Sunday, August 21, 2011

Back to the Alpstein Day 3: Rotsteinpass Hütte -> Wasserauen

We get another reasonably early start and are underway by 8:10. It's another day of perfect weather.

The first leg of the day is to follow the Lisengrat to Säntis. Walking this leg in the other direction was a real highlight of our first trip to the Alpstein, even for Greg with his bad knee pain. It's a really nice path along the ridge. At times quite exposed and/or steep, but always very well secured with either steps or cables. Without that extra preparation it would be a real adventure, but even "disarmed" it's quite entertaining.
We're early enough that we don't encounter too many other folks on the ridge itself, but by the time we reach the end we're start to meet groups coming the other way. Onwards we continue to the complex of buildings at the top of the Säntis, which we quickly flee because of the crowds. As we walk through the tunnel to the steep "stairs" leading down the other side, we start to figure that it's early enough that the steps at least should be reasonably free (not enough time for people to have reached the top from the parking lot below). This, unfortunately, turns out not to be the case and we end up taking quite a bit of extra time for the 50 vertical meters of descent since we're constantly having to step aside to let groups coming up pass.

Eventually we hit the saddle and turn off to the right to leave the crowds and descend to the Blau Schnee (not really there anymore where we head down). The nice path leads us down and then across a rock desert to the green and then onwards through the valley. We follow the path to the Schäfler and head through the pass under the Höch Nideri (starting to encounter people again), take a water and snack break in the shade, and then head to the pass under the Öhrli. Onwards, onwards, through the Lötzlisalpsattel, and then along the valley side towards the Schäfler. Unsurprisingly, plenty of people are out and about now enjoying the sunny weather. The last bit is fun to do again: Greg remembers the path being pretty scary (narrow, steep drop to one side, etc.), but that was a long time, and many really narrow paths with steep drops, ago; it's pretty tame now.
At the Schäfler we enjoy a cool beverage in the shade on the terrace (very lucky to find a place) and then are enjoying ourselves so much that we decide to stay for lunch as well. Two hours later we continue on our way down to Ebenalp, passing streams of people heading the other way from the gondola station. Past Ebenalp we start the descent, heading down, through the hermits' cave, past the church cave, past Äscher, and then down towards Wasserauen. The very nice path down is mostly in the woods (yay! shade! it's hot!) and drops us just past the bottom of the gondola station. Quick refreshment break at the fountain that's nearby and then on the last 200m to the train station. In a fit of amazing timing, the train pulls up as we're walking into the station and we end up not having to wait at all.

It was a hot and fairly crowded day, but we had a lot of fun. Definitely a nice wrap up to the weekend.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Back to the Alpstein Day 2: Hundstein Hütte -> Rotsteinpass Hütte

We get a reasonably early start and set out under a cloudless sky just past 8. The path takes us down past Bollenwees, where we can admire the view up the valley and the mountains mirrored in the lake (big improvement from last time!) and then up the other side of the valley to the Saxerlücke. From there it's further up the valley to the Roslenalp where we turn off the main path to climb the 3rd Chrüzberg. We get a really nice surprise when someone at Roslenalp starts playing an Alphorn as we're climbing the trail leading steeply to the couloir between the 3rd and 4th peak; too bad they don't keep it up longer, it's nice. :-)
Steeply up through the couloir, with some scrambling along the way, until we reach the saddle. There's a family here climbing the "broad rib" to the peak, but our way leads up through the narrow chimney (no climbing equipment required). This is a nice scrambly climb through a chimney that's a bit wider than the one we climbed on El Yelmo, there's only one bit that requires more than scrambling. From the top of the chimney it's a short walk to the peak of the 3rd Chrüzberg where we enjoy the views and the solitude for a bit before heading back down the way we came up.
Once back in the valley, the path leads us through grass and stones up to the Mutschensattel. By now the temperature is starting to climb, but there's quite a nice breeze coming from the pass, so it's not too uncomfortable. From the pass we follow, along with larger numbers of people, the broad ridge towards the Zwinglipass. The views remain fantastic and the going is good for walk and gawk; ah! what a path! We do a quick beverage and sandwich break at the very basic, but nicely situated, Zwinglipasshütte, and then head onwards around the Altmann (very intimidating looking from this angle) towards the Altmannpass. The path leads us past a large colony of Steinbock and then into a nice "rock desert" bowl. As the path starts to climb towards the pass itself we detour off to the right and do a fun direttissima up to the saddle at P.2368 that is the starting point for last stretch to the Altmann.

