Sunday, June 28, 2015

Climbing the Gaeltehore via the Col du Brochet

The forecast is much better than last week, so we set out for the weekend with high hopes that we will be able to complete a tour. We've planned to do a trip from the book "Hochtouren Topoführer Berner Alpen" that takes us from the Geltenhütte to the Col du Brochet, along the ridge to the Gältehore, and then further along the ridge to the Arpelistock.

On Saturday we have a short day planned, so we have a lazy morning and then take the long train/train/train/bus ride to Lauenensee. The weather is overcast but not really anything to complain about as we do the short (1.5 hour) and nice hike up to the hut, arriving just before 4pm. We spend the rest of the afternoon/evening enjoying the recently renovated hut and its views. At dinner we end up at a table with a two other couples who are planning hochtours the next day (surprisingly, the only other two couples planning such things in the half-full hut), so we do a bit of comparing notes and discussion. One pair plans to do the Wildhorn via the Col du Brochet, the other isn't quite sure, but they are thinking about the Gältehore via either the standard route or the ridge and then continuing along the ridge to the Arpelistock.

Breakfast is at 5 and we're underway under a cloudless sky, a couple minutes ahead of the couple going to the Wildhorn, by 5:45. The blue-white marked trail takes us over the low ridge just in front of the hut and then down through the very nice Rottal. We detour around a large field of remaining snow (likely from an avalanche) and then follow the trail up an old moraine.
Morning sun on the peaks
Following the marked fork to the Col du Brochet, we head off to the left, cross some snow, and then try and figure out where the path goes to lead us up the first step to p2425. We end up getting this wrong by not staying on the snow long enough, so it takes us longer than it ought to to get up the step, but we find our way back to the mostly marked (with stonemen) and mostly visible trail that continues to lead us up the valley wall and to the glacier. Once hitting the glacier we put on the climbing gear and crampons and rope up, wish the other couple (who have caught up to us) a good day, and then set out across the glacier towards the pass. Here we make what is almost certainly a tactical error by starting to ascend to the ridge as soon as we can instead of heading to the pass to find the best way. We do some ascending in very loose gravel/rock and scree until hitting something like stable rock ("like"), where we take off the crampons, shorten up the rope, have a snack, and then continue to climb. The higher we get, the better the going gets, by the time the ridge flattens out we're able to move more or less normally. The first step is, as promised in the guidebook, fairly loose rock. The climbing isn't steep or technical (3a or so), but we really need to concentrate on making sure that every handhold and foothold is stable. This ends up setting the tone for the much of the rest of the ridge.
The ridge, Gaeltehore in the background

Andrea! Don't step backwards!

Once past the step and on the ridge again the views are really fantastic (great weather!) and the Gältehore is beckoning from far away along the ridge. Off we go! The ridge is a mixed experience: when we're up top it's the usual narrow (sometimes quite narrow) ridge fun, but when we need to move off to the North face to either get around a bit that's too sharp or to descend a bit, the loose rock makes things fairly demanding, particularly for Andrea (who is leading). By the time we get off the ridge for the last bit of ascent to the Gältehore (hitting the tracks of the third couple, who had taken the glacier route and who we had seen on the Gältehore while we were still on the ridge) we are both happy to be moving normally again.

At the peak we have a good rest, enjoy the views, eat, take some pictures, etc.  While we're up there, the third couple returns to the saddle below us from the ridge towards the Arpelistock (they decided it was too hard? they were too tired?) and heads down the glacier towards the hut. During the rest we manage to mis-communicate and end up each thinking that the other would rather skip the next bit of ridge, so we bid the peak and its views farewell, switch back to "glacier rope", and descend along the tracks where the third couple came up. Back at the edge of the glacier we pack the gear away and then head back to the hut along more or less the same route we came up (getting the bottom bit of the wall right this time).
Heading down into the lovely Rottal
A break at the hut, a quick walk down (45 minutes instead of 70), and then a long bus, train, train trip later and we're at home. In an odd coincidence, we run into the couple who had gone to the Wildhorn on the platform in Zweisimmen (lots of people on that platform!); they are pretty positive about the tour they did; definitely something to keep in mind.
Looking back from the bus
The weather played along beautifullym but we're somewhat ambivalent about the tour itself. We're both glad we did the tour, but neither of us is quite sure if we'd do it again or recommend it to others. The true ridge bits were great, but there was perhaps too much nerve-wracking time in the loose rock on the face.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Around the Lämmerenhütte

This weekend we went up to the Lämmerenhütte where we planned to do the first mountaineering of the season. It's early season, so one has to be flexible, and the weather forecast was dodgy, but the original plan for Saturday was to start in Engstligenalp, head to the Rote Totz Lücke, climb the Rote Totz (time permitting), head up to the Steghorn via its SE ridge, and then go down to the hut via the Leiterli. Sunday we planned to do something in the Wildstrubel group, but we held off detailed planning until we saw how Saturday went and what the conditions looked like.

