Friday, March 21, 2008

Easter Snowshoeing in Graubünden

Andrea planned a wonderful five-day snowshoeing trip in Graubünden for the Easter weekend. The weather forecast wasn't ideal (sun on Thursday, snow Friday, clouds Saturday and Sunday), but we figured we'd make do.

We took the train down and started in Susch (1438m) at around 11. The plan was a 4.5 hour day up to the Grialetschhütte. We started up the (closed) road to the Flüelapass under clouds, but with patches of blue sky visible. We couldn't really see the tops of the mountains near us, but we hoped these clouds would vanish. On the way up we passed a couple of guys on touring skis and chatted with them briefly before moving ahead. After bit of climbing we put on the snowshoes.

A while later we followed the signs for the summer hiking path down into the valley where we continued along beside the river. Luckily the way was relatively obvious because the summer hiking trail markings were not to be seen. They are probably all painted on rocks on the ground and, therefore, under the snow. There also hadn't been anyone along the way ahead of us since the last snow fall (or big wind), so we were hiking new snow. Very nice!

After a break for a sandwich at the Alp d'Immez, we turned up into the Grialetsch valley. The sun still hadn't managed to make an appearance, the clouds were under 3000m (the tops of the valley sides weren't visible), and at this point the correct way to go was not at all clear beyond "go to the end of the valley and head up to the saddle". We saw a trail marker on the right hand side of the river and decided to take that side.
We pretty quickly ended up traversing a steep slope, which has to be my least favorite activity on snowshoes. The conditions were pretty strange: seeing far wasn't much of a problem (aside from the clouds that kept us from seeing mountains), but close-in it was very difficult to see much of anything: everything was white. Each footstep was a bit of a surprise as to what would happen.

After a while we had made some good, if very strenuous physically and mentally, progress but were starting to get tired. We kept having to stop to try and plot a reasonable path, but that was tricky due to the visibility. During one break we noticed the touring ski guys back behind us and figured they'd catch us relatively soon.

During another break, sometime after 5 (so around hour 6 of the 4.5 hour hike) where we were having one of those awkward: "yeah, we're tired, but we pretty much have to keep going because it's really too late to go back and we must be almost there anyway" conversations, the lead skier (his buddy nowhere in sight) called up to us. "Is this the right path?" That's an interesting question that we only seem to be asked when we really aren't certain of the answer. So we told him we weren't sure, but didn't really see any other way. Not too long later we reached a saddle and saw the hut less than a kilometer away. Andrea yelled the good news back to the skier and we used the burst of "yay! almost done!" energy to finish the trip. We reached the hut (2542m) shortly after 6pm. The first skier arrived about 15 minutes later, the second 20 minutes or so after that. We had a good laugh about the trip. Boy did it feel good to sit down and eat something warm!

Of course the clouds all cleared off after dark, so we could look out and see the mountains under the light of the (almost) full moon. It was too cold to go outside though. It was already -14 C at 6pm.

Day one: 7 hours underway (including breaks), about 1100m of climb.

Friday dawned cold, snowy, cloudy, and windy. As promised. We decided to not do our planned day to the Kesch Hütte because it was a long one (6-7 hours according to the map) and the conditions were crap. Instead we opted to go down to Dürrboden and then catch a bus to the valley to wait for better weather on Saturday. After about 10 minutes of walking into the teeth of the wind with no trail to follow and not much visibility at all, we canceled that plan and headed back down to Susch instead. The trip down, where we followed the paths of a couple groups of touring skiers, was much, much easier (particularly mentally) than the way up.

It snowed all day, which made for good snow but bad sight-seeing. Along the way we decided that two more days of hiking with crap visibility wasn't really worth it, so we just gave up and took the train back home.

Day two: 5 hours underway (including breaks), about 1100m of descent.

Defeated by the weather... how stupid!

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