This is a pretty straightforward scramble (most would actually be walking, but the rocks are smoothed by all the traffic, so traction isn't so great) with poles driven into the rocks where it gets steep. The last 10m requires a somewhat exposed traverse that gets the adrenaline flowing a bit and then we're up top. It's not too crowded (6 other people) and there's plenty of space to relax and enjoy the really fantastic views you get when you're on the highest point around.

Back down the way we came up, down to the Altmannpass, and then down the adventurous, but very well secured with steps and cables, route to the Rotsteinpass and the hut/hotel where we will spend the night.

A great day of walking with perfect weather and two peaks of very different character. We're happy hikers!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Back to the Alpstein Day 1: Wasserauen->Hundstein Hütte

We'd been talking all summer about celebrating the five year anniversary of our first multi-day hike in the Swiss mountains: our trip to the Alpstein by heading back for a long weekend. So when our planned SAC trip along the Via Alta Valle Maggia was cancelled, we didn't have to think too long about what to do.

After getting off the train at Wasserauen (along with a whole bunch of other people, almost all of whom immediately head for the gondola) we follow the path to the South and, as expected, head up the valley side towards the Bogartenlücke. The path is good, the weather is beautiful, it's a pleasure to be out walking. Through the woods, across fields, past the turnoff to Seealpsee, up, up, up we head. At the pass we take a quick sandwich and drink break and enjoy the views out the other way (including Bollenwees, which is not far from our destination for the day).

We descend a bit and then turn off onto the blue-white marked path that leads us through a couloir and then up, up to the ridge of the Marwees. Here we have really excellent panoramic views and a good strong headwind (lucky it's a headwind... if it were coming from the side on a ridge like that it probably would have made Greg nervous). At the cross we take another short sandwich break to soak in the views before continuing along the rest of the ridge (boy is it windy) and heading down a bit towards the Widderalpsattel.
 We have another break (and a nap in the sun!) before heading down to the pass. Our next waypoint, the Hundstein, is clearly visible, as is the chimney about the path that we're planning on heading up through, but it still looks completely impossible without climbing gear.

From the Widderalpsattel there's a blue-white path that leads steeply up to the chimney. After a bit, the way gets scrambly, so we pack the sticks away and start using our hands more. The first bit has some good scrambling that takes a bit of thought, but the biggest challenge is to try and not kick loose any rocks (definitely would want to be wearing a helmet in here if there were other people about). Steeply up we go, across a grass band, and then into a chimney that leads up the mountain. We scramble and climb our way up mostly to the top and then follow the path back around the north side and then the rest of the way to the peak. We enjoy the views and feeling of accomplishment for a bit and then start back down.
Instead of going back through the chimney (that wouldn't be much fun) we head down the other side. This side is definitely easier than the other one, though the path does require some concentration (no walk and gawk here). Down we go, with the temperature ever increasing, until we reach the Hundstein Hütte, where cool drinks, dinner, and our beds for the night await. There are only 6 other people staying in the hut, so it's very quiet.

A really fantastic and varied day of walking in the mountains!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Tour around the Piz Segnas and Piz Sardona Day 2: Sardonahuette->Elm

Since the weather is supposed to get worse over the course of the day, we get up earlyish (not as early as the folks doing Hochtours, of course) and are underway by 7:15. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, the temperature is good, the valley is beautiful... ah! nice walking!

