Saturday, June 21, 2014

Climbing around the Wiwannihütte

We had been talking about doing alpine multi-pitch routes for a while, this weekend we actually went and did one. We picked the Wiwannihütte as a starting point due to the large variety of reasonable sounding routes in the area, some cool pictures we ran across, and the fact that we haven't been in Wallis in a while.

Saturday morning we took the early train out from Basel. The Lotschberger from Bern was still pretty full, but since we had seats it didn't matter. ;-) The walking started in Ausserberg, where a bunch of other climbers also got out and switched to a bus/alpine taxi up the first stretch. Hah! alpine taxi! Who needs that?! Walking up the whole way with the heavy packs is good practice!

ascent to the Wiwannihütte underneath the Wiwannihorn
Up, up, up we go. First through town, then a bit of crossing fields and some woods, not particularly well marked, then a real trail up, up. It's a really nice trail and a beautiful day and we're mostly sheltered from the sun, but the packs are definitely heavier than we've been carrying and we certainly end up doing some real sweating. Past the end of the road (with the nice wooden platform built out over the drop to allow cars to turn around) and the parked cars, up, up, past the avalanche barriers. We do a lunch break and enjoy the views under some of the last trees and then continue on. At some point the hut becomes visible: small and nicely sited on a saddle. The last bit up is across a broad, green meadow full of sheep; how idyllic. :-) At the hut we check in, rest for a bit, enjoy the views, survey the area (nice!), get the stuff we don't need out of our packs, and then head up to the Schepfjipfiler to do a bit of climbing.
Panoramic views from the Wiwanni hut

We pick the two-pitch route Katzenauge (4a, 4c) in the Schepfjipfiler area. The routes are well labelled and easy to find. We haven't climbed granite before, so this is really new: smaller features in the rock, but excellent traction. We've heard people talk about "Reibungskletterei" in this area and now it's quite clear what they mean; it certainly seems to call for a different technique. The 4c pitch, which Greg leads, is a bit more adventurous than expected for the rating, but manageable (definitely need to do more practice on granite!). We manage to do a reasonable job with the multi-pitch technique but make a bit of a mess of the abseil preparations; ah well... we're here to practice. Very enjoyable climbing!
Andrea in the Katzenauge (4a, 4c) in the Schepfjipfiler area
Back at the hut we have a snack (mmm, freshly baked carrot muffins) and then hang out and soak in the spectacular views until dinner. The hut is completely full (Andrea reserved the last two beds), but they are well organized and everything goes smoothly. We both sleep quite well.

Sunday morning starts comparatively late for a mountain hut (it's all climbers and they don't need to get an early start). After breakfast we head back up, this time to the foot of the Klein Augstchrummenhorn (what a mouthful!), find the start of the route Enzian (4a, 4a, 4c, 3c, 4b, 4b) and get ready to go. There's another pair climbing the route Salamander next to us (they are already a pitch in) and the couple we had dinner with shows up to also do Salamander, but we've got Enzian to ourselves. Off we go! The climbing is, once again, quite nice: the granite is grippy, the bolts are nicely set, the stands are spacious... great stuff! Andrea ends up leading the 4c pitch in the middle, which also has a nice "wow are there not many hand holds" section, but the rest of the climbing is not particularly challenging, just very fun. The transitions at the stands go smoothly and, before we know it, the six pitches are done and we're at the end. Yay! Our first multi-pitch alpine ascent. We're not quite at the top of the mountain, so we switch to a short-rope technique and do the last bit of ridge to the top alpine-style. Up top we take a break to enjoy the views and eat a bit. The weather is looking somewhat threatening (some dark clouds around), so we keep it reasonably short.
Andrea following Greg's lead in Enzian
along the ridge to the Chlys Augstchrummenhorn

