Virgin 1000 meter rock bastion in the Bernese Oberland first climbed

Who would have thought that in 2023 there would still be unclimbed walls in the high mountains of the Bernese Oberland? The Swiss climber and alpinist Silvan Schüpbach. Together with Peter von Känel and Rolf Zurbrügg, he achieved a first ascent of the previously untouched Rottalhorn west face on an autumn hike (1050m, 6b).

Experience report from Silvan Schüpbach

In the golden age of mountaineering, the peaks of the Alps were first climbed. Later, all the walls and ridges of the great mountains were climbed by humans for the first time.

Be it the first ascent of Mont Blanc and Matterhorn or the first ascent of the north face of the Eiger, people always spoke of the “last problem of the Alps”. In fact, you can still find challenges in traditional alpinism today - beyond speed records and absurd media spectacles.

Silvan Schüppbach
Even though the Rottalhorn west face is not technically very difficult, it is amazing that the 1000 meter rock bastion remained unclimbed until 2023.
Even though the Rottalhorn west face is not technically very difficult, it is amazing that the 1000 meter rock bastion remained unclimbed until 2023.

Rottalhorn West Face: Success on the second attempt

A good example is the west face of the Rottalhorn. For some unknown reason it has remained untouched to this day. 15 years ago I noticed the 1000 meter high west face of the Rottalhorn for the first time. Although it is somewhat hidden in the Rottal, it is the first rock bastion that catches the eye when you reach the Rottalhütte.

In August 2011 I tried to climb the wall with Matteo Della Bordella. However, an approaching thunderstorm made us turn around.

After many expeditions around the world, I have now realized that projects on your doorstep can be just as beautiful as exotic travel destinations.

Silvan Schüpbach
With Peter von Känel and Rolf Zurbrügg I have the perfect partners for this venture at my side.
Silvan Schüpbach: “With Peter von Känel and Rolf Zurbrügg, I have the perfect partners for this venture at my side.”

On October 11th we climb to the Rottalhütte and start the next day. For the first three hours we climb the pillar system in the lower part of the wall by headlamp light. We don't follow any specific line, the difficulties are - with the exception of two pitches in area 6a - in the third to fifth level of difficulty. At first light we reach the gray escarpment where the rock changes from gneiss to limestone.

Rottalhorn West Face night
In the first pitches of the new route, autumn hike (1050m, 6b) through the Rottalhorn west face.

Two steep and demanding rope lengths in area 6b lead us to the large pillar, which leads impressively to the summit roof.

Silvan Schüppbach

From here we continue back into the gneiss. There is no clear line on this pillar either. We follow our noses and, when in doubt, choose the more challenging option with better rock. We reach the summit faster than expected in the early afternoon and a good 11 hours after setting off we are on the Jungfraujoch.

What a contrast as we walk to the train station surrounded by advertising screens and selfie sticks after the peace and wild beauty of the Rottal. Nevertheless, we are happy that we can comfortably descend the many meters in altitude by train.

Facts Rottalhorn West Face Route Autumn hike

Rottalhorn west face topo
Autumn hike route (1050m, 6b)

  • Location: Rottalhorn west face
  • Route: Autumn hike
  • Wall height: 1050m
  • Difficulty level: 6b
  • First ascent: Silvan Schüpbach, Peter von Känel and Rolf Zurbrügg on October 12.10.2023th, XNUMX
  • Material: 50m ropes, cams 0.2-3, 0.2-0.75 double, 2 peckers. Ice equipment for the descent Rottalsattel – Jungfraujoch. The first climbers left behind a hook in an abseiling traverse.
  • Access: From Stechelberg to the Rottalhütte and from the hut to the start in 45 minutes

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Credits: Cover photo and article images Silvan Schüpbach, Peter von Kaenel, Rolf Zurbrügg

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