Sunday, August 19, 2012

Gspon to Giw via the Simelihorn

We start by climbing out of town. The path isn't exactly indicated, but Andrea manages to get us going in the right direction. We climb and climb through the woods, past the buildings at Sänntum, past the cross at Häüschbiele (there are people camping up here! what a view!), and then more or less following a contour to an Alp at about 2418m. Here we refresh ourselves in the fountain, then leave the path behind us and follow traces along a more-or-less direttissima to p.2781 on the ridge. Down we go a bit and then we follow the path traces up the north-eastern face of the Simelihorn. It's pretty easy going, with a bit of fairly steep block scrambling up towards the top.

Up top we enjoy the great views, have a quick lunch (it's hot! 30 degrees in the sun at 3100m!), and re-think our plans. We originally had talked about continuing along the ridge to the Mattwaldhorn and then somehow getting down the East side of that. This isn't looking like such a great idea, so we head back the way we came, down past the small lake in the Findletälli, and then down some more to the turnoff point for the Blausee, under the Ochsehorn. Here we turn back a bit to the South with the intent of walking around the end of the valley, through the Magelicke, and then down towards the Simplon pass. Not too long after a very refreshing short break along the Schwarzbach (it's hot! the cold water is good!) we reach a crossing with a sign that seems to indicate that our planned route is going to take an additional 4+ hours. This doesn't seem right (in retrospect it almost certainly wasn't), but we don't have anything like that long before the last bus that has a decent connection back, so we instead opt to follow the Suonenweg back to the Gibidumpass. This is a really, really nice path next to the burbling water, with a light breeze, with great views, and with nothing but a gentle descent (as always along the Suonen). Really nice gentle walking, very good for Greg's knee.

At Gibidumpass we take another break in the last bit of shade (boy is it hot away from the Suonen and without the light breeze!) before heading down the last bit to Giw. After a refreshing drink we take the chairlift down to Visperterminen, then the bus back to Visp. The train station is crazy full (of course), so we take a train to Brig, do some quick shopping, and board the next train towards Basel there. We at least have seats before the masses get on a Visp and are able to "enjoy" the utter chaos the rest of the way back to Basel.

The track:

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Visperterminen to Gspon via the Ochsehorn

The forecast promised cloudless skies and hot weather, so the priority was to go up! up! :-)

We started with a true Andrea special: Train to Visp, bus to Visperterminen, and then immediate climbing. At first we go through town, then on a path past a series of small shrines, into the woods past more shrines, past the chapel, always heading up. I guess the combination of the low altitude (thick air!) and lack of other people to worry about gives us an extra kick, because we end up moving pretty quickly: the first 600m of climb to Giw are done in an hour. We don't see anyone else on the way (seems like everyone takes the chairlift). Past Giw we follow the path/road up through the somewhat ugly ski resort area until we reach the Gibidumpass. Up here there are some people around. Up to the ridge, and then following the trail/traces of a trail. At the little peak at p.2587 we stop to enjoy the great views and to have a lunch break. Since we've got plenty of time, we stretch out for a bit and enjoy a quick post-lunch nap (ahhhh what luxury!) before continuing along the ridge. After p.2611 the path gets rocky, thought it's still really easy to follow up to the last bits of climb to the Ochsehorn, which are somewhat scrambly and require a bit of path finding (though it's hard to go wrong when the goal is "go up!"). At the top we find a quiet rock outcrop to sit on, have a snack, and enjoy the views.

From the peak we follow traces of a trail across to the peak at the top of the Wyssgrat and then turn to follow the ridge itself downwards to the West. Nice combined grass, block, gravel walking down to the viewpoint out over Gspon at 2370m. We're both really grateful for the breeze... it's getting HOT. From the viewpoint it's along the (not always well marked) trail until we hit Gspon itself, where we find our restaurant/hotel, have a cool beverage, take showers, enjoy a good meal, and then make a night of it.


Friday, August 10, 2012

HT Woche Berner Alpen Day 5: Sunrise on the Oberaarhorn then Oberaarjochhuette -> Oberaarsee

As agreed the day before, our smaller group of five gets up for breakfast at 4:00 a.m. and we're underway by 4:45. The first bit of the climb up to the Oberaarhorn is a scramble up through some block. Fun territory to be climbing through, but it's not particularly simple to find the path (marked with faded orange paint) with our headlamps. At one of our "where the hell is the path?" breaks, a pair of other climbers storms by us on their way up, so we follow them. They don't really know where the path is either, but if we're following someone else it must be the right way, right? ;-) Since we do eventually end up following orange markers again, this turns out to be exactly right.

