Sunday, August 27, 2017

Greenland trip day 9: Yeah! No more rain!

The day starts cloudy, including low clouds, but dry. Due to the low clouds, we opt not to do the ridge/peak behind our camp but to head a bit up the big glacier to see what we can find. We're underway shorly after 8 (late!) and head up to the moraine from two days ago and then onwards. After crossing a cool ice "bridge" over a river, we head down to the side of the big glacier and then up onto its gravel and dirt covered flank at a convenient point. Now it's good going for a bit until we get close to the next glacier coming in from the right. We find a good spot and leave the big glacier.
putting on crampons...
Onwards, past a small "peak" in a valley that John explains is from glacial overflow, then up onto the next moraine from which we have a view of the glacier coming from the right as well as a couple of likely looking peaks towards the end of the valley. The weather is continuing to improve and spirits in the group are high. :-) We continue along the moraine, past a family of ptarmigan, and then head onto the glacier. Here we put on the crampons and then traverse diagonally towards a decent looking snowfield that should lead to the ridge on the side. The glacier is super easy: mostly flat, no snow on top, no real crevasses, good going. From the glacier we can see another really nice looking peak with a knife ridge a bit further up from where we are headed: lovely but not for today. At the foot of the snowfield we get out the axes and then begin the ascent through the couloir. The snow is, once again, just about perfect and we make very rapid progress upwards. Past the narrow spot with the hole down to the rushing stream, up, up, up we go. This really is a great way to do vertical! The snowfield peters out some meters below the col, where we change out of the crampons, have a rest, and admire the astonishing views. The big glacier is just unbelievably big, it's got to be well over 5 km wide in the middle and stretches into the distance around a corner and out of sight.
up the ridge with views onto the big glacier
From the col we continue up the ridge. This is at first pretty loose, but gets nicer (and then *very* nice) quickly for those who are willing to do a bit of scrambling. Not everyone is, so A&g do a bit of coaching past the short mandatory scrambling bits (including doing some of them multiple times in both directions) before heading off on our own to follow the good rock (great rock) the rest of the way to the small peak. There are another couple peaks further along the ridge and the next one looks definitely doable (and fun!) but it would be climbing, seems pretty exposed, and we have already been going for ~6 hours, so it's not for today. We enjoy the stunning viewes (holy shit...), have a quick snack, and then head back down. Lots more coaching from g&A here (John has one person on a rope and can't really do this), but we get down to the col eventually. Quick bit of reorg and then we head down to the snowfield. John and greg put on crampons but the others opt to enjoy the conditions and glissade to the bottom. Looks like fun, but g just isn't ready for that. The return route is basically the same as the approach and we get back to camp about 11 hours after leaving.
great scrambling on great rock
It was a great day and spirits are very high. After a quick wash we do snacks then dinner (beef stew, good!) before heading to bed.
end of a great day.....with hopefully more to come
greg's horrible pun for the day: "Who'd have thought we'd all be smiling after so much moraine?"

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Greenland trip day 8: another waiting day

Another day with a dodgy forecast: mixed rain and clouds, so no mountaineering for us. The morning does have a highlight: watching a big ice spire fall off the glacier into the ocean. The noise is remarkable and watching the two big pieces try and find their "comfortable" positions in the water (after surfacing like whales) is really cool.
We get a late start and after breakfast head down the coast to stretch our legs and do some scouting for future climbing. It's a nice walk above the sea with a bit of ascent to a moraine on the next former glacier up. Plenty of plant life and things to see. The weather isn't terrible - no wind and only occasional sprinkles of rain - but the clouds are low so visibility of the mountains is pretty bad. When we head down to the shore we hit a nice beach with cool sand patterns and lots of stranded ice bergs (small ones). These have all kinds of interesting shapes and textures and keep us entertained for a while before moving on. Our "lunch" break is back up on a bit of ridge from which we see the other Pirhuk group (doing trekking) heading our way. After lunch we head back along a lower route. Aside from Andrea getting her boots wet (not super wet, she was smart and had put on her gaiters) at a river crossing, the trip back is uneventful. We hang out for the rest of the afternoon and then go to sleep after dinner (chili con carne this time... certainly a good freeze-dried choice).
It was another hard mental day; we all want to do some mountaineering and see the sun. Group morale is not super high, but the forecast for tomorrow looks ok and the three days after that look great. We'll see how things go. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Greenland trip day 7: a waiting day

The night is difficult: rainy and quite windy. Luckily for both of us, the rain has largely stopped by the time it's our turn to do bear watch. But the night itself is one of little sleep and doubts. Since it's clear that there won't be any real activity today, everyone sleeps in and we do a late breakfast followed by a post-breakfast nap. We do get some excitement as a boat pulls up a bit down-shore from us and disgorges a group of about ten. It's clear from the lack of gear that these are just day tourists and from talking to them we learn that they are up from Tasiilaq to see the glacier. That explains the well-worn path through camp!
cloudy and rainy
By lunchtime - quesadillas with salami - it's only raining a bit, so we opt for an afternoon walk up towards the glacier. The trail leads us along the shore and then up onto the moraine, from which we have a great viewpoint to look along the glacier. During the short window when the conditions allow, we can see a long way down the glacier to a group of mountains where the glacier makes a turn to the left. It's an impressive beast: about 2 km wide where we are and even wider further up. The end is chaotic as hell. Overwhelming! We are lucky enough to see a couple of big pieces fall off the glacier while we're standing above. The first of these happens during a wind-still and the surface of the ocean is very flat, so we get to watch the ripples spread and reflect off the other chunks of ice in the water. Really cool physics demo.
piece of ice falling off and into the water
Back at camp we have another rest and then do dinner (Shepherd's pie, really not recommended!) before doing a bit of talking about the next couple of days (theoretically the weather will improve after one more day where it's dodgy) and then heading off to bed.
camp at the shore of the fjord
We had a hard night/morning. Between Andrea's back (bother her again a bit because of the camp move the previous day) and the general crap weather it's not easy to keep spirits up and stop wondering why the hell we are doing this, but the afternoon walk really helped. The forecast is for good weather starting on Sunday, so maybe we will get to do some mountaineering again soon; but tomorrow is likely to be another bad-weather holding day.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Greenland trip day 6: so many things

