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!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Sunday, August 14, 2016

(Not) Climbing the Tete de Milon

Given another nice-weather weekend, our plan was to head down to Wallis on Saturday, stay in the Cabane d'Arpitetta, then on Sunday climb up to the Tete de Milon via the Crete de Milon, and finally descend back to Zinal via the Cabane de Tracuit. That's not quite what ended up happening.

We decided to head down to Zinal on Friday night in order to avoid the chaotic Saturday morning travel and allow ourselves to sleep in a bit on Saturday. This went nicely, we had dinner in the train from Basel to Visp, ended up on the last bus up to Zinal, and had a good night's sleep and nice breakfast before setting off.

The Pas de Chasseur sounds like a lot of fun, but given the heavy packs (normal mountaineering gear + some friends + dinner and breakfast since the hut doesn't do the normal food selection) we opt for the standard route instead. The hike up is really nice: the just keeps opening up as we climb. From our lunch spot we can see the Grand Cornier, Dent Blanche, the Zinal Rothorn, and the Weisshorn. Great stuff. Once at the hut we settle in and rest a bit before setting out on a reconnaissance tour to the Col de Milon. This leads us along the blue-white trail up and along a nice moraine. The going is easy  (and should be easy in the dark) and along the way we get nice views of the ridge that we'll be climbing the next day. The path down the other side of the pass looks entertaining: it's steeper but it has chains and cables.
Looking up the Crete de Milon from the moraine.
Back at the hut we hang out and enjoy the views a bit longer before doing dinner: soup from the hut and then our own dinner: tortellini served with grated parmesan, lemon rind, diced salami, killed onions, and frisee. With that we had a "salad" that consisted of a couple carrots. After dinner there was more enjoying of views (the colors of the sunset on the glacier on the back of the Zinalrothorn were just spectacular). As usual, we make a fairly early night of it.

View from the hut towards the Zinal Rothorn (right) and Schalihorn (left)

The plan for Sunday is to get up around 4:15 and be on our way by 5:00. This doesn't end up working out because greg's idea of setting the alarm on his phone to "silent" doesn't work (frustrating since greg was awake at 4:10 and decided to wait for the alarm to go); greg wakes up at 5:00 and we're underway by 5:40. Oh well, we don't think we have a super-long day planned: according to our book it's about an hour to the col (which we've verified) and then 4-5 hours to do the ridge (the SAC guide has the ridge listed as 2.5 hours, but that can't be right). Up we go.

It's not super-dark anymore so we don't have to use the headlamps anymore, but we do have enough darkness to see at least one group on the Schaligrat of the Weisshorn and another group (from our hut) climbing the Weisshorn's West side (there were three groups at the hut that were doing routes there). At the Col de Milon we put on the climbing gear and rope in. The initial stretch is mostly scrambling on the North side of the ridge and we do that on a short rope. The route finding isn't trivial, and things are at times unpleasantly loose, but we make progress. We also go around the first gendarme, which requires a bit higher level climbing (5a) than we feel up to doing in the boots (though there are supposedly some bolts in that route) and then a bit of abseiling. On the other side of the gendarme we start climbing along the ridge.
On the way up the ridge

An aside here, because it's relevant in what comes: greg managed to forget his watch in the hectic of the Friday evening departure. This means that we don't have a GPS track for after the fact, but more importantly it meant that while underway we didn't have easy access to either the time or our altitude (we normally keep our phones packed away while climbing so that they neither get in the way nor get slammed into rocks).
"Comfy" lunch spot on the ridge

The ridge isn't overly technical (according to the books it's all 4a and below) but there are no bolts, so we are using slings and the occasional friend along the way as protection. The lack of bolts also means that the person leading (Andrea through most of the day) doesn't have obvious indicators of what the correct route is, so there's a lot of route finding. Combining these factors with the fact that we were going from stand to stand instead of simultaneously climbing (it was way too exposed and a bit too difficult for us to do that), we ended up being very, very slow compared to what was obviously expected. Between the usual climbing-concentration and the lack of the watch to provide constant easy feedback on time this fact didn't completely register until Andrea forced an evaluation of the situation and we looked at the time.
The view from the ridge was *spectacular*

Our plan was to be done with the ridge and up on the peak before 13:00 (this was originally noon, but it got pushed an hour because of the oversleeping). We got there by "conservatively" planning 7 hours to finish the 4-5 hour ridge. Given that there's a stretch across a glacier on the other side, being earlier would clearly be better. It's now 15:00. We are, if you can believe the GPS-based altimeter on the iPhone (who knows), at between 3590 and 3600m. The peak is "only" 3680 and once we get to the last tower, which we go around instead of climbing, the route is supposedly easy. But, we just don't know how far that really is. Because the ridge is pretty steep up here, you can't see past the next tower, even when you're on top of one. So we don't know how much is really left. Next factor, weather: the forecast called for the usual summer development: a clear morning followed by cumulus clouds and possible rain/storms in the evening. There are definitely clouds building around the high peaks, including the Weisshorn (though the Tete de Milon is still free) so this could become factor. There are also some lower clouds starting to form. Not a plus. Last factor, us: Andrea, who did most of the leading so far, is really tired. For a couple of pitches she was ok following, but that's not working any more. Because we're on a ridge without abseil exits, there's really no plan B, you either finish or you call Rega for a helicopter rescue. That's not an easy thing to do psychologically, so needless to say, the conversation didn't progress quite that calmly and rationally, but we did think through those points before Andrea called for the helicopter. While waiting for the helicopter to show up we packed away our gear (except the climbing belts) and talked through how we ended up in the situation.
Packing up while awaiting the helicopter

The helicopter was interesting. First they showed up to verify where we were, then they flew off after we waved. This was kind of weird since we didn't know what was going on (boy, I hope we didn't wave them off), but they were just flying down to the Cab. d'Arpitetta to drop off the medic (since we didn't need him). They eventually came back and lowered down the rescue guy who looked around, asked if we were ok, checked Andrea's gear, and hooked her to the winch. They pulled her up and then flew off back down to the Cabane, where she talked to the medic and gave our details for the report. Greg and the rescue guy waited for the heli to return, he hooked greg to the winch, and the heli pulled him up and flew down to the Cabane to drop him off. They then flew back to the ridge to pick up the rescue guy. We, after a brief chat with the medic, opt to walk back down to Zinal in order to have a bit of psychological distance between the helicopter ride and the bus home, so we say thanks and head down to the hut.

After rearranging the packs and grabbing some more water at the hut, we start a fairly quick trip back down to Zinal in order to catch the last bus out of the valley. That's not a particularly fun walk down, but we do manage to catch the bus.

Some of the lessons learned:
  1. Don't forget the watch
  2. We are really not ready for long alpine climbing tours in that difficulty level. We're much too reliant on going stand-to-stand, which makes us much too slow.
  3. Do a better job of setting (and enforcing) "last possible times" while climbing (we do this on normal hochtouren, but somehow didn't do it well this time).

The track, drawn by hand: