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:
Stats:
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:
Stats:
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