Lots of stuff to do today and a forecast for rain starting at around noon (or later for the other forecast). So we are up at 4:30 and underway by 6:00 (not particularly early by our standards, but for the others in the group it's an early start). This time we are going up to Taatsukajik peak (800m), directly above camp, so the approach is nice and short. It's about an hour from camp to the foot of the snowfield that we'll follow up. On with the crampons, out with the ice axes and then we start the climb up the snow. Conditions are great. It's initially not terribly steep, so it's easy to get into the rhythm. Towards the top of the first bit it steepens up and we switch to using one crampon flat and one toe-in - John calls this "American technique" - it's quite effective. Nicely stable and with good snow, greg's heart rate stays reasonably low.
climb up the snow
From the top of this first steep stretch we plan the mixed bit to the col above us. This starts off on snow and then transitions to loose rock (crampons off!) which leads us without too many problems to the saddle and its views. From here we follow the very lovely ridge directly to the peak. Amazing views from here!
sea of peaks
After a very short rest, view, photo, and snack break we turn back and descend along more or less the same route. The snowfield is a bit scary for greg, but after watching the plunge step technique and following John things aren't too bad. It starts to rain lightly for a bit on the way down. Joy!
Back at camp we break down the tents and pack everything up as quickly as possible and then start the long, slow process of carrying everything back to the pick up point. It rains on and off, at times hard, throughout this process. By the time the boat arrives at 15:00 we are bundled up and ready to go.
ready to be picked up by boat
The boat ride north, which is cold but fortunately not very wet, is really spectacular. Past glaciers and peaks and islands and icebergs and and and! by the time we pull into the the inlet (Sermiligaaq Fjord?) with the big glacier at the end (Apuseeq / Knud Rasmussen Gletscher) we are very cold, but still awed by the scenery. Lars pulls to a group of big boulders on the shore, uses the boat to push aside a bunch of blocks of ice, and we unload our stuff onto the rocks on shore. Here it's a short walk up to the campsite (yay!). Since it's currently not raining (yay!), we quickly get the tents up, pitch the cooking tent and then have something warm to drink along with a snack before dinner. Dinner is chicken korma (again odd with texture but ok in taste). We hang out for a bit after dinner and then head off to bed.
unloading among blocks of ice
setting up camp with views onto the end of the glacier

It was a long day, with many things. :-)

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Greenland trip day 5: the first mountain day

After a night with bear watches (because of the rain) we get up to still weather and blue skies. Yeah! We are underway by 9am, heading up the valley, past the lake, slowly climbing until we reach the next lake and the glacier and the peak that is our destination is in view.
nice rock, and destination in view 
As a group we opt to take a route along a nice rounded stone ridge. This brings us, with a bit of light scrambling, to a good viewpoint and then down a bit to the glacier. After roping in we cross the big flat stretch and then climb a bit until hitting the side of the ridge that leads to the peak. Rope off, reorganize a bit and then we make our way to the loose slope to the ridge. The ridge, which is also a bit loose, takes us up, up, with ever improving views, to a shoulder where traverse the peak to the opposite side. We use this ridge to gain the peak (830m, no name). Our first Greenland mountain! The views are very, very nice.
view from the peak 
After a snack, some rest, and bunch of pictures, we head back down the way we came to the glacier. Roping in again we cross at an angle to where we went before - Andrea leading -  to a slope that we can quickly descend to the lake. The glacier traverses are pretty easy here: there aren't a huge number of crevasses and having six on the rope really makes us safe. Of course John has a slightly different system for doing things than what we are used to, but that's no big deal. The differences are always fun.
heading back down towards the glacier
After getting back to the tents we do a bit of washing of ourselves, have a nice snack of soup and quesadillas, and then hang out and rest until dinner time. Dinner is beef curry with rice (not too bad!). Post dinner we retire for the short night. No rain tonight, so we rely on the tripwires and skip the bear watch.
soup and snacks and quesadillas

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Greenland trip day 4: setting off

The forecast is better, so we plan to get a somewhat earlier start with the idea of heading off to a first camp in order to do a bit of practicing and a few peaks before heading to a camp somewhat further away. We wake to a light drizzle but some signs that the clouds are lifting. After breakfast we pack everything up, load the bags onto an ATV, and then walk down to the docks to load the boat. Piling in the boat, we head out across the bay to Apusiaajik Island, past icebergs and small islands to the mouth of a small valley not far from the glacier we've been admiring for the past couple of days.
getting dropped off
After unloading the boat we cart the first loads of stuff 15-20 minutes to the camp that Matt and John have already scoped out and set up with bear tripwires. After carting up the second load of stuff (not much fun) we pitch our tents (more fun), get set up in the tents, pitch the cooking/eating tent, and eat a bit. G builds a "fridge" for some food (cheese, salami, and wraps) that need to be kept cool and protected from animals and then we head back to get the two barrels with the rest of the food and lug them back to the camp (really not much fun).
carrying the food to camp
Now a bit of soup and crackers, some warm drinks, and a bit more organization and then we head off on a walk around the headland and towards the foot of the Apusiaajik Glacier. Lots of cool geology along that way (the variety of rocks is amazing) and then we see the glacier running into the sea. :-) A bit more looking around and then we head back to camp. Dinner is chicken and pesto pasta (soupy, but ok). After some more chatting and setting up the shifts for the polar bear watch (the tripwires apparently don't work so well in the rain and it is starting to drizzle again), we head off to bed. The forecast for the next day is good and there is climbing to be done!
first camp on Apusiaajik Island

