Saturday, March 29, 2008

Snowshoeing around Würzweli

After last weekend's disappointment we both really wanted to get up into the mountains. Luckily this time the weather cooperated with us.

We took various pieces of public transportation to Dallenwil and then the gondola up to Würzweli (1227m). Conveniently for us snowshoe folks: the ski stuff is closed, so it was just us slow walkers.

We did a (mild) Andrea special and immediately climbed up to the Horn (1511m), where we had a nice view out over Titlis and the Walenstöcke. Following the panorama way we ended up at the Gummen knob (1614m), where we enjoyed a light lunch while soaking up the panoramic views and watching some paragliders getting set up to go. After lunch it was off a bit further along the ridge to Egg (1675m). There we enjoyed the antics of a large group (8 or so) of paragliders; boy does that look fun.
After a very enjoyable descent to Dürrenboden (1362m) we walked around a bit longer and then headed back through the (by that point) very wet snow to the gondola station and home.

Of course we forgot sunscreen, so we're both a bit crispy after a day in the sun. Ah well... it was a great day.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Easter Snowshoeing in Graubünden

Andrea planned a wonderful five-day snowshoeing trip in Graubünden for the Easter weekend. The weather forecast wasn't ideal (sun on Thursday, snow Friday, clouds Saturday and Sunday), but we figured we'd make do.

We took the train down and started in Susch (1438m) at around 11. The plan was a 4.5 hour day up to the Grialetschhütte. We started up the (closed) road to the Flüelapass under clouds, but with patches of blue sky visible. We couldn't really see the tops of the mountains near us, but we hoped these clouds would vanish. On the way up we passed a couple of guys on touring skis and chatted with them briefly before moving ahead. After bit of climbing we put on the snowshoes.

A while later we followed the signs for the summer hiking path down into the valley where we continued along beside the river. Luckily the way was relatively obvious because the summer hiking trail markings were not to be seen. They are probably all painted on rocks on the ground and, therefore, under the snow. There also hadn't been anyone along the way ahead of us since the last snow fall (or big wind), so we were hiking new snow. Very nice!

After a break for a sandwich at the Alp d'Immez, we turned up into the Grialetsch valley. The sun still hadn't managed to make an appearance, the clouds were under 3000m (the tops of the valley sides weren't visible), and at this point the correct way to go was not at all clear beyond "go to the end of the valley and head up to the saddle". We saw a trail marker on the right hand side of the river and decided to take that side.
We pretty quickly ended up traversing a steep slope, which has to be my least favorite activity on snowshoes. The conditions were pretty strange: seeing far wasn't much of a problem (aside from the clouds that kept us from seeing mountains), but close-in it was very difficult to see much of anything: everything was white. Each footstep was a bit of a surprise as to what would happen.

After a while we had made some good, if very strenuous physically and mentally, progress but were starting to get tired. We kept having to stop to try and plot a reasonable path, but that was tricky due to the visibility. During one break we noticed the touring ski guys back behind us and figured they'd catch us relatively soon.

During another break, sometime after 5 (so around hour 6 of the 4.5 hour hike) where we were having one of those awkward: "yeah, we're tired, but we pretty much have to keep going because it's really too late to go back and we must be almost there anyway" conversations, the lead skier (his buddy nowhere in sight) called up to us. "Is this the right path?" That's an interesting question that we only seem to be asked when we really aren't certain of the answer. So we told him we weren't sure, but didn't really see any other way. Not too long later we reached a saddle and saw the hut less than a kilometer away. Andrea yelled the good news back to the skier and we used the burst of "yay! almost done!" energy to finish the trip. We reached the hut (2542m) shortly after 6pm. The first skier arrived about 15 minutes later, the second 20 minutes or so after that. We had a good laugh about the trip. Boy did it feel good to sit down and eat something warm!

Of course the clouds all cleared off after dark, so we could look out and see the mountains under the light of the (almost) full moon. It was too cold to go outside though. It was already -14 C at 6pm.

Day one: 7 hours underway (including breaks), about 1100m of climb.

