Friday, August 11, 2017

Clean climbing course in Alpe Devero

This weekend we did a course on multi pitch clean climbing. The course was originally supposed to be held at the beginning of the summer, but that ended up being cancelled due to bad weather. This weekend was the first available make-up date.

After an early start from Basel we meet the rest of the group in Domodossola. From there we drive to Alpe Devero (walked through this last fall) and then walk to the CAI hut on the edge of "town". We drop the non climbing stuff and then head up (in the heat) towards the Passo della Rossa. Up up up we go, past a nice flat meadow with an old shelter under a big boulder and a possible tent spot, up up past a strangely sited climbing area, up up up until we hit the foot of the cliff leading up to Punta Esmeralda (unfortunately not really indicated on the map). After a lesson in building a stand we don the climbing gear and do a bit of practicing, reduce the stuff we want to take with us to one pack per rope, and start climbing. Though we are at times next to a bolted route we do the whole thing clean. S, our instructor, moves back and forth between the two ropes to check placements and stands and give tips. The rock is amazing, the climbing not particularly difficult, and with the coaching it ends up being not as scary as one might think (it's pretty steep and quite exposed climbing). The climbing is over sooner than it seems like it should be. We pack up the gear, make rope "backpacks" and then head down through the scree to return to the rest of the packs (after a short diversion back to the end point to retrieve greg's sunglasses, which had managed to hide during the "we aren't forgetting anything?" patrol).
Now it's down down down to a convenient and obvious huge boulder where we cache the climbing gear for the next day. Down down down we go, back to the hut. We have a bit of time to clean up and enjoy a cool beverage before it's time to eat. After the expected good meal we do a bit of planning for the next day and then head off to bed (super bonus: we have a room for five, so it's only us and things aren't that loud).

On Saturday we do breakfast at 6:00 (first ones up for sure) and are underway shortly before 7:00. The weather is perfect and the view to the sunlit Punta della Rossa (today's climbing area) is awesome. Up up we go along the same path as the day before. After collecting the cached climbing gear we continue along the path towards the Passo della Rossa. More up up along the path (including a bit of ladder) until we come out onto a saddle above a sea of talus. Here we divert from the path and cross the talus towards the Punta della Rossa, which towers above us. We head a bit up the ridge before hitting the beginning of the climbing route along the south east spur (is that the right translation for "sporn"?). On with the gear, a bit to eat, and then we start climbing. Today instead of having both ropes underway at the same time we go one after another. Andrea and greg are lucky enough to be the first team, so we get to lead the way up the mountain. Today the route is not bolted, but the stands are all pre-built. So we have to place protection while climbing but don't have to build the stands. The climbing is generally not particularly difficult (a bit trickier and certainly more exposed than Punta Esmeralda), the biggest challenge would be finding the route without the bolts there to lead the way. Fortunately S is there to keep us on track. After about five and a half hours of climbing (11 pitches) we reach the top of the route with very tired heads. The view is, as it has been the whole way up, very very nice. We rest for a bit and eat something while waiting for the second rope to finish and join us. After we've all had a short break we continue on foot to the peak, from which we have a truly spectacular view over the Berner Oberland and the Italian mountains around us.
After soaking in the remarkable view for a bit we head back to our gear and pack up for the long abseil down. This goes down a route on the south face and we use a technique that we haven't seen before: three of us go down a pitch on a single rope while the last two follow on the usual double rope. When they reach the stand above us, they untie and throw down the single rope and things continue from there. After five or six repetitions of this we are at the bottom of the face, pretty close to where we started in the morning. After everyone's together we pack everything up and start the long walk back down to the hut. The first piece of this is the route we came up but instead of continuing back across the talus we take a more direct path back down to the valley floor. After reaching the main trail back to Alpe Devero we stop for a quick water (yay! fresh cold spring water!) and snack break before doing the last half hour of descent. We are back late (shortly after 8), but fortunately not too late to get a good meal before heading off to bed.

Since we aren't sure what's going to happen with the weather on Sunday and since no one is super enthusiastic about walking back up the same hill again, we opt to head for a crag near the dam above Crampiolo that has a pretty good number of routes. The path there takes us past the lovely witches lake (Lago delle Streghe) and then through the end of town before heading up to the dam. We turn off to the left, climb a bit more, and then we're at the crag. No one else is there, so after scouting for a reasonable area to practice placing protection (nothing really to be found), we start with a couple of the easier routes at the end. These are more difficult than their grades indicate and aren't particularly entertaining after the great climbing of the last couple days. Plus loads of other people show up. We end up opting to skip the climbing and do a few more lessons (tying off a belay to block it, an alternate strategy for organizing the rope at a stand, lowering the person climbing up to you, swapping belay gear for a quick stand-turn-around) before heading back to Alpe Devero. Once there we eat a bit and then head to a big boulder that's not too far away that has a few routes on it, including a few with good cracks for placing protection. Here we do some more practice, including "jump and see if that friend holds" practice as well as a short bit of down-climbing, before heading back to the hut, packing up our stuff, and leaving.