Monday, August 21, 2017

Greenland trip day 3: another holding day, but with a walk

It's raining again in the morning so we opt after breakfast to wait and see what happens. Quiet morning. Around noon John suggests a hike around the island to stretch our legs and see a bit. Everyone is a bit cabin feverish, so this is well received. We put on the wet weather gear (it's still drizzling) and head out through town and a bit towards the airport and then off and around the other side of the lake.
heading out
Up a bit, past the old reindeer "fence" and then across a fantastic moor towards the sea. This is a completely new type of terrain for us. Just remarkable. Very lush in it sway with loads of moss and lichen of many different types. Soft, soft ground and rounded granite/gneiss all around. Fantastic! We head a bit towards the sea then head up a small "peak" to enjoy the view. Crazy lichen-covered stones to the top and then a view out to the partially mist-covered ocean with stone islands and icebergs all around. Magical.
Now back down and around the small valley before heading up to the ridge again and onto a few small peaks with wonderful views. The the last of these we get a view down to Kulusuk. We head a bit further along the ridge and then down to town and back to the house. We still haven't headed off on the expedition we're here for, but it was a really fantastic walk through wild terrain. Fun fun stuff.
view down to Kulusuk

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Greenland trip day 2: embarkation day (or not)

After not seeing the Northern Lights the night before (it took us too long to get outside after Matt woke us up) we awake to low clouds and drizzle. This changes to rain as the morning goes on. The plan is to load all our stuff into a boat in the late morning and then to head across the bay to a valley next to the glacier. We'll spend a few days there practicing and doing some peaks before moving further up the coast to another base camp.

The morning is spent packing and handling logistics as we wait for the tide to come in. The rain doesn't let up though. The forecast has been bad, then a bit better, but the reality just isn't very nice. Eventually we decide to just sit things out in town rather than heading over and setting up camp in the wet. We need to make space in the lodge, so we move over to another older and rustic (though still quite reasonable) house, have lunch, and spend the rest of the afternoon taking it easy. A bit of napping, some reading, a short walk when the rain lessens, etc.

After a nice meal and some more sitting around talking we head off to bed, hoping for better weather.
Kulusuk in the rain

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Greenland trip day 1: arrival day

After a night of poor sleep we get up, do some packing, have a nice breakfast, and then head out to the domestic airport. It's Marathon Day in Reykjavik, so there are loads of people about. We walk (!) to the airport which is really not much more than a bus terminal. After checking in and clearing security we head into the teeny waiting room with loads of other people (There are two flights waiting). We eventually board the smallish prop plane and then are on our way. The flight is painless and the views for the last 15 minutes are inspiring! Arriving at the very minimal airport near Kulusuk is amazing. The views! The landscape!
We are in Greenland!
baggage claim
John meets us and the other three from our group (Icelanders) who we had not yet met but had successfully identified in the waiting area earlier. Our bags go into "town" via ATV and we walk in. It really is different and wonderful. We are in Greenland! Once at the lodge we do a bit of briefing, have lunch, stroll around town for a bit and then walk to a nearby crag to do some climbing. This is great climbing with the heavy boots on. Lovely gneiss, good stuff! We do this for a while to have fun and let John assess us then head back to the lodge for a rest and a snack. More hanging out and then a great meal with a big group (a group of 10 + 2 guides who are finishing a two week expedition). After some more ogling at the views we head off to bed.
We *are* in Greenland!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Clean climbing course in Alpe Devero

This weekend we did a course on multi pitch clean climbing. The course was originally supposed to be held at the beginning of the summer, but that ended up being cancelled due to bad weather. This weekend was the first available make-up date.

After an early start from Basel we meet the rest of the group in Domodossola. From there we drive to Alpe Devero (walked through this last fall) and then walk to the CAI hut on the edge of "town". We drop the non climbing stuff and then head up (in the heat) towards the Passo della Rossa. Up up up we go, past a nice flat meadow with an old shelter under a big boulder and a possible tent spot, up up past a strangely sited climbing area, up up up until we hit the foot of the cliff leading up to Punta Esmeralda (unfortunately not really indicated on the map). After a lesson in building a stand we don the climbing gear and do a bit of practicing, reduce the stuff we want to take with us to one pack per rope, and start climbing. Though we are at times next to a bolted route we do the whole thing clean. S, our instructor, moves back and forth between the two ropes to check placements and stands and give tips. The rock is amazing, the climbing not particularly difficult, and with the coaching it ends up being not as scary as one might think (it's pretty steep and quite exposed climbing). The climbing is over sooner than it seems like it should be. We pack up the gear, make rope "backpacks" and then head down through the scree to return to the rest of the packs (after a short diversion back to the end point to retrieve greg's sunglasses, which had managed to hide during the "we aren't forgetting anything?" patrol).
Now it's down down down to a convenient and obvious huge boulder where we cache the climbing gear for the next day. Down down down we go, back to the hut. We have a bit of time to clean up and enjoy a cool beverage before it's time to eat. After the expected good meal we do a bit of planning for the next day and then head off to bed (super bonus: we have a room for five, so it's only us and things aren't that loud).

On Saturday we do breakfast at 6:00 (first ones up for sure) and are underway shortly before 7:00. The weather is perfect and the view to the sunlit Punta della Rossa (today's climbing area) is awesome. Up up we go along the same path as the day before. After collecting the cached climbing gear we continue along the path towards the Passo della Rossa. More up up along the path (including a bit of ladder) until we come out onto a saddle above a sea of talus. Here we divert from the path and cross the talus towards the Punta della Rossa, which towers above us. We head a bit up the ridge before hitting the beginning of the climbing route along the south east spur (is that the right translation for "sporn"?). On with the gear, a bit to eat, and then we start climbing. Today instead of having both ropes underway at the same time we go one after another. Andrea and greg are lucky enough to be the first team, so we get to lead the way up the mountain. Today the route is not bolted, but the stands are all pre-built. So we have to place protection while climbing but don't have to build the stands. The climbing is generally not particularly difficult (a bit trickier and certainly more exposed than Punta Esmeralda), the biggest challenge would be finding the route without the bolts there to lead the way. Fortunately S is there to keep us on track. After about five and a half hours of climbing (11 pitches) we reach the top of the route with very tired heads. The view is, as it has been the whole way up, very very nice. We rest for a bit and eat something while waiting for the second rope to finish and join us. After we've all had a short break we continue on foot to the peak, from which we have a truly spectacular view over the Berner Oberland and the Italian mountains around us.
After soaking in the remarkable view for a bit we head back to our gear and pack up for the long abseil down. This goes down a route on the south face and we use a technique that we haven't seen before: three of us go down a pitch on a single rope while the last two follow on the usual double rope. When they reach the stand above us, they untie and throw down the single rope and things continue from there. After five or six repetitions of this we are at the bottom of the face, pretty close to where we started in the morning. After everyone's together we pack everything up and start the long walk back down to the hut. The first piece of this is the route we came up but instead of continuing back across the talus we take a more direct path back down to the valley floor. After reaching the main trail back to Alpe Devero we stop for a quick water (yay! fresh cold spring water!) and snack break before doing the last half hour of descent. We are back late (shortly after 8), but fortunately not too late to get a good meal before heading off to bed.

