Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Seilschaft coaching Day 4: up to the Rif. Marco e Rosa

This is another hut-to-hut day, but this one has a bit more technical character than Day 3: there's a 400m climb at the end that is a steep couloir followed by either a klettersteig made more challenging by the fresh snow or an even steeper bit of couloir. During the planning the night before we've agreed that we all favor the klettersteig, but that we'll make up our minds once we get to its bottom and see how things look.

[B] leads us out from the hut and down to the rock with our crampons, repeating the end of Day 3. Greg, once again, notices that he really needs to get into better aerobic shape... very frustrating. Back on the glacier we rope in and Andrea leads us in two groups across the glacier towards the couloir. This time going through some bits of crevasse maze is unavoidable.
Crevasse crossing
Shortly before getting there we do a food break (Italian breakfasts don't last long...) in the sun (!) in a patch of rocks and then [M] takes over the lead the rest of the way to the couloir. Making a broad loop around the lateral crevasses at the bottom of the couloir we climb up to the base of the rocks on the left-hand side and rearrange ourselves to go on a short rope for the next stretch. Since it's getting steep and there are still some crevasses to navigate, Bruno takes over the lead at this point and brings us up the next 100m or so to the bottom of the klettersteig. This doesn't look at all tempting: everything is covered with ice and snow and we'd have to cross a sizable bergschrund to even get across to it. To this point the footing in the couloir has been quite good thanks to the fresh snow, so the decision to continue up the couloir is easy (we had been fearing that the slope would be blank ice, which would have made things much more difficult). The next bit is really steep, so we tie the two ropes together, form one group of five, and move on together. As soon as we're clear of the edge, the rest of us wait while Bruno climbs ahead as far as he can, sets up a stand (ice-pick buried in a T-cut with a sling), and belays us up.

We repeat this one more time and then we're past the steep bit and can continue on normally.

A bit more climbing on short rope and we're at the hut.

We celebrate with some minestrone soup and then take advantage of the nice weather to head outside and practice crevasse rescues next to the hut. The hut's dog (a Czech wolfdog whose brother lives down at the Rif. Marinelli... beautiful creatures) plays along with us for a while before getting bored. Of course the weather changes (goodbye sun, hello sleet and snow) during the practice, so we cut it short after one round each and head back inside. The rest of the day follows the usual pattern: discussion of the day, planning the next day, a good meal (amazing what he can do in that little kitchen at ~3600m), and then bed. Once again things are quiet: there are only two other people with us in the hut.

The couloir was interesting: we haven't done anything that steep (up to 50 degrees) or long (200m of vertical in the steep section) on previous trips. The couloir in the Tschingelhorn trip was less steep, shorter, had no crevasses, and had much deeper snow in it, so it didn't feel particularly risky. This time there was definitely some adrenalin associated with the experience, particularly for Greg.

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