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.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

A long walk along Le Doubs

After the day of ridge climbing we have decided for a long river and forest walk, contrast program!

It's another beautiful weather day, and warmer than the day before, as we set out from Le Noirmont and head down, down, down through the woods to the Doubs. The last bit of this is along a really nice path past cool limestone formations. At the bottom we cross the bridge at La Goule and pick up a blue and yellow marked path on the French side that takes us along the river; we don't know it yet, but we'll be following blue and yellow markings for the rest of our time on the French side.
crossing the bridge across the Doubs to the French side
The path takes us calmly through the canyon and along the river, mostly through trees, with nice views along and across the river (cool cliffs over on the Swiss side), with a bit of up and a bit of down, completely alone (except for a couple of fisherman we pass at one point) for a couple of hours until we hit the power plant. Here we are back around people. From the parking lot we follow the path up the side of the canyon, past the beginning of the klettersteig, and to the much-advertised "Echelles de la Mort". These were no doubt very dramatic when they were wood ladders used by smugglers, but in their current form they are basically metal staircases: efficient, but not super dramatic. After the stairs we spend a bit of time watching people on the klettersteig (it's got both a long hanging bridge and a nepal wire bridge visible from up here) before setting off and continuing to head up, up towards the top of the cliffs. Onwards we go, still on a nice (blue-yellow!) path through the woods until we come out of the woods near the small house at les Cotes. Here we have a long (for us) lunch break sitting in the soft grass and enjoying the sun and views.

through the trees
After lunch we continue along the path, following the top of the ridge, including a bit of cool narrow path near the Grotte des Moines, past the excellent Belvedere, and then onward to the house at La Cendree. Here we check the time, think about possibilities for getting back (we've been going for five hours and about 15km so far) and opt to continue along the top of the ridge. Aside: there are a bunch of very well marked climbing routes here. We're moving a bit faster now, but can still appreciate how really nice the path is (reminiscent of other Jura ridges: a plateau to one side and steep drop to the other). At the town of Fournet-Blancheroche we head along the road to Blancheroche and then on a path across the fields before starting a steep descent down, down, down through the woods to La Rasse. Now we're on the Doubs again (very wide here) and we follow the flat and easy path along the shore to the Lac de Biaufond, where we cross back into Switzerland.

views from the top of the ridge
Now it's decision time: we can either wait two hours here and then take the bus to Chaux de Fonds to grab the train home or we can walk through an interesting gorge and then up to La Ferriere where we can get the same train home. This isn't a particularly difficult choice even though we will need to move reasonably quickly (we've got 2:10 to catch the train and the signs say that it will take 2:20). Since time is short, we skip the refreshing beverage at the restaurant and continue along the broad, very popular path along the the valley floor. As soon as the path narrows a bit we are on our own and we continue up, and around the corner into the gorge. This really is a great path: the sides are steep, there are cool bridges and raised walkways and mysterious moss-draped trees. The only thing that's missing is burbling water: the stream is completely dry. We continue through the gorge at a good clip, enjoying ourselves a lot, and eventually hit the ladders at the end. These are a bit more dramatic than the "Echelles de la Mort" from earlier, particularly since the second one is a bit rusty! A bit past the Cul des Pres we hit a brunnen (very convenient since we're quite low on water!) where we fill our bottles and refresh ourselves a bit before making the final push. This last bit stretches on for a while: it's been a long day and, though it's a nice forest road, it's still a forest road. Up, up we go the last 200m until we come out in La Ferriere. It's pretty strange to climb at the end of day to a town instead of descending to it. :-)
along the walkways through the gorge
We have made really good time and have ~30 minutes until the train, so we stop at the restaurant next to the station to have some cool beverages and buy a couple of pastries before getting on the train to start the long(ish) trip home.

This was quite a long day, but the character of the hike was constantly changing, the weather was good, and the views were really nice. A very good day!

The track:
The totals: 28.9km, 1160m up, 1090m down

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Arete des Sommetre

We've been talking about this one for a few years but the travel time (2 hours for a Jura trip!) has always stopped us from doing it. Not this time!

On the train to Noirmont we see lots of snow; worrying considering that we are about to do a long ridge. Ah well; we'll just see how it goes.

In Noirmont we walk through town and then down (!) into canyon towards the Doubs. The canyon is in shadows and the temperature is other than warm.  While crossing a field we get a good sneak preview of the ridge - very impressive! At some point we turn off the path and head steeply up to the cliff face where we follow a path up, up to a saddle at the end of the ridge. After looking down the other side (not much to see) we pick a sunny spot and put on the climbing gear. Then it's on to the ridge. As we are leaving another group comes up onto the saddle behind us; we'll just hope that we are quicker than them!
good view of the ridge
 After getting up the step and to the real beginning of the ridge there's a bit of real climbing (even with two bolts!) that's easy but made harder by the cold (stupidly, neither of us has brought gloves with us and the fingers get pretty cold). After that we are mostly in the sun and the going is easier. The ridge is a mixture of walking and scrambling with the very occasional bit of climbing mixed in. Conditions are good - beautiful weather and very little snow left on the ridge - and the route is generally easy to find - there's either a trail or crampon scratches from people doing the route in the winter. Aside from a couple of spots where we have to descend (the first of which takes us much too long to figure out how to do safely) and one or two very exposed bits we don't really need the rope at all. Ah well, it's good practice!
on the ridge
Including a short lunch break we're done with the ridge after 3:45. The last bit has us climbing over the railing onto the peak of the Sommetre, that's always fun. We have another break, eat a bit more, and then enjoy the sun and views before packing everything up and heading back along normal paths to Noirmont. As we're sitting there the group that was behind us comes into view (a ways back) with another group behind them. Easy to imagine the ridge being very, very full on summer weekends!
panorama views from the ridge
Back on Noirmont we check into our hotel, have showers and a nap, take a short stroll, have a very good meal, and then fall asleep.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Up to the Niederhorn

This was the our usual Spring "check the status of the legs" tour. There's still too much snow to do the Niesen, so we choose the Beatenberg and the Niederhorn. We've been here before, but did a different tour that time.

Today we start in Beatenbucht under cloudy skies and take the path up, up, up through the woods, making good time, until we hit the station at Beatenberg. Here we turn left and follow the road until it turns upwards through the woods towards the ridge. Now it's more up, up, up along the ridge, under the trees, through some mud, through some snow, and eventually into a bit of cloud. We take a short snack and water break as we cross the bend in the road that leads to Vorsass, but mainly it's just up, up, up. It's a nice path and there would be, at times, great views, but today there's none of that. Eventually the path takes us to the peak, behind the gondola station. There aren't a lot of people up here, but certainly more than we'd been seeing. We take advantage of the nice wooden lounge chairs up there (empty thanks to the weather and lack of views) and have another short food break. Since we're doing well on time we opt to stop in at the restaurant for some beverages and soup while we plan our route back down.
snow and clouds
After the break we continue along the ridge with no views and more snow than last time, to Oberburgfeld. Here we descend steeply to Unterburgfeld and then turn off to follow the path to the Bireflue. During this descent things finally clear up enough to see some of the view that we've been missing all day. Ah! View! Next on a fun path steeply down through the Bireflue and then more descending (constantly following signs to Beatenberg, which is really long), through Wydi and then down, down, down to Sundlauenen where we get the bus towards Interlaken and the train back to Basel.
steep down through the Bireflue
It was kind of a crap weather day (though it didn't rain on us), but still a good hike and test of our general fitness level: we're doing fine. :-)
The track:
Totals: 14.3km, 1460m up, 1380m down.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Running in the Croatan National Forest

Inspired by how nice (and flat) the trails were the previous day, we decided to do some trail-running.

We really were completely unprepared for this, so we had to pick up a backpack to use as well as doing the usual lunch shopping.

The route starts as the same type of nice trail as the day before: all under the trees, nicely soft, a few roots to dodge.  There are some muddy bits later that require  slowing down to navigate, but nothing too bad. At some point we come out into a clearing and the trail is suddenly somewhat more difficult to follow and overgrown, after the second encounter with  unpleasant thorns we drop to a fast walk. We manage to lose the trail and get to do a somewhat adventurous marshy stream crossing, but afterwards the path is right there.

After an hour we hit a good spot for lunch, so we stop there. Cool snake spotting at the beginning of the break, but after he takes off (before Andrea can get a decent picture!) we find relatively comfy places to sit and  enjoy a good lunch. This is a somewhat longer break than normal and we start back with well rested legs.

It's the same trail back (though better handling of that stream crossing since we don't lose the trail) and then we enjoy another break and chance to cool our feet in the river before hopping back in the car and driving on.

The track:

Stats: 15km, ~170m

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Hiking in the Croatan National Forest

As part of a visit to greg's family we spent a couple days in Beaufort NC. We took one of the days to do a hike in the Croatan National Forest, starting in the Pine Creek parking area.

This was a nice hike on an easy path through the woods, along the beach, on walkways across swampy areas, etc. It's easy to see how this path, which is about 40km long and has a couple of places along it where you can camp, could be popular for groups wanting to practice some backpacking. Still, it was early season and we were alone through most of the hike: we just saw a few people on the beach area when we came back.