Since we aren't sure what's going to happen with the weather on Sunday and since no one is super enthusiastic about walking back up the same hill again, we opt to head for a crag near the dam above Crampiolo that has a pretty good number of routes. The path there takes us past the lovely witches lake (Lago delle Streghe) and then through the end of town before heading up to the dam. We turn off to the left, climb a bit more, and then we're at the crag. No one else is there, so after scouting for a reasonable area to practice placing protection (nothing really to be found), we start with a couple of the easier routes at the end. These are more difficult than their grades indicate and aren't particularly entertaining after the great climbing of the last couple days. Plus loads of other people show up. We end up opting to skip the climbing and do a few more lessons (tying off a belay to block it, an alternate strategy for organizing the rope at a stand, lowering the person climbing up to you, swapping belay gear for a quick stand-turn-around) before heading back to Alpe Devero. Once there we eat a bit and then head to a big boulder that's not too far away that has a few routes on it, including a few with good cracks for placing protection. Here we do some more practice, including "jump and see if that friend holds" practice as well as a short bit of down-climbing, before heading back to the hut, packing up our stuff, and leaving.

The drive back to Domodossola is painless, the trip home less so (lots of delays and train chaos), but we do manage to find a good Kebap in Brig and eventually make it back home.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

SAC tour: Tete Blanche & Aiguille de la Tsa

This was a trip with our local SAC section. The weather forecast for the whole weekend was dodgy, but we went anyway because you never know. :-)

Saturday we got a very early start from Basel and did a tram-train-train-train-bus-bus trip to Ferpecle (the last bit of that bus ride is pretty amusing, the road is pretty darn narrow). Then it's on with our packs and off we go under mostly sunny skies. The path climbs slowly along the valley before turning steeply up, up, up and along the valley wall with the Dent Blanche towering above (it's making clouds, so the top isn't always visible) and nice views opening in front of us. At the plateau at Bricola we do the first break and enjoy the views (including a patch of edelweiss... very cool!). Since we're with a group, the pace is more moderate that what we would end up doing alone, so the going is less strenuous than a couple of weeks ago.  Onwards and upwards! The path leads us up to the moraine, across a snow field and then onto a nice (though too short) block ridge. Along the way a sharp finger of a mountain starts to peek out to our right, as this becomes increasingly visible we realise that it's the Aiguille de la Tsa, Monday's target. This is going to be fun! After the ridge we cross the (snow free) glacier that takes us up to the Cab. de la Dent Blanche. We get settled in and enjoy the views (ooooh does the Aiguille de la Tsa look fun!) and hospitality for the rest of the afternoon. The hut is full, but it's well organized and it's a good evening. The forecast rain/snow arrive at around dinner time. It's nice to be inside. :-)

Sunday's a short day so we don't start until around 7. We'd start even later, but the hut's custodian recommends an early start since there's not a lot of snow left on the glacier and we want what's left to be as firm as possible while crossing crevasses. We rope up down on the glacier and then head off towards the Tete Blanche. We start under sun, but there are plenty of clouds around, including top of the Tete Blanche. The glacier walking is easy, we are up high but the pace is, again, moderate. As usual, it takes some time to get used to walking on a rope, but given the number of crevasses it's nice to be in a larger group. As we head along and up, the view to the left starts to open up and we get tempting bits of the Matterhorn peeking through the clouds. Behind us the Dent Blanche is completely visible, and is doing some very, very cool cloud making: a continuous stream of clouds coming off the south ridge and heading off to the east. To the right the Aiguille de la Tsa is visible most of the time, deepening the anticipation for tomorrow. As we get closer to the Tete Blanche we enter the cloud that's parked over its peak and do the last 100m or so of ascent under the clouds. There's a fun moment with another group heading towards us appearing ghost-like out of the clouds. Up top we're in the cloud, so we don't have a view while we're having a quick lunch break (aside from another group appearing like ghosts out of the cloud). For the descent we just follow the obvious trail left by the groups that have come towards us, down, down, down from the peak, through the broad bowl near the Col des Bouquetins, and then up the other side and around the Dents de Bertol. We're pretty close the Cabane de Bertol when we come around the corner and it becomes visible perched on the ridge above the glacier... impressive siting. :-) We're at the hut around noon and spend the rest of the day enjoying the ever changing views as the clouds move around. We get a bit of rain, but it's nothing too bad... great hopes for the next day. The forecast really isn't good, but even if we can't do the climb we should at least be able to have an interesting hike crossing the ridge near the Pointe de Talion and heading down to Arolla via the Cab. de la Tsa. Dinner is decent and then we're in bed early (as usual) for an early start.

