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Bike mountaineering on the Bishorn

Project Four Thousand

by David Werner 10/22/2009
Mountaineers consider the Bishorn to be one of the easiest four-thousand-metre peaks in the Alps. However, climbing it by bike is anything but an everyday bike tour. In addition to rope safety, crampons, glaciers and mountaineers, there is still enough room for a proper bike descent. Directly from the summit at 4153 m, of course.

Glacier biking on a four-thousand-meter peak.

Mountaineers consider the Bishorn to be one of the easiest four-thousand-metre peaks in the Alps. However, climbing it by bike is anything but an everyday bike tour. In addition to rope safety, crampons, glaciers and mountaineers, there is still enough room for a proper bike descent. Directly from the summit at 4153 m, of course.

To the Tracuit hut

As we work our way through the scree on the last few meters of altitude before the Col de Tracuit, we are photographed by fellow hikers and one even lifts our bikes towards us as we drag them up a rope-secured rock step at the col.

And there we are! The glacier to our left, the hut about 150 m in front of us, the Tête de Milon (3,693 m) behind us and the Weissorn (4,506 m) and Bishorn (4,153 m) to our left. We're almost there!

The terrace of the hut is full of people and we don't remain undiscovered for long. As we approach, more and more people turn towards us and others are summoned. As we get within earshot, the first people shout out "Vive les bleus!", causing the entire terrace to start applauding and cheering. Wow, we really hadn't expected such a welcome! But how will they react when they realize that we also want to go up the Bishorn - with bikes!

First come the usual questions: How much do the bikes weigh? Where do we want to go back down (as if there were many alternatives)? Is it really rideable? Some of us let it slip that we also want to climb the Bishorn and we get talking to a German who seems to be the leader of a group. The conditions sound very promising. There is little snow and although there are more crevasses than usual on the otherwise harmless glacier, they are clearly visible.

While Hannes gives his feet a little rest, Felix and I walk over the scree slope in front of the hut to the glacier. The snow is naturally quite slushy now, so skiing is out of the question. But if it freezes, it will probably be possible. But the cloud cover is increasing. So a clear, cold night is not to be expected. Let's wait and see what the morning brings.

The alarm clock rings relentlessly

We wanted to start at 3 a.m., reach the summit in the morning light and descend directly before the ground thaws again. But then we would have all the rope teams ahead of us on the descent! And we don't want to leave them because of the risk of crevasses. Unlike the rope teams, we are not roped up. That wouldn't really be practicable with the bikes, at least on the descent. Our reasoning is simply that several hundred people have already climbed up the well-trodden trail over the last few days, so the risk isn't that high.

Ascent in the morning sun.

The improved plan is now to start with everyone else and only encounter a few groups on the descent. So we get up just before 5 a.m. and wait until it's our food shift's turn. After taking a look outside beforehand, we take it easy for now! The temperature is fine. We have -3°C. Not really cold, but cold enough to make the snow freeze again. But it's still totally cloudy and we don't like the idea of standing on the summit in the middle of a cloud with zero visibility. And waiting for the weather to improve in the cold at the top is not an option either. So we make ourselves at home, watch the others as they hustle and bustle about and simply let them all go off without us. Felix and Hannes finally go back to camp while I study the map for the next projects. An hour later, it finally happens - the sky opens up and the view of our summit destination becomes clear again!

At 7.45 am, we are the last group to set off from the deserted Tracuit hut. The snow on the Turtmann Glacier is so beautifully frozen that we can even ski most of it on the flat. The somewhat collapsed snow bridges are clearly visible and we only pass a few crevasses next to the path. We make rapid progress and at the foot of the Bishorn we finally see all the rope teams working their way up like a caravan.

We continue on hard, compact snow. We put on our crampons, as the next steep slope glistens suspiciously in the sun. The crampons allow us to climb effortlessly, but will the tires have any grip on this icy surface?

Who needs two wheels on the ground? One is enough...

Luckily, it becomes a little flatter towards the top and the snow cover increases. We overtake the first rope teams and one climber even jokes about being overtaken by cyclists!

What is annoying, however, is the icy wind. It tugs at the wheels and even if I avoid touching metal, I grab the cold fork a few times to be on the safe side. To warm my fingers, I clench them into fists under my gloves. Apart from that, I'm pleasantly warm!

I keep looking back towards the Rhone valley. The view from up here is phenomenal! We look down at the clouds and the mountains seem much lower to the north. But these are only brief moments before we move on and the glaciated slope completely takes over our field of vision again.

Valais with a view: Zinalrothorn and Dente Blanche.

Summit climb

It goes surprisingly well, the altitude doesn't seem to bother us at all. My only concern is the bergschrund at the summit. I had seen photos where you had to climb over the crevasse. We have ropes with us for emergencies. But I would still prefer to be able to leave them in my backpack.

After almost two hours, we finally reach the ridge and the Mattertal valley opens up before us! Opposite us, the Dom, the highest mountain in Central Switzerland, towers 4,545 m above the four-thousand-metre chain ... and to our right, a well-trodden snow path runs up the ridge to the summit. And past the Bergschrund - phew! I would love to take a photo of my two friends climbing to the summit from here. That would be a great motif in front of the Weisshorn. But the wind keeps blowing snow over the ridge and into my face. I'd rather leave the camera behind!

On the Bishorn summit. Thumbs up!

For the same reason, the climbers have gathered in the lee of the summit. And this time, too, there are cheers and congratulations as we approach. Once we have passed the friendly fellow climbers, only a few exposed meters separate us from the summit.

Snuggle up with bikes and crampons.

And then we finally made it. All hail the mountain! We are at the top! We are all alone at the highest point as we enjoy our summit happiness. But this is quickly displaced by the wind! After one or two photos in front of the Weisshorn, I don't want to hold the camera anymore and hand it to Hannes! Otherwise I would have taken a panoramic shot. But what the hell? Now I would rather get away from up here quickly! Happy and satisfied, we soon join the others in the pleasant slipstream and enjoy our sense of achievement in peace.
I warm up my fingers again and after we have stowed the crampons away, the more fun part of the undertaking begins! For the first few meters, which are a little flatter, we still slog a little through the snow. But the surface quickly becomes firmer and the slope steeper.

The descent

The grip is actually quite good on the snow-free surfaces and Hannes once again rolls down on the front wheel in his usual manner. However, a foot has to stabilize the slope on steep traverses and we have to pass a short, slippery ice passage carefully on foot (without crampons). However, we can ski the rest of the way down.

Even the slippery steep slope that I was still worried about on the ascent is no problem. Just shoot down! As the rope teams take a shortcut on the descent and we stay on the ascent route, we even arrive back at the groomed path undisturbed, which leads us back to the hut via the flat section of the glacier.

Some people have problems even just walking...

There we surprise the new arrivals by getting on bikes from the glacier and enjoy the remaining, well-deserved 1,600 m descent.

Now we're part of the small circle of four-thousand-metre bikers here in the Alps! And at the very first attempt. We were not the first bikers up here, but apart from the blocked scree field below the hut, we were actually able to ride down everything completely! Now we can relax and tackle the next three-thousand-metre peaks bike-mountaineering style.

Text and photos: David Werner

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This article has been automatically translated by DeepL with subsequent editing. If you notice any spelling or grammatical errors or if the translation has lost its meaning, please write an e-mail to the editors.

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