Instead of abseiling down past the groups still coming up, we put on our boots and head down via the West ridge. This is a quite entertaining piece of walking/scrambling. There are some bolts set along the way to use for belaying, but there are plenty of convenient rocks to use, so we opt for the alpine method. After a nice bit of ridge we turn downwards and descend the steep side of the ridge into the bowl to the south. Down, down we go, across a nice long snow patch, and then through a herd of sheep to a saddle. On the other side of the saddle we stop to pack away the climbing gear. During the break a group of 10-15 black and white Walliser goats shows up and comes down to investigate us. The sheep, of course, keep their distance but the goats are fearless, so they walk up to play, sniff, nibble, etc. We manage to get everything packed away despite the entertainment and then head down towards the hut. The goats come with us. Descending a steep slope surrounded by a bunch of goats wearing bells is pretty funny: the two lead goats wouldn't go first, but they definitely wanted to go second, so Greg always had a goat or two directly behind him. If we stopped and Andrea got right behind Greg, as soon as we started walking again a goat would push by Andrea to get in the second position. Back down in the talus, we pass a group coming the other way. They find the situation hilarious (of course). We hope the goats will get distracted and start following them, but no... they stick with us. As we descend the last bit to the hut, we attract a fair amount of attention: there's a line of people standing in front of the hut; I'm sure it's almost as amusing to them as it is to us. :-) We lose our escort once we get to the hut.
greg found a new friend....
Back at the hut we have a break, enjoy the views, eat a bowl of soup, and repack for the descent. The route down is more or less the same as the way we came up (less false starts on the way down) though we enjoy the very nice trail even more heading down than we did while going up. Rain threatens along the way, and we even get a few drops, but we make it back to the train station in Ausserberg without getting soaked. Our timing is once again good: we've got 7 minutes to wait for the train. The train ride back is the usual Sunday-afternoon-in-the-summer chaos, but since we've gotten on the train early we've got seats.

It was a very nice weekend of climbing. We could do more of this. :-)

Track (just for the route up at the moment):

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A long walk from Delemont to Neuhüsli

The forecast is good in the Jura, but dodgy in the Alps and Voralpen, so today's idea is to cover some distance. We take a look at the map, see the nice-looking ridge running from Delemont to Erschwil, and decide that can be a good start. We don't have a set end point in mind, Hohe Winde would make an interesting line on the map, but it seems like it's probably too far. It's the Jura and we can grab busses all over the place, so we don't really need a full plan... off we go! :-)

We get a reasonably early start and are in Delemont shortly after 7:30. The markings take us through the mostly sleeping town and then to the start of the trail just outside of town. Here there's a sign for Hohe Winde: 8 hours 40 minutes... interesting... we have more than enough time to manage that, and we're normally faster than the markings anyway. Up, up, through the woods to the ridge. Now it's just lovely Jura ridge walking: under the trees, sometimes with nice views in one direction, sometimes in the other direction, always good walking. Greg's new toy (a Suunto Ambit2 Sapphire) can show both current and average speed, so we push a bit and go faster than what we'd normally do (we're doing a bit over 5km/h when it's flat); we're enjoying ourselves. After the first two hours we stop and take a short break in a spot with a good view. Here we see the first other people of the day. We're making excellent time, Hohe Winde should be no problem! Onwards we go, always continuing along the ridge, until it's time to start thinking about having lunch. The clearing at La Combe has great views to the South side, but the high grass is too wet, so we continue. At p875, the cross over Erschwil, we stop and have a nice lunch with a view out in the other direction. After lunch it's onwards again, to the end of the ridge and then down a bit, along the edge of the woods above Le Greierlet, along the hedge row across the field near Schemelhof, and then back up, up again. Along we go, in the woods, in the open, mostly contouring with great views, until we get to the last bit up to Hohe Winde. We push the pace for the last 200m up and get to the top slightly out of breath but smiling. It's taken us a bit over 6.5 hours, including the breaks. Good time!

We have another good rest to catch our breath, enjoy the views, rest our legs, and eat some cherries, and then decide to push on to Passwang. After descending a bit along the ridge, the trail takes us down to Vorder Erzberg. The unexpected chance to get something cool to drink is too much to pass up, so we stop for another break before continuing onwards. After some more walking we get to a fork where we need to choose between continuing on to Passwang or heading down to Neuhüsli; timing wise Neuhüsli looks better, so down we go. The last bit is an easy descent along more nice paths and we get to Neuhüsli, unfortunately just short of 30km total distance, with about 10 minutes to wait for the next bus. Good timing to end a nice, long, walk.

The track (data now being collected with Greg's new "watch"):
Stats: ~1580m up, ~1330m down, 29.7 km.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Schwarzsee to Boltigen via the Kaiseregg

After a very nice breakfast buffet we check out of the hotel and set out on our way under clear blue skies promising a very warm day.