We started from Engstligenalp at around 9:30. It turns out that Saturday was the Alpaufzug which, judging from the number of cars in the parking lot below, attracts a *lot* of people. Fortunately that starts really early so we missed all the fun. We start out across the plain under low clouds in drizzle (ick... not nearly as nice as last time we were here! we hope this will get better in the afternoon). At the edge we start climbing up, up the side of the valley. As we climb the rain changes to snow, which is at least something. Conditions are still pretty good: the path isn't overly muddy and the remaining snow patches from last year, increasing in frequency as we climb, are no problem. When we hit the steeply sloped scree above the small lake at 2350, the snow cover is more or less continuous and the path is no longer visible so we start following the few tracks that are visible in the snow. At some point we break out the ice axes for crossing the steep snow fields.

Visibility really isn't great but between what we can see in the times the clouds thin out, the map, and the waypoint for the pass that greg loaded into his watch, we make our way to the Chindbettipass.

From the pass we make our way steeply down the other side. Again, plenty of snow here, so we just take what seems like the best route down and around the corner a bit until the Rote Totz Lücke comes into view (for a while at least). The going on the snow left on the valley floor is not the most pleasant: there's a hard base of sun-cupped snow topped with a thin layer of fresh stuff. Walk and gawk is completely out of the question under these conditions. As we're traversing the valley the Steghorn is cloud covered almost all the time and the Rote Totz is frequently obscured; we cross them from the list for the day, ah well. Aside from the snow conditions, the rest of the route up to the pass isn't particularly arduous and the clouds don't end up making the navigation too bad. The packs are heavy, but we are both feeling good. In the pass we are (at the moment) under the clouds and can enjoy at least some of what the view would normally be before descending. On this stretch there are a couple of old tracks in the snow to follow, so route finding isn't a problem at all. Partway down, mostly out of the wind, we stop for a short sandwich break (it's hailing!) before continuing, spotting a fox along the way, and finally making it to the hut.

At the hut we settle in, have a snack, take a nap, do some trip planning for the next day, enjoy dinner, get some tips from the Hüttenwart (who is also a guide), borrow a pair of binoculars to scout out our planned route, do some more planning, and then head off to bed for a relatively early start.

The original plan for Sunday, reconnoitered with the binoculars Saturday evening, and sketched out on our map, is to head down from the hut, cross the river, then head up the other side of the valley to the Rothornlücke. We've traced the route through the steep bits that take us to the ladders (and spotted the ladders). From the pass we plan to more or less follow the ridge, detouring around tougher bits like the Schwarzhorn - involves climbing and we just have one of our new zwillingsseile ("twin rope"? really?) - until we get to the Wildstrubel and then follow the normal route back to the hut from there. It's an ambitious plan and, though conditions are good at the moment (peaks clear, only high clouds), the forecast is really not particularly good. We decide that if we're going to end up spending most of our time in a cloud in less-than-ideal conditions, it's probably better not to do that on a long ridge that's at the upper end of what we are comfortable handling in terms of difficulty. So... plan B... the Steghorn, up via Leiterli and down via the Steghorngletscher this time!

We head up from the hut and follow a track in the snow to contour around the valley wall, below a group of Steinbock, before zig-zagging steeply up the wall to the foot of the chute leading to the Leiterli. There's a bit of fresh snow on the rocks here, but since any dodgy bit has a chain or rope available, it's really no problem to get through this bit of the route. Doesn't seem like it would be much fun to descend this way. Once up top we continue to follow a track in the snow up a steepish bit and then around a corner. Our track heads off the the left and then there are signs of previous groups going through a couloir to the right and heading more slowly up through a bowl in front of us. We take the middle route. About 2/3 of the way up it becomes clear that it would have been a very good idea to put the crampons on first: the snow is pretty hard and the going is pretty slow. Still, it's not long, so we tough it out. Now we just have to follow the ridge to the peak. The weather really isn't ideal: the clouds have dropped enough that we're now in cloud, snow is blowing, and visibility is crap. We get up a bit above 3100m and think we've spotted the peak ahead before deciding that continuing in these conditions just doesn't make sense: we aren't going to see anything from the peak and aren't likely to learn anything more by continuing forward. So we turn around and start back.