We catch up to the other two at the bottom of the snow field as they're putting on their crampons and roping up. We put on the crampons, turn off the headlamps (it's more than light enough to climb up a snow field), and set out. We've got plenty of time, so we do the climb at a comfortable speed. As we climb it gets progressively lighter and the eastern horizon gets more and more orange; great fun to watch as the distance to the top shrinks. By 6:00 a.m. all five of us are on the peak. Other than the two other climbers, we have the place to ourselves (the hut is full, but most everyone else was doing glacier hiking, not mountains).

Up top the conditions are pretty much perfect: light wind, clear skies above us, thin cirrus clouds on the horizon to light up with the sun, and some cloud cover below us to make the views more dramatic. It's just fantastic. We all thank the one who proposed coming up in time to see the sunrise, take lots of pictures, ooh and ahh a lot, and generally enjoy the hell out of ourselves. After the sun is fully up and the light has lost the special "sunrise" quality, we make our way back to the hut with smiles on our faces.
"Here comes the sun..."
Three very happy climbers. Weisshorn, Matterhorn, Dom, and friends in the background
On the way back down through the rocks
Back at the hut we have another round of hot beverages, share pictures with the other three, pack up, and then the whole group heads out. At the pass we rope in and then head down the Oberaargletscher to the Oberaarsee (the reverse of the first day of the Vorderes Galmihorn trip) and the Berghaus Oberaar.
Down the glacier to the Oberaarsee

It's damn warm on the glacier (the joy of getting both direct and reflected sun!), so it's nice to move off onto rock towards the bottom and take off the crampons and bundle up the rope for the last time for this trip. After a short break we head down the path above the lake; it's fun to be back in green again for the first time in five days. We're ahead of schedule for meeting our taxi, so we have another break a few minutes before we hit the dam and some additional time to have a refreshing beverage at the hotel before getting in the taxi and heading down to Meiringen and the trains back to Basel.

It's a long, crowded, hot ride back, and we have the usual culture shock on returning from the mountains, but there are plenty of great images stuck in our heads. It was a good week in the mountains.

The track:

Thursday, August 09, 2012

HT Woche Berner Alpen Day 4: Finsteraarhornhuette -> Oberaarjochhuette via the Studerhorn

We leave the hut shortly after 5:30 on another beautifully clear morning. Down on the ice we put on the crampons and rope in before heading down the Fieschergletscher. Following the Hüttenwart's tips, we stick to the left-hand side of the glacier as we head down. More fun with puzzling our way through crevasses, more nice light play as the sun rises on the mountains, walking past a group who had camped in the middle of the glacier ("interesting" idea). Down at the Rotloch, where the Galmigletscher hits the Fieschergletscher, we take a short break and rearrange into a group of five led by Greg and a group of three led by Peter.

We head up the Galmigletscher, swinging around the right side of the stone formation in the middle (the left side is a visually interesting ice fall that would be no fun at all to walk through), gently but steadily climbing until we reach the broad bowl underneath the Oberaarjoch. Nice surprise along the way of a view backwards to the Weisshorn, Matterhorn, and Mischabel group.
Matterhorn, Weisshorn, and Bishorn in the distance. A bit of the Mischabel group peeking through  at the left.
Across the egg-carton snow on the Studergletscher. Finsteraarhorn in the center, Studerhorn to the right of center. 

Now it's more or less straight up the Studergletscher with the only diversions being to swing around large areas of crevasses. About halfway up the valley, we run into a set of tracks leading up the glacier and the going gets even easier. From here on the biggest struggle is to keep the pace low enough that no-one gets overly out-of-breath as we gently climb to the Obers Studerjoch.
At the pass (if that's the right word when the other side is a cliff) we enjoy the views and survey the situation before stopping for a lunch break. We had been expecting a snow face that we'd have to ascend to a broad, snowy ridge that we'd follow to the top of the Studerhorn. What we see can see is a snow ridge that's about a meter wide leading to a stretch of rock that goes up about 50m and then seems to be topped with snow. The last bit to the peak is also visible; it looks ok: steep on one side and a massive snow cornice on the other.
The route to the Studerhorn
The rock section is really unexpected. During the lunch break we talk it through and make sure everyone is still ok with continuing; fat chance of anyone sitting out the last 200m after the events of the last couple days. We leave the packs behind and set out.