Friday dawned cold, snowy, cloudy, and windy. As promised. We decided to not do our planned day to the Kesch Hütte because it was a long one (6-7 hours according to the map) and the conditions were crap. Instead we opted to go down to Dürrboden and then catch a bus to the valley to wait for better weather on Saturday. After about 10 minutes of walking into the teeth of the wind with no trail to follow and not much visibility at all, we canceled that plan and headed back down to Susch instead. The trip down, where we followed the paths of a couple groups of touring skiers, was much, much easier (particularly mentally) than the way up.

It snowed all day, which made for good snow but bad sight-seeing. Along the way we decided that two more days of hiking with crap visibility wasn't really worth it, so we just gave up and took the train back home.

Day two: 5 hours underway (including breaks), about 1100m of descent.

Defeated by the weather... how stupid!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Snowshoeing in the Val d'Anniviers: Day two

Sunday started with blue skies and fantastic views. Unfortunately, clouds started to blow in over breakfast and continued to arrive throughout the day. This shortened our day somewhat.

We set off from Hotel Weisshorn at around 9am and headed into the bowl (Tsa du Touno) that leads towards the Hirsihorn and Burgihorn. The plan was to walk in along one side of the bowl (under the Pointes de Nava) until we reached the saddle (to the Alpage Nava) and then back out along the other side of the bowl. The first part went fine: we did a mixture of trail breaking and following a touring ski trail through the lovely valley ("snow desert"). Then the clouds got really thick. We reached the saddle and decided that it was getting to be much too close to white-out conditions, so we turned around and walked out the way we came. Too bad.
After reaching the road under the Hotel Weisshorn, we followed a snowshoe trail back down to St. Luc. Rather than waiting 2 hours for the bus down to Vissoie(1204m), we walked that stretch. We had packed our trekking poles away on arriving in St. Luc, so we did this descent without them. There's nothing like a steep descent to remind one of how much easier the sticks make things. We arrived in Vissoie with plenty of time to have a refreshing beverage and a crepe before the bus down to Sierre and the trip back to Basel

Total walking time: about 6 hours including a short lunch break. We probably climbed ~300m and descended about 1500m.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Snowshoeing in the Val d'Anniviers: Day one

We left Basel at 7:00 and took the train to Bern, Visp (our first trip through the new Lötschberg tunnel), and finally Sierre. From Sierre we took the bus to Vissoie and then another bus up to St-Luc, where we started our walk. So that was tram, train, train, train, bus, bus... lots of transport! We started hiking from St. Luc (1650m) at 10:40.

We followed a pretty well signed snowshoeing path up the mountain towards Chandolin and had a nice walk through the woods (of course with a good uphill component). After a while the snow got regular enough to put on the snowshoes. We managed to miss a turnoff for the path we wanted (it wasn't signed, though the rest of the trail was very well signed), so we ended up on the ski slopes over Chandolin. After getting a better map (the snowshoeing map was woefully incomplete) from the attendant at a lift station we crossed the ridge back over into the correct bowl and headed down to the Cabane Bella Tola (around 24oom) where we had lunch.

After lunch we followed the Pas de Boeuf trail up around the rest of the bowl. This was a really nice stretch with good signage that led us up to around 2700m. Along the way we discovered the practical limits of what we can do on snowshoes: steep climbs are no problem (easier than walking them because of the ascenders), but steep climbs on soft snow are really tough.

The descent to the Chalet blanc du Tounot (around 22oom) was a delight. The views from the whole day were spectacular and for this part of the day we could really enjoy them. We had clear views of the Weisshorn, Zinalrothorn, Dent Blanche, and the "back" of the Matterhorn (today we had our first live views of the Matterhorn). One of the real joys of snowshoes is that "walk and gawk" is really easy: if you're on good snow you hardly need to look down at all.

We finished with a 100m climb to the Hotel Weisshorn, which we reached at around 6:00. This was easily the most strenuous hiking day that we've done since our Pyrenees trip. Total time was a bit over 7 hours, with a lunch break. We did more than 1000m of climbing and probably around 700m of descent. We were both quite tired at the end of the day, so it was nice to have a bit of a rest, a good meal, and then fall into bed.

View from the Cabane Bella Tola mit Weisshorn (4505m), Zinalrothorn (4221m), Matterhorn (4476m), Dent Blanche (4357m) hinter dem Hotel Weisshorn.