Sunday, August 28, 2016

Climbing the Piz Kesch

With another nice-weather forecast for the weekend, we opted for a simpler mountaineering exercise: climbing the Piz Kesch. This is described in multiple places, but we primarily used Plaisir Alpin for the planning.

After a long, but easy, train-train trip to Zuoz we have a snack in town (mmm, apple strudel) and then followed the signs up and out of town. It's pretty warm already, the packs aren't especially light, there's no shade, and there's very little breeze, so it's slow going at first. After getting up a bit higher and having a lunch break in a bit of shade we round the corner and start heading up with a nice breeze. Much better!
up along the Val d'Es-Cha
We get to the hut after not too long, check in and claim our mattresses, have a cool beverage and rest for a bit while enjoying the views - great views of the Piz Bernina and Piz Palu - and observing the madness (this hut is an easy dayhike and the views are fantastic, so it's quite busy), we head out for a bit of walking. We originally think we may cross the valley and head up to the Piz Belvair, but instead we turn left and head to the end of the valley. At the little lake at p2727 we take a short foot-cooling break and enjoy the walls towering above us. Rather than head back the way we came, we opt to do a bit of route finding in order to work our way up to the blue-white marked path that leads from the hut to the Porta d'Es-cha. We'll be following this path the next morning, so this is kind of like scouting. With a bit of paying attention and careful route choice, we make it to the path pretty easily. From there we just follow the absurdly well marked path back to the hut. A bit more lounging around and another cool beverage, a good meal, some trip planning, some enjoying the last of the day's light (unfortunately no dramatic sunset this time), some negotiation about breakfast time, and then we head off to bed.
little lake at p2727
On Sunday we're the second group to leave the hut, 20-30 minutes behind a group with a guide. We leave at around 6am, so it's not really dark anymore; we can follow the trail without headlamps. We've done most of this already (the other way) on our scouting tour, so it's not tough. We do get some really excellent sunrise colors though - the Keschnadel, which is impressive to start with, ends up fantastically colored. We catch up to the other group at p2937, where they have just finished putting on the climbing harnesses and having a break. We follow suit in order to let them get back ahead of us again and then we head up through the Porta d'Es-cha. The approach is steep, but it isn't super difficult scrambling to start with and the presence of a chain makes it easy. The descent to the glacier down the other side in loose scree requires a bit more care, particularly to avoid kicking rocks down onto the other group, who are putting on their crampons and getting roped in. After putting on the glacier gear we also follow the very obvious path across the glacier. There aren't nearly as many people underway as we had feared: there's the group of five from our hut, another group of two far in front of us, and a group of three a bit in front of the five. As we're leaving another group of two comes through the Porta behind us.
sunrise colors on the Keschnadel
The glacier traverse is easy: it's not particularly steep and enough people do this that there's essentially a trail. No thought is required about where to leave the glacier and transition to the rock: just follow the trail. We have a short break to let the group of five get well in front of us (to minimize the number of rocks falling on our head), leave the crampons and picks at the bottom, and start up. This is all scrambling, and not particularly difficult scrambling, so we have the rope in the pack. The trickiest bit is finding a decent route through all the loose mess in the bottom half of the ascent. The rock gets better up towards the top and by the time we get to the "Himmelsleiter" it's downright decent quality. We make the top without trouble and enjoy a break and the nice views. The route down is even more straightforward: we're close enough behind the group of five that we don't even need to concentrate on path finding. It's nice to leave that to an actual guide. :-)

Once at the bottom we put back on glacier stuff and then head back across the glacier towards the Porta d'Es-cha. Just before getting there we turn off to the left and then follow the glacier down, down towards the Keschhuette. Again, we get to follow the group of five, so not too much brain engagement is required... very relaxing. At the end of the glacier we pack the stuff away and then set out for the last bit to the hut. The hut is huge (sleeps ~150), but there aren't that many people around on an early Sunday afternoon. We're way ahead of schedule (based on the book we had allotted 8 hours for hut - peak - hut, it only took us 6), so we have a long lunch break enjoying the views and the sun. A couple of hours before the bus is scheduled to leave we start a leisurely descent (including a nap!) through the beautiful valley to Alp Chants. We've got time for a last cool beverage (in the shade this time; it's hot in the valley) before getting on the small "bus" and starting the very long trip back home.
looking back to the glacier, the ridge and peak of Piz Kesch
Though the mountaineering aspect of it wasn't the greatest, this was a nice relaxed tour in a beautiful area. Too bad it's all so far away from Basel!

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