The snow ridge is broad and not particularly steep; easy. The rock stretch is definitely less than optimal: the rock is quite loose and crumbly. Fortunately for us and our hopes of making it to the top, it's neither particularly steep nor massively exposed. The toughest part is expected: coordinating five roped-in people through an ascent: "wait!", "ok, go on", "slow down for a second", "give me a bit more rope", etc. Greg remains surprised by the fact that getting through rock with crampons on really isn't a problem, though he really shouldn't be. On the other side of the rock we're back onto a broad snow ridge, there's a vertical drop to the left and a steep fall off to the right. We continue our ascent slowly to the top. It's steep at times and the footing is varied but not particularly bad: sometimes corn snow, sometimes normal snow, sometimes gravelly ice (the least pleasant by far). Once up top (staying well right to avoid the cornice) we congratulate each other, appreciate the views (unfortunately obscured to the South by some clouds), have a photo session, and do a group picture (nice bit of engineering here from Andrea to build a stand out of two ice axes and a glove for the camera).
The happy gang atop the Studerhorn. Finsteraarhorn in the background.
It's getting late, so we keep the break fairly short. The way down is the same as the way up. Andrea sets a good pace down and we make it back to the packs without incident.
Back down through the rocks.
After another short break we head back down the Studergletscher the way we came. Heading down the valley is much easier than heading up... imagine that. ;-)

The plan is to head off to the left at the bottom of the valley and then more or less follow the contour line around to the Oberaarjoch. We change this plan pretty quickly after hitting a maze of big crevasses on a steep slope -- getting through that would be slow and dangerous. We backtrack a bit, descend to about 3100m, and then traverse the slope to underneath the pass. Slowly up to the pass, waving to Peter  on the hut terrace above us, where we unrope, take off the crampons, and head up the steep path and ladder to the hut. The rest of our group are waiting up top with a big pitcher of tea (yay!) and lots of questions.

The Oberaarjochhütte is somewhat old school, so it's not as comfortable as the other two we stayed in, but it's friendly and welcoming. We drink the required cool beverages (well, Andrea drinks more tea), talk about the day and enjoy that "yeah! we made it up a mountain!" feeling. After a good meal we do a bit of planning for the next day. One of the classic activities from the  Oberaarjochhütte is to climb the Oberaarhorn early enough to see the sun rise, then to come back down to the hut for breakfast. One of our smaller group proposes that we do the climb to see the sun rise. We're not quite sure whether nor not she's joking and none of us wants to do even a short 400m climb without eating something, but we do some quick calculating anyway. Fortunately it turns out that sunrise is at around 6:15. That's late enough that we can make it up with plenty of time if we leave around 4:30. That means breakfast at 4:00. We all agree this sounds reasonable (for some definition of the term), confirm that no one is joking, then head off to bed to be ready for an early start the next morning.

This was a first for us: having one of us lead a rope team and a climb. There was nothing technically challenging (otherwise we wouldn't have agreed to do it), but it is still a very different experience to do the "navigation" across the glacier, and pick the route up the mountain than it is to be a participant. Greg spent a lot of time on the descent from the Studerhorn with one of his all-time favorite warning phrases running through his head: "Der Seilschaftsführer darf in keinem Falle ausrutschen, weil er sonst die ganze Seilschaft mitreissen wird." (loosely translated: "The leader of the rope team must not, under any circumstances, slip, because he would then take then entire rope team with him.")

The track:

The bits of this around the ascent and descent of the Studerhorn are screwed up because we left our packs at the bottom and the GPS tracker was on Andrea's pack.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

HT Woche Berner Alpen Day 3: Up to the Grosses Wannenhorn

We do breakfast at 5:00 a.m. and head out with light packs (a lot of stuff gets to stay in the hut since we're coming back) shortly after 5:30. It's another clear morning and the light on the mountains is great. Down at the glacier we put on our crampons, rope in, and head across the glacier to the slope that heads up to the Grosses Wannenhorn. More puzzle solving here along with plenty of oohs and aahs as the sun hits the peaks in front of us.
Sunrise on the mountains. Grosses Wannenhorn on the left.
The slope up also has some good-sized crevasses and an ice fall to navigate, so it's interesting going. Unfortunately it's also slow -- one member of the group is still having fitness problems, so we just can't move at a reasonable speed. We're on the second rope, so Greg (leading the rope) spends a lot of time trying to find a pace that's slow enough to allow constant motion through the frequent stops the first rope is making and the others have plenty of time to take pictures. It's irritating, but at least we get some good pictures.
Walking around a messy patch of glacier.

Finsteraarhorn in the center, Vorderes Galmihorn to the right.
We do a lunch break at a saddle between 3600-3700m and enjoy the views all around (including a very nice view of the Vorderes Galmihorn) before making the painful decision to turn back -- at our current pace the last few hundred meters are going to take a long time to do, it's getting late, and the snow bridges we crossed on the way up are definitely not getting any stronger as the day wears on. There's a lot of frustration in the group; we were really looking forward to that peak. We head back down to the glacier and back to the hut via more or less the same route.
On our way down to the glacier.
It's now pretty clear that there's no way the full group is going to make it up any mountain. Since the point of this tour is to do some mountain climbing, not just to walk along the glacier, some of us are extremely frustrated. Tempers are, needless to say, pretty hot and some less-than-kind words are exchanged. Fortunately, Peter (our tour leader) manages to come up with a plan that offers hope for some of us:  on the next day we will split into two groups. We'll start together and then Greg will lead a rope with the four other more fit people to climb the Studerhorn while Peter takes the other two straight to the next hut. Some of us are very happy with this, one is definitely not. The mood at dinner is somewhat tense (hee hee, I love understatement).