The drive back to Domodossola is painless, the trip home less so (lots of delays and train chaos), but we do manage to find a good Kebap in Brig and eventually make it back home.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

SAC tour: Tete Blanche & Aiguille de la Tsa

This was a trip with our local SAC section. The weather forecast for the whole weekend was dodgy, but we went anyway because you never know. :-)

Saturday we got a very early start from Basel and did a tram-train-train-train-bus-bus trip to Ferpecle (the last bit of that bus ride is pretty amusing, the road is pretty darn narrow). Then it's on with our packs and off we go under mostly sunny skies. The path climbs slowly along the valley before turning steeply up, up, up and along the valley wall with the Dent Blanche towering above (it's making clouds, so the top isn't always visible) and nice views opening in front of us. At the plateau at Bricola we do the first break and enjoy the views (including a patch of edelweiss... very cool!). Since we're with a group, the pace is more moderate that what we would end up doing alone, so the going is less strenuous than a couple of weeks ago.  Onwards and upwards! The path leads us up to the moraine, across a snow field and then onto a nice (though too short) block ridge. Along the way a sharp finger of a mountain starts to peek out to our right, as this becomes increasingly visible we realise that it's the Aiguille de la Tsa, Monday's target. This is going to be fun! After the ridge we cross the (snow free) glacier that takes us up to the Cab. de la Dent Blanche. We get settled in and enjoy the views (ooooh does the Aiguille de la Tsa look fun!) and hospitality for the rest of the afternoon. The hut is full, but it's well organized and it's a good evening. The forecast rain/snow arrive at around dinner time. It's nice to be inside. :-)

Sunday's a short day so we don't start until around 7. We'd start even later, but the hut's custodian recommends an early start since there's not a lot of snow left on the glacier and we want what's left to be as firm as possible while crossing crevasses. We rope up down on the glacier and then head off towards the Tete Blanche. We start under sun, but there are plenty of clouds around, including top of the Tete Blanche. The glacier walking is easy, we are up high but the pace is, again, moderate. As usual, it takes some time to get used to walking on a rope, but given the number of crevasses it's nice to be in a larger group. As we head along and up, the view to the left starts to open up and we get tempting bits of the Matterhorn peeking through the clouds. Behind us the Dent Blanche is completely visible, and is doing some very, very cool cloud making: a continuous stream of clouds coming off the south ridge and heading off to the east. To the right the Aiguille de la Tsa is visible most of the time, deepening the anticipation for tomorrow. As we get closer to the Tete Blanche we enter the cloud that's parked over its peak and do the last 100m or so of ascent under the clouds. There's a fun moment with another group heading towards us appearing ghost-like out of the clouds. Up top we're in the cloud, so we don't have a view while we're having a quick lunch break (aside from another group appearing like ghosts out of the cloud). For the descent we just follow the obvious trail left by the groups that have come towards us, down, down, down from the peak, through the broad bowl near the Col des Bouquetins, and then up the other side and around the Dents de Bertol. We're pretty close the Cabane de Bertol when we come around the corner and it becomes visible perched on the ridge above the glacier... impressive siting. :-) We're at the hut around noon and spend the rest of the day enjoying the ever changing views as the clouds move around. We get a bit of rain, but it's nothing too bad... great hopes for the next day. The forecast really isn't good, but even if we can't do the climb we should at least be able to have an interesting hike crossing the ridge near the Pointe de Talion and heading down to Arolla via the Cab. de la Tsa. Dinner is decent and then we're in bed early (as usual) for an early start.

We do breakfast at 5 on Monday. The weather is decidedly dodgy, the clouds and thus visibility are rather low. We're mostly dressed and ready to go when C, the tour leader, decides to postpone the departure (and the decision on what to do) and to head back to bed hoping that things will clear up. So we all head back to bed for a couple of hours before assessing the situation and the weather again: Unfortunately, it has rather gotten worse than better with now a couple cm of snow covering everything. Thus it is decided that it just doesn't make sense to do anything other than head directly down to Arolla via the standard path to the hut which we set out to do.
The first part of the trip down from the hut is not without adventure. The ladders down from the ridge to the snow field are long and cold and wet. The snow field itself is reasonably steep and is actually covering an ice field, a fact greg discovers by hitting the ice and sliding a good 10-15m before managing to stop the slide (now that's a good way to raise the pulse while heading downhill!). Once down in the rocks we follow the marked path through the cloud and occasional rain down, down, down. There's not much to see until we're under the clouds, after which we have a nice view across and down the valley. Once on the valley floor we follow the path and then the road into Arolla where we grab a coffee/hot chocolate and then the noon bus for the long, long trip back to Basel.

