Sunday, December 04, 2016

Another Simmeflue visit

Yesterday was forecast to be a beautiful early December day, so heading out to the mountains was a no-brainer. There was already some snow above 1500m and there was construction outside of Luzern that makes connections to the Zentralschweiz hard, so we opted to return to the Simmeflue. We've been there a couple of times already, but this one is really not a problem to repeat.

The usual route: train to Wimmis, and then along the path to Brodhüsi, further along the path to the old quarry and the first blue-white marker, then up, up, up, up. It's not warm (below freezing in the shade), so we move pretty quickly but do still enjoy the trip up. At around 1100m we hit the sun (ah! sun!). By the time we get to the saddle we haven't seen anybody else, so we can hope to have the Sunnighorn to ourselves. This, of course, turns out to not be the case: we see the first couple leaving the peak as we're almost there and the second couple is still up top. Still, they leave after a few minutes and we can enjoy the second half of our break alone on the peak. It really is a great weather day: sun and blue skies with great views to the Alps and over the fog that's covering the Mittelland.

After the break we head back down to the saddle (passing two other couples on their way up and seeing another one) and then around towards the rest of the ridge. At the obvious point we divert off and head up to the Mittagflue (we end up just behind the second couple from the Sunnighorn here), from which we have a nice view back to the Sunnighorn. We enjoy the views for a couple minutes to let the other couple get a bit ahead and then head off along the ridge. For a while we're following tracks from others, but after a while they head back down to the normal trail and we opt to stay on the ridge. This involves a bit of pushing through brush, some good scrambling, and a couple of sections that are easily in the upper T5 zone; it's good fun! At some point we reach the end of the line though: the real path is visible in the saddle below us, but there's a good 7-10m vertical drop down to it. Ah well, we head back for a minute or two and take the first opportunity to descend to the path. Continuing along the path back to that saddle (yeah, we didn't miss anything, it's vertical), and then onwards to the next obvious turnoff and up to the last peak on the chain, the one with the cool stoneman. Here we have another food break and enjoy the views more before heading back down and continuing along the trail.

At Chrindi we head down into the valley. This is the same route we took down the first time and it's a nice one. To avoid repeating exactly the same end of the hike we opt to get the train at Oey-Diemtigen instead of Erlenbach. ;-)

It was great to be out in the mountains and enjoying the sun, particularly this late in the year!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Swiss-Italian Border Hike Day 1: Binn to Binntalhütte

The trip down to Wallis is crazy full, it seems like half of Switzerland is headed to the mountains to enjoy the late season sun. Fortunately, the bus waits for the (20 minute late) train in Fiesch and so we do end up making it to Binn. We've been talking for years about doing a tour in the Binntal, but somehow never got around to it until now; it is a long enough trip down that it really only makes sense to come for a multi-day tour.

The plan is to do a long piece of the ridge towards the Holzjihorn, probably not including the peak itself, and then head across the next ridge and over to the Binntalhütte, where we are staying for the first night. It's a late start, so we feel like there is some time pressure, particularly greg, so we keep up a healthy pace as we head up, up, up out of town towards to Eggerhorn. The first bit of the Andreas-special is nicely shaded under the trees, but we are above the tree line soon enough. The views from the path and ridge are quite good, though a bit encumbered by clouds over the Berner Oberland (to the north) and, to a lesser extent to the south. Up, up and along we go until we hit the old bunker under the Eggerhorn, which is under construction (!). We opt to do lunch and enjoy the views there instead of doing the last 15 minutes up to the peak. Once we find a reasonably wind sheltered spot we enjoy a quick lunch with somewhat cloud-covered views to the north. After lunch the wind really picks up, so out come the hard shells for a bit.

[then we climbed the Grosses Fülhorn....]

