Finding My Father’s Footsteps (PART III)

The final installment of a three part series
by ALLAN SPAHR

41 Leo (Photos by Allan Spahr)

Someone asked me why I want to climb the Lobhörner. At first I could not answer them. The answer is quite simple, if my father had not died in that tragic industrial accident when I was ten months old, I know that I would be climbing with him all over British Columbia and the Canadian Rockies with him. So to follow the exact route he and Leo took on the Lobhörner is as close to climbing with him as I will ever get.
After two years of dreaming for my chance to return to Switzerland, the day finally arrived. Six months of training and preparation had paid off. The team consisted of my son Andrew, my cousin Kurt Stegmüller, his son in-law Flo, my climbing partner Alex Früh, and myself. Alex is my cousin Franzi’s son who is 23 and has been climbing for a few years, where I have been climbing since I was 19.

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On 5 August 2013, we left Wengen after lunch and headed for Isenfluh for a short cable car ride to Sulwald. We had quite the load of climbing gear and video equipment, so the hike up to the Lobhörnhütte was a little slow. I have to admit I was the slowest in the group as I wanted to carry my fair share of equipment. The hike was only a couple of kilometers but gained almost 500 metres in elevation. The trail wandered through the alpine forests and a few meadows where the cows grazed and the bells echoed around the mountains. It was such a beautiful day with a perfect view of the the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. It was nice to be up in the mountains as the temperatures below in the valley was 30c. After the short one hour hike to the hut we enjoyed a nice beer on the patio and took in the breath taking views of the Eiger. An hour later as the weatherman predicted we could see the storm start to come in rather quickly. We all took shelter in the hut as it was quite a severe storm with large hail bouncing off the patio and the lightning and thunder cracked on the mountain faces. The forecast was the same for the next day. Sunny and clear until 6:00 in the afternoon when another storm was predicted. Later in the evening, Lisa and the huts custodians made us a very filling meal of pork stew with carrots and barley. The weather started to clear up after the storm passed as we played a game of Jass.

We awoke in the middle of the night to silence and stepped outside to check the weather and a call of nature. The skies were so clear and full a stars, a promising sign. Waking up at 5:00 to start the adventure, we make our way for breakfast in the main hut. We are the only ones up which is great as there will be no other climbing parties on the Lobhörner and we have it all to ourselves. After breakfast we say goodbye to Lisa and the others. Our team splits up, as Alex and I make the direct approach from the east ridge to the Lobhörner, which is another 500 meter gain over a couple of kilometers. Andrew, Kurt and Flo make the longer approach from the west as the view will be better to watch us climb and set up the cameras.

We know we must move fast as to avoid the storm this afternoon. Alex and I make the base of the Lobhörner get changed into our climbing gear and set up the cameras in less than two hours. Alex leads the first pitch of the climb. With our notes in hand of the climb it is apparent rather quickly that the classic route of the Lobhörner is not often climbed and will take a little patience in the art of route finding as Alex missed a turn and was off route. Some small debris was being knocked down on me so I took shelter under the slight overhang that started the climb. I thought to myself, this is strange that so much debris is coming down from a classic route. Suddenly from my new location I can see a pin on the face of the climb that Alex missed. I yell up to Alex that he is off route and tell him to move 5 metres to his right. He immediately sees the pin and corrects his line. He disappeared out of sight to the first belay. Now it’s my turn to start and the moment I have been waiting for the last two years is about to begin. The whole route of the Lobhörner consists of a mixture of rock climbing and mountaineering with a difficult rating of 5.7, a normal classic route. The five fingers of the Lobhörner starts from east to west and each summit a little higher than the previous with the final summit being 150 meters vertical. The first two fingers it is easy to down climb to the next start but numbers three to five must be rappelled down. The final summit takes three rappels.

As I start the climb, I realize that the prebolted pins are few and far between, but we have plenty of extra protection that we brought along. We each have a set of Black Diamond Cams and friends so it is much safer. Upon reaching the first belay with Alex I take a short break to change my shoes from Scarpa mountaineering boots to my rock climbing shoes as it feels more natural to me to wear them. I lead the next pitch and enjoy myself immensely. The Lobhörner may seem like a wide series of rocks but it is actually a knife edge at each summit that you are climbing which makes the climb more entertaining. All the while I keep looking to my left as the weather is perfect and the view of the Eiger and Jungfrau are so amazing.

