07-20 Britannia Hut

David and I just before reaching the Britannia hut.

20th.July, Britannia Hut

As with many other people the Allalinhorn was my first ascent of a 4000m peak. I had just arrived in Switzerland in the spring of 1969 and I climbed it in mid-July of that year. David, a fellow student from university a few years previously was in Switzerland on a walking holiday with his wife and although he had at that time no climbing experience he joined me for the ascent. In the meantime he has late in life become an enthusiastic mountaineer and has climbed many major peaks in the Alps, mostly in the Mont Blanc massive and in Valais and the Bernese Oberland. Therefore I thought it would be appropriate to celebrate the 50th. anniversary of our ascent with a repeat of the climb. This fitted in well with his plans for a climbing holiday during the first half of July and we met after that at a small hotel in Saas Grund.

Fifty years ago it was a long tour. Even the now superseded Felskinn cablecar was only just under construction and not yet open. My friend and I accompanied by our wives took the smaller Plattjen lift up to 2570m and walked the rest of the way to the Britannia Hut at 3030m. The following morning just the two of us set out in the pitch darkness following a party bound for the more distant and higher Alphubel. I remember the level traverse to the site of the Felskinn cable car station being entirely covered in snow and easily crossed. There were very few other climbers on the Allalinhorn but we had no difficulty finding the route and eventually reached the summit. It was a hot day and the snow became very soft slowing our descent, so that we did not return to the hut until the afternoon long after the other parties. It was of course a great experience for both of us.

Since that time I had climbed the Allalinhorn twice more, once as a ski-tour and once via the Hohlaubgrat. It is in fact the only 4000m peak which I have climbed more than once. Now there was to be a fourth ascent but making use of the modern lifts to start at a much higher point.

This time I asked Herbert, a friend from the climbing club to come with us. Three people rather than two provides an extra degree of safety on a glacier in the unlikely event of one falling into a crevasse. We also had a 50m rope from the climbing club, which would have been something of an overkill for just two climbers. We met at the Alpin-Express cable car station in Saas Fee and were soon whisked up the mountain to Felskinn at 2991m. There was still time for a drink before we set off for the Britannia hut, although I was surprised to see a time of 1hr.15min. given on the signpost. The route was no longer entirely on level snow but contained more ups and downs and the crossing of several rock patches.

The hut itself had been entirely rebuilt in 1996 and was much less spartan than before, particularly regarding the food and sanitary arrangements. We occupied our places in the unchanged 2 storey style of multiple bunk beds and then used the time before dinner to check out our equipment. When David told the warden that we had first been there 50 years previously he offered us free drinks! The warden’s father had been running the hut at that time.

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