Saturday, July 05, 2014

Weather follies around the Martinsmadhütte

The weather report for the weekend was somewhat dodgy - possible rain on Saturday, probably ok on Sunday - but we decided to head up to the mountains anyway. The Martinsmadhütte has been on our list of places to check out for a while: it's small, according to the stats not particularly full, and there are some interesting tours to do around it, including a Hochtour + traverse that sounds really tempting.

So, on Saturday we grab an early train, train, train, bus combo and make our way to Elm (we've started here before). The plan is to make our way up along the ridge to the Mittaghorn, then head from there down to the hut. The weather seems like it might play along: there are plenty of clouds, but our ridge seems fairly clear. So, up, up, up we go along a very nice path. We've got the mountaineering gear with us, so our packs are heavy (good practice for our upcoming week in the Berner Oberland! at least that's what Greg keeps telling himself as he starts to curse the weight of the rope). At some point we end up in a cloud, so we lose whatever views we might have had, but at least it's not actively raining. Along the way we decide that trying to do the ridge in these conditions (wet, no view, etc.) doesn't make a lot of sense, so when we get to the fork in the path at around 1620m, we turn off to the left and contour around towards Nideren. After descending to the river (you have to go down in order to go up) we turn right and then head up the wall at the end of the valley. We do a short break after the first step (haven't really done much in the way of breaks so far... the weather doesn't really encourage standing around), and then continue along. The hut, perched on the edge of one of the cliffs, is visible now; pushing us to finish the hike. The last bit is steeply up another couple steps and then we're at the hut. The sun has come out 5 minutes before we arrived, so we can enjoy our refreshing beverages and much-delayed lunch sitting outside the hut and enjoying the views. After a nap, a bit more enjoying the views, and a few games of cards, we enjoy a very nice dinner (SAC huts are normally fine, particularly since we're always pretty hungry, but this was quite good food) with the other 9 people staying at the hut and then head off to bed.

On Sunday we get an early-ish start with breakfast at 6. We're on our way, under cloudless skies, by 6:45. The blue-white marked path leads us to the end of the bowl, up a small step, and then across another broad step to the "Schwarzwändli".
The Schwarzwändli in the foreground, the larger wall in the back.
Here we have to improvise a bit since the path leads us to a snow field that doesn't look particularly inviting. We do a bit of scrambling up the wall until we hit the cable that accompanies the path. The rest of the way up is a fun bit of scrambling, with the cable always there if things get too hairy. The top of that wall leads us to the next bowl, surrounded by very impressive 400m walls. We soak in the ambience and then continue along the very well marked path, heading more or less west, across some snow, across some rocks, steadily ascending, until we're at the top of the wall. After a bit more walking, the Vorabfirn comes into view, as does the peak we're heading for: the Glarner Vorab. Well, ok, that's a like. The Glarner Vorab would be in view, but it's 3018 meters high, and the clouds that have come in are at about 2750m. Crap!

We take a short break in a sheltered spot out of the wind, consider the situation, and decide to proceed at least to the pass to see what the other side looks like. We carried all the glacier crap with us, so we might as well use it. So we put on the glacier gear and head out across the firn. Just shy of 2800m we are in the cloud and can't see too much.
In the cloud on the Firn
After another consultation, we decide that the cloud really isn't going away and that we're not quite stubborn enough to really climb a mountain and then do a T4+ ridge hike when there's no view whatsoever to be had, so we turn back around (crap!) and head down to the ugly, and out-of-place, Station Vorab Gletscher ski station down at 2566m.

At the station we find a wind-sheltered spot, have a lunch break, pack away the glacier stuff, and plan a new route down. After some looking around on the map (hooray for the SchweizMobil app!) we opt for a scenic route down to Falera. First we follow a road (part gravel, part limestone) through the ski area, head across to the Fuorcla da Sagogn, climb up to the Crap Masegn, then head off along the ridge (we get our ridge after all!) until more or less the end. The views are very nice, including back to the ridge that we didn't do (still largely in clouds, definitely the right decision).
Looking back towards the ridge we had planned to traverse. The Bündner Vorab is almost visible at the right of the ridge.
At the end of the ridge we head down, down, and then around a long bowl before doing the last bit of descent into town. We arrive at the bus stop about 5 minutes before the bus leaves (not an accident...), enough time to pack stuff away and get ready for the long trip home.

Though things didn't go as planned, it was still a good trip. We'll have to go back some weekend with better weather and actually do what we had planned here.

 Day 1:
And day 2:

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