We do breakfast at 5 on Monday. The weather is decidedly dodgy, the clouds and thus visibility are rather low. We're mostly dressed and ready to go when C, the tour leader, decides to postpone the departure (and the decision on what to do) and to head back to bed hoping that things will clear up. So we all head back to bed for a couple of hours before assessing the situation and the weather again: Unfortunately, it has rather gotten worse than better with now a couple cm of snow covering everything. Thus it is decided that it just doesn't make sense to do anything other than head directly down to Arolla via the standard path to the hut which we set out to do.
The first part of the trip down from the hut is not without adventure. The ladders down from the ridge to the snow field are long and cold and wet. The snow field itself is reasonably steep and is actually covering an ice field, a fact greg discovers by hitting the ice and sliding a good 10-15m before managing to stop the slide (now that's a good way to raise the pulse while heading downhill!). Once down in the rocks we follow the marked path through the cloud and occasional rain down, down, down. There's not much to see until we're under the clouds, after which we have a nice view across and down the valley. Once on the valley floor we follow the path and then the road into Arolla where we grab a coffee/hot chocolate and then the noon bus for the long, long trip back to Basel.

The track:
Day 1: 9.3km, 1670m up, 19m down.
Day 2: ~10.5km, 520m up, 660m down.
Day 3: ~9.6km, 1340m down, 67m up.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

(not) Climbing the Ferdenrothorn

We'd originally planned this tour for a few weeks ago, but a family emergency prevented us from doing it. The forecast for the weekend was dodgy, but since there was a chance that we could do the tour, so off we went.

Saturday we took an early train from Basel (the forecast is for the weather to get worse in the afternoon and we want to avoid as much of that as possible) and headed to Kandersteg. After a (very) quick stop at the kiosk to get greg a pair of sunglasses (stupid thing to forget!) we took the bus to the gondola station at Eggeschwand, where the walking starts.

The first bit is on a really nice path up through a gorge; the Kander has a lot of water in it so this is quite dramatic. The gorge opens onto the plain of the Gasteretal, which we walk through, enjoying the views and the shade (it's hot!) and gently climbing until around Selden, where the trail turns uphill. We take a quick snack and water break in the shade and then start the climbing. It's hot, the packs are heavy, and there isn't all that much shade, so this isn't the most enjoyable bit of hiking we've ever done. Still the views are quite nice. We stop for a lunch break at Schönbüel and then continue our way up, up, up. Eventually some clouds move in and a breeze picks up, which really helps with the temperature. At around 2400 we cross the last sad traces of the Lötschegletscher; the route is marked with poles and most of the glacier is covered with rocks anyway, so this is still all a red-white trail. The moraine leads us to a rock face that the trail nicely threads through before mostly flattening out for the last bit to the Lötschepass and the hut. We're at the hut pretty early, so we have plenty of time to hang out and enjoy the views and madness (there's plenty of it!) and take a quick nap before dinner. True to the forecast, there is some real rain in the late afternoon (no lightning though). After a very good meal (two huts in a row with really good food!) we do some trip planning and then head off to bed, crossing our fingers that the weather will play along in the morning.

We're up shortly before 5am in order to do breakfast at 5. The weather isn't particularly promising: it's just rained some and it continues to lightly sprinkle. We keep our options open and enjoy a leisurely breakfast. After eating we can't postpone the decision any more: the forecast is still dodgy and the weather radar doesn't look great (nice to have good reception at the hut). The route to the Ferdenrothorn is a mix of scrambling and easy climbing along a ridge where the rock is loose and there's really no chance to abort the tour early. We really want to go, but in the end decide that the weather situation is just too marginal to do it. Crap.

Since it's not currently horrible outside, we decide to go ahead and head down. Down, down, we go along another nice trail that takes us to the Kummenalp and then further down, down, down to Ferden. We get there 10 minutes after the bus has departed and rather than hanging around  we decide to walk the rest of the way to Goppenstein. This is a great hiking path through the woods. It's nice to have the cover, because along the way it starts to really rain. We congratulate ourselves a bit on having made the right decision to cancel the tour (we'd still be on the ridge) and head on to Goppenstein, where we catch the 9:00 train back towards Basel.

An aside about that train: it's full of Italians who seem to be doing a day trip on the train through the Swiss alps. We don't normally take trains at this time of day, so this is a new one to us.

We'll have head back to the Lötschepasshütte and actually do the Ferdenrothorn tour. The hut is great and the views from the peak must really be something.

The track:
Saturday: 13.1km, 1540m up, 34m down (my watch ended up being off by 100m by the end of the day, so this isn't right in the GPX)
Sunday: 7.9km, 53m up, 1490m down

Friday, June 23, 2017

Climbing the Lobhörner

This was a tour we did with the Basel SAC.

Since day 1 is just the short trip to the hut, we get a late start and aren't on the train until 11. After the train-train-bus-gondola trip to Sulwald it's a bit more walking up to the Lobhornhütte (along the way we get our first glimpse of the Lobhörner themselves... going to be fun!) and the friendly greeting from Irene. The views are fantastic (though the high mountains are playing hide and seek behind clouds) and we enjoy them for a bit until the re-supply helicopter arrives and we help out with the unloading. Greg then heads off to the lake with the rest of the group for a refreshing swim while Andrea does some more enjoying of the views and wandering around. After an unusually good meal we do a bit of tour planning and then head off to bed for our early start. Aside: the hut is full even on a Friday night; it's a small hut, easy to get to, and the views are great... the place is popular.

We're the first ones up at 5:30 (though some of the hikers come down while we're having breakfast) and have a leisurely breakfast outside on the terrace with the incredible view. It's so very, very cool that Irene set the breakfast up outside. We're underway at around 6:30. We follow the normal hiking trail back to the alp at Suls and then up and up to the ridge and up and along to the foot of the Lobhörner. Now it's on with the gear and then the climbing starts. There are 5 of us, so the first rope has 3 people and Andrea and Greg are the second team. The route, the standard E-W traverse of the peaks, is a mix of scrambling and relatively easy climbing (one 4c pitch, otherwise everything is easier than that) and the protection is pretty good. There are some nice steep bits and a couple of fun traverses. We even get an abseil in the middle (from the Zipfelmütze). The transitions between walking, scrambling, and climbing do make some of the climbing bits seem harder than they otherwise might. There are sometimes clouds around, but it's mostly clear and the views are excellent. Being the second group and being behind a rope with three makes things take longer than they would if we were alone, but it's not too bad, and figuring out how to fit everybody in at the stands is sometimes entertaining. At the peak, which we hit sooner than it seems like we need to, we enjoy a break and some food and then abseil down to the saddle, where we pack away the gear.

