Saturday, June 15, 2013

SAC Ice Course 2013: Rhone Glacier

This year's installment of the SAC Basel kickoff of mountaineering seasonice course was this weekend on the Rhone glacier. There was some suspense as to whether or not it would happen at all since the Furka pass was closed for much longer than usual this year, but it did end up opening on Wednesday, so off we went on Saturday morning. We've done some reviewing and a bit of practicing, so we're both feeling comfortable.

It's a long trip from Basel down to that part of Switzerland: we met at the train station here just before 8 a.m. and got to the Hotel Belvedere shortly before noon. After dumping stuff we didn't need and a bit of organizational stuff, we head down to the glacier under scattered clouds, have a quick lunch, rope in, and head out across the glacier to the first cluster of big crevasses.

We spend a few hours climbing up and down various bits of ice to refresh on technique and get comfortable on the crampons again and then move on to crevasse rescues. First we practice pulling someone out as a group: this is the first time we've done this; of course it works, but it's more difficult than it seems like it should be. Then we move on to the Flaschenzug (hoist). Since we did the review before coming, we're both ready for the Austrian version that we've seen in all our courses, but of course we end up learning a completely different technique (we even use a different version of the prusik: the English prusik). The Swiss version we do this time is a bit simpler and, at least the way we practice it, seems pretty easy for a single rescuer to do (useful for us) and requires a lot less rope. After finishing that, we do a bit of self-arrest practice (much too easy since the snow is super soft) and then head back to the hotel for dinner. Dinner is chaotic: the hotel is under new management, it's a new team, and they've been open three days; enough said about that.

Sunday morning the weather is once again great. We have a (somewhat chaotic) breakfast while enjoying the view down the Wallis from the restaurant, do the usual discussion about equipment, and then head out. Our group spends the morning with some more practice traversing difficult terrain, then does self-rescue from a crevasse. This is a new one for us and one that would definitely be worth practicing again. We move off the glacier onto some wind-sheltered rocks for a very nice lunch break and then head back to the parcours that the guides have built. This is way longer, more ambitious, and interesting than any that we've done on previous courses. They have built down into and through crevasses, under big blocks of ice, etc. Very fun. With the number of people we have, there's a fair amount of waiting and we, unfortunately don't both get to finish (Greg misses the vertical ice climbing, Andrea the "slide down into the crevasse, traverse a bit, then climb back out"), but it's great.

Now it's back across the glacier, refreshments in front of the kiosk, packing everything up, and the really long trip back home. Despite the excessive travel, it was a really good course.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Along the Simmeflue

We finally had a Saturday without rain! Time to get out and do something fun in the mountains!

The parameters: we both want to do something interesting/challenging; there's still a lot of snow, so we don't want to get up too high; there may be thunderstorms in the later afternoon, so not too long. Andrea has just the thing on her ToDo list: the Simmeflue over Wimmis. This isn't in any of our books, but there are plenty of descriptions on hikr.org.

We start at Wimmis with a few other groups (no big surprise: good weather + not overly technical + comparatively short + good views = no fear of being lonesome) and follow the signs to Brodh├╝si. Marked path along a dirt road snaking up the hill under trees until the blue-white marked path leads us steeply up. This is great hiking: steep, shaded, great path, great views, not overly warm. It's not really T4+ though... 30 seconds after Greg points this out we get to a steeper section with a cable. ;-)
up up up
Up, up, up we go. After a bit we come out from under the trees and hit a more T4 bit: steeply up along the cliffs with cables to hang on to. Really nice going here: sometimes relatively flat, sometimes steep, sometimes under trees, sometimes in the sun, scrambling sections, very nice. We check out the Adlerhorst (nice sheltered benches with views) and then head on. The next bit is pretty exposed and steep, but the steps are great and where there aren't good handholds, there's always the cable. Up, up, up, playing a "no use of hands" game as balance training, past a fork in the path, up to a saddle, and then the last bit up to the first peak of the Simmeflue. It's not as crowded up here as one might expect (only 6 other people). We do an energy bar break and enjoy the views, head back down to the fork, and then head further along the ridge. At the next stoneman we turn upwards again to get to the next little peak on the ridge (the Mittagflue). This time the path isn't as quite as well trodden (yay!) and we have the peak to ourselves. Enjoy the views (also back to the first peak, a couple pictures, then back down to the path and further along. 
view from the Mittagflue
Once again, turn at the next stoneman and up to the next peak. We don't have this one to ourselves (four other people), but it's lunchtime and there's plenty of room, so we do a lunch break. Then it's back down to the path and further along the ridge. Even the main trail is not particularly well used at this point (seems like most people must go directly back down to Wimmis): plenty of downed trees obstructing the trail. We skip the next peak (sounds like there's some kind of tree clearing going on up there) and continue along the ridge.

After more very nice walking we come out into the open pasture above Chrindi (our first "cowbells ahead; cows in the pasture" bit of the year) and continue along the contour towards Heiti. At the fork in the path we take another break (mmm, laying in a pasture in the afternoon sun!) and then start heading down. Nice gentle descending for a bit, then turning down through a very cool gorge with water coming in from all over the place. Down, down, until we hit Allmede then along to Erlenbach. We've got some time, so we enjoy a cool beverage at the restaurant and then grab the next train towards home.

A very nice hike. Boy was it great to be outside and moving again!

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