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:

No comments: