Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hochtour to the Vordere Galmihorn

After a very early start (6:18 from Basel) and 4.5+ hours of travel we started our hike in perfect weather (as forecast, but we had some doubts when we were sitting in clouds and cold on the Grimselpass) from the Oberaarsee. A nice walk along the lake with green, and flowers, and great views. Dead ahead we could see the glacier and the saddle under the Oberaarhorn that was our destination. Since there wasn't really anything to give a sense of scale, this led to a funny "we're almost there" feeling throughout most of the 5 hour hike. :-)

At the end of the lake we had a lunch break and then set off across the glacier. Since the first couple kilometers were free from snow, we had the luxury of being able to do the hike without being roped in. Really nice walking along the ice with all of its streams and little cracks and holes and the Oberaarhorn towering ahead.
Across the glacier to the Oberaarhornjoch

The conditions were such that each step made a nice "crunch" (Knuspergletscher!) so we had sound effects as well as views. :-) When it started to get steep and the glacier was covered with snow we roped in (three groups of four) and continued on to the saddle and the hut.

The hut is in a remarkable setting that requires some scrambling and a ladder climb to reach. We get there too late to do the climb to the Oberaarhorn (too bad!), so instead we just get settled in and enjoy the views out over the Studergletscher and the Finsteraarhorn and most of the Walliser 4000ers. Unfortunately we can't see the Galmihorn (the Oberaarrothorn is in the way). The hut is relatively small (sleeps ~60) but well organized and comfortable, the warden is friendly, it's a nice evening.

Sunday morning starts early (but not as early as the folks who get up at 3:30 to catch the sunrise from the Oberaarhorn) and we're underway by 6. With the crampons and on the rope we head down onto the Studergletscher. There's another set of great sounds while walking down the slope as we crunch through the thin top layer and send little bits of ice down in front of us, kind of sounds like a rain storm. From the bottom we get our first view of the Galmihorn (with morning sun!). Around into the bowl under the peak and then some ascent to the ridge that leads to the peak. The last bit of ascent is a climb up a steep face that's easy but still quite fun.

From there it's along the top to the peak itself and a break with a breathtaking 360 degree panorama.
Last bit to the Vorder Galmihorn, Finsteraarhorn in the background

In complete contrast to the Bishorn tour, our group was completely alone on the mountain. Another group started from the hut at the same time as us, but they took another route across the glacier. It was nice to not be in a giant mass of people. Well, no more giant than our twelve at least. :-)

From the peak we continue along the ridge down to the Bächilicke. Here there's another steep face (mainly snow this time) to descend with some nice crevasses (the bergschrund) at the bottom. This takes a bit to get across (one at a time, abseiled from above, ropes taut), and then it's across the Bächigletscher to the Firehornlicke. In the saddle we cross over to the ridge leading to the Firehorn, take off the crampons, and begin the second stage of the day: the ridge hike.

On the short rope we ascend over rocks and around spires to the Firehorn then down a bit to a relatively flat area where we make our lunch break. This section is difficult to describe but it was absolutely fantastic to do. Scrambling from rock to rock, using the rocks as temporary anchoring points for the rope, steep drops to one side or the other, amazing views all around, just great. This was certainly the highlight of the tour. From the lunch spot we again have excellent views over the Wallis; this time with hundreds(!) of paragliders flying around.
Looking back along the Firehorn ridge towards the Vordere Galmihorn and Bächilicke

Onwards along the ridge with more great scrambling until we reach the Heji Zwächte and a standard mountain trail. Unrope and then follow the path down. Some nice sliding on a bit of firn, across rocks, then into green (green!). A quite enjoyable trail down, down, down to the Galmihornhütte, where we have a break with coffee and kuchen.

After the break it's the nice direttisima path down through the woods into Münster. Along the way we encounter loads of blueberries, but we need to make reasonable time in order to catch the train, so unfortunately we can't stop to seriously pick... ah well.

From Münster we start the long train ride home with our heads and eyes full of wonderful things. :-)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Aborted trip to Calancatal

We had planned a three-day trip along the Sentiero Alpino Calanca in Graubünden. The weather forecast on Friday called for snow down to 1600m, but we didn't really believe that, so we set off early Saturday morning anyway.

On the bus from Chur to S. Bernandino village we discovered that it really had snowed. Crap.

A call to the hut for the second night revealed that they had 10cm of fresh snow. Double crap.

Of course the path is tricky; particularly when wet; double particularly when snow covered. Triple crap.

We discussed the situation over a cup of coffee and then did the sensible thing and caught the next bus back to Chur.

Net travel for the day: about 8 hours.

This is not our first aborted trip in Graubünden. If there's going to be a region that won't let us hike it, it sure would be nice if weren't quite so far away.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Around the Wildstrubel: Wildstrubelhuette -> Leiterli

This was really two separate hikes with very different character combined into one: Wildstrubelhütte -> Wildhornhütte and then Wildhornhütte -> Leiterli.

After a really nice breakfast, we set off relatively early (7:15). The morning is clear: there is a cloud layer at around 4000m (we confirmed this later when we couldn't see the tops of the 4000m mountains in Wallis), but below the clouds we have excellent visibility out over the Wildhorn and its chain, down the valley, and out towards the Voralpen.
Back down towards the lakes and then a turn off along the side of the valley about 100m before the bottom. At some point back into some green (it's amazing where grass and flowers will grow) and along to the Rawilpass. Further along above Alpage du Rawil (the plain of a river that wasn't really there) and the Plan des Roses, past another small lake, and then off into a fantastic landscape of water shaped rock. This was great walking: at coarse scale the rock was a smooth plain, but closer in there were holes and ridges and cuts and spikes and and and. Just fantastic. Here we started to get a nice view down into the Wallis and some of the 4000ers there. The tops of the mountains were in clouds, so identification was hard. We also see the telltale signs of ants working their way up the Wildhorn.

After a quick food break to enjoy the views, off again where we join the path up from the Lac de Tseuzier and see the first other groups of the day. Up a bit and then we traverse a steep scree slope above the beautiful Lac de Tenehet. This traverse is very entertaining: the path is narrow but mostly quite good. Along the way a few rocks start coming down from above; not so nice... there's not really anywhere to retreat to in case of a rockslide. Then Andrea notices the mountain goats on the wall above us; they've knocked the rocks loose. After a joke about the goats defending their domain from the invading hikers, we continue on our way. A bit later we cross paths with a large group of French speakers (the solitude is really over) and then continue up to the Schnidejoch with its great views to both the Wallis and the Voralpen, and, of course, its wind. brrr...

On the other side of the Schnidejoch we work down around the end of the glacier and then further down along a moraine (great views to the West to the seemingly unnamed lake at the bottom of the Pfaffehore; wonder if it's possible to snowshoe or hike that bit of valley) to the Wildhornhütte. Along the way we get five minutes of rain; just enough to test how quickly we could break out the rain jackets and get the covers on our packs: well less than two minutes. :-)

At the hut we have the second part of our lunch and a liter of tea and decide we're fit enough for a few more hours, so we opt for the longer route for the second half of the day. It's up and around the Stierenberg, back behind and under the Stigelschafberg on a nice mountain trail then down a steep few hundred meters to the Stieretungel. From this point on it's no longer mountain walking: now we're on paths through grassy fields. Along a panorama path with fantastic views out onto the Wildstrubel area (including the hut!),
past wild limestone mountain features: holes, weird rock formations, etc. We see lots of nice snowshoeing terrain and a couple of tempting looking ridges (particularly the Wasserngrat->Lauenenhore->Giferspitz->Berzgum). Eventually we reach the lift station at Leiterli. From there it's a lift trip down to Lenk and the trains back home.

Another really nice (and long) day.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Around the Wildstrubel: Simmefaell -> Wildstrubelhuette

An unusual tour for us because Greg planned it. :-)

We started with an early train so that we made it to Lenk around 9; the bus took us to Simmefaell at the end of the valley and the beginning of our path. The way started with a relatively mild ascent under trees beside the Simme. At the Siebenbrunnen the warm up section ended and the real path started: up the valley wall. Along a great switchbacking path up the wall, sometimes under trees, sometimes exposed, beside the water, away from the water, sometimes scrambly, excellent views out over the valley. Things are pretty empty: we only see three other groups before we make the first shelf and the Flueseeli. The lake is wonderfully situated at the bottom of a scree slope and very inviting, so we take a food break.