The track:

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

HT Woche Berner Alpen Day 2: Konkordiahuette -> Finsteraarhornhuette

The original plan for the day was to head to the Grünhornlücke, climb the snow face to the Wyssnollen, then head down the other side and back around to the Finsteraarhornhütte. After the folks in the Konkordiahütte recommend that we avoid the snow face since it's quite icy, we decide to go from the pass down to the glacier, then up to the Wyssnollen from the back side. It's longer, but definitely doable.

We wake up to a beautifully clear day, have breakfast, take some pictures, head down the stairs to grab our stuff, rope in, and head up the Grüneggfirn. The views are great, the going is easy, and our pace is really, really slow -- it takes us about two and a half hours to do the 500m to the Grünhornlücke.
On the way up to the Grünhornlücke
At the pass we do a short snack break and discuss what to do. One of the members of the group isn't feeling particularly fit and doesn't think she can do the full tour. Damn. Ah well, we decide to all head onwards to the hut with the consolation that on the next day we're going to do the Grosses Wannenhorn, which is in the same chain but which is higher and should have even better views.

From the pass we head down to the Fieschergletscher and then across to the cliff the hut is sitting on. The glacier has no snow cover, so the going is easy and the traversal has some nice puzzle-solving to it ("get forward past these crevasses that are all too wide to jump"). The path up to the hut is fun and scrambly and the hut itself is quite nice, with an amazing view from the terrace.

It's pretty early and some of us want to do more with the day, so we follow a bit of the path up towards the Finsteraarhorn (unfortunately not on our program due to the group size and composition). After a couple hundred meters of climb we find a reasonably wind-sheltered spot with great views of the Finsteraarhorn chain, a beautiful little glacier lake, and the loveliness in the other direction.
Glacier lake under the Finsteraarhorn.  Finsteraarrothorn in the middle, vorderes Galmihorn a bit  to the right.
We enjoy an extended break and then head back down to sit on the terrace and enjoy the views for the rest of the evening.
Three rope teams crossing the glacier.
The hut is almost full, but it's new ( = smaller sleeping rooms. yay!), very well organized, and the food is good, so we have an enjoyable evening.

The track:

Monday, August 06, 2012

HT Woche Berner Alpen Day 1: Jungfraujoch -> Konkordiahuette

We kick off the week by taking the train to Lauterbrunnen and then the Jungfraubahn up to the Jungfraujoch. That's definitely not your standard train trip: the train goes through the Eiger and makes two five-minute photo stops along the way. At each one everyone streams out to the windows to take pictures and then piles back into the train. Unfortunately for them the weather is crap, so there's not much to see. At the Jungfraujoch we walk with the stream of tourists (hard to imagine what this place must be like on a good-weather weekend) past a few of the exhibitions to the door leading out towards the Aletschgletscher.  It's not particularly nice outside: 4-5 degrees, wind, wet snow, and thunder. Ick. We opt to put on our harnesses and an extra layer or two just inside the door (comment from an Indian tourist standing just inside the door and freezing as he takes pictures of his family outside in the blowing, wet snow: "you aren't actually planning on going out there are you?") and then we head outside to rope up.
Lovely weather we're having.
After 5-10 minutes of waiting for the thunder to stop, we get on our way.

At some point on our way down the Jungfraufirn the snow mostly stops for a bit, then it turns to a light rain. It's not particularly nasty, but we can't enjoy the views so it's more about making progress and getting used to walking on the rope. Down on the Konkordiaplatz we start to hit some crevasses you need to jump over, so it's on with the crampons for the last bit to the cliff under the Konkordiahütte.
Crossing a glacier stream
We leave the crampons and ice axes under a big rock and then walk up the long (100m up) set of metal stairs to the hut.
The first bit of the stairs up to the Konkordiahütte
Thanks to the crappy weather the hut is only about half full, so we enjoy a relatively calm evening. Of course everyone is constantly keeping an eye out for the weather to clear up (it's hard to believe the forecast sometimes). We're rewarded after dinner: the clouds start to lift.

The track:

Here's a link to a track of the whole tour superimposed on photo imagery. Play with the aerial imagery slider to blend topo info in and out.