Noteworthy stuff:

  • We saw some large predatory bird with a nest (and chicks) in a tree right on the water. We didn't see enough of the bird to be able to begin to ID it
  • We did see a bald eagle flying over us.
  • We also had lots of military planes flying over us. The very close proximity of the marine air base is not a net plus for this route.
  • The shelter we passed had a pump which we managed to make work after Andrea found the instructions, but the water was "a bit" too metallic to be enjoyable. Still, having it there would make the backpacking a lot easier.
  • This must be some kind of record for us in terms of the minimum number of vertical meters on a hike this long. :-)
The track:

Stats: 24.7km, ~200m up and down.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Sunday walk from Pratteln to Muenchenstein

The weather was beautiful, so getting out and doing some walking was a must.
This was another one of those make-it-up-as-we-go-along hikes. We hopped on the S-Bahn from Basel, decided along the way to get off in Pratteln, and then just started walking uphill (always a good strategy).

Our route took us over the Schauenburgflue (there were climbers on the face), where we had lunch along with a big group of older hikers, along the canton border and past Schoenmatt, then down and towards Muechenstein. Along the way we picked a good supply of Baerlauch (Andrea was prepared with a big ziploc bag) to celebrate the spring.
on the way to the Schauenburgflue

lots of Baerlauch
We opted to stop in Muenchenstein and grab the tram back to Basel from there. A nice day out in the sunny springtime Jura!

Track to come.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Clean climbing practice at Grandval

After bouncing a bunch of options around for the day we decided to go to Grandval and do some clean practice in the "initiation" sector. The routes were unfortunately all a bit short, but there are some nice cracks that make it a good place to practice. There are also numerous places where there's a good placement a short distance above a bolt, so we were both able to do some good testing of our placements. By the end of the day we'd reached the point where we were both comfortable using a bolt at the bottom of the route and self-set protection for the rest of it.
a belt full of stuff
setting placements
 Great weather, fun climbing, and we had the sector to ourselves. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Spring Climbing in Tessin

We got lucky with the weather and had three days of sun and warm forecast for Tessin, so off we went to get in some climbing. It's becoming a tradition for the early spring! This time instead of staying in Locarno we picked a hotel right at Ponte Brolla. Super convenient: get up, have breakfast, walk to climbing. :-)
our bed right underneath the rocks
The trip down was our first trip through the new Gotthard basis tunnel. It's pretty wild to go through a 57 km tunnel and excellent to have 30 minutes lopped off our travel time to Bellinzona.

After arriving we dropped our bags at the hotel and headed right for the big climbing area at the Rovine del Castelliere. As a warmup we started with Farfalla (3c, greg leading) wearing our approach shoes (it's been a while since we did any slabs... this was an adventurous start!). We then moved off to the sector from last year's clean climbing course and did a mix of Pizzoccheri and Origano (4b) followed by a mix of Sunneblume and L'Intifada (5a, with great practice crack) to get in some practice with the friends. After the clean practice Andrea lead us up Schogsii, we did a nice snack break to enjoy the views and sun, greg did some mix of Chritin and the routes to either side of it (this was somehow a tricky route to follow), and then we abseiled back down a pitch (practice, practice!) before walking back to enjoy a beer at the Osteria on the corner in the last of the sun (also a tradition by now). Then back to the hotel for a shower and a great meal.
clean climbing practice

Saturday we got a reasonably early start and headed off to the other side of the valley to do Speroni di Ponte Brolla (11 SL, 5a, 5a, 5a, 5b, 5b, 5b, 5a+, 5a, 5b (2p.a.), 5b, 4b, Andrea started). We did the first "half" of this (though on an easier line to the left of the one this time) last year and then abseiled down. This time we went to the top. This is the longest multi-pitch that we've done to this point at the highest sustained difficulty level. The climbing was great and we had a blast, but after about 5 hours of climbing - we did a food break after the first "half" (i.e. between the slab section and the part where it gets steep) - we were definitely aware that we'd done something. It was fantastic to be completely alone on such a great route (we saw people far below on the slabs when we were mostly to the top, but that was it). The long lunch break in the sun at the top was well earned and we enjoyed it fully. The trip back down to the valley through the gorge also ended up being pretty adventurous. I'm sure later in the season this is easy to follow, but this early it wasn't always trivial to figure out where we should be going (other than "down", that part was easy). The post-climbing beers in the sun at the Osteria were particularly nice. :-)
looking down

Sunday we headed to Monte Garzo where we did Harlem (5 SL, 4c, 5b, 5a, 5a, 4b, greg started). This is the route we got rained out of last year, so it was nice to come back and have lovely dry conditions. After a nice route we also managed a very successful abseil - where success is measured by efficiency and lack of chaos ;-) - and then did a good lunch break in the sun before starting the long trip back home.

It was a great weekend of climbing. Lots of good practice and fun in the sun. :-)