After the lake we reach the second phase of the day's hike: high-mountain landscapes. Up to the lake most everything was green and growing; afterwards things got a lot more stony and gray. From the lake it's up up again, beside the scree slope, past the path turning off to the Wildstrubel, and into an excellent alpine bowl: a barren landscape with a beautiful lake in the middle (the Rezligletschersee) and high walls all around. Fantastic place. Further on to the next valley between the ridge connecting the Gletscherhore to the Wisshore and the Laufbodehore.
As we work our way to the Tierbergsattel we catch view of the military installation that is over the Wildstrubelhütte. Up the steep path along scree to the Tierbergsattel, from which we have great views down towards the Wildhorn (and day 2's route).
There's a big block of snow blocking the official route, so we do a bit of scrambling around it and take the very steep path down to the Rawilseeleni. A short food break and then the last push 300m straight up the valley wall to the Wildstrubelhütte.

The hut is really, really nice. When the weather is clear (which it wasn't this day), there are fantastic views and, apparently, amazing sunsets. The place is modern, well organized, and run with good humor, so despite being full it never seemed chaotic or hectic. As an added bonus, the food was good (the benefits of having resupply via gondola). Very different crowd from the previous weekend when everyone was there to climb a mountain. Here there were a few climbers and some serious hikers, but there were also a lot of people who don't spend much time in the mountains -- the routes from Iffigenalp and/or Crans Montana must be quite manageable. All in all a very positive hut experience.

Note: this was Greg's first day in his new hiking boots. Aside from the expected problems finding the proper lacing tension they were quite comfortable. It certainly was nice to have good traction.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Bishorn Hochtour

A trip to the Bishorn with the SAC.

Day 1 was definitely an Andrea special: public transport and then up, up, up. Starting from Zinal we headed straight up the side of the valley. We were in woods most of the time along a nice path with good views up the valley. Along the way we crossed the tree line and the path got more challenging. At the top we came into a big bowl of sorts with great views of the Weisshorn and surroundings. Onwards through the bowl (with a bit of rain sprinkle) and then along a really fun big stone path along the side of the Diablon des Dames, through the Col de Tracuit and then to the Cabane de Tracuit, total climb about 1600m. The group maintained a really nice pace, so we didn't feel hurried or slowed down; it was a nice walk.

The hut was a mess. It's the standard starting point for the Bishorn. The Bishorn is an easy peak over 4000m. The weather forecast was good. So the hut was full. The problem was that the people running the place were completely disorganized. The also seemed to have overbooked. Combine this with the fact that the weather wasn't particularly nice outside and you get a mess. It was standing room only in the main room. Enough about that though... eventually we were fed (the vegetarians very poorly), puttered around a bit outside and then went to our very narrow beds (9 people fit into the normally narrow space for 8). Double bonus: Greg was next to the stone wall, which was dripping water.

Sunday morning we were up at 4am, packed our stuff, had a quick breakfast, then got geared up and headed down to the Turtmanngletscher. There we put on the crampons, roped in, and then followed the crowds in an ant trail across the glacier. The number of people could have been irritating but, for Greg at least, it couldn't spoil the general amazement of walking across a glacier on a clear morning and watching the sun come up on high mountain peaks. Eventually things got steep and we started overtaking some groups. Markus (the leader) set a pace that was perfect for us: we made progress and didn't get out of breath, even above 4000m. All along the way we had fantastic views out over the Alps, particularly the Berner Oberland.

At the saddle before the last 50m to the peak, Greg had doubts about finishing the climb: there seemed to be a lot of people up there and the memories of the Vordere Tierberg summit were still fresh. But he was roped in, so he luckily had to go. :-) The last bit of climb wasn't technically difficult and was wide enough for one group to descend while another ascended and... wonder of wonders... the peak area was more than big enough to accommodate the whole mass of people up there. Really nice views of the Weisshorn and one of the traditional routes to get there (Greg: "never!") as well as the continuing long views of the Alps.

Back down the saddle for a rest and a bit to eat (ah... sitting in the sun at 4100 m!), then back down. Along the way the weather closed in, so by the time we got back to the hut we were in clouds. At the hut we repacked our bags, had another quick snack, and then made the long trip back down to Zinal. After a cool beverage, onto the standing-room only bus (a first for us) down to Sierre and the trains home.

Sunday's stats: 1000m up, 2700m down.

Not counting the mini-tour to the Vordere Tierberg, this was our first real Hochtour. For Greg it was also the first time over 4000m. The hut-chaos aside (and that will end up being a nice story), it was a lot of fun.

[Note added on Monday evening: we were pretty proud of ourselves on Sunday night, now we're whining and moaning because our legs are so sore. ;-)]