After an hour or so of climbing we reach the third summit. We look below and to the right of the ridge we see Andrew, Kurt and Flo below us waving and filming. We say hello but the can’t hear us as they are just out of range. Alex is pushing me hard for in the back of our minds the storm comes but it is all good and the weather is perfectly clear. We must start our first rappel of 20 meters. I go down first, it is always that initial leap of faith as you double check your equipment and anchors as you lean over the edge of the drop that gets your heart pumping. As I come down I realize I must follow the narrow knife edge of the cliff down but gravity wants to swing me to my right on the south face but that will send me way of course. So lowering down was a little slower than I like.

We eventually make it to the start of the final and fifth summit. Alex starts to lead the final summit and my belay anchor is sitting by a small mound of grass that holds a beautiful patch of Edelweiss. I can’t help but stare at it and think, what a way to end the climb. Every climber before us has enjoyed the company of these special flowers. Eventually I reach the next belay with Alex. I tell him I will push to the summit as we are about 45 meters away. Again there only about 2 pins over the final pitch so I must use some cams along the way. I keep switching sides of the ridge as there is no clear defined route. The views are even more impressive and the weather still holds. Below me is 150 meters of vertical rock wall then the view to the valley bottom is another 1600 meters. I can see the summit before me as my emotions are in overdrive. It was a mixture of laughing and crying out loud as I am just a few meters away from the summit. Two years of waiting are finally so close.

A few more steps and I reach the summit. I raise both arms to the heavens and yell “YES” so loudly. I then hear a cheerful reply from my son below. Ten seconds later I can hear a cheer from the farmer in the valley below. After a short pause to catch my breath, I say “I love you Dad, thanks for the climb” as my eyes get a little misty.

Alex finally reaches the summit and we shake hands and I thank him for the best climb of my life. We take a short break and I write Alex and my name in the summit logbook. I also write that the climb, “finding my father’s footsteps” is dedicated to Rudy Spahr and Leo Stalder from their climb in 1955.

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Read the first two installments
Part I – Part II – Part III

7 responses to “Finding My Father’s Footsteps (PART III)

  1. Pingback: Finding My Father’s Footsteps (PART II) | Swiss100Canada·

  2. Pingback: Finding My Father’s Footsteps by Allan Spahr | Swiss100Canada·

  3. Hi Al, we had the great fortune of having your company on our coach last week… On our hols road trip .. I’m the one you changed me to your bus at Jasper Fairmont Lodge.. You made our hols extra fun and we loved to hear your very special life story about your dad… Thanks again Al. Regards Dawn & Bobby Lee. Xx

  4. Hi Allan, I don’t know if you remember me, I was a friend of your brother, Jeff, from way back in the Richmond days. I came across your wonderful story about climbing in your father’s foot steps while googling Jeff’s name. What a truly inspiring and fullfilling journey you have travelled. I can not even begin to imagine the whirl of emotions you felt as each piece of the puzzle brought you closer to your father.Congratulations on a trip well travelled and the climb of a lifetime!

    Please say hi to Jeff from me the next time you speak with him, and all the best to you and your family.

    Sincerely,

    Cole “Duane” Barry

  5. Hi Allan,

    My wife and I had the pleasure of your company ex Jasper around a month ago when you shared your story with us. As both a dedicated traveller and reader of travel stories, I was delighted to track down your blog and thoroughly enjoyed it. Life throws up so many different circumstances – you lost your dad young, whereas my parents both lived to over 100 years of age. Stay fit, and if I ever find myself coming to the Rockies again, I’ll get in touch.

    Cheers, Neil (Sydney, Australia)

  6. Allan: My wife, Eliza, and I first met you at Jasper Lodge in June 2013. We were a few min late getting to the coach that morning. You gently scolded us for being tardy, but little did we know then that the time we spent with you would be the highlight of our Rocky Mountaineer trip. Are you still driving & guiding tours for Brewster? You were warm, humorous, a great storyteller, and shared your encyclopedic knowledge of the Canadian Rockies and your passion for climbing with us. We loved every minute of it! Eliza and I are signed up for the RM’s Golden Circle via Whistler the first 10 days in July — can hardly wait. I know it’s too much to hope for — that you might be our tour guide again. I have always been severely acrophobic, but I love reading books about mountain climbing and Antarctic exploration. We have enjoyed reading your 3-part series about your devotion to your Dad, whom, tragically, you never knew. Thanks! Tom and Eliza Kidder

    • I am always around but cant guarantee I will be with you. If you see me, maybe we can do coffee. Thanks for the great note on the story, I have a few more adventures since then.
      Allan
      aspahr@telus.net

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