To head down we put on the crampons (should have done this earlier, they make the sun-cupped snow a lot easier) and, once again, follow the ridge down. We plan to head down to the glacier, but can't see enough to scout an alternate route down, so we head back more or less to the top of the couloir before roping in, having a very quick sandwich, and turning off to the right towards the glacier. Once again, we really can't see much of anything, which is going to make finding a route down through the steep bit between the Steghorngletscher and Wildstrubelgletscher "tricky". There is, theoretically, a somewhat marked path through the rocks around the Lämmerenhorn, but we figure the odds of being able to find and follow this in the driving snow, with fresh snow on the ground, are pretty low. So... we opt to go back through the Leiterli; it didn't seem like it would be much fun to descend, but at least we know where it is. Back to the top of the Leiterli (soooo much easier to do this with the crampons on) and then down through the rocks with the crampons still on (very good idea from Andrea). We are on a short rope and take advantage of the available bolts to, if not actually belay the other person, at least make sure that a fall won't lead to anything catastrophic. It ends up being pretty straightforward, it's easy to forget (at least for Greg) how effective crampons are on rock. Back on the snow we descend to the hut, have lunch and some hot tea in the warm inside, and then head down.

The route down to the Gemmipass would no doubt be really nice in good weather. As it was, with low clouds (and thus not much view), on-and-off rain, and plenty of snow still on the path, it's bearable. At the pass we grab a gondola down (no waiting! good timing!) and then wait 50 minutes for the next bus (bad timing!) to start our way back home.

Conditions were definitely not great on this tour, and we didn't manage to actually make it to any peaks, but it was certainly good for us to get some more experience in "less than optimal" conditions and to practice stuff like the Leiterli when the rocks are wet and/or snow covered.

Here's the track of the whole thing:

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Grellingen to Kleinlützel along the Blaueberg

The forecast for the afternoon was dodgy (chance of thunderstorms) and Andrea's ankle was still a bit sore from banging it last weekend. So we opted for a hike nearby in the Jura with plenty of options to turn around along the way.

We started in Grellingen (just like last weekend) and headed up to the Eggflue. Up, up, initially through town and then gently under the woods until we hit the Eggflue itself. After a bit of enjoying the view (camera batteries dead, doh!), we continue along the ridge to the Blattepass, then up to the ridge of the Blaueberg itself. Now we follow the nicely shaded ridge for a while until finding a good lunch spot (shade, bench, view!) pretty close to the high point of the ridge. After lunch it's onward, past the Blauepass, past the Mätzlerchrüz and then along, slightly descending to the Challpass. From here we more or less have to go to Kleinlützel, if only because of the name. :-) The rest of the way is a pleasant mix of forest path and forest road, leading us along the ridge and down, down into town. We have a bit of time before the bus, and there's a convenient restaurant close to the bus stop, so we get to spoil ourselves with cool beverages before starting the trip home.

The track:

Distance: 18.6 km, 697m up, 593m down.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

A morning at Pelzli

The forecast was dodgy, so we decided to just do a bit of climbing. Off to Pelzli!
We got an early start, so we were at the rocks by 9; the first ones there aside from the couple who had spent the night.

We started in sektor Bärenwirt and did the routes Nordwand (5a) and Moser Kante (5c), both lead, and then top roped Westwand (6a). On to Höfli. The route on the edge, Höflikante, says 4c in the book, but it looked like a lot more than that. Andrea gave it a try but decided not to push too hard. At this point greg's gut was bothering him, so he stopped climbing. We went down to Rechenschieber where Andrea did Rechenschieber (4c, both pitches) and then around the corner to the Höfli Exit, where Andrea tried Föhrenweg (5b). After falling and banging her ankle she also stopped. Greg went up to finish the route and get the gear out, but this hardly counts because he was doing it to just finish the route and making use of the quickdraws as grips. :-)

After a quick lunch we headed back to Basel. This is a nice place to do a mornings climbing. We hardly saw anyone until we were on our way out and there was sufficient shade to protect us from the coming heat.