Sunday, September 09, 2012

A week in Paris

It's somehow been three years since we last went to Paris... time flies. We had a very nice flat near the Bastille and did the "go shopping at the open markets and then cook" thing, like we talked about doing last time. Bastille is a great place for this since there are a number of markets within easy walking distance.

Primarily we did a lot of walking around; some highlights:

  1. Heading to the Catacombs to escape the rain on Monday; unfortunately we weren't the only one to have this great idea. After seeing the line (in the rain, of course), we turned right around and got back on the metro.
  2. Taking advantage of the closed streets on Sunday to stroll along the canal. Lots of people out enjoying the sun. 
  3. Lunch at L'As du Falafel
  4. The new/redone pedestrian way along the right bank of the Seine
  5. Brunch with Christina and Thomas

Friday, September 07, 2012

Seilschaft coaching Day 6: Piz Palu traversal

This was the last day of the course and our one fixed point was to end the day at Diavolezza, where we could catch a gondola down to the valley and then a bus/train back home. From the hut there are two practical ways to get down there: head down over the Fortezza, then across the glacier and to Diavolezza or, more interesting, traverse the Piz Palü ridge. We all wanted to cross the ridge, but there was some question about what the conditions would be like: based on the few people in the hut, we were pretty sure that no one had done the traversal since the snow.

Anyway... out we headed at around 6:15. The first bit is pretty straightforward since we're following the tracks of folks who have come up to the rifugio from below. The tracks make getting through the big ice break under/around the Bellavista nice and easy... Andrea's task of leading is not a difficult one.  The trickiest bit is not stopping all the time to take pictures of the increasingly amazing sunrise. Bonus!
Sunrise. :-)
When the tracks turn off to the left towards the Fortezza, we instead turn right to head up to the Fuorcla Bellavista. From here it's clear that no one has done the ridge since the snow fell. Ah well... we're all motivated to do it anyway, particularly since Bruno is going to lead. ;-)

We split into one rope of three and one with two and head up the ridge. There are times the snow is a help (good footing over some bits!) and times when it's a hindrance (can't find grips/ledges while scrambling); it's probably a slight net negative. Overall the going is pretty good. The drops to either side are definitely impressive and would be cause for thought/fear (for Greg at least), but there's so much else to think about that it never really even starts to get bad. The pictures are pretty funny though... Greg's expression is pretty concentrated/intense in all of them.
Looking back along the ridge at [M] and [B]
A bit of scrambling
Greg in his role as Mr. Serious
At the Piz Spinas (the westernmost peak of the Piz Palü ridge) we do a quick food break then head onwards along the ridge, with a bit more scrambling, until we reach the snow ridge leading up to the central peak of the Piz Palü. Here we're just behind a group of Italians who have opted to come up the steep southern firn face instead of doing the ridge. We don't stay long at the main peak since it's pretty windy, but head on towards the east peak. This bit of the traverse provides the option to do one of the classic following-a-trail-with-a-500m-sheer-drop-under-your-feet bits. Greg, who is leading at that point, opts not to do this and to stay on the softer, but considerably less "airy" South side of the ridge. Andrea, of course, is disappointed by this decision... ah well.
Greg was happier *not* following the path on this side of the ridge
On the first bit of the way down from the easternmost peak, the bit of snow we're following on the South side of the ridge ends in a sheer drop and we have to cross over to the North side. At this point Bruno takes over the lead, crosses over, sets a couple ice screws, and belays us as we climb backwards down the first (steepest) bit. By the time the rope has run out, things aren't so steep and we proceed normally the rest of the way down. Unfortunately through all of this there are other people descending the face. This leads to plenty of snow/ice falling down on us, but luckily nothing really solid. Grim joke from Bruno on the way down: "What's the worst thing that could happen right now?" "hmm, getting hit by a piece of ice kicked down by the Italians above us?" "No. Getting hit by an Italian"

We have a lunch break at the shoulder at around 3720m and then follow the tracks down the rest of the way. It's very nice to have something to follow through the ice break and the crevasses and we make pretty good time down to the flat bit of glacier, across that, and then to the rock ridge that leads us to Diavolezza.
It's good to have a trail to follow through the ice break

After a short break for refreshing beverages we take the gondola down and start the long, long trip back home.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Seilschaft coaching Day 5: unplanned rest day

The day's plan is to head up to the Piz Bernina. Greg isn't feeling 100% and is concerned after the fitness problems of the last two days, so he decides to stay in the hut (it was pretty clear the night before that this was going to happen). Andrea starts out planning to go but after looking at the weather (cloudy and very windy) decides to wimp out as well. So we both stay back as the other three leave at around 7:30. We're still sitting there when they come back after 20 minutes: the weather was just too crappy, so they decided to hang out in the hut until it improves (which it's supposed to do). We have some time, so we do the trip planning for Day 6 early as the weather slowly improves. The other three set out again at 10:30 and complete the climb.
Rifugio Marco e Rosa

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.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Seilschaft coaching Day 3: Across the glacier to the Rif. Marinelli Bombardieri

We head out again at around 6:15 into a day that's not especially promising in terms of weather. Today we're not planning to do any peaks, we're just heading to a new hut. The trip is made more interesting by the fact that we're crossing the Sella glacier, which has plenty of crevasses that need to be navigated through.