From this point on the path tends to stay under the ridge, which helps with the wind and we aren't really missing too much viewing to the north (thanks to the clouds). Along we go, gently climbing and descending on the nice path, onwards and onwards until we hit the pass at p2716. Here we turn steeply down and follow the path more or less directly to the bottom, crossing the stream, climbing up a bit towards the Gandhorn and then continuing along to the alp at Schinerewysse. Now we leave the marked paths and follow the farm road to the small, but nicely renovated, hut at p2251 before turning downhill on an old, clearly no longer used, path that takes us down to the river at Chiestafel. Back in marked paths now we cross the bridge and head up, up, up and along until we get to the Binntalhütte. We've made excellent time, so we have plenty of time to relax and enjoy a cool beverage before dinner.
The hut is quite nice (and small) and not completely full, so it's reasonably calm; the food is excellent, and we even manage to get in a bit of star gazing before heading off to bed.
It would be nice to do this approach again without the feeling of time pressure and without the clouds. The views from the ridge must be really something when one can see everything.


Stats: 18.5km, 1845m up, 982m down, 6:36

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Ok, not this weekend

This weekend we wanted to do a longish multi-pitch route. We settled on spending Saturday night in the Fergenhütte and then climbing the Fergenkegel on Sunday. It's a good sounding plan because we get to stay in hut without a custodian (which we haven't done before) and the climb itself is nice and long without being too difficult. From the descriptions we read it also sounds like it's not something that loads of people do. When Andrea reserves our spots they say that 12 other people have already reserved. We hope that at least some won't show and assume that they're going to be hikers.

Saturday morning we get a late start (it's a short day) and start walking from Monbiel at around 12:30. At first we follow the road away from the (very full) parking lot, turn off onto a forest road, and then turn to ascend on another forest road. By this point we're alone. After some easy, well except for the heavy packs, climbing under the trees we do a lunch break with views in a clearing and then continue our way up along a nice path. Up, up, up we go until we get to the hut shortly before 3. Only one other couple is there (yay!) though they are climbers (hrm). We claim two beds, checkout the small (but nice) hut, put a beer in the water trough to cool for later, and have a short rest. As we're leaving for the usual reconnaissance tour a solo hiker arrives. She has apparently made a navigation mistake and is at the wrong hut, but the planned hut is more than 5 hours away, so she calls down to ensure that there's going to be a free bed.
Fergenhut and Fergenkegel in the background
The reco-tour is pretty straightforward: we follow the marked path towards the Fergenfurgga and then turn off on the obvious line towards the base of the Fergenkegel. The "tower" itself looks great! We're both very psyched since we haven't climbed something quite as tower-like before. On the way back down we follow some sheep paths to a nice view point where we hang out for a bit before heading back to the hut. At the hut we have a snack and a cool beverage, check the hut book to see what fraction of overnight guests climb the Fergenkegel (small! reassuring!), change into somewhat warmer clothes (the temp is dropping) and start to think about moving inside as the clouds that have been threatening for the past few hours are now occasionally loosing a drop of rain. As we're thinking this through another group of three, all with climbing gear, arrives. What? A couple minutes later, another group of three, also all with climbing gear, arrives. Uh oh. Shortly behind them is another group of climbers. There end up being 12 climbers in this group and they're likely planning to do the Fergenkegel (it's really the only climb in the area). Crap! Andrea confirms their planned route (Fergenkegel, of course) and we look at each other and make a very quick decision. There's a bus from the parking lot shortly before 7. It's 5 now. We quickly re-pack our stuff and head back down. Of course it starts raining as we're walking down, including some nice thunder (luckily we're head down the flank and are under trees). We move fast so that by the time we get to the fields at the bottom we have some time to wait out the last of the real rain under some trees. Back at the parking lot we have another sandwich while waiting and then get on the bus for what turns out to be an even-longer-than-anticipated trip home thanks to multiple train delays.

That was just bad luck that the big group was there, so we'll go climbing locally on Sunday and plan to do this trip another time.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

A couple Glarner ridges

After a few weeks of doing mountaineering we were both in the mood for more of a hiking weekend. We haven't really done a long day yet this year and would be underway with light packs, so greg pushed for something with at least 2000m of climbing and some length. The forecast was good, so we were really spoiled for choice. We ended up picking a long ridge in the Glarnerland.