The track:
Day 1: 9.3km, 1670m up, 19m down.
Day 2: ~10.5km, 520m up, 660m down.
Day 3: ~9.6km, 1340m down, 67m up.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

(not) Climbing the Ferdenrothorn

We'd originally planned this tour for a few weeks ago, but a family emergency prevented us from doing it. The forecast for the weekend was dodgy, but since there was a chance that we could do the tour, so off we went.

Saturday we took an early train from Basel (the forecast is for the weather to get worse in the afternoon and we want to avoid as much of that as possible) and headed to Kandersteg. After a (very) quick stop at the kiosk to get greg a pair of sunglasses (stupid thing to forget!) we took the bus to the gondola station at Eggeschwand, where the walking starts.

The first bit is on a really nice path up through a gorge; the Kander has a lot of water in it so this is quite dramatic. The gorge opens onto the plain of the Gasteretal, which we walk through, enjoying the views and the shade (it's hot!) and gently climbing until around Selden, where the trail turns uphill. We take a quick snack and water break in the shade and then start the climbing. It's hot, the packs are heavy, and there isn't all that much shade, so this isn't the most enjoyable bit of hiking we've ever done. Still the views are quite nice. We stop for a lunch break at Schönbüel and then continue our way up, up, up. Eventually some clouds move in and a breeze picks up, which really helps with the temperature. At around 2400 we cross the last sad traces of the Lötschegletscher; the route is marked with poles and most of the glacier is covered with rocks anyway, so this is still all a red-white trail. The moraine leads us to a rock face that the trail nicely threads through before mostly flattening out for the last bit to the Lötschepass and the hut. We're at the hut pretty early, so we have plenty of time to hang out and enjoy the views and madness (there's plenty of it!) and take a quick nap before dinner. True to the forecast, there is some real rain in the late afternoon (no lightning though). After a very good meal (two huts in a row with really good food!) we do some trip planning and then head off to bed, crossing our fingers that the weather will play along in the morning.

We're up shortly before 5am in order to do breakfast at 5. The weather isn't particularly promising: it's just rained some and it continues to lightly sprinkle. We keep our options open and enjoy a leisurely breakfast. After eating we can't postpone the decision any more: the forecast is still dodgy and the weather radar doesn't look great (nice to have good reception at the hut). The route to the Ferdenrothorn is a mix of scrambling and easy climbing along a ridge where the rock is loose and there's really no chance to abort the tour early. We really want to go, but in the end decide that the weather situation is just too marginal to do it. Crap.

Since it's not currently horrible outside, we decide to go ahead and head down. Down, down, we go along another nice trail that takes us to the Kummenalp and then further down, down, down to Ferden. We get there 10 minutes after the bus has departed and rather than hanging around  we decide to walk the rest of the way to Goppenstein. This is a great hiking path through the woods. It's nice to have the cover, because along the way it starts to really rain. We congratulate ourselves a bit on having made the right decision to cancel the tour (we'd still be on the ridge) and head on to Goppenstein, where we catch the 9:00 train back towards Basel.

An aside about that train: it's full of Italians who seem to be doing a day trip on the train through the Swiss alps. We don't normally take trains at this time of day, so this is a new one to us.

We'll have head back to the Lötschepasshütte and actually do the Ferdenrothorn tour. The hut is great and the views from the peak must really be something.

The track:
Saturday: 13.1km, 1540m up, 34m down (my watch ended up being off by 100m by the end of the day, so this isn't right in the GPX)
Sunday: 7.9km, 53m up, 1490m down

Friday, June 23, 2017

Climbing the Lobhörner

This was a tour we did with the Basel SAC.

Since day 1 is just the short trip to the hut, we get a late start and aren't on the train until 11. After the train-train-bus-gondola trip to Sulwald it's a bit more walking up to the Lobhornhütte (along the way we get our first glimpse of the Lobhörner themselves... going to be fun!) and the friendly greeting from Irene. The views are fantastic (though the high mountains are playing hide and seek behind clouds) and we enjoy them for a bit until the re-supply helicopter arrives and we help out with the unloading. Greg then heads off to the lake with the rest of the group for a refreshing swim while Andrea does some more enjoying of the views and wandering around. After an unusually good meal we do a bit of tour planning and then head off to bed for our early start. Aside: the hut is full even on a Friday night; it's a small hut, easy to get to, and the views are great... the place is popular.

