Myself and some friends are planning on doing an Alps trip in early September. We've been looking into going to Chamonix in September because the general consensus seems to be that conditions improve after August because the temperatures cool. One concern we have about Chamonix is there seems to be a very real possibility that many routes will not be accessible because of snow bridges melting in August.
Therefore, we've had the idea that we may want to go to Saas Fee instead. The logic being that because it's higher, the snow is more likely to survive. Unfortunately, I can't find much on the specifics of the conditions for the area at that time of year.
I would be interested to hear what experiences people have had of both areas that time of year and any route suggestions that they might have. This will be the first Alps trip for a good many of us so we'd primarily like to hear about easy (PD/F territory) routes that have some sections of snow and ice. Not just rock routes but happy to hear if anyone has anything specific that is a good route.
Also if there are some harder routes that people think might be in condition, some of the more experienced of us might go and try some of those.
Would also be interested in hearing about destinations in the Alps which might be better for that time of year.
Yes, conditions are often cooler and more stable in September ( quieter too ). Yes, snow bridges may be weaker or even non existent but this varies hugely from season to season and area to area. Best to check the local guides' offices such as the OHM ( can be done on line ) and relevant alpine conditions pages such as:
Probably best to keep your options open and decide on the areas to visit closer to the time, or even move to areas with better weather / conditions. There are some routes that tend to be doable in almost any conditions, although they may be harder / more icy or exposed. For example the Aiguille de Tour, Domes de Miages, Entreves, Marbrees in the Chamonix area; Breithorn, Lyskamm and Vincent around Zermatt.
Thank you for the advice and suggestions. Moving around would be ideal, unfortunately we'll have to rely on public transport which will make things harder but certainly not out of the question.
I've had several trips to the Saastal, all in September and I've yet to lose a day to bad weather. Still plenty of snow but clean rock as well, on the routes I've done, at least.
In terms of the climbing alone I'd say the Saastal would suit you better. Bear in mind though that, at least in a normal year, it will be a lot quieter than Cham. No queues on the hill but no one in the bar, either.
Routes: Alalinhorn (F) is a snow plod but short from the Metro; more interesting from the Britannia hut (great hut, btw).
Weissmies (PD) is a cracking day out done as a traverse from the Almageller hut. Easy rock scramble to the top then glacier down the other side to the cableway. Stop at the halfway station and hire Trotties to go back to Saas Grund. Silly but good fun.
Longer, more serious routes on the other side of the valley.
For acclimatization you've got two good VFs, a nice walk up to the Italian border with a superb view of Monte Rosa if you get up early and several good hut walks.
Cherry on the cake is free lifts in the valley if your accomodation is in the valley (Metro Alpin excepted, I think).
The Saas-Fee valley sounds a fine choice George.
I was there early August last year for two weeks and only lost one day to rain. Storms tend to blow right through there I've heard, they don't linger.
That valley's one big playground. If you're a 4000m peak bagger like me there's loads round there; the Allalinhorn, Wiesmiess, Alphubel, Lagginhorn, Lenspitze, Nadelhorn, the list goes on!
I'm potentially heading out with the Alpine Club for their meet at the beginning of September. Staying at the one and only Camping Schönblick.
Drop me a line if you make it out!
Your guess is as good when it comes to conditions 8 weeks from now - but September can be a great period of cool overnights, clear and sunny days and lower traffic across alpine climbing venues. But as always you will need to make a judgment at the time about routes etc, having watched how conditions and the weather evolves over the summer.
For my money, you might find more "mountaineering" bang for your buck in Saas and getting up high in the Swiss 4000ers and attaining some summits than around Cham - Cham is brilliant, but not quite as many things to do in my opinion at the lower grades you quote and has a greater proportion of classic routes on rock.
I hope you have a brilliant trip.
> Therefore, we've had the idea that we may want to go to Saas Fee instead. The logic being that because it's higher, the snow is more likely to survive. Unfortunately, I can't find much on the specifics of the conditions for the area at that time of year.
It's a good time - quiet but everything still open, freezing level staying high, calm but maybe a bit foggy, Saas Grund probably better than Saas Fee which is a bit dead.
I much prefer Saas Fee or Saas Grund, there plenty of options for single day or one night routes like Weissmies.
In past years Saas Fee have offered a free lift pass if you stay in the valley, not sure if they are doing it this year. If that is the case this year then be sure to use it as they subsidies it with adding a bit to the camping or accommodation. For this reason it is a great place to become acclimatised as you can do lots of high day trips with out much effort or cost.
If they don't then would recommend the Swiss half card which gives you 50% off lifts and trains. After a trip up the Klein matterhorn and couple of other up lifts it pays for its self.
It sounds like your aspirations are mainly big peaks. Given that you've said many of your party are inexperienced, Saas is a far better destination for that than Chamonix. Saas has loads of big relatively easy peaks. Whereas around Chamonix, many of the higher peaks are tricky and not ideal for Alpine beginners. I'd prefer Saas over Chamonix for that reason rather than anything to do with perceived likelihood of snow bridges collapsing... Never been there in September, so I'll leave the timing aspect for those who have.
Another vote for Saas over Cham given your objectives, for the reasons people have outlined above. I've lost my crystal ball so can't help with specifics but if you're looking to do easier 4,000m peaks there should be a decent choice in the area. Plus you could always migrate to one of the other valleys in the area.
Having been to Saas Fee 3 times I highly recommend it. Loads of great 'easy' 4000m to cut your teeth on. I went once in early Sept and it was a lot colder and snowy than Aug, doesn't help with navigating if your a relative novice as I am.
I’ve been in Saas with a club in early September, loads to do at F or PD, and last time I looked uplifts were free for people staying there. It was cold and a bit icy but weather stayed fine all week.
Another great place for first timers is the Val d’Herens - loads of easy summits in the high 3000’s and (for me) the most beautiful valley of them all. And Arolla is 2000m above sea level.
This Alpine Conditions page gives a summary of what is being climbed at the moment, what is 'in' nick and what the prospects are...
In this video, Anna Hazlenutt and friends tackle the stunning Liathach Ridge Traverse, one of Scotland's great scrambles.