We start in Mitlödi and quickly end up in a very efficient climb up the East side of the valley (last time we were in this area we went one train stop further to Schwanden and went up the other side) on a mixture of forest road and path. It's all through the woods and nicely shady. At Achseli we start to follow the contour around, past Chli Gheist, and then climb up to Mittler Gheist where we do a food break while enjoying the very nice views. After lunch it's up, up towards Ober Gheist. Now we start seeing loads of blueberries by the side of the path, but unfortunately we don't really have time to stop and pick them (it's a long tour!). Past Ober Gheist, where a couple are processing the blueberries they have picked (damnit!) and then up, up more. Now we're following a track that's initially marked by newly planted trees and then later by stonemen, up, up until we reach the end of the Güntelchamm. Here we get a fantastic view of a really, really cool high plain (this is one of those "wow" moments that happens while hiking... so nice). We descend to the plain, realize that we're losing the stonemen, and stop to do a bit of route planning. We want to get up to the Breitchamm as soon as we can, but certainly after any of the really rocky bits that require climbing. So, based on what Andrea's read in a hikr report, we contour around on the blocks under the Breitchamm. It's fun walking and the views of the high plain really are nice. When we hit the grass flank above the Bei den Seelenen we continue along, now starting to climb, and basically pick the "logical" route along the steep flank until we come up onto the Breitchamm between p2395 and p2351, where we re-join the marked trail.

high plane underneath Güntelchamm
The trail takes us up a bit to the Gufelstock, where we do another quick food break and enjoy the views. Now that we're back on a marked path there are once again people around, but not too many. The next patch is a very, very nice stretch of ridge over the Höch and the Chli Höch and the Heustock to the Schwarzstöckli. This is a tick above T3 and has the great views you expect from a ridge hike. We do this relatively quickly since we've still got a ways to go and don't want to get to the hut overly late. From the Schwarzstöckli we continue along the ridge over the Wisschamm, cross the pass at Rotärd (the name makes sense when you see the big stretches of red rock/gravel/earth up here), and then turn off at the pass at p2224. Now we start descending, down, down, to the Fronalppass, past Ober Stafel, and then steeply down (unfortunately on a farm road now) to Mittler Stafel. Further along the road until we get to the Naturfreundhaus where we're staying the evening. We check in (very surprising to discover we're the only guests given how everything else in the area seems to be full), have showers (!), and then enjoy views, beverages, and dinner on the terrace before heading off to bed.
along the ridge
We wanted a long tour and got it; stats for day 1: about 20km, 2250m up, 1390m down, 8.5 hours of hiking (including breaks).

On Sunday we set out after a good breakfast under blue skies. The path starts by taking us along the road  a bit and past the restaurant before turning off and starting to contour around under the Fronalpstock, towering high above us. This ends up being a really lovely path through woods with big moss covered boulders all around. We follow it until Hofalpli and then turn upwards towards the ridge connecting the Fronalpstock to the Nüenchamm. We have a pretty good description of the route up here, but it turns out that the whole thing is (relatively recently) blue-white marked, so route-finding isn't a problem. We climb steeply, at first through a bit of wood, then just on grass, through mixed rock and grass, up, up, past a bunch of goats, up until we hit the Fedensattel. Nice views back towards Glarnerland, but now we can also see into the valley on the other side and the Ruchen again. We ignore the blue-white path down into the valley and continue along the ridge towards the Nüenchamm. This is also marked, but since we're on a ridge the only real markings required are those that show us when to go around an obstacle instead of over it. It's a nice ridge, mostly walking, a bit of easy scrambling (though there tend to be chains in these bits), at times quite narrow, lots of fun. We're surprised to find ourselves alone on the peak (the forecast is for rain to come late in the day and it's still early), but we aren't complaining. After a lunch break and some view enjoyment we start our way down, down, down along the red-white path to Habergschwänd. It's a nice path and we do encounter some people on their way up to enjoy the views. At Habergschwänd we have a second lunch (we get a table with a view; it's too much to resist!) and then decide to rent trottinettes  for the trip down to Filzbach instead of walking or taking the lift. It's our first time doing this and it's a fun way to get down to town. We haven't paid attention to the time, so in Filzbach we end up waiting a bit for the bus that starts the trip home.
along the ridge to the Nüenchamm

Aside: we're really going to have to figure out a good tour to the Ruchen, we'd admired it before and having it looming over us for two days was almost too much. :-)

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Climbing the Piz Kesch

With another nice-weather forecast for the weekend, we opted for a simpler mountaineering exercise: climbing the Piz Kesch. This is described in multiple places, but we primarily used Plaisir Alpin for the planning.

