Monday, June 27, 2011

Up the Tschingelhorn

Hochtour season is open! :-)

Rather than getting up before 5 to make the train, we spent the night in Reichenbach and met the rest of the group from Basel at 7:30 under blue skies (yay!) for the bus up to Griesalp. The last bit of this is remarkably steep and narrow... not sure who thought to put a road up that cliff. After organizing ourselves and doing the round of introductions, we set off under increasing clouds (boooo) on the path to the Gspaltenhornhuette. It's a nice path through a very pretty valley (definitely worth going back to the Kiental at some point) that starts off really green with lots of flowers up until about the alp at Buergli and then turns alpine after crossing over into the Gamchi bowl. Here we have a good view of the glacier up to the Gamchiluecke, the pass we'll be heading through. By now the clouds are definitely in, which makes for a nice temperature for walking, but definitely affects the quality of the views... booooo. As we get higher we start seeing a good number of people on the path that connects the Gspaltenhorhuette to the Sefinnenfuerge, but when we divert below the hut to head off to the glacier we're alone again.

Once down at the glacier, we rope in (yay! light packs!) and head up towards the pass. After the inevitable adjustment period for walking while roped in (what? I have to walk the same speed as the others and maintain a constant distance???) it's great to be on a glacier again and the walking is good. At the end of the valley we spend a bit of time getting across the bergschrund (not so nice to be standing around... it's a bit cool to be standing around with the sweat evaporating) and then head steeply up the firn to the pass itself. The firn is steeper than most of what we've done before, but the snow conditions are good and it's no problem to kick in steps and progress. At the pass we would have a great view of the Mutthorn, the Tschingelhorn, etc., but the clouds are too low (probably about 3000m... we're not in the clouds yet, but they aren't far overhead). The path down the other side of the pass is steep and a bit scrambly, but the footing is good so the going is easy, even with the crampons on. The last 30-35m of descent are quite steep and the rock seems slippery, so we choose to abseil this. That leads to more waiting, but at least we get some abseil practice. :-)
Once down on the glacier, we head around the Mutthorn towards the hut. This is great open glacier walking: long views and white as far as the eye could see; fantastic stuff. The hut is small, comfortable, and very friendly (as we arrive they meet us with a cup of tea and a chocolate!), the food and the company are good, and the clouds start to clear up at around sunset... good tidings for the next day. Unsurprisingly, sleep comes easily after the long day of walking.

On Sunday we get up at 4:00 and are underway around 5:00. It's surprisingly warm (~6C) and the sky is cloudless... perfect conditions! The two other groups heading up to the Tschingelhorn (one group of 9 and one pair) are in front of us as we head out across the glacier; they provide a nice reference point as to scale. :-). We head around to the right and come up to the Petersgrat at the end of the ridge coming down from the Tschingelhorn. The last bit up to the ridge is really fun as the sunny tops of the mountains on the other side (Bietschhorn, etc.) start to peak out above the top... it's hard not to run to see the whole view.
After a short distance along the ridge we head down a bit and around the mountain to the base of the couloir between the Kleines Tschingelhorn and the Tschingelhorn. Here we catch up to the group of 9 who started in front of us and can see the other pair working their way up the couloir. We take a break to let the others get a good head start and then head up ourselves. The couloir is very steep, a bit over 200m high, and full of snow that's in pretty good shape. The going isn't easy and requires constant attention to technique (stamp in a good step, maintain the right distance to the person in front, pay attention to the tension on the rope to the person behind, etc.), but it is certainly fun, particularly after the people above us are out of the couloir and stop kicking snow down onto us. The snow takes us all the way to the saddle between the two peaks (great views down to the hut, the Mutthorn, and across to the Bluemlisalp group) where we try to get out of the wind and take a short break. The path now leads us along the ridge, at times scrambling over and through rocks, at times on snow, frequently with nice drops to one or the other side, always with great views. We pass the other groups on their way down, and then shortly thereafter we are at the top! We have the peak to ourselves and take a longish break enjoying the sun and the panoramic views of the high mountains in Wallis.

The way down provides another extended opportunity to practice technique. In the time we were up top the conditions in the south-facing couloir have changed quite a lot: the snow is now much softer, so we do a lot of either sinking in or sliding. The one real slip on our rope doesn't lead to any drama since the rest of us catch it pretty much immediately (the various ice courses pay off!). As we're about 2/3 of the way down, the occasional rock starts falling from the cliffs above (caused by the sun); this is a bit uncomfortable and definitely encourages us to move a bit more quickly.
At the bottom of the couloir we take a break to remove some layers (it was *hot* descending in the sun), and drink a bit, before heading out across the glacier and downwards towards the Uistertal. For the first bit we have a nice view along the Petersgrat and the unfortunate fact that it is a popular helicopter and glacier plan landing spot (boooo). At the rocks at the end of the glacier we do a longer break to have lunch, enjoy the sun, and pack away all the equipment (back to heavy packs again) before heading down into the really nice valley. Initially we're following stone men, gliding down snow patches, scrambling over blocks, etc. before the path takes us steeply down into the valley. Eventually we end up on a marked path that leads to the Blauseeli, but we continue ever downwards, taking more frequent breaks than the two of us normally do, enjoying the views ahead to the Bietschhorn and backwards to the glacier, down down down to the road which takes us to the Hotel Fafleralp. Here we rest our feet, have a cool drink and something to eat, and then catch the bus back to Goppenstein and the train home.

