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.

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