[M] leads us out from the hut, beside the moraine and gently up to the glacier itself. From there we ascend a bit along a track made the previous day by another group heading to the Glüschaint and then start to traverse. At some point Andrea takes over the front. She gets the most complex stretch in terms of crevasses and we spend a good amount of time winding around to make our way through. The pictures from the first day are definitely useful for this.
There is hopefully a route through here, but it sure isn't obvious.
After we're clear of most of that we switch around again and [B] takes the lead as we climb some more. During this stretch Greg starts to notice that his aerobic fitness isn't what it ought to be. It's frustrating to have to ask the group to slow down a bit, but there's no way around it. Just below the Fuorcla da la Sella we do a quick food break and then Greg takes the lead. Some course corrections from Bruno are required after making it over the pass and heading down the other side (Greg needs to spend more time with map study and not leave all that to Andrea). At this point clouds start blowing in and out, so we do some practice with navigating using the compass. The conditions definitely aren't ideal, but at least this glacier doesn't have quite as many crevasses, so we don't end up doing too many zig zags.
into the cloud
compass practice
not completely free of crevasses
When the conditions allow, we do another round of photo-reconnaissance: taking pictures of at least the bottom half of the couloir that leads up to the Rifugio Marco e Rose, our destination for the next day.

Down under the Passo Marinelli Occidentale, where the ice ends, we pack up the ropes and leave our crampons under a distinctive rock before following the path (initially marked with stone-men, later actually blazed) to the Rifugio Marinelli Bombardieri. Bonus points to the hut for having a Sigur Ros album on when we arrived. We do the day's debrief with a round of hot beverages and then head off for showers (!) and a rest. We convene again for an apero at 5 (a really, really nice spread of cheese and cured meats along with a nice bottle of bubbly) and then do the trip planning for the next day before another good meal (more food is really not necessary after the apero, but it's not like we're going to turn down food in Italy). Once again we're the only guests at the Rifugio; during the week in the late season when the weather isn't optimal is a great time to experience calm and quiet mountain huts.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Seilschaft coaching Day 2: Up Il Chapuetschin

We head out from the hut at around 6:15 under cloudy skies. It's pretty warm but not raining (yay!). The plan for the day is to have each of the group members lead a stage; Greg has the first stage, so he leads the group out and up the moraine next to the hut. After some climbing, plenty of stamping through snow, and a few wrong turns (tip from Bruno later: check the first bit of the route out the night before), we get up to the cliff wall at around 2900m, rope up, and head out across the glacier. The fresh snow makes the going slower than normal (both because crevasses are harder to see and because there's an effort associated with making a path), but we head steadily upwards to the Fuorcla dal Chapütschin. The crevasses aren't too bad, so we can take a pretty direct route.
Weaving through a couple crevasses

In the middle of the bowl we hit the days only real decision point: to the pass and then along the whole ridge, or the shorter route through the couloir southeast of Il Chapütschin? The choice to head to the pass and then up the ridge instead of the couloir is an easy one: the couloir is quite steep and looks pretty unpleasant.

At the pass we take a short break and then [B] leads the group for the next stage: up to the ridge and then along the ridge to the peak. Plenty of path breaking here, but [B] does all the hard work. Over the  Chapütschin Pitschen we go, then down to the firn on the other side, around the top of the couloir and then back up to the ridge. Here it's steeper, more scrambly, and more exposed, but there are plenty of rocks/edges to hang the rope around so it doesn't even start to feel unsafe.
Looking towards the ridge to the Chapütschin
The top is windy as hell, so we don't stay long before heading down 10-15m to a more wind-sheltered bowl where we do a quick lunch break.
Up top! in the wind!

After the break Andrea leads the group down the first part of the ridge, down to the glacier on the West side (we decide not to do the full ridge because of the snow and the heavy winds), across the glacier, and to a saddle where we can cross the ridge and head down to the glacier on the East side. Bruno belays us through the first scrambly bit and then it's another swap of leads and [M] navigates us across the glacier (more crevasses here) and down to the rocks at around 3000m where we take off the crampons and pack away the ropes. The last stretch, in a light drizzle, is down through the rocks (sometimes quite slippery thanks to the snow) to the moraine and then back to the hut.

In the evening we talk through the day, plan the next day's trip, and have another good meal before heading off to bed.

All in all it was a good starting day: the weather wasn't ideal but the tour was relatively easy (would have been quite easy without the fresh snow) and a good chance for us to get to know each other as a Seilschaft (sorry, I just can't bring myself to use "rope team").

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Seilschaft coaching Day 1: To the Coazhutte

One of the conclusions we reached after the week in the Berner alps is that we should do a mountaineering course so that we can organize and undertake easier tours on our own. Very fortunately for us, Bergpunkt was offering a perfect-sounding course during the first week of our vacation. Since we didn't have any real fixed plans, we went ahead and signed up.

Day one is arrival day: after a very long train ride the group (there are four of us + Bruno, our guide/instructor) meets up at the foot of the Corvatsch gondola in Surlej and heads up to the middle station. After the requisite round of introductions and "what do you expect to get out of the course", we head off along the path to the Coazhütte, where we'll be staying for the first two nights. Earlier in the week it snowed up here, so there's plenty of fresh snow to tramp through as we enjoy the panoramic views across the valley to the Piz Bernina, Piz Rosegg, etc. and all their associated glaciers.

From left: Piz Morteratsch, Piz Bernina, Piz Rosegg
Along the way a tip from Bruno to take some zoomed-in pictures of the Roseg and Sella glaciers: we will be crossing them on Tuesday and we can use the photos to help plan a route through the crevasses.
On Tuesday we're going to  have to make our way through that mess.
At the hut (unsurprisingly, but very pleasantly almost empty: there are five other people there) we get settled in and then do a session on trip planning for the next day, where the idea is to climb Il Chapütschin. It's a great opportunity to talk about adjusting plans to the prevailing conditions: the weather forecast is pretty crappy -- overcast, chance of rain in the afternoon -- and we know that there's going to be plenty of fresh snow (30cm or so) on the ridge.

After a good meal it's off to bed for an early start on Monday.

Link to the whole trip on a topo map.