We head around the top of the lake, through the parking lot, and then start heading up, up, up on a maintenance road. Past the top of the Rodelbahn, up, up, really starting to sweat (9am and it's already pretty warm), up we go. We definitely aren't alone; I guess more people take the chair lift up, but there are still plenty of folks heading up here. After a while we get pretty bored with the road, the views are nice but we were spoiled by yesterday's hike. At Hürlisboden we turn off the road and head up, up the field until we hit the saddle at Salzmatt. Lots of people here since one of the easy routes up to the Kaiseregg from the lift comes this way. At the saddle we turn off down the road and head to the Seelihus. We say hi to the goats running around, then set off across the field towards the cliffs.
view from Hürlisboden to Riggisalp und Spitzflue
Now things start to get entertaining. We got a description saying that there's a T5 route up to the ridge that has old markings and traces of an old path. About halfway up, in the grass, we can see the faint zig zags of the old path, but on the other side of those it's not at all clear how we'll be getting to the ridge. Ah well, off we got towards the zig zags. Up, up we go, increasingly steeply. After a bit we manage to find the "trail" and even see a marker. Bonus! More up and up, ever steeper. Mostly we are able to stay on grass, where the footing is better than on the loose stone. From below we thought that the path was going to lead off to the right and then, somehow, up a cliff. As we climb it becomes clear that we're actually just going straight up, through a couloir.  Up, up we go, through a mix of grass and rock, with the sticks packed away since we're using our hands a fair bit, up, up, until we come out on the fairly broad, grassy ridge with a great view. That was fun! :-)
use of hands required
An aside here: it would definitely be possible to head down the other side of the ridge at this point; there's a clear and pretty easy looking route down into the bowl. We're not doing that this time though.

After catching our breath for a bit, we head along the ridge towards the Kaiseregg. A short bit of ridge walking and then it's up, up again, following traces of a path and doing some scrambling. Part way up, we spook a good-sized fox, who takes off down the slope. After a last bit of scrambling we make it to the peak, where the masses await. We do a nice lunch break, enjoying the views and resting our legs, before starting the trip down along the main trail (up the difficult way, down the easy way... yay!).
last stretch to the peak of the Kaiseregg
Now we're in down, down mode. Past plenty of other people, down, down along the trail until we hit the Kaisereggpass. From here we bid farewell to the Schwarzsee and then head down the other side. More down and down, along the freshly repaired (actually still being repaired) trail, with the temperature ever increasing, until we hit the Kaisereggalp. Here we take advantage of the trough filled with nice, clear, cold water  to cool ourselves down (boy does that make a difference) before heading gently down across the bowl. At Vordere Walop we take our last look back at the wall of the Kaiseregg and the pass we came through and then head down, down, down until we hit the next bowl above Chlus. Another refreshment break at a trough, and then onwards again, always downwards, mostly along the road (unfortunately), past Schwarzenmatt, down, down, until we hit Boltigen. On last bit along the road and then we're at the train station, with 6 minutes to spare until our train gets there. Good timing!


Saturday, June 07, 2014

From Schwarsee to the Spitzflue

Starting with an aside: our trip to the starting point of this hike (Schwarzsee Bad) took us through Fribourg for the first time. It's a very attractive little city; definitely worth going back to some time.

We start at Schwarzsee Bad, along with a bunch of other folks, head around the end of the lake, and start up towards the Breccaschlund. The weather's great (if a bit warm) and the trail/road leads us easily upwards. At Rippetli we leave the main trail and head off along the blue-white marked path towards the saddle to the left of the Spitzflue, which towers above us. We almost miss this turn off, which isn't marked, but realize our mistake when we hit the fork in the path at p1483. We contour gently upwards around the bowl and then head up, up the wall at the end of the valley with a few broad zig-zags. The path is really nice, not overly difficult, and blessedly shaded. At the saddle we take a short break before starting the steep climb, mostly on grass, but with some rocks mixed in, up the last few hundred meters to the top of the Spitzflue. We've got the peak to ourselves and it's getting to be the right time anyway, so we do a nice lunch break, rest our legs (we've made the ascent pretty quickly), and enjoy the fantastic views.
along the ridge
After lunch we continue along the ridge, descending a bit to another saddle, and then back up to the Fochsenflue. This is great advanced ridge walking: a bit of scrambling, some path finding, great views all around, excellent stuff. Once at the Fochsenflue we consider our options. We'd like to head on to the Chörblispitz, but that route and the route down from the peak to the Combigabel are both T6. Since Greg's not really feeling like doing a T6 descent and Andrea isn't wearing the right boots we decide to go ahead and head down into the Breccaschlund. The first bit is somewhat steep, but then we're on a red-white marked path and the going gets easy. Down, down, down we go. Past the alp at p1550 and then to the road at p1490. Along the road, gently descending, now seeing other people, until we hit Unteri Rippa, where we stop for cool refreshment. From there the path leads us down, down through the woods (really nice old mossy woods here) until we end up on the road we took up. Instead of heading straight back, we opt to follow the path above the lake on this side, past Unter Bödeli, along and down, mostly under trees, on a very nice path, until we end up back down at the lake towards the end.
Spitzflue and Schwarzsee
Now it's just past the madness at the "beach" (holy cow are there a lot of people), then we check into our hotel, take showers, do some wellness, rest, and then have a very nice meal before falling into a well earned sleep.
View from hotel: Schwarzsee, Spitzflue und Breccaschlund