We're the first ones up at 5:30 (though some of the hikers come down while we're having breakfast) and have a leisurely breakfast outside on the terrace with the incredible view. It's so very, very cool that Irene set the breakfast up outside. We're underway at around 6:30. We follow the normal hiking trail back to the alp at Suls and then up and up to the ridge and up and along to the foot of the Lobhörner. Now it's on with the gear and then the climbing starts. There are 5 of us, so the first rope has 3 people and Andrea and Greg are the second team. The route, the standard E-W traverse of the peaks, is a mix of scrambling and relatively easy climbing (one 4c pitch, otherwise everything is easier than that) and the protection is pretty good. There are some nice steep bits and a couple of fun traverses. We even get an abseil in the middle (from the Zipfelmütze). The transitions between walking, scrambling, and climbing do make some of the climbing bits seem harder than they otherwise might. There are sometimes clouds around, but it's mostly clear and the views are excellent. Being the second group and being behind a rope with three makes things take longer than they would if we were alone, but it's not too bad, and figuring out how to fit everybody in at the stands is sometimes entertaining. At the peak, which we hit sooner than it seems like we need to, we enjoy a break and some food and then abseil down to the saddle, where we pack away the gear.

We opt for the shorter trail to the hut, the one that goes back the way we came instead of further along the ridge. It's pretty warm and we're all sweaty so we stop off at the lake and enjoy a brief swim before heading back to the hut to enjoy some cake and a short break. We opt to take the later bus, so we get a bit more time with the views after the others run off. Then it's back to the gondola, then the bus to Lauterbrunnen, the gondola up to Grütschalp, and the train to Mürren (wow the tourists!) and our hotel, which we get to just as the rain is starting. After a decent meal (not as good as the hut!) we head off to sleep. On Sunday it's rainy as hell, so we just head back home.

This was a great climbing trip, and something well worth doing again.

Here's the track of the tour:

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Obersee to Innerthal via the Zindlenspitz

We're on our way under cloudless skies at around 8am. It's going to be a hot one! We start with a nice bit around the lake, with Brünnelistock and the rest of the range (including the Schiberg) mirrored in the lake and filling our view. We can even see the steep grass flank that's going to be the day's T6 component. We continue up the valley, spending a happy amount of time under trees, until hitting Sulzboden. Here as we're studying the slope and our map (with sketched route) a local couple who's walking by stops and asks us what we're planning on doing. After some clear skepticism about our answer, he ends up confirming our planned route and provides the additional very good tip that we can start in the woods outside of town instead of taking the path up to a clearing as we had planned. This wins us a few hundred meters of climbing in shade instead of the sun; that's huge.
Into the woods we go, up, and up. As we're breaking out the poles (we each have one with us) a local catches up and asks what we're doing. We repeat the skepticism exercise (greg thinks that a lot of this is because we're wearing low shoes and people aren't used to the idea that you can have low shoes with stiff soles), agree that we're going the right way and that we are aware that it is steep up ahead, and then bid him goodbye as he powers past. We follow a lot more slowly, up, up, up on a not always super clear path through the trees until we hit a cool hut (really almost a cave) at around 1400m. Here the trees end and we move out onto the grass. Up, up, up we continue, catching occasional glimpses of the local above us. It's steep and the sun is warm, so we aren't moving super fast, but it's dry and the footing is good so we make good progress. Most of the time we're walking instead of doing grass climbing, so having the poles is definitely useful. After a bit we enter an area of mixed grass and rock/scree. This requires additional concentration, but that's part of the fun. Once open rock starts to show up, we also start to see the occasional blue marker. Those are a nice affirmation that we're heading the right way. After a break or two, some more climbing and some more traversing we hit the final chimney (the left one!) that leads us up to the ridge between the Rossälplispitz and the Zindlenspitz. We celebrate briefly being on a more-or-less flat surface after a couple hours on a steep slope and then continue along the ridge to cross the face of the Zindlenspitz and then follow the normal hiking route to its top.

This is a red-white trail to a peak with a great view on a sunny Sunday, there are some people here. :-) The true peak is completely packed, so we do a nice, quiet lunch break alone (!) on the Vorgipfel and then head up to the actual peak for a quick look around before starting the long descent back. The route back down is a red-white descent with good views and a nice mix of terrain types. There are people on it, but it's not stupidly full, so the hiking is still enjoyable. Once down at the lake we stop for a refreshing beverage at Oberhof and then continue the rest of the way to Innerthal in a leisurely manner (we have plenty of time before the next bus comes). Back in down we sit in the shade for the 15 minutes til the bus comes and enjoy the mild chaos caused by a local club event (giant cow bells, accordion, very Swiss).

Stats: 14.9km, 1165m up, 1230m down