It was a really nice tour. This was certainly more technical than the Hochtouren we've done so far; really good practice for whatever comes next! :-)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Flühli -> Gfelle

On Saturday we ran across the new SAC book "Entlebuch-Emmental Zwischen Pilatus, Napf und Sigriswiler Rothorn"; flipping through it revealed all kinds of interesting sounding hikes with a strong emphasis on doing ridges. We like ridges, so we immediately bought the book. This was our first hike from it.

We started pretty early: on a train leaving Basel at 6:30 and did the tram->train->train->bus thing. The bus from Schüpfheim is pretty full, but we're the only ones who get off at Flühli (they're all going to the Brienzer Rothorn, yay!). From Flühli we take the road out of town under blue skies, below the walls of the Schwandiliflue, past Mettle and Salzbüel, then along the path to the farm at Baumgarte. To this point we've been climbing steadily, (about 400m already), but haven't really noticed it; this all changes when we take a right at Baumgarte, head across the grass, and climb up the Leitere. This starts off steep and just gets steeper. :-) It's a great "path" (well-marked, but no path until it gets really steep) including steep grass, rock scrambling, a few cables, and a lot of mud. Definitely wouldn't want to do this the other way under these conditions!

Once up to the ridge we do a quick energy-bar break then continue along the ridge until we hit the cross on the peak under the Schafmatt. Here we run into a small group of sheep (sheep on the Schafmatt???) being guarded by two dogs (seen signs for this before, haven't actually seen the dogs though); we had around them with a bit of gentle talking for the dogs and head up to the real Schafmatt peak. The views would probably be amazing, but the clouds are bit too low to be able to see much in the direction of the alps. From here on it's ridge walking along an unmarked, but mostly visible, trail. For a while we have a good example of ridge weather: clouds on our left, clear to the right. The ridge is excellent: grass bits, scrambly bits, narrow bits, steep bits, everything you want. :-)
At a saddle we run into a couple of ibexes (they aren't much bothered by us) and do a sandwich break before continuing on. After a bit more nice walking we get to the end of the road: the cross at Pt. 1815 on the Abnistetterflue. Another sandwich break and some more view-enjoying, then back a bit and steeply down to the unmarked path running along the south face. Past the Toregg, and down to the Oberlooegg. Here we start seeing other people on the paths (the first of the day). A bit further on we come to the Schimbrig Bad where, unplanned but very welcome, a cool drink awaits.

At this point we play a bit of a game with ourselves. The signs say 1 hour 10 minutes to Gfelle, the next bus leaves in an hour, so we decide to take it easy and catch the next one. By the time we finish our drinks and set out again, we've got about 40 minutes to get the bus. We set out at our normal "getting ready hochtouren" pace for a bit, then at some point decide that it's worth trying to catch the bus. We up the pace to just under a jog and start cutting switchbacks out of the path. By the time we hit the river we've got 7-8 minutes left and no real idea how much farther it is to the bus stop, so we continue along alternating between fast walking and jogging. When the bus stop comes into view, the bus is there and the driver is getting ready to leave. Some fast jogging for the last 100m and we get to the bus just as he's pulling out, luckily for us the driver stops. We get on the bus sweaty, out-of-breath, and giggly. :-)

Note to ourselves: we seem to head uphill considerably faster than the times given in new book. We made it to the Schaffmatt in less than three hours, including a break, not the 4 hours given in the book.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Hiking in the Sierra de Guaderrama: Manzanares el Real -> Mataelpino

A bit earlier start than the day before since there seems to have been sufficient push for an earlier breakfast time that the hotel opened early. We start out along the same path we've been taking into town with a plan of maybe heading up to La Maliciosa, but definitely heading in that direction. After crossing the river, we follow the path until it hits the parking lot at Canto Cochino and then pick up another trail that leads us up the other side of the valley (we shouldn't have needed to go this far, but the bit of trail connecting the two that is on the map doesn't seem to exist). Up we head on a nice broad path to a saddle and parking lot (Collado de Quebrantaherraduras) where we cross the road and then head up more steeply on a shaded path through the woods. The weather is good, with occasional clouds blocking the sun (no problem when climbing!) but there are some low clouds stuck on the ridge from two days ago. This bodes poorly for La Maliciosa.