After a long, but easy, train-train trip to Zuoz we have a snack in town (mmm, apple strudel) and then followed the signs up and out of town. It's pretty warm already, the packs aren't especially light, there's no shade, and there's very little breeze, so it's slow going at first. After getting up a bit higher and having a lunch break in a bit of shade we round the corner and start heading up with a nice breeze. Much better!
up along the Val d'Es-Cha
We get to the hut after not too long, check in and claim our mattresses, have a cool beverage and rest for a bit while enjoying the views - great views of the Piz Bernina and Piz Palu - and observing the madness (this hut is an easy dayhike and the views are fantastic, so it's quite busy), we head out for a bit of walking. We originally think we may cross the valley and head up to the Piz Belvair, but instead we turn left and head to the end of the valley. At the little lake at p2727 we take a short foot-cooling break and enjoy the walls towering above us. Rather than head back the way we came, we opt to do a bit of route finding in order to work our way up to the blue-white marked path that leads from the hut to the Porta d'Es-cha. We'll be following this path the next morning, so this is kind of like scouting. With a bit of paying attention and careful route choice, we make it to the path pretty easily. From there we just follow the absurdly well marked path back to the hut. A bit more lounging around and another cool beverage, a good meal, some trip planning, some enjoying the last of the day's light (unfortunately no dramatic sunset this time), some negotiation about breakfast time, and then we head off to bed.
little lake at p2727
On Sunday we're the second group to leave the hut, 20-30 minutes behind a group with a guide. We leave at around 6am, so it's not really dark anymore; we can follow the trail without headlamps. We've done most of this already (the other way) on our scouting tour, so it's not tough. We do get some really excellent sunrise colors though - the Keschnadel, which is impressive to start with, ends up fantastically colored. We catch up to the other group at p2937, where they have just finished putting on the climbing harnesses and having a break. We follow suit in order to let them get back ahead of us again and then we head up through the Porta d'Es-cha. The approach is steep, but it isn't super difficult scrambling to start with and the presence of a chain makes it easy. The descent to the glacier down the other side in loose scree requires a bit more care, particularly to avoid kicking rocks down onto the other group, who are putting on their crampons and getting roped in. After putting on the glacier gear we also follow the very obvious path across the glacier. There aren't nearly as many people underway as we had feared: there's the group of five from our hut, another group of two far in front of us, and a group of three a bit in front of the five. As we're leaving another group of two comes through the Porta behind us.
sunrise colors on the Keschnadel
The glacier traverse is easy: it's not particularly steep and enough people do this that there's essentially a trail. No thought is required about where to leave the glacier and transition to the rock: just follow the trail. We have a short break to let the group of five get well in front of us (to minimize the number of rocks falling on our head), leave the crampons and picks at the bottom, and start up. This is all scrambling, and not particularly difficult scrambling, so we have the rope in the pack. The trickiest bit is finding a decent route through all the loose mess in the bottom half of the ascent. The rock gets better up towards the top and by the time we get to the "Himmelsleiter" it's downright decent quality. We make the top without trouble and enjoy a break and the nice views. The route down is even more straightforward: we're close enough behind the group of five that we don't even need to concentrate on path finding. It's nice to leave that to an actual guide. :-)

Once at the bottom we put back on glacier stuff and then head back across the glacier towards the Porta d'Es-cha. Just before getting there we turn off to the left and then follow the glacier down, down towards the Keschhuette. Again, we get to follow the group of five, so not too much brain engagement is required... very relaxing. At the end of the glacier we pack the stuff away and then set out for the last bit to the hut. The hut is huge (sleeps ~150), but there aren't that many people around on an early Sunday afternoon. We're way ahead of schedule (based on the book we had allotted 8 hours for hut - peak - hut, it only took us 6), so we have a long lunch break enjoying the views and the sun. A couple of hours before the bus is scheduled to leave we start a leisurely descent (including a nap!) through the beautiful valley to Alp Chants. We've got time for a last cool beverage (in the shade this time; it's hot in the valley) before getting on the small "bus" and starting the very long trip back home.
looking back to the glacier, the ridge and peak of Piz Kesch
Though the mountaineering aspect of it wasn't the greatest, this was a nice relaxed tour in a beautiful area. Too bad it's all so far away from Basel!