The path towards the Heubuetzlipass leads us around the side of the valley at more or less the same height. It's mostly green and we have great views around the valley. After the steep, but short, climb to the pass we enjoy the panoramic views for a bit before descending a bit and then contouring around the bowl to the Muotatalsattel. Another set of great views to enjoy from here (including the Foopass in the distance) and then we do the steep descent into the Muotatal. Through the green, green valley to the end and then descending to Alp Foo (Greg loves it!) before climbing again through the Footal to the Foopass itself. There a lunch break enjoying the views looking back, then through the pass and down towards Raminer Matt. Along the way we find a nice sunny, grassy spot and take a quick nap. :-)

From Raminer Matt onwards we're mostly on gravel road the rest of the way down into Elm. The views are nice (particularly of a couple of high waterfalls coming down from the Piz Sardona-Piz Segnas ridge), but it would be nicer to be on a path rather than a road. Ah well...

Our timing is pretty good: we get to Elm about 15 minutes before the next bus back home and the rain starts while we're on the platform of the train station in Schwanden. Not bad!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Tour around the Piz Segnas and Piz Sardona Day 1: Elm->Sardonahuette

The forecast for the weekend called for nice weather on Saturday and rain coming from the West in the afternoon of Sunday, so Andrea planned a tour in the East. Day one is a real Andrea special: 2:40 on trains and and bus and then 1700m of climb.

We get out of the very full bus in Elm and head out of town, past the camping spot, to the gondola station. We're not wimping out this morning, so we walk past the gondola and start our way up. The path is initially through woods, then through the really pretty gorge of the Tschinglenbach, then back to fields. Nicely climbing, climbing all the way. Past the top of the gondola station, then steeply up on some serepentines, across rivers, through meadows, over rocks, etc. A very nice climb under the jagged teeth of the Tschingelhoren (no, not that one) with the Martinsloch ("There's a hole in my mountain, dear Liza, dear Liza, there's a hole in my mountain, dear Liza, a hole") frequently visible. After around 900m of climb we do a water and snack break to rest the legs a bit and then continue up, up, up. At some point the landscape becomes purely alpine: only rocks in front, all the green is behind us... nice. :-)

Finally, after four hours of climbing we reach the little hut ("Mountain Lodge") at the pass. We get lucky and find a place to sit so that we can enjoy the view with our cool beverages and sandwiches. We haven't seen that many people coming up our side, but on the other side of the pass you can take a gondola up so that only a couple hundred meters of climb are necessary, so it's not empty up here.

After our lunch break we head down the other side. The first part is pretty steep and secured with some iron hoops set into the rock, but then we more or less follow the contour lines around the bowl. The views of the Martinsloch, the Tschingelhoren, the Piz Segnes, etc. are panoramic and excellent. Onwards we go, around the corner and into the Segnas Sura, through rocks and past cows. We have another break in the sun with a great view of the Trinserhorn across the valley and the glacier and Piz Sardona at the end of the valley. Onwards, through the valley, across a couple rivers, then up a bit to the Fuorcla Raschaglius. Here, and on the easily walkable peak just above, there are plenty of people: there's a gondola up to the top on the other side. :-) Down the other side we go, and then around the corner. When the path heads off downwards towards Bargis we abandon it and continue more or less level, following traces of a trail and cow paths up the Val Sax. There's not really a path, but our destination, the Trinser Furgga is clear as is the last bit of trail to the top of the saddle. At the end of the valley we head up that bit of trail and climb to the saddle. Just before the top Greg notices a frog hopping along the trail. ~2500m seems like an unlikely spot to meet a frog, but there you go. The last few vertical meters are spent coming up with species names like "Swiss Mountain Frog", "Alpine Frog", etc.

From the pass we have excellent views in both directions and can see the Sardonahuette for the first time. The path is very steep and, in the first 5-10 vertical meters, rather loose and scary. As is usual in these situations, Andrea goes first and Greg follows. After the first bit the path is in much better shape: what would otherwise be scary as hell is easy and fun. Someone clearly spends a lot of time taking care of the path. Around the end of the valley we go, descending all the time, until we reach the hut. The hut is full, but the family that runs it is friendly and very well organized and we have a very pleasant evening.

A very, very, nice day of mountain hiking!