After climbing a few hundred more meters along the really nice path we hid the saddle at Collado Porron and have a break enjoying the view out. We decide that rather than doing the last couple hundred meters up to la Maliciosa Baja only to discover that the main peak is cloud bound, it makes more sense to go ahead and head down to Mataelpino and enjoy a lazy afternoon. So down we head, quite steeply through ever increasing vegetation, until we are surrounded by blooming lavender and Cistus flowers (Zistrosen)... crazy! At a beautiful green meadow we stop and enjoy lunch with a view (after changing places once due to an ant invasion).
Once in town we try something new and use the map+gps software on greg's phone to lead us most directly to the hotel/spa. This works pretty well except for a screwup with particular house numbers on the street (a couple hundred unexpected meters of walking along the road ensue).

Postscript: by the time we're more than halfway down we can see that La Maliciosa is, in fact, not cloud bound... ah well, you win some you lose some. It is a nice lazy afternoon at the spa though. ;-)

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Hiking in the Sierra de Guaderrama: in Pedriza

Late start today since the hotel doesn't do breakfast until nine (though it was a pretty good breakfast) and we have to make a trip into town for lunch stuff. We head out under more or less cloudless skies around 11 and start directly up, up, up through the crazy rocks above town. Lucky for us the ambient temp isn't super high or it would have been a tough trip. As it was, the spring we run across after a couple hundred meters of climb is more than welcome to cool our heads and have a cool drink. We see a few trail runners along the way and wonder at their fitness and steadiness of foot.

After climbing along the really nice path and walking through a couple very green meadows we reach the foot of El Yelmo where we take a short break to watch some rock climbers at work on the south face. The path then leads us around the peak and we spend a couple minutes looking for the route up (silly guide book has a map that doesn't match the description).

We do eventually find the way and then do some scrambling over rocks until we reach the chimney that leads to the peak. This is seriously entertaining since it's too narrow to carry a pack (we leave them at the base of the chimney) and in one or two places requires use of whatever means available to get the friction required to move up (Greg is very glad to be wearing long sleeves). Once out of the chimney it's a short walk to the peak where we spend a few minutes enjoying the view. There are tons of good lunch spots up here, but our lunch is in the packs on the other side of the chimney. So... back we go through the chimney (the way down is much easier than the one up) and then we have a lunch break in a wind sheltered spot where we can enjoy the views. Back down the scrambly bit over boulders and then we are back at the foot. There's another rock here that has to be scrambled up, so we get that out of the way, ;-), and then start down.
We opt for the path down through the gorge next to El Yelmo (Hueco de la Hoces). This turns out to be another great scrambly, searchy (where the hell is the path?) path that we thoroughly enjoy all the way. Along the way we run into a few more mountain goats that, like the ones the day before, are not particularly concerned by our presence. Eventually we hit the bottom and the Rio Manzanares and pick up the path into town that we finished on the day before,

A really nice day in a very impressive area... It would be easy to spend a week here and would probably be a fantastic place to improve our climbing skills.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Hiking in the Sierra de Guaderrama: La Barranca de Navacerrada -> Manzanares el Real

After the expected weak breakfast we are on our way by nine under blue skies. The first part of the day's path is back along the end of yesterday's hike, though we soon enough divert. The order of the morning is climb, climb, climb. After a bit of climbing we stop at a spring to fill the water bottles and then it's up, up, up until we reach the Collado del Piornal. The path is pretty easy to follow, at least initially shaded and generally a pleasure to hike. Once at the col and standing in the wind, we decide against a side trip to the Maliciosa since the day is already going to be pretty long... Too bad, it was seriously tempting. ;-)

From the col the path leads us, in the wind, up to the strange station atop the Bola del Mundo. Then around that and further along the broad ridge of the Cuerda Larga. Much of the rest of the day is spent on that ridge. We climb up to peaks and head down to saddles and walk and walk. It's very good walking and quite entertaining. We have a nice, wind-sheltered lunch break on top of the Hierro Menor, along the way we run across a big group of mountain goats (Iberian Ibex) that didn't have much interest in us and don't let us bother them at all.

Eventually we reach the Asomate de Hoyos and turn off to the right to head towards La Pena Linderas and La Pedriza with all its crazy stone formations. This is an exercise in following stonemen since there are no other markings. Still, the path is no problem to follow and fun to walk. After some descending we reach another saddle (Collado de Miradero) and then turn to follow the well marked path steeply down to the valley. This path has a bit of everything: smooth bits under trees, scrambling through rocks, jumping streams, etc. It's big fun. This is a good thing because it's also got a lot of descent and we do it pretty quickly (practicing for hochtour season: running down hill at the end of a long day).

Eventually we reach the parking lot Canto Cochino at the bottom and pick up the poorly signed and marked trail along the Rio Manzanares into Manzanares el Real. Good thing for us: our hotel is right where we come into town. It's a serious bonus at the end of a very long day to not have to walk forever through town.

We settle in for the evening with sore feet, tired legs, and full eyes. It was a really great day.