Saturday, August 03, 2013

Spannort trip day 3: Kröntenhütte by way of the Krönten

We weren't 100% sure what we were going to do today: it was clear that we were going to the Kröntenhütte, but we couldn't decide between heading over directly and then spending the afternoon climbing or climbing the Krönten along the way and getting to the hut a bit later. The weather forecast is somewhat unclear about what's going to happen in the afternoon, so we don't get much help there with the decision. Either choice requires an early start, so we opt to delay the decision as long as possible and just get started. :-)

So it's breakfast at 4:00 and we're one our way shortly after 4:30. There's a group of two in front of us today and a group of four behind. Up, up, up the trail along the moraine in the dark we go again. The sky is clear when we leave, but it closes up as we're climbing, so we don't get the cool moonlight on the Spannort effect as yesterday, ah well. Eventually we get to the Schlossberglücke, collect our cached stuff, take a short break, enjoy a fantastic sunrise (the clouds really help here!), then rope in and head out across the glacier the same way as yesterday. The two guys in front of us are still just visible and the group of four behind is just arriving at the pass.
heading across the glacier from the Schlossberglücke

Up we climb to about 2800m, then instead of continuing up and to the right (like yesterday) we contour around to the left under the ridge connecting the Zwächten to the Schneehüenerstock. The weather is very difficult to assess. It's definitely cooler than yesterday and the clouds keep alternating between threatening looking and innocent.

The last rocks of the ridge from the Schneehüenerstock mark the point that we have to decide what to do. There's a group of three from the Kröntenhütte below us, just starting onto the glacier from the rocks, but otherwise no one is visible. The clouds are all high enough that the peak of the Krönten is well clear. We opt for the peak (like we were going to make any other decision). We bend to the right and climb a bit until we reach the rocks east of the Kröntenlücke. Here we take off the crampons and cache them with the ice axes and have a sandwich break while enjoying the views. During this we see two chamoix run up the 50m (?) high half-circular vertical snow wall that forms the end of the glacier like it's nothing and then head out across the glacier. Amazing! We wish we could that!

After the break, we switch to a short rope and head out across the rocks to find the traces leading up the ridge to the peak. A couple minutes after we leave, the group of three from below comes into view. We find the traces and head up the ridge.  It's a very enjoyable way up: a combination of light scrambling, block hopping, and rough trail with great views and impressive drops to either side.
on the ridge to the Krönten

After lots of good ridge fun, we make it to the area under the 30m high tower with the peak. This has to be climbed, so we ditch our sticks and start up. The first 20m or so are a straightforward scramble, then we head for the standard route through a gap to the other side and find some very unpleasant footing, a steep drop, and no immediately obvious (to us) way up. There's also no good way to belay the person looking for the route, so Greg vetoes this approach. The other route up is through a narrow chimney, so we head back and ditch the packs and everything else we don't need, and then try this. Andrea goes first with instructions from Greg to be sure he will also fit. It's not pretty, involves some lizard-like slithering around, but she squeezes through and makes it to the top. Greg follows. This is even less pretty and more slithery, but he makes it too.
Greg slithering through the chimney...

We're atop the Krönten! The views are great, but it's windy, we don't have much of anything with us, and the other group is coming into view along the ridge, so we keep our stay short. We rig up the abseil, wait for the other three to clear the bottom, then abseil down and head back to our packs for a rest and a sandwich.

It's not particularly sunny, which means it's a few degrees cooler than yesterday, and we under no circumstances want to get stuck behind the other group going down the ridge, so we keep it pretty short and then head back. The way down is just as entertaining and we're back at the bottom and our cached gear almost too soon. Back to the glacier rig and then more or less straight down to the rocks above the Graw Stock. We're alone again on the glacier (great!). Conditions are great for heading down quickly (no glissading today because we've got the crampons on), so after a pretty short time we are back on rock.
packing away rope and glacier gear
Another break to pack away the rope and glacier gear and enjoy the last views across the glacier, and then we start following stonemen down, hoping they'll lead us to the path to the Kröntenhütte. There are a few too many contradictory stonemen, so after a short bit of this we give up and strike out in what we believe is the right direction. Down a bit and we hit a snow field with a bunch of sheep gathered at the bottom (sheep on snow? seems weird, but we see this repeatedly over the next two days; must be a way of dealing with the heat). We glissade down the snow field and hit the cross marking the beginning of the blue-white path down. This is a really nice and varied route with lots of great views. The views back to the 900m glacier-topped wall that forms the end of the valley and across to the 1500m high wall of the Schlossberg are simply amazing. Down, down, down we go. It gets warmer as we get lower and the hut comes into view a bit too soon, so by the time we reach the valley floor we're both a bit too hot and ready to be done. Crossing over to the hut we hit a nice cool little stream and decide to postpone our arrival in favor of some refreshment. Holding our hands in the cold water and splashing our faces and heads does us both a world of good and we do the last couple of minutes to the hut in the appropriately happy and relaxed frame of mind.

We check in at the hut, get some cool beverages and a great piece of apricot-cherry pie, and start to deal with the culture shock. The Kröntenhütte is twice the size of the Spannorthütte, is mostly full, and seems to be a popular destination for families. It's a very different crowd. We have a lazy afternoon, watching the clouds come in and out, having a nap on the grass, etc. After a good dinner, we take a short stroll down to the lake then head off to bed. At first it's louder than one would like it to be (a significant downside to being in a "family-friendly" hut), but things eventually settle down and we get to sleep.

Two great self-organized hochtour days in a row! Yeah!


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