We opt for the shorter trail to the hut, the one that goes back the way we came instead of further along the ridge. It's pretty warm and we're all sweaty so we stop off at the lake and enjoy a brief swim before heading back to the hut to enjoy some cake and a short break. We opt to take the later bus, so we get a bit more time with the views after the others run off. Then it's back to the gondola, then the bus to Lauterbrunnen, the gondola up to Grütschalp, and the train to Mürren (wow the tourists!) and our hotel, which we get to just as the rain is starting. After a decent meal (not as good as the hut!) we head off to sleep. On Sunday it's rainy as hell, so we just head back home.

This was a great climbing trip, and something well worth doing again.

Here's the track of the tour:

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Obersee to Innerthal via the Zindlenspitz

We're on our way under cloudless skies at around 8am. It's going to be a hot one! We start with a nice bit around the lake, with Brünnelistock and the rest of the range (including the Schiberg) mirrored in the lake and filling our view. We can even see the steep grass flank that's going to be the day's T6 component. We continue up the valley, spending a happy amount of time under trees, until hitting Sulzboden. Here as we're studying the slope and our map (with sketched route) a local couple who's walking by stops and asks us what we're planning on doing. After some clear skepticism about our answer, he ends up confirming our planned route and provides the additional very good tip that we can start in the woods outside of town instead of taking the path up to a clearing as we had planned. This wins us a few hundred meters of climbing in shade instead of the sun; that's huge.
Into the woods we go, up, and up. As we're breaking out the poles (we each have one with us) a local catches up and asks what we're doing. We repeat the skepticism exercise (greg thinks that a lot of this is because we're wearing low shoes and people aren't used to the idea that you can have low shoes with stiff soles), agree that we're going the right way and that we are aware that it is steep up ahead, and then bid him goodbye as he powers past. We follow a lot more slowly, up, up, up on a not always super clear path through the trees until we hit a cool hut (really almost a cave) at around 1400m. Here the trees end and we move out onto the grass. Up, up, up we continue, catching occasional glimpses of the local above us. It's steep and the sun is warm, so we aren't moving super fast, but it's dry and the footing is good so we make good progress. Most of the time we're walking instead of doing grass climbing, so having the poles is definitely useful. After a bit we enter an area of mixed grass and rock/scree. This requires additional concentration, but that's part of the fun. Once open rock starts to show up, we also start to see the occasional blue marker. Those are a nice affirmation that we're heading the right way. After a break or two, some more climbing and some more traversing we hit the final chimney (the left one!) that leads us up to the ridge between the Rossälplispitz and the Zindlenspitz. We celebrate briefly being on a more-or-less flat surface after a couple hours on a steep slope and then continue along the ridge to cross the face of the Zindlenspitz and then follow the normal hiking route to its top.

This is a red-white trail to a peak with a great view on a sunny Sunday, there are some people here. :-) The true peak is completely packed, so we do a nice, quiet lunch break alone (!) on the Vorgipfel and then head up to the actual peak for a quick look around before starting the long descent back. The route back down is a red-white descent with good views and a nice mix of terrain types. There are people on it, but it's not stupidly full, so the hiking is still enjoyable. Once down at the lake we stop for a refreshing beverage at Oberhof and then continue the rest of the way to Innerthal in a leisurely manner (we have plenty of time before the next bus comes). Back in down we sit in the shade for the 15 minutes til the bus comes and enjoy the mild chaos caused by a local club event (giant cow bells, accordion, very Swiss).

Stats: 14.9km, 1165m up, 1230m down

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Schiberg via the Brennaroute

Finally a weekend with good weather on both days! There's still maybe a bit too much snow to go high, so we opt to head to the region around Glarus.

For day one we're doing the Brennaroute up to the Schiberg. This is considered to be one of the reference T6 tours and seems a perfect kickoff to the real mountain season. :-)

After train-train-bus we start in Innerthal. The path leads us out of town and then up, up, up towards the Schiberg and Bockmattli. From the path up we can certainly see the route we'll be taking up the face of the Schiberg, but it's certainly not obvious; this is going to be fun! As one would expect for a sunny Saturday, there are people out and about but it's still early so there aren't really crowds yet. Despite the early hour, there are already a couple of groups climbing the route Namenlose Kante on the Bockmattli; it's a great looking route, but probably not something for a weekend.

At the Bockmattlihütte (which is teeny, but very nice looking) we turn off the hiking path and follow a trail steeply up to to the rock. Here we put on our climbing harnesses (just in case we need them at some point) and helmets and start scrambling up. This really is a great route: a mix of scrambling and walking, easy to follow thanks to blue markings and a use trail, really nice views (well, there are some clouds, so it's not what it could be), everything you could want. We're even mostly alone in the route: the only other person we see is a local(?) who powers by us while we're having a food break on the way up. The crux of the route is a 5m down climb that would be scary/tricky (anticipation of this is why we're wearing the harnesses) but someone has put a rope loop in at the ideal spot so it ends up being no big deal.

After the down climb we head up some steep grass, then rejoin the ridge for the last bit to the peak at the end of the ridge. We celebrate the successful scramble (boy was it fun) and then head along the ridge, across the wild limestone formations, to the peak at the end and its cross. Here we do another food break and enjoy the occasional views through the clouds that are all around us.
 After the break we head down to the saddle and pick up the blue-white path that leads us across the Schneeschmelzi underneath the ridge of the Schiberg and back to Bockmattlipass. Now it's up, up again to the Bockmattli itself, where have a quick look around before continuing along the ridge towards the Tierberg. At the fork in the path we opt to head down. Now it's down, down, steeply down, along a not-heavily used but well marked blue white path until we hit the houses at Hinter Ahornen. Another short break here and then we continue on down the road towards Obersee.  This isn't the most exciting bit of road-hiking ever (though certainly not the worst either), so we're super happy when a local stops and offers us a ride down to the hotel.

