficult.
After the gully, we enjoyed about a hundred metres of classic Scottish II mixed climbing, little more than scrambling really, until we arrived at the foot of the dreaded chain pitch. This is a difficult pitch of Grade III rock, traversing a slab on sloping, polished holds, but made more amenable by a fixed chain. It was hard work! Despite a minor slip, I was well protected and never in any real danger. After the slab, the chain diverts straight up a difficult chimney filled with chockstones, then up a vertical face that I found much easier than the slab or the chimney. It’s all made more ‘interesting’ by the high altitude and the necessity of climbing rock in crampons!
The summit was quite epic, with a brilliant view of the laden face of Castor. Several small avalanches occurred despite some teams starting at the foolish hour of 1pm. I would not have wanted to be anywhere near that face in those snow conditions! In fact, I think the route we did was one of the only feasible routes in the area. Most of the big snowslopes were at high avalanche risk.
On the way down, the weather deteriorated rapidly, with a small lightning storm drifting over from Italy making things more interesting. Our glacier crossing was conducted in a whiteout while wet snow falling constantly made the slopes even more dangerous. It was also very hot and humid, probably because we were walking through a thundercloud.
Tomorrow we rest–the day after we’re walking to the Schonbiel hut with the intention of doing Pointe de Zinal.