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~ Friday 12th July 2013

 Fresh from Mont Blanc (?) we set off for the Bishorn on Wednesday. After taking a roundabout route thanks to not knowing that the Vercorin-Pinsec shortcut road was still closed, we set off on the long haul to the Tracuit hut. The Bishorn is still referred to with traditional un-correctness as the "4000m Des Dames". Right next door sits the Diablon and it's slightly smaller neighbour the Diablon des Dames, so maybe it's a local thing. Anyway, there's nothing small about the walk to the hut - a straight 1600m of unrelenting zigzags, happily with stunning views as a distraction but the increasing threat of a thunderstorm adding tension. We arrived dry, and 10 minutes before the rain. Phew. 

The Tracuit hut of old has (almost) gone, replaced by an ultra modern construction. The old hut was pretty basic and looking its' age - drafty, creaky and cold with huge dorms and outdoor "long drop" toilets 100m away, it didn't really meet the expectations of the 21st century alpinist. It was apparently cheaper to build a new hut than to renovate the old one, so now there's a shiny space age CHF5.1 million replacement. Let's hope there's something in the budget to clean up the mess outside the new hut - where inside it's all shiny clean stainless steel, pine and bold colours, outside it's old-fashioned building site/rubbish dump. The remains of the old hut are to be turned into a terrace but meanwhile the wind has spread construction debris across the hillside. The architect's publicity brochure explains how the 3 shiny metal sides of the exterior blend with the ice and snow of the mountains, whilst the west side of the building - all dark solar panels and tinted glass - reflect the rock face below the hut. Frankly it doesn't work at the moment - it looks like an office block in a rubbish dump, all set in a beautiful high mountain environment, and actually made me nostalgic for the simplicity of the old hut (except for the toilets)

Anyway, we weren't there for architectural criticism, we were there to climb the Bishorn. The morning dawned clear and cold with a good freeze - perfect conditions. Quick, firm going and great views make the Bishorn a pleasure. The final steep slope to the top has stunning views across the Mischabel group and the Weisshorn and the summit is spacious. Excellent. 

Dominic reminded us regularly that he is 68 (his boots and crampons even older) This was his first 4000m summit, but a working life chasing smugglers as a Border Guard and a retirement chasing cows around the hillsides of the Val d'Hérens meant he made it look easy. 

Happy on top

And then it was all down, down and more down...2400m in total. We found the car (parked in the forest in another futile attempt to make up time lost in the first shortcut) and went for a well-earned lunch at the excellent Relais de la Tzoucdana by the car park at the end of the valley. This place is well worth a visit - great food in a lovely setting as well as accommodation, camping, ducks, rabbits, goats, and donkey rides!