After refreshing beverages we check in, have showers, do a stroll along the lake, and then have a nice meal before heading off to bed.

This was a really nice tour. The feel was almost hochtour, but everything was green. Fun!

Stats: 12.5km, 1330m up, 1130m down.

Gear: this was Andrea's first tour in her new halbschuhe.

Monday, June 05, 2017

The Leenflue

The forecast isn't great and it's been raining too much for us to expect to be able to do any interesting climbing, but it looks like we have a window in the weather so we opt for a T5: the Leenflue above Oensingen.

Following a couple descriptions on Hikr, we head out of town towards the lovely ridge, follow a path around the East nose, and then pick up a path marked with blue that leads us steeply up onto the ridge itself near the power mast. From here navigation is pretty easy: follow the ridge; there is even a pretty clear use trail up here. Onward we go! This is a mixture of walking combined with some good scrambling. It's not super exposed, but there's enough there to make you think about it. There's one steeper bit with a choice of going through a not-particularly-pleasant looking chimney or heading outside (to the right) and past a couple of bolts (with rope slings in them to use as grips). We take the outer route, which is plenty exposed. Definitely some careful foot placement here (particularly considering that the shoes are a bit muddy). It was on the outer edge of what was comfortable, so on top of that step we break out the rope and climbing gear and continue along the ridge (which is now flat and pretty broad... of course). Right about now it starts raining, first some sprinkling and then real rain. After a bit more walking we get to where we can see the final bit of climbing. Here we decide that it's just too wet to continue. We head back a bit to a saddle and follow the blue marked path down and under the ridge (and under the big flag hung on the cliff) through the woods to the saddle on the other side of the Vordere Leenberg.

We pack away the rope and gear and take the normal hiking path back down to Oensingen and the train home (stupid thing here: we didn't check the train schedule so we get to the station just as a train is leaving... ah well, it's only half an hour of waiting).

We'll definitely have to go back and do this one again; it's a nice tour and the views would be great. It's also low enough that it should certainly be doable in either early or late season.

The track:

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Walking the Swiss-German border along the "Eiserne Hand"

The weather forecast isn't what you'd hope for in the mountains, so we opt to stay local and do a hike from a book we have on hiking around the border of Basel. In this particular case we pick an area that's also the border to Germany.

Starting from a tram stop in Riehen we do a goofy "there then back" to cross the train tracks before turning off into the green and heading up a bit to hit the border at marker 47. Following the path we cross the border and then zag back and head up into the woods to hit marker 49 (48 is in the field somewhere behind us). After taking the second picture of Andrea with a border marker, it's clear what we're going to be doing for the rest of the hike. Normally we'd end up with greg on all these pictures, but since Andrea doesn't have her camera with her greg's taking pictures with his phone, so we get more pics of Andrea. :-)

We continue along the border through the woods, along the amusing finger that leads to Eiserne Hand, back into farmland at Maienbühl, back down into the valley at Hinterengeli, then back up again to Orthalde and so on until we pass the tower at Chrischona and hit the restaurant, where we stop for refreshment and to enjoy the views (the Alps are visible from here on a good-weather day, which today isn't really). We manage to get photos of almost all the border markers up to number 100, which we hit shortly before the Chrischona.

The way back down to the Rhine is along another very nice path through a mix of woods and fields, down, down, down until we hit the bus stop near the border crossing on the Rhine.

This was a nice walk through some surprisingly green and rural bits of Basel.

The track:
Stats: 15.8km, ~500m up, ~500m down

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Day 4 around the Grigna (well, kind of)

This was our trip-back day.

The idea was to do some climbing in the Parco del Monte Barro (outside Lecco) and then head back home. We'd read online that a lot of the (huge) climbing area in the park was closed for cleaning, but at least some sectors should be open. On arriving at the park and hiking into the cliffs, there's a lot of signage that seems to indicate that everything's closed. Many of the approach trails have tape across them. We head up anyway since the website from the park says some sectors are open. We find a (theoretically) open sector, but no one else is around. It's all a bit too weird, and the sun is already mighty warm (Southern exposure...), so we opt to not really do any climbing.

After heading back to the car we go ahead and drive to Como, have lunch, and then spend the afternoon in town (it's crazy full!) before piling onto the train and making the long way home.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Day 3 around the Grigna

We get another not-super-early start since the hotel breakfast doesn't start until later.
Today we start by retracing our steps from Thursday afternoon (a bit slower since we're carrying gear today) until we pass the helicopter landing pad and start upwards.

The plan is to climb the Torrione Magnaghi and do a traverse, but first we have to find the start of the route. This isn't particularly easy given that today there aren't nice markers pointing the way and we're in clouds again, so we can't see the tops of the walls. There are a couple of groups climbing a bit to the right from where we are, but we're pretty sure that isn't right. We pick an approach that seems right, scramble up for a bit, and end up at a wall with a couple bolts in it. This doesn't seem right and there's no obvious place to continue, so we scramble back down and head up to where the other groups are. After a quick chat with them it's clear that this certainly isn't right; they point us back in the direction we came from. *sigh*. We head down again and back up, along what is clearly a use trail, until we again at the wall with a couple of bolts. Definitely not right. There's a saddle to the left, but that ends up in a descending chute, that also doesn't seem right. *double sigh*. We scramble down again and move a bit away from the wall so that we have a better overview. After some looking and topo-study and a bit of cloud clearing we figure out what we've done wrong: we'll find the start of the route in that descending chute. More or less at the same time that we figure this out, a big group comes around the corner, up the path, and a bunch of them heads towards that point. It's like a bus let out or something: instead of being mostly alone, there are suddenly around 20 other climbers here and at least 10 of them are doing the route we want to do. *triple sigh* That wouldn't be much fun... looks like we aren't doing that climb today.
We decide instead to just do a dayhike: we continue up to the saddle, along the ridge to the peak (reversing the hike from the peak from the day before), have lunch in the crowds (really) on the peak, and then start to head down.

Instead of taking the main path, we fork off onto the really nice trail that goes under the Cresta Segantini. This leads us back into the very cool stone formations we went through the day before. We pass the start point for that climb and continue along the trail (now on the other side of the ridge) until we're at the saddle above the Rif. Rosalba. Here we do another food break with great views all around (including of all the people at the Rifugio and a couple climbers doing the awesome-looking Piramide Casati) before starting our way back down on the Senterio Georgio. This trail leads us through more fantastic stone formations until we hit the "Direttisima" trail from the day before. This is almost as much fun in the other direction. :-)

Not being able to do the climb was frustrating, but this ended still being a really nice hike.

The track:

Friday, May 26, 2017

Day 2 around the Grigna: Cresta Segantini

Breakfast doesn't start until 8, so we can't really get an early start, but we're underway as quickly as we can be. There are, once again, low clouds over the peaks above us... ah well, we will hope those burn off. The same trail as yesterday (though moving a bit more slowly due to the packs full of climbing gear) up to the fork with the 8, which we follow this time. Fortunately the group of people we've run into stay on the 7th, so we're alone... excellent! Despite being called "Direttissima", the 8 leads up, up, up by traversing the mountain. Ignoring the misleading name, this is another excellent trail which ends up leading us up ladders, across bits secured with chains and cables, through a narrow chimney, and all of this in a crazy landscape of stone towers. Great fun!
Eventually we make our way to the ridge at the Colla Valsecchi and find our way to the (very well signed) beginning of the route for the Cresta Segantini. Here we put on the gear and head to where the actual climbing starts. We tie on the rope and get underway. We're in cloud but it's not too thick, so visibility is ok; the cloud has the side benefit of keeping the temperatures down. There's a pair of Italians in front of us, but they're far enough ahead that we never have to wait (plus with the cloud we can generally only hear them anyway). Since we don't end up with anyone behind us we're pretty much alone until we hit the peak. The ridge is really a huge amount of fun. It's mostly alpine climbing, but the climbing is never difficult (we're not wearing climbing shoes) and there tends to be a bolt near the trickier bits (and when those aren't there we have a few friends, the stoppers, and plenty of slings with us, so we can improvise). The markings were pretty good, so route finding wasn't that bad (though we ended up abseiling a couple of descents where we either missed the straightforward climb down or there just wasn't one). With our lunch break along the way the full ridge takes us about five and half hours; the book says two to three hours, so we really aren't especially fast. That's something for us to continue to practice,
For the trip down we continue along the really nice trail along the ridge until we hit the intersection between trails 1 and 3 from the previous day. Here we continue down trail 1 to get back to the hotel.
This was our first trip with a new rope (60m Mammut 9.5mm Infinity Dry SD).

The track (plenty of noise due to the climbing):

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Day 1 around the Grigna

We took a couple trains down through the Gotthard and on to Como. From there we picked up our rental car and drove past Lecco to the Piani Resinelli and our hotel for the weekend. After checking in and having lunch down in town (mmm, pizzochieri) we had a short nap and then opted to do a reconnaissance tour to get ready for Friday morning's start.

We manage to find the normal hiking path and head along through the woods, past the CAI hut, and then start our way up the 7, the standard tourist route to the Grigne. We head past the fork of trail 8, which we'll take tomorrow, and continue up, up the hill with progressively better views opening up behind us. There are a few too many low clouds (including in front of us) for the views to be optimal, but it's still pretty good. Up, up we continue, figuring we'll get to the top of the current bit of ascent and then head back down. We end up hitting the fork for trail 3 just shy of our turn-around point. Doing a bit of traverse seems fun, so we head off to the right along the 3.

The terrain in front of us keeps getting more and more interesting, so we play the "just around the next corner/to the next saddle" game until we hit the crossing with trail 2. This one is probably a bit hairy for us at the moment, the terrain is really nice/fun, and the 1, which will also take us back down to the hotel, is only another 20 minutes further. So on we go. Up, up, up some more, past some peaks that are possible destinations for Saturday's tour, until we hit the 1 in a saddle on the ridge. From here it's down, down, down, along another nice trail with good views, down, down down, past the bravest chamoix we've ever seen, until the trail ends at the road. Our short reconnaissance tour has ended up being a really nice 3 hour hike. Five minutes later we're back at the hotel where we enjoy a good meal and then head off to bed.

No real track since we had planned this as a short trip.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Back to the Brueggligrat

add some text

the track:
Stats: 12.7km, about 620m up and down.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Delemont to Neuhüsli again

We've done this hike before.

Just like last time we did it, this pick was driven by the weather forecast; the difference this time is that we explicitly set out to do a long, relatively fast hike as a part of getting ready for the season/testing where we are.

I've already described most of the hike, which really is very nice (it's great to have something like this available as a backup!). The noteworthy stuff this time:

The trails were pretty empty; we saw a total of seven other hikers over the entire day. Likely because of this we startled three deer and a owl. Those were pretty cool encounters.

We mostly managed to not get rained on except for the small cloudmass that overtook us on the last bit up to Hohe Winde. First it was sprinkling, then it was really raining (even under the trees), then it was hailing, and then, more or less at the same time as we got to the stall in the saddle just before the final slope, it stopped. We verified that it was really over while hanging out in the stall and then continued on. By the time we got the top the sun was shining, which lead to some nice views. Super luckily for us, that cloud formation didn't start producing thunder and lightning until after it was past us: Vogelberg and Wassserfallen probably had lightning.
The color of this hike was definitely green. We've had plenty of precipitation lately and the sheer variety of late-spring/early-summer greens was just nuts.
The restaurant at Vorder Erzberg was closed (they are on vacation this week; outrageous!), but luckily there was a self-service fridge, so we could get a cold beer to enjoy with the last of our lunch.

The decision to go down to Neuhüsli was, again, made because of time constraints. In retrospect we probably could have made it to Passwang if we'd pushed. Ah well... the consequences of not making it were either another hour of hiking or two hours of waiting, so we wimped out. Next time!

The track:
Stats: ~1580m up, ~1330m down, 29.7 km.